Winding desert singletrack under towering walls; Technical rock gardens contrasting with buff sandy paths among ancient stone dwellings: exploring ancestral ruins from America’s stoneage. There really is nothing quite like Sand Canyon. It’s a rarity, being able to mountain bike in a national monument, and even more astonishing is how good the riding is.
Canyons of the Ancients pulls riders up and over slick rock terraces, edges along canyon rims and dives through desert arroyos.
Thanks go to local trail advocacy group the Kokopelli Bike Club (soon to be the Southwest Colorado Cycling Association) who pioneered much of the trail system pre-dating the monument designation, then worked with the feds to keep it open. It’s a dream come true for desert aficionados on two wheels.
Three main trails make up the system, all with their own flavor, and all fantastic. They can be linked together for a longer ride, or broken into shorter outings. Either way, it’s all good.
The namesake and older Sand Canyon Trail is most enjoyed as an 8-plus mile out and back, calling it at a 30- siwtchback ascent that is not ridable. With several hiking spurs that lead into other desert worlds, it’s filled with cliff dwellings, many right along the trail. You’ll find pristine desert ecology with a sense of remoteness that you may not find in the nearby national park and its millions of visitors each year.
East Rock Creek is a 7-mile loop that offers the be riding. Ridden either direction, it serves up an experience that many people drive hours farther to find. The trail climbs, winds, drops and bends, and there’s even an arch as well as more visible ruins and side canyons.
West Rock Creek is must do. In a few sections, it skirts a wash with close proximity and at times the 3.5-mile uber-fun loop has subtle “are we lost” feeling” to it. Both loops climb up to a point then rip off into the other direction.