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Level: Intermediate
Length: 14 mi (22.5 km)
Surface: Singletrack
Configuration: Loop
Elevation: +1,434/ -874 ft
Total: 44 riders

Mountain Biking Sand Canyon Trail

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#105 of 1,354 mountain bike trails in Colorado
#709 in the world

Route is thru slickrock and singletrack. Thru indian sites, please do not go off trail or bikes will be banned. Built by and for mountain bikes these trails are fun and hard to follow. 2 canyons to ride. There is a large ruin at the top of Sand Canyon main trail but involves a 30 switchback hard climb, not the fun MTB route.

First added by abegold on Dec 22, 2006. Last updated Apr 28, 2020. → add an update
Before you go
  • Drinking water: unknown
  • Lift service: unknown
  • Night riding: unknown
  • Pump track: unknown
  • Restrooms: unknown
  • Fat bike grooming: unknown
  • E-bikes allowed: unknown
  • Fee required: unknown
This trail information is user-generated. Help improve this information by suggesting a correction.
Getting there
Southwest of Cortez, up McElmo Canyon to signed trailhead, about 15 miles west of Cortez. Spring or autumn best times, but I rode it in mid-summer at sunup. 6000'
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Sand Canyon Trail Trail map

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Local Info

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Trail checkins

Fatbike1 (on Jul 28, 2019)
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Trail conditions

Poor (on May 11, 2019)
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Sand Canyon Trail videos

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Sand Canyon
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Mountain Bike Trails Near Cortez, Colorado

| 2 mi
Intermediate | 9 mi
| 2 mi
Beginner | 6 mi

Rider questions

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  • rhulsey

    The Sand Canyon Trail is only part of the trail system at the Canyon of the Ancients. It is a straight through or out-and-back trail that wanders up one of the main canyons. Most of it is pretty tame, with some slick rock but mostly a very wide natural red dirt trail. Watch for hikers.

    We actually went over the ridge to the west, through a saddle about 1.7 miles up the Sand Canyon Trail, to the East Fork Rock Creek canyon. The trail over the saddle had a couple of fairly sketchy parts that quite a few will want to walk. Once in the canyon, the upper end can be pretty technical but won't require too much hike-a-bike for most. The lower canyon and the cross over the lower end of the ridge back to the parking lot is a very nice ride (again, combo of slick rock and red dirt).

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  • Brian K. Holder

    Sand Canyon is technical. Other reviewers ave not mentioned that much of this trail requires accurate, precise, and skilled technical riding. Take your light weight, short wheelbase, tubeless, 1x bike, and your chops. This area does not reward inattentiveness or "sightseeing" though the scenery is stellar. Come back with a camera and hike it if you want to take in the area.

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  • timmurphymt

    Not a big fan of riding here. Felt like a lot of on and off, flat tires (cactus) and while the area is inspiring, the riding really is not. Better to hit Phils, or Moab for similar yet superior riding.

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  • abegold

    Almost religious experience here with the ancient spirits and desert air calm. Sleeping Ute Mountain is just to the south. A trail you'll not forget, so amazing having ancient ruins right off the trail. Pinion/juniper forest, some pine.

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  • jaredstaples

    I made it about 3/4 mile up the main Sand Canyon Trail. I was looking for a fun ride and this was just too punishing. Turned around and took the East Canyon trail.

    The east canyon is a blast. There are a few parts with loose sand, but for the most part it is rock and dirt. There are also a few patches where all but very experienced riders are going to get off and walk. Suck up your pride and save yourself the injury.

    This isn't sweet, smooth single track; expect to work, but it is worth it. * Review edited 10/2/2010

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  • arnolda14   ✓ supporter

    I can't write a full review as we were forced back after 1.8 miles in, but I am uploading a short video and a pic. As for what we did ride, it was awesome. You start on some slickrock that transitions to hard packed red dirt, both of which are great tread. There are small ruins all over this area and some are easier to see than others.
    The ruins are more delicate than they look and so is the landscape so stay on the trail. Even walking on the dirt can do years of damage in this environment. This is a hot, dry desert environment, so bring extra water.

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