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blueBlack Sand Canyon Trail


5.8 mile 9.4 kilometer point to point


Ascent: 1,381' 421 m
Descent: -39' -12 m
High: 6,840' 2,085 m
Low: 5,498' 1,676 m


Avg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 38% (21°)


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Trail shared by Kevin Christopherson


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A great out and back trip with many ancient pueblos along the way.

Kevin Christopherson

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Features -none-

Bikes must stay on the main trail. Please walk the short spur trails to the archeological sites.


Sand Canyon contains many Puebloan archaeological sites. Sand Canyon Trail is 6.5 miles (one-way) from the trailhead in McElmo Canyon.

The trail is open to hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, but the upper section is steep and rugged. Part of the singletrack dirt trail crosses slick rock marked with rock cairns. The trail could be shuttled by leaving one vehicle at Sand Canyon Pueblo, and leave a second vehicle at the bottom (south) end of the trail in McElmo Canyon. There is a very steep section with 30 switchbacks about 4.5 miles into the ride. It's only about 1/2 mile and will be a hike-a-bike for most people. Because it's uphill from the McElmo parking lot, you can turn around anytime and enjoy the downhill back to your vehicle.

To reach the McElmo Canyon trailhead, head south of Cortez on Highway 491. Turn right (west) on County Road G at the signs for the airport and/or Hovenweep National Monument. Go 12 miles on this paved road. Trailhead parking is an unimproved slickrock surface on the north (right) side of the road. No water, toilet, or other services are available.


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May 12, 2019
Kyle M
Once the trail becomes a creek bed just turn around 15mi
Feb 7, 2018
Kt Howard
Great trail conditions. The mud is gone but the sandy patches are still packed in. 7.5mi — 2h 00m
Apr 6, 2017
Liz Blair
Trail conditions were excellent, ended up doing an out-and-back on the Sand Canyon trail then a loop around East Rock Trail. Trail run, not mtb 18.6mi — 3h 15m
Mar 23, 2017
Daniel Green
Apr 4, 2016
Pistola Straate
Fun downhill, also tough for grade.
Mar 24, 2016
Pistola Straate
Fun Downhill, Short difficult section dropping into canyon

Trail Ratings

  3.2 from 5 votes


  3.2 from 5 votes
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