“A short loop option with fun climbing and descending that hits some of Penitente's highlights.”
— Brian Smith
This is a great loop that could be done as a "just passing through" or a "laps from the campsite" ride. Really well-built trail and awesome natural topography pay off big time with super fun climbs and descents.
From the main entrance, drive Penitente Canyon Road
through the campground to the main trailhead. You can access this loop from a number of points, but this access point is recommended.
Need to Know
There are "trail confidence markers" at trail junctions, but unless you have a picture of the main trailhead map to reference, they're useless. Be sure to download the Colorado data on the MTB Project mobile app
for easy navigation.
There's a developed, self-pay campground right at the main trailhead. More info
This is a great shoulder season ride (spring and fall). Summer can be brutally hot. Be alert at all times for rattlesnakes.
From the main trailhead parking, head southwest on the Blue Sky Loop
. The trail climbs at a nice grade along a sage and juniper-covered hillside. Be sure to look over your shoulder toward the prominent Sangre de Cristo mountain range to the east. Pass through the gate and continue to a 4-way junction. Here you'll diverge from Blue Sky Loop
by continuing straight (Blue Sky goes right) onto South Witches Canyon Road
/ Capulin Loop
Descend the road and look for the first right onto another doubletrack that's steep and cobble-covered. At the bottom, turn right onto the connector that leads to a gate at the canyon mouth. Once through the gate, enjoy the scenery inside the canyon along Sunshine Kitty
trail. At the first junction make a hard left (note the hazard symbol on the map) to stay on Sunshine Kitty
This trail was extremely well built and many thanks are owed to Brink, of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, and the youth trail corps that made it happen. A nice climbing grade paired with creative routing that utilizes the area's amazing topography, make this a trail that is a blast to climb. It's so good you won't even realize how much vert you're gaining.
At the top (around mile 3.5), a signpost marks the junction with Rock Drops
, which splits off hard to the right. Continuing straight (west) at this sign post would put you on a non-system trail. Rock Drops
starts with a short, mellow climb followed by an almost continuous descent.
As you start downhill, you'll quickly find out where the trail's name came from. Advanced riders will love launching off drop after drop and beginner/intermediates should feel pretty comfortable rolling everything. The trail will leave you wanting more laps after your first as you're unlikely to see/hit every optional line the first time around.
At the next junction, stay left to ride the northern portion of Blue Sky Loop
and get ready for more of the same. At about mile 5.7, stay left again to follow Iglesia de San Juan
into the gulley. A quick, fun descent here leads to a mellow climb on Los Hermanos
. Finish with a cruising descent on an open sage hillside and bang a right on the road to follow it back to the lot or your campsite.
History & Background
Penitente Canyon is well known amongst Colorado climbers. If you're a climber, bring your shoes and a sport rack for some multi-sport fun. Visit Mountain Project
for climbing beta.