“Epic singletrack and XC route through the backcountry east of Cotopaxi, leading to Hacienda el Tambo”
— UnWise Owl
This is a backcountry route through the páramo east of Cotopaxi. It follows a mix of trail types including loose singletrack, bench-cut singletrack, and some overland pedaling, too.
The entrance to this singletrack is not well-marked. After passing through a gate on the main road, or taking the singletrack bypass, look to the southwest for a joining canyon and a trail resembling an ATV route/singletrack along the southwest rim of the canyon wall.
The first ~2.5 miles of this trail runs though a canyon and lahar at a similar grade as the lahar climb on the road. You'll start following what feels like an old ATV trail up the canyon to an abandoned farmhouse. After the abandoned farmhouse, the trail takes on more of a traditional singletrack and the canyon gives way to more of an open lahar.
This section of singletrack is loose and slowly picks its way though massive boulders. Each pedal stroke brings you closer to the eastern foot of Cotopaxi and the gate of the private reserves and ranches in this area. Make sure to take a break at the gate; this view of Cotopaxi is stunning. You'll also appreciate being fresh for the next section of trail.
After closing the gate behind you, or simply scaling the earthen wall, the ride cuts southeast to follow ~2 miles of bench-cut singletrack, which cuts through a mountain pass before flowing down the slopes of an expansive páramo wilderness and into another lahar. You'll experience mixed emotions because you'll want to bomb down the trail but have the constant urge to stop and take in the view; keep your eyes peeled for spectacled bears.
You may also be reminded that this trail is multi-functional as it is also used by free range cattle and the occasional Chagra, so hoof damage may be present in some of the areas prone to saturation. But have no fear, you'll have a blast ripping this section and the following lahar section.
This segment follows a braided trail down the lahar, crossing a few streams on the way. The grade is lower than the previous section of singletrack in the páramo but is still fast, fun and continues to provide outstanding scenery. It will take you about ~2.7 miles to Rio Tambo, where it is possible to cross to the south side of the river using the walkway over a concrete weir.
Scramble up the southern bank to follow some farm trails another few miles to the spectacular Hacienda el Tambo, built on an Incan Ruin. Keep in mind the Hacienda serves beer, which may be a welcome treat after a long day of pedaling!