Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cañon City Mountain Biking- South Cañon Trails

Cañon City, Colorado is one of the state's warm spots.  Because of its warm weather, it is known as "The Climate Capital of Colorado". While the area is usually uncomfortably hot in the summer, the rest of the year the weather is quite nice compared to many higher elevation locations in Colorado.  Snow and cold temperatures are short lived here making the area a good destination for outdoor recreation in the cooler months.

In recent years, local groups such as Fremont Adventure Recreation and Lower Arkansas Mountain Bike Association among others have worked aggressively to build new trails in the area.  Oil Well Flats, just north of Cañon City was the first of these trail systems to get attention.  I first rode Oil Well Flats in the fall of 2014 and was impressed.  Oil Well Flats has at least 15 miles of singletrack and has become a popular off season destination for mountain bikers.  There are a few other small sections of trail being built in the area, but none of them with nearly as much trail as Oil Well Flats.  For my blog post about Oil Well Flats from a couple years ago click Oil Well Flats- Fun Desert Singletrack

With the Oil Well Flats trail system well on its way, the various groups began their focus on the next trail system in the Cañon City area.  A few miles south of town was a small trail system called Section 13, consisting of 6 miles or so of trails.  Last year the trail builders focused on connecting Section 13 with a new trail system accessed right from town in Cañon City.  After working hard, last fall most of these trails were built adding another dozen or so miles of singletrack to the 6 miles at Section 13.  This new area had its official ribbon cutting a few weeks ago.  These are the South Cañon Trails.

With warm weather, I was eager to check out this new trail system.  On Tuesday, March 14th, I headed to Cañon City with my bike to ride the area.  There are several trailheads, including a couple in town in Cañon City.  I arrived at the Eagle Wing trailhead on the edge of Cañon City shortly after 9AM and was the only car there.

Literally just a few seconds after I began pedaling, I noticed my bike computer wasn't registering.  After making a few adjustments, it started to register and I was on my way.  A couple miles later it stopped working and I made another adjustment to get it working.

My ride began on a trail called Mutton Bustin'.  This is an easier singletrack trail that climbs gradually away from town.  From the beginning, the terrain is desert-like with plenty of scrubby growth and abundant tree cholla cacti.  There are good views of the Wet Mountains from the start.

View of the Wet Mountains at the start of Mutton Bustin'
Mutton Bustin'
Trailside cholla
My route continued on Hard Time.  The first mile of hard time is the most technical part of the South Cañon Trails.  The trail climbs modestly with numerous technical stretches.  The trail had numerous rock challenges including slickrock.  Sandy tread slows down momentum making it tricky to clear some of the rock.  Numerous switchbacks add to the challenge.  Eventually the trail rides above a steep gulch with no room for error.  Loose and chunky rock on an extremely narrow trail make this stretch nearly impossible to ride with a nasty drop below.  The nasty section is short lived however.

Slickrock ledge on Hard Time

Hard Time
Continuing along Hard Time
Nasty section of Hard Time
Unforgiving drop along the narrow trail
More tech ahead
Unrideable rock 

After a mile or so on Hard Time, the trail mellows.  For the most part, the remainder of Hard Time features a fun cross country trail that rolls and twists through junipers with views nice views of the surrounding terrain.  The nice trail continued about 2.5 miles until I left Hard Time for Redemption.

Hard Time mellows after the rough section

Nice new trail
The Wet Mountain views are nearly constant
Near my turn off point
From Hard Time, Redemption features a wonderful descent for the first 1.2 miles.  The trail twists and drops with sections of small rock drops and a steep slickrock descent.  After reaching its low point, Redemption winds and climbs out of a drainage up to a trailhead on Temple Canyon Road.

Slickrock decent on Redemption- it's much steeper than it looks
Continuing down Redemption
A steep gulch along Redemption
Redemption
Near the low point of Redemption- notice nearly every photo has cholla.
This isn't intentional, it's just that prominent.
Across the road from the trailhead is Section 13.  Section 13 consists of two trails, Lamba Chops and Hot Shots, making up about 6 miles of singletrack.  Section 13 was the first route established in the area a few years ago.  I rode Section 13 last spring.  At only 6 miles or so of trail, I rode laps on the loops to get in a decent ride.  While not bad riding, riding laps was a little boring.  By itself Section 13 was not worth the hour drive.  Now that its part of the bigger South Cañon Trails, Section 13 is worth the ride.

The start of Section 13
Section 13 consists of two stacked loops.  First I encountered Lamba Chops.  Lamba Chops features more open terrain at lower elevation.  The dry grassland is inundated with tree cholla.  Hiding in the grass on the edge of the trail are numerous smaller cacti, ready to put a pinhole leak in a tire.

Lamba Chops is open much of the time
Climbing Lamba Chops
As I reached a junction, I climbed on Hot Shots.  Hot Shots climbs right to the base of the Wet Mountains.  As the trail climbs, it leaves the open terrain and enters a sparse forest of piñon and juniper.  The trail tops out just below 6500' in elevation.  From the top of Hot Shots, there is more than 2.5 miles of descent back to Temple Canyon Road.
Making my way up Hot Shots
Near the Hot Shots and ride high point
Pikes Peak
Cañon City below in the distance
Distant Pikes Peak 
Wet Mountain views and trailside cholla were nearly continuous
Looking back toward the terrain earlier in my ride
Looking toward Cañon City and Pikes Peak
Hot Shots
Hot Shots had denser vegetation than most of the ride
While Section 13 is worth riding when combined with other South Cañon Trails, Section 13 was probably the least entertaining part of my ride.  Although not technical, much of Section 13 is covered with small, loose rock. This inhibits flow and makes for a slower pace.  The 2.5 miles of downhill wrapping up Section 13 start out fairly nice, but the flow is broken up by the rocky tread.  Section 13 does have some good views however, including a good look at Pikes Peak and into Cañon City.  Be careful not to ride wide of the tread along Section 13.  Running over a cactus is a real possibility and many of them are hidden in taller grass.  Last year I must have run over one and had a pinhole in my tire flattened the tube by next morning.

Riding along a rock feature near the end of  Section 13
After Section 13, I crossed Temple Canyon Road and retraced my route on Redemption.  Despite climbing more than 300' in a little over a mile with some steep sections, Redemption is rideable in this direction.  The slickrock provides great traction and you can climb the steeper pitches.

Back on Redemption
Climbing a rocky stretch of Redemption
Steep gulch along Redemption
Making my way up Redemption

At the top of Redemption I rejoined Hard Times.  Rather than retracing my previous route on Hard Times, I rode the last mile of new trail.  This section featured a mile of climbing until I finally reached a higher up section of Temple Canyon Road.  A half mile or so climb on Temple Canyon Road brought me to my section of singletrack, The Great Escape.

The southern end of Hard Time
The Great Escape featured another great downhill stretch of trail.  The Great Escape drops 400' in under two miles, steeply at times, as it winds through the junipers.  If you can take your eyes off the fast, windy trail, there are good views from The Great Escape as well.  As it drops, the trail makes it way through some rock features to add challenge.  The Great Escape is probably the most technical trail in the system apart from the first mile of Hard Time.

The Great Escape view
View from The Great Escape, on the full size image (Click on pic) you
can see the trail below at the dark brown line in the center of the pic
Looking down on the trail and ledges just ahead
The Great Escape finally ends back on Hard Time.  From here, I retrace much of my route back to my car.  On the return, most of the route favors downhill travel and I made good time winding my way on the nice singletrack.  Heading back, the last mile of Hard Times slowed me down as I made my way through the ledgy gulch.  On the return, the downhill challenges with its numerous sections of rock and switchbacks over sandy tread.

Back into the rough section of Hard Time
Nasty trail with little room for error
A tough short climb
Descending from Hard Time
Trails below
Near the end of Hard Time
Another look at the trails ahead
At the end of Hard Times, I followed some different trails for the last 2.5 miles to my car.  After a short stint on ReCycle, I joined Schepp Ridge.  Schepp Ridge followed a low ridge that paralleled above Mutton Bustin'.  Schepp Ridge was generally fast riding until is dropped off the ridge in a series of tighter turns.  At the end of Schepp Ridge, I rejoined Mutton Bustin' for a quick ride back to the trailhead.

A closeup of a trailside cholla with interesting rock in the background
My total ride was just under 24 miles with 3:34 of riding time.  I realized that my computer wasn't recording properly showing 5 miles less than the actual ride.  I measured my ride distance based on maps from a website called MTB Project (Click MTB Project South Cañon).  By the time I wrapped up my ride it was 78F.  Amazingly I didn't see another bike my entire ride, just two groups of walkers.  I was still the only car when I made it back to the trailhead, the luxury of riding on a Tuesday.

Another look at the Wet Mountains
I really enjoyed the riding on the South Cañon Trails.  There is a nice variety of terrain with plenty of quality singletrack.  The riding on a whole favors cross country style riders with numerous ups and downs on windy trails. The elevation gain approaches 3000 vertical feet on my route. I would definitely ride these trails again and would recommend the area to riders looking for a new place in the off season.  It's nice to see a quality riding option in the Cañon City area in addition to Oil Well Flats.

With Oil Well Flats and now the South Cañon Trails, the Cañon City region is becoming a desirable destination for mountain bikers, particularly when the high country trails are out of season.  The local groups are continuing to build the trail infrastructure in the region.  Through the summer, the groups are focusing on building trails near Royal Gorge Park.  By next winter the Royal Gorge Park area is anticipating about 20 miles of total singletrack built.  Lower Arkansas Mountain Bike Association, Fremont Adventure Recreation, and other groups are serious about making Cañon City a mountain bike destination.

Click on the links below for more information.
South Cañon Map
Section 13 Map

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