Sand Canyon and Rock Creek

Page Type Page Type: Canyon
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Sign the Climber's Log


Sand Canyon and Rock Creek Canyons are located in extreme southwestern Colorado and in the newly created Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It was created during the last days of the Clinton administration -June 2000. Both of these short drainages flow south into McElmo Creek.

During the 1200s, the Montezuma Valley and Mesa Verde areas bustled with activity in many villages and larger communities. Archeologists estimate as many as 35,000 people may have lived here then; at the start of the 21st century, about 24,000 people call this area home.

Images from the Sand Canyon

what a scenery...
serpent moon
Anasazi ruins
an obligatory
Castle Rock
kiva like structure
the bottom of

The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument preserves more than 20,000 archeological sites of the Ancestral Puebloans including cliff dwellings, large pueblos, and great kivas, many built during the height of their culture between A.D. 1100 and A.D. 1200. The monument covers almost 164,000 acres with the highest known concentration of archeological sites in the USA.

Getting There

To get there, drive south out of Cortez on Highway 160. After about 3 km, and between mile posts 35&36, turn west onto Road G, often called the McElmo Road. Head west on this pawed highway. After about 12 miles is a trailhead parking. This slickrock parking place is south of Castle Rock. You should see a trail register and a small map showing the trails about 25 meters from highway.
Mountain bikes are permitted on the trails - and it was as popular with bikers as with hikers.

Red Tape

There is no entry fee, parking is free, and dogs are allowed. As I mentioned above, the trail is very popular with mountain bikers.

Are you smiling?
Duchess posing
very popular with


The surrounding land is privately owned, please respect their privacy.
Dispersed camping is allowed inside the canyons, but there are no developed camping facilities.
The city of Cortez nearly offers many lodging opportunities.


start towards the Sand CanyonSlickrock
dog friendly trailCairns

Sand Canyon Trail winds first over slickrock, then the trail becomes dirt and wanders through pinon-juniper forest. Several spur trails lead to archeological sites and small cliff dwellings tucked in Entrada sandstone alcoves. Two spur trails open to views deep in Sand Canyon to the right. Sleeping Ute Mountain towers to the south.
Start: Sand Canyon Trail Trailhead in McElmo canyon
Distance:7.4 mile out and back (with 13 mile out and back option)
Approximate hiking time: 3-5 hrs (6-9 hrs for longer option)
Seasons: Best in spring and fall
Terrain: Slickrock and dirt trail
Land status: National Monument (managed by BLM)

Mountain biking

Both canyons appear to also be a mecca for mountain bikers...I was surprised to see so many active people on this trail.
mountain biking

External Links

Canyons of the Ancients
Sand canyon hiking trail