Lowry Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument
13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument 13th century Ancestral Pueblo masonry, Canyons of the Ancients Natl Monument
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Castle Rock Pueblo

Saddlehorn Pueblo

Double Cliff House

Corncob House

Sunny Alcove

Tucked Away Two Story House

Wall Curves with Bedrock House

House with Standing Curved Wall

Sand Canyon Pueblo

Sand Canyon Geology


Sand Canyon contains many Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites. The popular Sand Canyon Trail is 6.5 miles (one-way) from Sand Canyon Pueblo down to the lower trailhead in McElmo Canyon. 

The trail is open to hiking, horseback riding, and mountain bicycling, but the upper section is steep and rugged-- not recommended for bicycles. Part of the single-track dirt trail crosses slick rock marked with rock cairns. A vehicle shuttle is a good idea if you are going to hike the entire trail: leave one vehicle at Sand Canyon Pueblo, and leave a second vehicle at the bottom (south) end of the trail in McElmo Canyon.

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, phone, or other services are available.

Near the McElmo Canyon trailhead, you can visit Castle Rock Pueblo surrounding the base of the large butte just beyond the parking area. Hike one or two miles up canyon to view several small cliff dwellings. This area is not wheelchair accessible.

Mountain Biking Tips: 

  • Hikers and bikers should stop for equestrians: Bikes and backpacks can easily spook horses.
  • Stay on the trail--keep it a single track.
  • Sand Canyon is not a beginner trail. The rugged terrain demands both skill and endurance.
  • Ride with caution.
  • If the trail is too muddy, do not ride it. It will damage the trail and ruin your bike. The ruts will remain all year.
  • For spur trails, dismount your bike and leave it on the main trail.

Please follow these simple rules:

Don't bust the crust! Stay on trails, protect biological soil crusts.

  • No camping.
  • Stay on the designated trail and marked spurs.
  • Do not enter structures, climb on walls, take or move artifacts, or touch rock art--the oils on your skin accelerate deterioration of this rare evidence of past lives.
  • Leave No Trace. Collect nothing and leave what you see for others to enjoy. Pack out your trash and do not leave "offerings." These only confuse the meaning of the sites.
  • East Rock Trail archaeological sites are too fragile for public access.
  • Only archaeological sites on the main Sand Canyon Trail are designated for visitation.

Hiking Tips:

  • This is rugged country. Wear proper hiking boots or shoes and bring plenty of water. Do not wear street shoes or enter the trail without water.
  • The switchback portions of the trail rise 700 feet in less than half a mile. This section is very rocky, steep, and strenuous and is not a good choice for many folks.
  • For a less visited area, try the upper trail below Sand Canyon Pueblo and above the switchbacks. It's a hike in the pinyon and juniper forest rather than a walk in the canyon.
  • If you begin your hike at the north trailhead, most of the route is down hill.
  • Allow time to return to your vehicle before dusk.

Trail protocol, bikers yield to hikers, both yield to horses

Horseback Riding Tips:

  • Parking is limited.
  • Beware of other trail users (bikers, hikers, and hikers with pets)
  • Please stay on the main trail. Soil crusts and trailside vegetation are fragile.
  • For spur trails, dismount and leave your horse at the main trail.
  • Always practice Leave No Trace.

CLICK TO ENLARGERoutes through Sand Canyon and Rock Creek Canyon

Canyons of the Ancients home page

National Landscape Conservation System link

Decorative stripe based on petroglyphs