Chances are, Penitente Canyon, on the Western ridgeline of the San Luis Valley, is pretty far out of your way. Thankfully, the epic mountain biking area also has some great camping spots, so it is easy to make a weekend out of this world-class destination.

The Area: The maze of large round boulders in Penitente Canyon was once a refuge for a radical Christian sect. Now it is home to some radical mountain biking trails! Think Moab features, Fruita flow, and no crowds. Read below to find out the best trails to ride in this area, and combine riding with a night of camping right by the trailhead for a fun, easy, and awesome weekend adventure. 

To get here from the South (Alamosa), take Hwy 285 North for 35 miles, then take a left on County Road G to La Garita. To get here from the North, take Hwy 285 south for 61 miles from Salida/Poncha Springs over Poncha Pass, then take a right on County Road G to La Garita.

Just after the small town of La Garita, follow County Road 38A (slight left) to get to the entrance to the Penitente Canyon area. Take your next right onto County Road 40G to drive toward the main trailhead and camping areas. After the pay station signage, the camping areas are clearly marked. Four camping spots line the main road (we camped in spot #4 - highly recommended), and the rest are up on the hill to the south. 

The Ride: From the main trailhead at the end of the road past the campsites, the ride begins to the left on Blue Sky Trail. Gently ascend until this trail turns into the double track Witches Canyon Road. (Note: this section is also part of the Capulin Loop) Follow this road as it descends for a bit, then take your first right down a steeper incline on this road, and another right by the sign in picture 3. Here, Witches Canyon road turns into Sunshine Kitty singletrack trail. This trail climbs for the next 2.4 miles over fun rock obstacles that require your full attention and quick surges of acceleration. The climb ends at 'confidence marker 9.' 

Turn right, and get ready for an epic downhill on the "Rock Drops" trail that certainly lives up to its name. Pop off little rocks inbetween the many swooping turns, and ride up and over some fun rock fins as well. All of the more advanced drops/features have easier bypass routes. Stay left at the next two trail intersections (they go directly back towards the main trailhead). Eventually, you'll make your way down to another parking area. Just before this parking area, turn right on Los Hermanos trail (this junction is easy to miss - if you get to the parking lot, you've passed it), which takes you directly to the main road at the pay station. Have too much fun? Do the loop again tomorrow, or explore the area's other trails to the south!

Camping: As already mentioned, the camping is spread out throughout this area by the main trailhead. Camping costs $11/night with a 2-vehicle maximum at each site. There are 2 group sites for $20/night. There are many vault toilets available, and each campsite has a fire ring with a grill and a large table. Bring your own firewood. In my opinion, campsite 4 is the best (pictured). It's huge, secluded, and has many fun amenities right there in the camp, like a tree to hammock from, rocks to climb, and it's the closest to the trailhead. Remember to leave no trace, or even better, leave the campsite better than you found it. This area is truly a gem!

Pack List

Mountain Biking:

  • Mountain Bike (full suspension recommended for maximum enjoyment)
  • Helmet
  • Hydration pack with water, food, and tools
  • Sunscreen
  • MTB Project or Trailforks App on your smartphone to make sure you're on the right trails

Camping:

  • $11 cash or check ($20 for group sites)
  • Firewood
  • Tent, sleeping bag, etc.
  • Toilet paper (none provided at vault toilets)
  • Food (note: fire rings have a grill)
Show More
RT Distance 8 Miles
Elevation Gain 900 Feet
Activities Cycling, Chillin, Camping, Photography, Mountain Biking, Running, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Groups
Picnic Area
Scenic
Wildlife

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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