Snow-free Winter Hike on Sand Canyon Trail

When you need a break from snow and ice, try the red rock of McElmo Canyon and the Sand Canyon Trail in southwestern Colorado. The lower part of this trail in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument offers year round hiking and a chance to explore the archaeology of the area.

Canyons Ancients Sand Canyon
Sand Canyon Trailhead.
The Sand Canyon trailhead offers some of the easiest access to Canyons of the Ancients, a remote and mostly undeveloped area. Castle Rock butte looms over the trailhead, which is at 5500 feet—low enough for winter snows to melt quickly.
Make your way up a broad expanse of slickrock, staying to the left of the butte, to begin the trail proper. On the far side of the butte, a side trail leads to the site of Castle Rock Pueblo, inhabited by ancestral Pueblo Indians (Anasazi) from AD 1250 to 1280.

The trail narrows, winding through gentle pinyon-and-juniper terrain. Watch for marked side trails leading to closer views of cliff dwellings. Enjoy the views of eroded red rock formations on your left, and snow-covered Sleeping Ute Mountain on your right. On a chilly day in December, there was fresh snowfall in Cortez, but by midafternoon the lower Sand Canyon trail was clear and dry except for a few slick spots.

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