Ride Report: Sand Canyon Trail near Mammoth Lakes, CA
Sand Canyon Mountain Bike Trail is a gem that often gets overlooked by the nearby Lower Rock Creek Trail. The trail is accessed from Rock Creek Lake. After a tough 500′ climb over 1.3 miles, you reach the official trailhead. This is some of the highest mountain bike riding in the Eastern Sierras. From here, it’s pretty much a bomber 4,000′ descent with great views in every direction. It’s mostly jeep road, and very sandy at times, some creek crossings thrown in. There’s one or two tough climbs, but mostly it’s, down, down, down. It will definitely put a grin on your face. If you’re in the mood to explore and climb more, you can take the Wheeler Crest Out and Back about 4 miles into the ride. You can also include the Swall Canyon Trail, Wagon Wheel Trail, and the above mentioned Lower Rock Creek Trail for an epic day in the saddle. The most popular way to do Sand Canyon is by shuttling it (as described here). However, hard core riders can choose to do the Sand Canyon Loop, including the 4,000′ pavement climb up to Rock Creek Lake. There is also a way to get to the top of Lower Rock Creek Trail via dirt.
If you have questions about any of this or tailoring a ride to suit you, send us a note. Note: Much of this ride is very remote. Please be self-sufficient and carry plenty of water and nutrition as well as items to fix your bike in a jam. Weather frequently changes as well, so be ready for anything!!
- Ride Type: Point to Point / Shuttle
- Difficulty: Advanced descending skills required. Some technical/ rock gardens and steep climbing/ hike-a-bike and sandy sections.
- Time of Year: Late Spring (once snow melts off), Summer and Fall
- Terrain/Conditions: Mostly doubletrack/ jeep road with some singletrack
- Access: Since this is described as a shuttle, you’ll need to leave one car at the intersection of Swall Meadows Road and Lower Rock Creek Road. From Mammoth, take Highway 395 south approximately 20 miles. Lower Rock Creek Rd. is your exit (just after Toms Place – which is great for post ride grub and libations). Once you exit, drive 4 miles to the intersection of Swall Meadows Road and Lower Rock Creek Road. Park one car here. Then drive back up Lower Rock Creek Road to Highway 395. Go north for one exit to Tom’s Place. Drive up Rock Creek road for 8.5 miles and make a left at Rock Creek Lake Campground. Drive about 1/2 mile and park. Ride about .2 miles farther to the campground host. Across from the host, there’s a green gate. The ride commences here.
- Length: 12.8 miles to your car (12.6 to Wagon Wheel Trailhead)
- Approx. Time: 1-2 hours, maybe more depending on skills and comfort level
- Lowest Elevation: 6,394′
- Highest Elevation: 10,224′
- Total Elevation Gain: 530′ (497′ over first 1.3 miles)
- Total Elevation Loss: 3,841′
- Bike Recommendation: Full-Suspension MTB is best, but hardtail will work as well, or a Fat Bike too
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
- More info: Read Alan’s Blog on Sand Canyon
Turn By Turn (in miles):
0.0 – Start heading up a road that’s tame at first, then becomes rocky and steep as it passes by some cabins.
.20 – go left after a group of cabins when the road splits. Then make another quick left and keep climbing
.54 – a trail joins in from the left (see photo below of the sign with Wheeler Crest, Kenneth Lake) – stay straight and keep climbing. Breathe!
.72 – if you clean this section, you’re a champ. most likely you’ll be hiking your bike and looking back to the killer view of Rock Creek Lake
1.3 – you’ve reached the official trail sign/ start of Sand Canyon Mountain Bike Trail. Sip some water and get ready to grin. stay on the main trail
2.1– cross the creek
4.1 – you’ll see the turn-off for the Wheeler Crest 4×4 Road to the right. Keep straight, and get ready to climb a bit.
7.0 – stay on the main trail and rip the descent down the canyon – yahoo!!
8.4 – cross a small creek and then climb for a while
9.4 – reach an intersection at Witcher Meadow. continue on the main road, veer right and head down steep road towards a creek.
10.8– go right at the split on 5S08 towards Swall Meadows 11.6 – go left on Sky Meadow Ranch dirt road 12.1 – go left on Swall Meadows Rd
12.8 – arrive at your car at the intersection with Lower Rock Creek Rd