Expedition into El Dorado Canyon

This weekend we had an Expedition into El Dorado Canyon. “El Dorado” loosely translates from Spanish into “The Land of the Lost Golden Trails”. To find this lost land, one must start at the Dayton Rodeo Grounds on Schaad Lane just outside of Dayton. Entering Dayton from the West, turn right on Dayton Valley Road, and make the 1st right after the bridge. Follow the signs to the Rodeo Grounds from there.

El Dorado Canyon
Josh and his Sun Valley Hat

After getting the bikes ready and spending some time admiring Josh’s Sun Valley hat, we pedaled up a gravel road that would take us to the entrance of El Dorado Canyon.  There are a number of dirt roads that intersect the route, so it’s best to consult a map before heading out.  You can see the entrance to El Dorado Canyon, so it isn’t terribly difficult to find your way if you’re not completely sure. There were many signs leftover from an offroad race, telling us we were going the wrong way! We paid them no attention.

El Dorado Canyon
Leaving the Dayton Rodeo Grounds

The gravel turned to a clay road, chocked full of rocks. Although not necessary, this ride is best done with a full suspension bike. There are plenty of smooth spots on these trails, but in between the smooth spots there are bountiful rocks; everything from choppy embedded rocks to rolling baby head, creek bottom rocks. A full suspension bike really helps with your endurance on this ride.

El Dorado Canyon
That’s Just Wrong!

El Dorado Canyon
Jeff and Lester Entering El Dorado Canyon

After a gentle climb over a couple miles, we dropped down into El Dorado Canyon. I’m not certain how the canyon got its name, but the trees at the bottom of the canyon are very golden this time of year. The spring fed creek still had water in it too! I was quite surprised with the dry summer we’ve had. We came to a wide and deep section of the creek, and Lester, Scott, and Josh decided to charge through it. It wasn’t long after this that their chains started squeaking. Luckily Kathy had some chain lube in her tool kit, and silenced the cacophony!

El Dorado Canyon
Creek Crossing in El Dorado Canyon

El Dorado Canyon
Kathy, Scott R, and Josh

The road in El Dorado Canyon deteriorates pretty quickly. Passage through the canyon is popular with the modified Jeep crowd, 4 x 4 quads, and dirt bikes. The way is very twisty and rocky, always changing from the water that flows down the bottom of the canyon. This trail is quite a bit different than the smooth singletrack we’ve ridden all summer, the deep sand whoops and numerous boulder crossings provided all new challenges.  In fact, before this ride, I was close to denouncing suspension as an unneeded luxury. I would’ve had to eaten my words following this ride had I uttered them! I was loving my big heavy full suspension bike every time we hit the rocks.

El Dorado Canyon
Full Suspension Country

El Dorado Canyon
Scott R

The forecast for the day had been for sunny skies. We barely saw the sun all day! In fact we were nervously watching rain clouds for much of the ascent. We were getting close to the entrance of Sullivan Canyon, and it began to sprinkle! I don’t believe it has rained much during the day since spring time, and here we were in the bottom of a canyon, a perfect place to get caught in a flash flood. I wasn’t worried so much about flooding as I was about the dirt turning to mud though. When the clay out in the Pine Nut mountains gets wet, it’s miserable to impossible to ride in it. I really didn’t want to get stuck this far out, and was even taking note of the various rock shelters in the canyon. Luckily it only sprinkled for a few minutes!

El Dorado Canyon
Kathy Clawing Her Way Up a Slippery Slope

El Dorado Canyon has to be a geologist’s dream! There are so many different kinds of rocks up in the canyon. I had to stop frequently to take a look around, and was frequently amazed that one side of the canyon looked nothing like the other side. We even had a little slick rock action on what I think was a sandstone outcropping.

El Dorado Canyon
Lester on the Slick Rock

We eventually turned west off El Dorado Canyon, and began our climb up Sullivan Canyon. The trail up the canyon is much wider than I remember from my dirt biking days. What once was a narrow singletrack is now a trail wide enough for quads. It was still a great climb though, and the grade is never too steep. I bet it would be a screaming descent.

El Dorado Canyon
Jeff and Scott R in Sullivan Canyon

Sullivan Canyon
Lester Climbing Sullivan Canyon


The Pleasurable Climb up Sullivan Canyon

El Dorado Canyon
Scott R Climbing Sullivan Canyon

Before finishing our climb up Sullivan Canyon, we had a break for lunch. The fear of a rain storm was now over, and we took in some much needed nourishment and hydration. After a nice break we climbed out of the canyon, and made for the hill above Bull Run Spring.

Sullivan Canyon
Lunch Break in Sullivan Canyon

The climb to the top of the hill above Bull Run Spring is steep, and we walked up half of it. Along the way we could see Mount Siegel in the distance to south, standing tall at over 9,000 feet. We rested a bit at the top, and then began our descent.

This area is always a little confusing due to the thick pinion pine. There is a main route, but sometimes a tree will fall over and block the way. Most often, dirt bikers will just make a new trail around an obstacle instead of stopping to clear it. We started heading down some new trail, and I was worried we might be going the wrong way. Luckily Kathy had to stop to adjust her rear brake, and I was able to scout the trail ahead. I found that our trail rejoined the main trail not much further down the hill and hiked back up. You hate to lead people in the wrong direction when you’re the one who organized the ride. It’s YOU they will blame if people stop having fun or become lost!

El Dorado Canyon
The Lanky Fellow Got Stuck in the Trees and Tore his Jersey

Like I mentioned, the pinion pine is rather thick in this area, and us shorter riders were ducking and weaving under the low branches. Poor Lester, at 6-foot tall plus, was hitting every branch on the way down. He even tore his shirt on one of the branches! Thankfully for Lester, we cleared the thick tree section and hit some roller coaster downhill. Steep swooping drops were putting smiles on everyone’s faces.

El Dorado Canyon
Scott R and Kathy descending the Bull Run Spring Trail

We joined the Bull Run Spring trail, and the fun downhill just kept coming. This trail is pretty steep, and probably wouldn’t be much fun at all as a climb. The trail is a steep descent, but not so steep that you’re on the brakes the whole time. There are plenty of swooping sections that let you get off the brakes and keep the flow.

El Dorado Canyon
Am I Really That Much Taller?

El Dorado Canyon
This Climb Came Up by Surprise after a Blind Corner

El Dorado Canyon
Josh Defies Danger and Rides Two Bikes!


Descent down the Bull Run Spring Trail

At the bottom of the Bull Run Spring trail, we rejoined El Dorado Canyon. The road was fun in the descent direction too, giving you a little extra momentum to get through the rocky sections. Along the way, we stopped and talked to a quad rider that had stalled in the bottom of the creek bed. Thankfully he got his rig started again, and was able to get out. By now you’ve probably realized that this is rugged and remote country. This is not a place you want to get stuck in! Years ago on a dirt bike expedition into the canyon, a rider had fouled a spark plug and didn’t have a spare. He ditched his bike in the bushes, and we had to ride double back to the trucks 15 miles to the south in Carson Valley. He didn’t retrieve his motorcycle until the next day! This is not a place you want to go alone!

El Dorado Canyon
Thank Goodness for Full Suspension

Near the end of the canyon, we once again encountered the water hole. Kathy and I got on either side of it with the cameras, and Josh, Scott, and Lester charged through it for your entertainment. Enjoy these two videos!


The Water Hole!


The Water Hole! – Camera 2

Fall is my favorite time to visit the Pine Nut Mountains, and this area is highly recommended for exploring. If you go, study and bring a map, bring tools, spare tubes, plenty of snacks and water, and a buddy! We sure had a lot of fun, and hopefully we’ll get out there again before the year’s end.

The complete photo set of this ride can be viewed on the Bike Carson Flickr page HERE.  We have quite a few pictures, since we had three cameras going!  Enjoy.

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10 thoughts on “Expedition into El Dorado Canyon

  1. Yes, the Sun Valley hat is admirable, but Lester’s socks definitely merit a special shout out — a sharp, gutsy sartorial move, Fitzhenry!

  2. We rode on Saturday! Obviously the socks were the reason behind Boston’s amazing win Saturday. I should have worn them again Sunday!

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