Beginning near Dayton and climbing 11 miles south to the Douglas County line, El Dorado Canyon defines the eastern border of Carson City. Many people will be surprised to learn that this eastern border of Carson City is actually further east than downtown Dayton. A dirt road runs the length of this remote canyon, but it’s one of most rugged trails in the area. Full of washouts, creek crossings, and boulders, the challenge attracts 4×4 and OHV enthusiasts for its difficulty. It’s not uncommon for these vehicles to become broken and stranded along the way. Although still challenging on a bicycle, a mountain bike is one of the easiest way to see the canyon.
We got out to the canyon last weekend. To start our ride, we drove into Dayton and headed east on Dayton Valley Road. Immediately after crossing the Carson River bridge, we made a right and followed the signs to the rodeo grounds. The rodeo grounds can be used as a staging area, but if you want to save some climbing like we did, follow the road around the rodeo grounds and park above the mouth of the canyon where the road starts to get rocky. From there, just ride along the road and drop into the bottom of the canyon.
The wet and cool spring has set the stage for lots of wildflowers, making this the perfect time to ride the canyon. From beginning to end, the flowers were everywhere, providing lots of color in the canyon and on the hillsides.
Another good reason to ride the canyon right now is for all the water flowing down the creek. The numerous creek crossings and puddles are deep enough for some fun challenges. Just plan to get a little wet.
At a particularly narrow and rocky section, we stopped to chat with some ATVers. They even offered us some refreshments, which we were more than happy to accept. Soon, some 4×4 rock crawlers that we had recently passed came through. It was fun to watch these customized machines make their way through terrain that would be nearly impossible in a stock vehicle. These folks were sticking to the most difficult routes, speed not a factor in their decision making. One guy mentioned that we were crazy to be out there on bikes, but we were thinking the same thing of them!
No matter what time of year, El Dorado Canyon has all sorts of interesting geological features to explore and ponder. The colors and types of rocks are always changing throughout the canyon, many looking strange and out of place. When traveling south up the canyon, be sure to look up on the hillside on your left after the small cave. There’s a natural arch that’s barely visible from the road. It’s worth a hike up to see.
It’s hard to travel through El Dorado Canyon and not see some wildlife. We caught a few reptiles out sunning themselves. With the regular water source in the canyon, you may even see a deer, bobcat, or mountain lion.
The canyon opens up near the top with big views. Even though it’s less rocky, there are still challenging hill climbs and washouts to ride. El Dorado Canyon tops out at Sunrise Pass Road at the Douglas and Lyon County line. We found some shade and had a long break, gathering some energy for the long descent back to the bottom.
The downhill is a blast, never too steep with lots of twists and turns and fun obstacles. I had stayed mostly dry on the way up, but crashing through the water on the way down was too much fun to resist. There are only a few short uphills on the way back, and you definitely make the return trip a lot quicker. We ran into the people we met on the way up. The 4×4 group was still crawling up the wash, barely a half mile from where we saw them last (see, I told you they were crazy…). Our ride ended with the climb out of the canyon and tired legs, back to our vehicle overlooking Dayton below.
- Although El Dorado Canyon isn’t too hard on a mountain bike, it’s best to stay out of there when it’s raining or muddy. The mud sticks to everything, and gets so slippery you can barely walk in it.
- Those looking for additional mileage should check out the side canyons: Bull Run Spring, Sullivan Canyon, and Illinois Canyon. These canyons offer some fun singletrack and options for some epic backcountry loops.
- Carry a decent repair kit, extra water and food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. The area is remote with little phone coverage. Not a bad place to carry The Ten Essentials.