For local trailblazer Sam Dayzie, mountain biking opportunities are always presenting themselves.
And such was the case ten years ago during a hunting trip in the Boggy Draw area of the San Juan National Forest. While scouting for elk near Italian Canyon, Dayzie had a revelation.
"I realized this open mesa would be some nice riding, and it's crisscrossing with cattle trails," he said. "I started riding out here with other locals, jumping from cow trail to cow trail, and exploring a good loop route."
After years of riding the connecting cow trails, and with the eventual blessing from national forest in 2005, the six-mile Italian Canyon Trail was officially born, signed and put on the map.
Together, Italian and the Maverick Trails form an 11-mile loop that has become a local's favorite. The ideal ride features open meadows and views of the La Plata Mountains, Sleeping Ute Mountain, Italian Canyon, and the Dolores River Valley.
"It's really the best ride in the area because of the vistas," says Pete Eschallier, of Kokopelli Bike and Board. "What's nice is it gets you out of the pine forests and onto a beautiful, remote mesa. It's a nice length with challenging aspects."
If you go:
The traditional route is counterclockwise, and takes off from the Maverick Trail. From the Boggy Draw trailhead parking lot, cross the cattle guard and get on the Maverick trail. After three rolling miles, Italian Canyon takes off to the right; then the real fun begins.
This ride is intermediate because of some steep climbs and technical rocky areas. It's longer distance deters riders meaning it is blissfully uncrowded.
The trail flows nicely, climbing up a ridge and then dropping into a secluded canyon, dubbed the Bear's Den.
"When I was scouting a good route, I saw a momma bear and her cubs right here," Dayzie says on a recent tour. "The bear charged at me; I just kept riding."
More casual climbing through ponderosa forests opens into small meadows leading to a wild and rocky descent that includes a log obstacle. But catch your breath, pull a drink, and drop into the granny gears for what's next.
A sudden, double-whammy of a climb is an exhilarating challenge. The route is "clean" meaning it is rideable, but whether you make the top, or stop half-way at a false summit, depends on the strength of your legs and lungs.
Topping out the hill, riders leave the dark forest and enter onto a panoramic mesa of wildflower meadows bordered by sage-brush, mountain mahogany, and rabbit brush.
The views are spectacular from here as the trail borders the edge of the mesa for several miles. Wildlife, including bears, pheasant, coyote, deer, and elk are occasionally seen.
After an obvious rock outcropping view point, the trail re-enters the woods, and descends for two miles along smooth singletrack. The junction with the Maverick trail soon appears, marked by a bike gate. A few short climbs later, the trail hits the Boggy Draw Road and the trailhead.
Riding Italian "backward" or clockwise has become a popular option. But I prefer the traditional way because the challenging climb feels more rewarding. Allow 2-3 hours for this ride.
Whichever way it's ridden, mountain biking scenic Italian Canyon is a must for locals and visitors alike.