Oil Well Flats was merely the beginning.
A few short years after Cañon City polished off its top-notch mountain biking trails at Oil Well Flats, the community is already toasting an entirely new network on the other side of town. Miss it at your own peril.
The South Cañon Trails consist of roughly 10 miles of rocky trails that beg to be ridden in both directions.
In keeping with Cañon City's rugged terrain, the new system offers a rough-and-tumble tour of the foothills west of town, marked by slick rock-bottom canyons, vertiginous slopes and old-growth juniper forests offering grand views of the area.
It's the latest phase of a homegrown effort to turn Cañon City into a statewide destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
"Instead of just a day trip, people will say, 'Maybe we can make a weekend out of it,' " said Brian LeDoux of the Lower Arkansas Mountain Biking Association.
With world-class sport climbing at Shelf Road and access to a thrilling stretch of the Arkansas River, spending a week in Cañon City wouldn't be out of the question.
The South Cañon Trails are the latest attraction to debut in Colorado's so-called Banana Belt, stretching from Buena Vista and Salida to Pueblo. All receive relatively little snow during winters, making them a seasonal refuge for riders across the state.
Unlike the trails at Oil Well, the new system is right in town - accessible from a free parking lot just off U.S. 50.
"Being able to ride from downtown is huge," said Scott Eckstrom, owner of Red Canyon Cycles, where visitors can stop for a pre-ride coffee or meal at an in-house cafe. "There's a whole little world down here that (riders) don't know about - the river, the restaurants, the bars."
A connection to the older Section 13 trail network makes it possible to do a 30-mile ride with roughly 3,500 feet of elevation gain with minimal trail duplication.
The $250,000 project was begun in August and finished in mid-November, though it took a few months of moisture to tamp down on "several inches of moon dust" plaguing freshly cut trails, LeDoux said. A ribbon-cutting was held this month.
Funding was provided in large part by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife trails grant and additional contributions from the Bureau of Land Management and the nonprofit Fremont Adventure Recreation.
While Oil Well Flats marked the start of Cañon City's transformation, the South Cañon Trails won't be the conclusion.
This summer, crews will continue work on yet another trail network - this one on the spectacular north rim of the Royal Gorge.
In time, the community hopes to expand that network to the south side of the Royal Gorge before tying in those trails to the South Cañon system, creating a system that few riders could hope to complete in a single weekend.
Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366