Round Trip Distance: 7 miles
Elevation: 5193-6662 feet
Cellphone: 3-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - Cycling - Dogs
Time: 3.5 hrs.
Facilities: Vault toilet at upper trailhead
Trailhead: Lower Ribbon Trail
View Ribbon Trail in a larger map
The Ribbon Trail in the BLM Bangs Canyon Management Area is a unique place for hiking and mountain biking. My calculations indicate that 54% of the hike is on slick rock composed mostly of Kayenta and Navajo sandstone, and the rest is mostly of the Morrison formation with its colorful clays, mudstone and sandstone. The upper area looked like a good place for a family outing while the rest of the trail was more suited for the hiker with a spirit of exploration.
The object of todays hike was to start at the lower trailhead on Little Park Road and hike up to the upper trailhead and back. The information about the trail that I obtained from the Daily Sentinel indicated that the hike was 6+ miles one-way so I prepared myself for a long hike. It turned out that the trail was only 3.54 miles one-way so it was a lot shorter than I was expecting. The elevation began at 5470 feet but quickly dropped to 5193 feet after descending from Little Park Road into the canyon below. The elevations in the newspaper were off 400-500 in both directions. Those elevations may have been gleaned from a topo map whereas mine were taken from my GPS readings. Those readings can vary by 10-20 feet but that is still much more accurate. The GPS also makes much more accurate trail maps.
Upon arrival in the wash about a half mile from the trailhead I came to the junction of the Ribbon Trail and Andy's Loop. I followed the Ribbon Trail as it wound its way up the wash. The next quarter mile up the wash made for pretty pleasant hiking. The trail left the wash to get around a little fall and then followed the wash a little further.
Eventually the wash became to rough to hike and the trail routed along the side of the hill above it. There were a couple of sections that required class 3 climbing moves which means I had to use at least one hand to get over the obstacle. Those spots added a little fun and variety to the hike. I did wonder what the mountain bikers think of those sections of the trail. It must not be too bad because I think they use the trail more than the hikers.
Once the trail hit the slick rock it wasted no time in making a habit of it. It seemed like the slick rock was never going to end. Instead of stopping and taking a break I kept going in robot like fashion. I was anticipating a 6+ mile journey to the upper trailhead so I had it in my head that I needed to keep up a steady pace.
More slick rock.
This is incredible.
Some sections were so vast that they had to put trail markers in the middle.
The hiking started getting pretty fun the closer I got to the upper end. A colleague at work told me they call this section of the trail the 'Toilet Bowl'. She has a picture of her husband riding his bike down it. At first glance the mound almost looked unpassable. After looking it over I found enough ridges and bumps that I was able to walk right up it.
I was pleasantly surprised to see some magnificent looking Ponderosa Pine trees. Pine trees are thought to have been the abundantly dominant trees in the area for thousands of years. Since the last ice age the trees have gradually disappeared except at higher elevations and well protected sites like the ones harboring these specimens.
The next section of slick rock was so vast that it was like looking out over the ocean.
I reached the upper trailhead after hiking 3.54 miles in one hour and 45 minutes. This was definitely taking a lot less time than I had planned. I walked around and took a few pictures of the large parking area before heading back down the trail.
I wondered if sections like this are where the trail obtained its name. The views were pretty impressive from this vantage point. I could look south and see the snow covered Mt. Sneffels in the San Jaun mountains over 100 miles away. I could even make out where I parked at the lower trailhead.
The trip back down the slick rock was a lot like pounding pavement. It must go by pretty quickly on a mountain bike. There is a large cave in the side of the mountain that begged to be explored. I couldn't tell if it went all the way through to the large opening a little further up the hill.
This trail is definitely uphill in both directions with the last half mile climbing from the bottom of the wash back up the boulder field to Little Park Road. It is a great location to study the different layers of the Morrison Formation because they are all pretty much laid out from the bottom of the wash to the top of the hill.
I had the trail all to myself today. There weren't any cars parked at either trailhead all though I have seen a lot of cars at the upper trailhead on weekends. An alternative to hiking the trail in the manner that I did would be to leave a vehicle at the lower trailhead and drive another to the upper trailhead and hike down to the lower trailhead.. You would still have the last half mile of climbing to contend with but you would get to see the entire route with a lot less effort. It doesn't feel quite right calling the lower trailhead a trailhead. There isn't a sign to designate it as such. Nothing indicates that you are on the Ribbon Trail until you get to the junction with Andy's Loop which is a half mile away. I would give the hike 3 out of 5 stars but I really liked the geology and it was good exercise. If you want to experience it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike!.