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Early Winter Mountain Biking at Oil Well Flats

Alex Gauthier

Mountain Biking at Oil Well Flats

Oil Well Flats is a multi-use recreation trail system north of Cañon City, Colorado. There’s a plethora of great riding all over Colorado and the Colorado Springs/Cañon City area have some truly top-notch gems that are worth exploring. We heard about Oil Well Flats a couple times and even passed the trailhead on our way to Shelf Road to climb more than once but with the last of our extended fall showing signs of an abrupt and dramatic death (I’m watching 12 inches of snow fall outside my window as I write this), we decided we could delay no more and loaded up my buddy Sean’s Crosstrek with our three bikes.

Riding Oil Well Flats

Bernie, Sean and I met up at Heuberger Subaru in Colorado Springs and set off towards Cañon City in cool temps. In our riding clothes, we shivered in the wind as we got in the car. We shivered some more when we hit the trailhead and unloaded our bikes. Supposedly the mercury was hovering around freezing but the day was stunning. Blue skies and a warm sun helped to soften the claws of the frigid wind that raked the hills around us.

Having never ridden at Oil Well Flats, we decided to take the grand tour which led us up Tectonic Shift, Fracture, Island in the Sky and a few other trails that enabled a wide circuit of the entire trail system. Difficulty varies widely within the system but we found that there was definitely some great riding no matter your technical skill or fitness. Being more of a foot-borne mountain guy, I was definitely the weak link on this trip but I’m used to that whenever I hop in the saddle. Though I love mountain biking, it’s not my main focus and so I expect to suffer a bit when I ride with friends. That proves that even a schlub like me can have a blast on this trail. I certainly had a blast and both Bernie and Sean repeatedly extolled the virtues of the trail both during and after our ride.

riding oil well flats
Sean Warner grinds his way up to the higher section of the trail system. Photo: Bernie Brayton

Our route had us climbing quite a bit for the first half of the ride or so with some flats and a few downhills to break-up the overall ascent. Our high point was a cliff over-looking Cañon City on the Island in the Sky trail. Trail composition tends to be blocky limestone steps and dips with lots of gravel single track for the entire ride up. My lack of cycling fitness had me going too slow to tackle some of the uphill technical bits so there was some hiking on my part. The other two fared better than I. I think we’d say this route was technical but not overly so.

Upon reaching the top of Island in the Sky, we had to pause to enjoy the spectacular view. The trail traverses the top of the cliff over slabby limestone back onto single track. The descent is bumpy but very ridable by most folks and is a simple pleasure to navigate down. Once you lose elevation and get back into the canyons, it’s mostly fun flat or downhill single track all the way back to the lower trailhead where we started from.

fracture, oil well flats
Author at one of the many well marked trail junctions. Photo: Bernie Brayton

Oil Well Flats is situated in a more desert-like region of Southern Colorado so year-round riding conditions are prevalent but you’ll find it in its prime during the shoulder seasons. Summers tend to be very hot and winters can be bitter cold but are probably more enjoyable than summer riding there.

oil well flats, island in the sky
Bernie and Sean overlooking the valley on Island in the Sky. Photo: Alex Gauthier


  • Here’s a KMZ file of our route for anyone who’d like to use it in Google Maps or other software.
  • Checkout Mountain Bike Project for a really nice iOS ap that will both show you most of the trails (but not all) and also locate you on the map without need of a cellular connection on your phone. You can also create an account and use their website to research future rides on your desktop computer.
  • Après Ride Meals- Cañon City has some great choices conveniently located along the main drag after your ride. Check out: Bunk House Burgers, Royal Gorge Brewing Company, and Pizza Madness.
Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier is the head adventure junky for Subaru Adventure Team and part time outdoor adventure photographer. His first love is climbing of any kind but can also be spotted on mountain bike trails or working on building sea kayaks which he may or may not ever get to paddle.
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