Mountain biking has become one of the most popular sports in the Eastern Sierra, and Rock Creek is home to two of the most insane rides in the region...Sand Canyon and Lower Rock Creek. Combining the rides offers riders a trip of around 5,000 vertical feet of decent, a feature seldom found anywhere. Most riders do one or the other, however.
These are both very technical rides and are not for novice riders.
Lower Rock Creek
Lower Rock Creek is a technical single-track that is similar to Sand Canyon in that the terrain is extremely variable, particularly in the lower portion of the ride. The ride begins just below Hwy 395's junction with Lower Rock Creek Road. An obvious parking area is present near the trailhead and a sign exists marking the beginning of the ride. The sign is not visible from the road, however. Drop another car at Paradise for pickup.
The upper section of the ride (above the diamond on the map) is a fun, fast single-track that is not overly technical. The trail crosses the road in a couple of sections, so keep that in mind.
Below the diamond the ride is much more technical. All the photos on this page were taken in that section of the trail. This portion of the ride is very rocky, and overgrown with willows in sections. Expect sharp turns, rocks, vegetation, and lots of variable terrain. For many, the challenge is to stay on the bike at times.
The entire ride follows Rock Creek. Those combining Sand Canyon and Lower Rock Creek are in for the ride of their lives! To combine the two, finish Sand Canyon, ride Swall Meadows Road out, then ride Lower Rock Creek Road up to the diamond on the map. This is a good spot to rest before continuing.
Please keep in mind that Lower Rock Creek is also a hiking trail. Keep alert for other people on the trail at all times.
Sand Canyon is a fast and steep ride with a great deal of vertical descent. The ride is located on a 4WD road east of Rock Creek Road on a bench below Wheeler Crest. It travels through varying gnarly terrain, including rocks, sand, hard-packed dirt, roots, and silt. Riders must be prepared for rapidly changing terrain. Don't try this ride if you are not accustomed to severe off-road conditions.
Sand Canyon starts at Rock Creek Lake (9,700 feet). Begin by entering the forest service gate directly across from the campground manager, not at the Tamarack Trailhead. You will travel through a number of privately-owned cabins. At the top of the cabin road is a fork. Go left. You will eventually meet up with the Tamarack Trail from the lake. Continue climbing.
The first mile + involves carrying or pushing your bike for much of it. Eventually the trail will widen and become sandy. You will see a trail head off to the east to Dorothy, Francis, and Tamarack Lakes. Continue going straight (north) looking for the Sand Canyon sign for confirmation. The trail passes through a meadow, eventually meeting the 4WD road. A small lake is only a couple hundred yards up (south) from this fork. It's a good place to relax before beginning the descent.
You have two smaller climbs from this point, then the downhill begins. You will end up at Swall Meadows in Lower Rock Creek after dropping over 3,000 vertical feet. Park your car at the Swall Meadows Road/Lower Rock Creek Road Junction to end your ride here, or climb the hill on Lower Rock Creek Road and down the other side to the creek crossing to combine Sand Canyon and Lower Rock Creek into one insane ride! If you choose to combine the two, park your car at Paradise Camp/Lodge.
Or heck, forget dropping the car. Hump it back up to Rock Creek Lake for a 13 mile, 5,000 foot vertical climb from Paradise!