FATMAP by Strava
Rider: Greg Heil

The Best Mountain Bike Trails on 3 of Ecuador's Tallest Volcanoes

Wide-open freeride surfing, gnarly singletrack, and high-speed descents—Ecuador's vaulted volcanoes have it all!

Mountain Biking Difficult, Severe

Also in Bolivar, EcuadorCotopaxi, EcuadorPichincha, Ecuador

Rider: Greg Heil
Rider: Greg Heil Photo: Andres - Epic Andes Tours


The small country of Ecuador is best known for the incredible natural diversity of the Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin famously conducted much of the research that informed his world-changing tome, On the Origin of Species. But what the general public may not realize is that Ecuador is home to some of the tallest mountains on the planet. In fact, one could argue that Chimborazo is, in fact, THE tallest mountain on Earth. Due to the equatorial bulge of the planet, the 20,500-foot summit of the mountain is the point of land that's furthest from the center of the Earth—that's right, further even than Everest!

But Chimborazo is far from the only mountain in Ecuador. This incredible landscape is dotted with sky-scraping volcanoes, many of them topped by glaciers, despite the country straddling the equator.

Indeed, while Chimborazo is the tallest mountain in the country, it's not even the most famous. That accolade goes to Cotopaxi, which, at 19,347 feet, is one of the tallest active volcanoes in the world—and one of the most ominous. Cotopaxi has historically erupted on 120-year intervals, but the last major eruption was in 1877. That means that Cotopaxi is over 25 years overdue for its next eruption. With the amount of development and the number of people that have populated the valley beneath the volcano, an eruption could prove catastrophic.

When the lava hits the glacial ice, it melts instantly, sending mudflows (known as "lahars") rushing down the mountain. The lahars in 1877 ran for more than 60 miles, traveling all the way to the Pacific Ocean in the west and the Amazon River Basin in the east. (Source)

According to Wikipedia, the Ecuadorean government estimates that some 300,000 people are at risk from the volcano.

And that's just for a standard eruption.

Geologists have determined that Cotopaxi is also prone to a much more catastrophic type of eruption, in which the entire top of the mountain explodes—exactly like Mount Saint Helens. These cataclysmic explosions happen roughly every 2,000 years, and guess what? Cotopaxi is overdue for one of those as well.

So what better place to ride a mountain bike than on the flanks of a volcano that could explode at any time?!

Rounding out this guidebook is a much "shorter" volcano—Guagua Pichincha, which rises to an elevation of "only" 15,696 feet above sea level. However, it's location directly above the city of Quito makes it a region-defining monolith.

The Mountain Biking

In this guidebook, you'll find six epic enduro-style mountain bike routes down these three massive volcanoes. These incredible trails offer everything from freeride mountain biking on wide-open slopes of volcanic gravel and sand to high-speed flowing singletrack; technical rock rolls; forests of gnarled, ancient trees; muddy, eroded trenches; beautifully-constructed benchcut trails; and so much more.

The immensity and diversity of this landscape are difficult to comprehend. As you begin sampling these trails on Ecuador's unbelievable natural wonders, it might be difficult to take it all in—to absorb the fact that you're routinely riding a mountain bike at more than 15,000 feet above sea level. But you are—and it's worth every bit of the effort that you put in to get here!

For all the details on each individual trail, be sure to read the in-depth description for each route.

Guiding in Ecuador

While the trails might look straightforward on the map, sorting out ride logistics and navigating many of Ecuador's epic trails can prove to be very difficult. I hired Andrés Chacho López of Epic Andes Tours to guide me on most of these rides and sort out the logistics, and I was very glad I did! From sorting out all the shuttles and drivers to guiding me down windswept screefields with nary a sign of a trail, working with Andrés in Ecuador was 100% the way to go!

Routes included