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Southern California’s Top Mountain Bike Trails

There’s a reason so many damn people live in Southern California, as it offers one of the most inviting climates and diverse terrain– from the mountains to the beaches. One group undoubtedly reaping the benefits of the ever-changing terrain is the community of mountain bikers who call SoCal their home.

Bike magazine editor, Squirrel, reflected on what makes the SoCal mountain biking scene special: “Mountain biking in Southern California is a pretty unique experience. It’s amazing just how “out there” you can feel while still being merely minutes away from an eight-lane freeway bumper-to-bumper with traffic.”

Here’s a list compiled along with Bike magazine of the top Mountain Bike trails to ride in Southern California:

San Juan trail- Located east of San Juan Capistrano this is one of the most technical rides in Orange County with several switchbacks to navigate.
Highlight– After the difficult climb to the very top, the 11-mile downhill section to the bottom will make the hard work worth it.
Trail Type: Single track
Distance: 22 miles out and back, plus loop
Duration: 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 3,690 feet
Climbing: Intense
Skill Level: Advanced
User Density: Crowded

Chiquito trail- Rocky and challenging, the Chiquito trail is generally done as a shuttle starting up at Blue Jay Campground. There’s forest singletrack and difficult rock rollers that intersect with San Juan trail.
Highlight– The terrain goes from fun and flowy to technical and rocky surroundings in a hurry.
Trail Type: Singletrack, rocky
Distance: 9 miles
Duration: 1-2 hours
Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Climbing: moderate
Skill Level: Advanced
User Density: Moderate

Noble Canyon trail- Located in southeast San Diego, this trail is sure to test your riding ability on a variety of terrain such as technical singletrack, tight switchbacks, burms, dirt, rock and sand. Remember that a national forest adventure pass is required to ride this trail.
Highlight– The vast array of scenery. You begin your ride through alpine meadows and oak trees that transition into typical Southern California chaparral and finally into arid desert climate.
Trail Type: Singletrack
Distance: 22 miles out and back
Duration: 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Climbing: Rolling terrain
Skill Level: Advanced
User Density: Not too bad during the week, but on weekends you’ll be competing with horses and hikers.

Del Cerro Trail, Palos Verdes-
Beautiful views from everywhere on the trail of the Pacific Ocean are the main attraction along with the smooth and fast technical single track. Popular among hikers on a sunny weekend, so avoid the crowds by going first thing in the morning.
Highlight– The ocean front location is a major distraction from the fact that you’re actually having to work climbing the various hills.
Trail Type: Single track, gravel road
Distance: 10 miles
Duration: 1 – 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 750 feet
Climbing: Rolling terrain
Skill Level: Something for everyone
User Density: Weekend crowds

Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains- This well known LA trail has it all from fire road climbing to rocky technical sections, and lush scenery.
Highlight– This area has a rich history of providing backdrops to Hollywood movies as part of the trail travels through areas where they filmed the movie and TV series M*A*S*H in the 1970’s.
Trail Type: Single track
Distance: 13 miles
Duration: 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 3,454 feet
Climbing: Strenuous
Skill Level: Intermediate
User Density: Crowded

Aliso Canyon and Wood Canyon Park Trail- Located within the Orange County park system, this trail is home to several rare and endangered plants and animals that make this park a designated wildlife sanctuary.
Highlight– Bobcats, snakes, and hawks are just a few of the many critters you’ll be sharing the trails with.
Trail Type: Single track and fire road
Distance: 10.2 miles
Duration: 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Climbing: Rolling terrain
Skill Level: Intermediate
User Density: One of the most popular trails in Orange County– crowded.

Gabrielino Trail Mountain Bike Trail- Located near Los Angeles, this technical single track provides lots of challenges and obstacles. A $10 shuttle ride eliminates the tough uphill mountain biking.
Highlight– The stream crossings towards the bottom of the hill leave you with 2 options: either dismount your bike and walk over, or the preferred way of closing your eyes and charging hard.
Trail Type: Single track, minimal fire roads, and stream crossings
Distance: 15 miles
Duration: 2-3 hours
Elevation Gain: 1000 feet
Climbing: Steep
Skill Level: Advanced
User Density: Moderate