Generally, very well-graded fire roads with some somewhat eroded singletrack. The singletrack is generally wide and well-maintained however.
Begin and end on Descanso Drive. Park just east of the entrance to Descanso Gardens. The trail starts 15 yards west of the horse trail crossing, behind the tall fence.
The ride starts with a few switchbacks and then becomes the Descanso Motorway
, which is a dirt fire road along the southwest side of the Gardens. It continues up to the Alpha Motorway
, which leads south to the fire watchtower at the top. However, I opt to take a hard left at the second "landing" and go down about 0.5 miles and make a right onto a flowing singletrack.
This is Liz's Loop Trail
and it drops onto the Cherry Canyon Motorway
. Head left and then take the Canyon Trail Connector
onto the lower third of the Canyon Trail
. From the end, turn left and climb the Cherry Canyon Motorway
for about five minutes to get to a five-point trail crossing. Here, there are a variety of trails, but this route opts to take you up the fire road to the fire watchtower. The fire watchtower sits atop a 1,887-foot peak in the San Rafael Hills. From here, there are great views of Flint Peak, the Verdugo Mountains, and the San Gabriel Mountain Range.
When ready, head back down 75 yards, and turn right toward the fire road gate at the top of Sugar Loaf Drive. Take a hard left over a log onto the Cerro Negro Trail
. This trail can be tricky and loose.
Soon, there is a quick climb to the top of a ridge. Continue right and go down and up more singletrack following the Cerro Negro Trail
. This trail cuts left, northwest, and follows the southern side of Cherry Canyon. There are a few trail crossings, however, continue straight across all of them. You should end up at the five-point trail crossing at the top of Cherry Canyon again.
From here, you can follow the Edison power lines and go north. Stay to the right and climb up to a bench. From here, you can go left down towards the next power line tower, and just behind it, emerges a singletrack called the Conservancy Trail
. This ends at the gate on Forest Hill. I did the latter in this GPS track and it loops back up to the Alpha Motorway
I then climbed back up the Forest Hill fire road. Keep going up until you get to the bench again. Now facing south, descend on the road and then go right up a somewhat steep hill and start the final descent down the fire road towards Descanso Gardens. Watch out, the end gets steep and loose. Perfectly ride-able, just be careful.
There are a variety of routes in the 131-acre preserve. Have fun exploring and please watch out for the hikers!
Interested in a tougher workout? You can add another four miles and 669' in climbing by dropping down into the Glendale Sports Complex and climbing out (see the Glendale Sports Complex - Cherry Canyon Loop
featured ride). It's about 50% dirt road and 50% singletrack. From the watchtower, head south along Gladys Motorway.
There is a yellow gate at the end of one descent, go 15 more yards to the next yellow gate and down to the Catalina Verdugo Trail
. Drop down into the Glendale Sports Complex and climb back up to the watchtower. That's the best the San Rafael Hills have to offer!