“This is a long, hard climb with 11 miles of singletrack back to your car.”
— Zander Göpfert
Requires a $5 Adventure Pass
. Lots of sandy trail sections, give it a few days after it rains.
This is close to 3,400 feet of ascent to a campground, only to turn around for 11 miles of singletrack heaven. This ride is also a popular shuttle route, but the pay off is much better with a nice steady climb.
A real test of will and some technical ascents with adequate places to break and take in ocean views. Watch out for beginner riders and kids in Nike Frees with no helmets and huge huffy bike pumps bungeed to their backs.
Need to Know
- If you're looking for a shorter look it's possible to park at a pull-off near the top and do a 7.3 mile lollipop ride from there.
- At the end of a variation of this trail is a Candy Store. Enough said. If you are looking for lunch at the top, you can make a right down Long Canyon Rd, then take a left on Hwy 74 and into El Cariso and get a sandwich and a burger, but this adds five miles of road to your trip.
- There are lots of sandy turns, so be wary. While descending, be aware that this is a popular ascent trail for bikers and hikers alike. There are also lots of local foot races including the Old Goat Trail 50 miler. Be aware, there is a lot of poison oak on this trail as well.
Take Hwy 74 east towards Lake Elsinore to the Hot Spring Canyon Rd., and make a left towards Lazy W Ranch (you'll see a fire station). Take this back approximately two miles until you reach a large parking lot under tree cover. This is the start or end of the trail.
The trail starts out with pretty heavy climbing through 180° switchbacks that are fairly technical. Keep an eye on the ruts, especially after a heavy rain, because they will catch even the biggest 29er out there. This climb does not let up for a good two miles. The ride levels out for a bit after this as you ride around some smaller peaks before another ascent to what locals call Cocktail Rock.
This is where Old San Juan Trail
and New San Juan Trail
split, and a turn around point for a lot of the riders.
If you plan to ascend Old San Juan Trail
, you'll find yourself in some pretty enduro heaven just before a final ascent to the trailhead outside of Blue Jay Campground. This is where the shuttles drop off. If you wanted to continue north, you could connect with main divide road and hit some of the longer truck trails down or the super overgrown Los Pinos Trail. You can even get to the Santiago Peak pretty easily, which has some pretty decent panoramic views and the occasional snow fall.
Now you are ready to descend. Head down the trail through some pretty sharp rock descents and quick climbs. There will be a few off-shoots to your right, keep left on these as they just drop into the Blue Jay Campground. Beware of a high left turn option as it ends in a HUGE root booby trap and you'll end up pin-balling down the embankment. Pass the quick descent to your left and keep to the trail markers, once you get to a second split you'll stay straight as right is Old San Juan Trail
Take this for approximately one mile until you reach another split where you can break left and add some extra miles to your trip, with some really fun singletrack and dirt bumpers, or stay straight and keep on track to meet up with Cocktail Rock again. Depending on how much more gas you have in your tank, choose wisely because this also adds some additional climbing.
After some technical, sandy-chute style tracks, you make another technical ascent back to the Cocktail Rock and then begin the rest of your downhill.
This includes everything you climbed, but in the much more enjoyable direction. Expect lots of grippy turns and quick chutes, some technical rocky sections and some very technical switchbacks that are easier on smaller bikes.
This ride is truly a gem of Orange County, especially for the length. Enjoy but please respect the locals.