The northern part of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park features some easier singletracks passing through a number of different landscapes. Parts of the rough traverse head through forest regenerating from the 2003 Cedar Fire, but you'll also sample the arid, near-desert landscapes with characteristic low scrubby plants and the occasional cactus.
The day use fee for parking at Cuyamaca Rancho is $10 (2018), or the "Golden Poppy" annual CA State Parks Pass will get you access for $125.
All of the trails in this ride are multi-use, so be on the lookout for hikers, equestrians, and mountain lions.
The route begins with the Cold Stream Trail (North)
just across CA79 from the Paso Picacho camping area. The first 2.5 miles or so pass through the regenerating forest on the way down to Lake Cuyamaca. This is all singletrack, filled with lots of turns, dips, and bends with a couple of rocky areas thrown in. Nothing too difficult - just a pleasure to ride. A short stretch on Los Caballos
takes you to the Marty Minshall
trail as you near the lake.
is a nice, smooth, and flat singletrack through the same regenerating forest along the shore of Lake Cuyamaca. This is a really easy section of trail and you can soak up the views of the lake and the expansive Cuyamaca Meadow. Continue on the stretch of singletrack across the paved road towards the Los Vaqueros Group Horse Campground. This begins about 6 miles with no shade, so you'll want to be prepared to take some sun.
Just before you reach the horse campground, you'll cross the paved road again onto Soapstone Grade Fire Road
. This is an easy climb up to the California Riding and Hiking Trail
The California Riding and Hiking Trail
is a gem of a singletrack. There are some shorter climbs and descents and a couple of areas filled with loose rocks, but little to slow you down except perhaps the overall narrowness of the trail with the scrubby bushes on either side of the trail sometimes brushing your shins and occasionally elbows. This portion of the trail is elevated, offering an even better view of the Cuyamaca Meadow which seems to go on forever. The last portion of the California Riding and Hiking Trail
is a fun descent to a parking area on the Sunrise Highway.
Just before you reach the road, you'll see the turn for La Cima Trail
which continues the singletrack along the highway. This section offers good views down into the Anza-Borrego Desert. La Cima Trail
is filled with a few more loose rocks than the California Riding and Hiking Trail
and it's generally uphill, so it is a bit more difficult but perfectly manageable.
The real treat is when you reach Upper Green Valley Trail
. Upper Green Valley Trail
is a fast singletrack descent into the Green Valley. There are a couple of rocky sections, but visibility is good and you can get some speed with the grade increasing as you near the end of the singletrack at Soapstone Grade Fire Road
. About this time, you'll start to encounter some shade which might be a welcome respite from the previous 6 miles.
On paper, it looks like it would be good to take Stonewall Creek Fire Road
back to Marty Minshall
, but the 0.75-mile climb up the road is pretty steep. Instead continue downhill on Upper Green Valley Fire Road
. The first mile or so is rugged doubletrack in and out of the Sweetwater River wash with some rutted areas. After about a mile of doubletrack, you pop out onto an as-smooth-as-it-gets fire road that takes you quickly down to the intersection with Stonewall Creek Fire Road
Stonewall Creek Fire Road
is where you pay for all that altitude. Stonewall isn't quite as smooth as the Upper Green Valley Fire Road
and you've got about 500 ft to climb in 3 miles back to Soapstone Grade Fire Road
. Stonewall Peak towers above you most of the way. There is an awesome view from the top of the peak, but you'll have to hike there.
When you get to Soapstone, take Marty Minshall
and Cold Stream Trail (North)
back to the start.
Most of the forest in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park was burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire, which was the largest fire in California history until 2017. New growth is starting to take root all around though.
Gold was discovered in the area in 1869 triggering a mini gold rush. The route also passes near the Stonewall Mine along Marty Minshall
trail, which was the largest mine in area.