San Diego Mountain Biking

May 16th, 2019

The mountain biking in San Diego varies from gentle beach cruises to rugged mountain climbs. But no matter where you ride, there is a sensory onslaught: the sharp tang of sea air, the warm gust of an afternoon breeze, the jitter and bump of a rocky singletrack, the nurturing patter of a mountain waterfall, the refreshing spatter of mud after tearing through a puddle. San Diego is alive like that, a rich, vibrant land that fairly begs to be experienced.

Don’t forget to check out YouTube to see if anyone has posted any videos of the trails you are interested in. More often people are using something like an extreme sport camera and their $20 handlebar/seat mount kit to create videos like the one below to capture their experience on the trail.

Riders searching for the most challenging San Diego riding experience will want to head inland, using the convenience of Highway 15 or Interstate 8 to reach the mountain trails of the Cleveland National Forest. The trails are well maintained, and well marked, and riders new to the area will be surprised how alpine San Diego can truly be.

Riders who don’t have the time for a drive inland, or who prefer a more coastal riding experience, will revel in the countless public parks and local riding trails. For all its urban accouterments, San Diego has open space galore along the coast. A great ride is never far from your hotel.

Places to Ride

Corral Canyon: This ride is the perfect introduction to the pristine wilderness of San Diego’s east county. You’ve got to drive a ways to get to this rugged backcountry ride, but the combination of challenge and enjoying scenery will make the journey worthwhile. Head east on Interstate 8, exiting an hour later on Buckman Springs Road. Follow the signs to Lake Morena, then follow the signs to the trailhead. The ride itself is about 10 miles long, but plan on being out there a solid 2 hours. The lake will be close enough to see, but that’s as near as water will come to this ride, so carry plenty. The trail features almost 70% singletrack, with a smattering of fire roads and paved road providing the access. If you like a good climb, this is the ride for you. Lots of nontechnical singletrack climbs and stellar views of the lake. The ride finishes up with a 3-mile downhill jaunt back to the parking lot.

Cuyamaca to Noble Canyon: Designated by the International Mountain Biking Association as an “Epic” ride, this 30 mile journey along the spine of the Santa Rosa Mountains, in the heart of the Cleveland National Forest, begins about 50 miles east of downtown San Diego. Soothing pine forests and sun-baked high desert canyons, once the home of Kumeyaay Indians, offer some of the most stunning ride terrain anywhere. The trail itself is composed of fire roads and single track. Look for patches of snow in winter and carry extra water to battle the dry desert air. Descend Noble Canyon into the historic mining town of Julian, treat yourself to a cold Arrogant Bastard Ale at the Stone Brewing Company, or find yourself a slice of Julian’s signature apple pie.

Daley Ranch: This ride is suitable for riders of all levels. Daley Ranch is located in Escondido, in northeast San Diego. Twenty miles of trails course through the park, but the primary mountain bike path is a rolling 12-mile loop on fire roads, with a smattering of single track. It’s a ride for enjoying with a friend, making conversation and enjoying the sweet smells of sage and eucalyptus. Escondido’s inland location means warm temperatures year round, so make sure to top of your hydration system before setting out.

Mission Trails Regional Park: Say you’re in town for a convention. You want to squeeze in a ride in the morning or evening, but don’t have the time to drive an hour into the Laguna Mountains. Try Mission Trails. Located just eight miles from downtown San Diego, right off Mission Gorge Road, this favorite of runners and hikers also offers a hardy mountain bike experience – heavy on the scenery and nature. With a variety of trails to choose from, riders can go hard or not; climb or ride flats. You’ll be back in the city in plenty of time to make the first meeting of the day.

Places to Eat

Nothing wraps up a day of mountain biking better than Mexican food. Try Old Town Mexican Café and Cantina (619-279-4330) in San Diego’s historic Old Town. The restaurant’s specialties includes the most succulent carnitas this side of the border. Or try the Casa de Pico (619-296-3267), known for mariachis, margaritas, and festive courtyard dining.

Places to Stay

The Loews Coronado Bay Resort (619-424-4000) commands a sweeping view of San Diego Bay, with amenities like children’s programs, feng shui bedrooms and meeting rooms, five-star restaurants and lounges, group exercise classes, a phenomenal fitness center, and full spa facilities. After a hard day on the trail, you’ll enjoy sitting on your balcony with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc, watching the lights of San Diego twinkle across the bay. Also on Coronado, try the Glorietta Bay Inn (619-435-3101). Formerly the Spreckels Mansion, this historic boutique hotel was recently recognized for its outstanding guest service programs. Walk out the front door to the village of Coronado, and revel in its small town charm, or stroll the one block to the beach for a day of sunbathing.

The Gear Shops

Per capita, it’s safe to assume there are more bike shops in San Diego than anywhere else in the world. It is a region of bikes and bike trails, where shaved legs are as common on men as women, and a chain mark on the inside of the calf is de rigueur. The staffs in local shops share that same, laid back attitude more commonly associated with surf shops, and strong coffee is invariably brewing somewhere in back. To experience San Diego on a bike is to experience San Diego.

With rare exceptions, all the local bike shops cater to cyclists of the road and mountain biking stripe. Which isn’t to say that some don’t specialize. Two favorites among triathletes and road cyclists are B&L Bike and Sport (858-481-4148) and Nytro (800-697-8007). Both shops cater to the elite athlete and age-group racer, but also offer a wide selection of products for the weekend warrior, and have a reputation for good, fast mechanic service. UC Cyclery (858-452-8842) is another longtime favorite known for its service and focus on competitive road cycling.

As for shops catering more to the mountain biker, two favorites with local riders are Performance Bikes(619-461-9680) in La Mesa and Mission Cyclery (619-422-3098) located in Bonita.

If you’re not fond of lugging your bike through airports, or strapping it to the roof of your car, give
Cheap Rentals a try. Located on Mission Boulevard in San Diego, it has bikes for on and off-road cycling. Ask for Ed. 858-488-9070. Another place for rentals is Bikes and Beyond (619-435-2744) on Coronado, or try Wheel Fun Rentals (619-200-1400), which features rental outlets at the Hotel del Coronado, Marriott Marina, and Hyatt Islandia.

Insider’s Secret

The trails winding through the eucalyptus forest on the University of California at San Diego are not technically demanding, but the serenity of the thick grove and its soothing aroma makes for a rejuvenating mountain bike ride. Many have compared it to a spa treatment on wheels.

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