When you mention Southern California most people think of surfer dudes, warm beaches, endless sunshine, movie stars and tons of traffic. Southern California does have all of these things, but it also boasts some pretty impressive mountain biking. After all, many well known mountain bike companies and magazines are based here, and a good portion of mountain bike racing in the state occurs in the region.
I don’t think too many mountain bikers elsewhere fantasize about SoCal as their first choice when it comes to a riding destination, but the riding here is definitely rad and feature some of the best trails I’ve ridden on. I relocated to Ventura County a few months ago, and I have been more than impressed by the abundance of trails and park systems available to mountain bikers.
Ventura county is located just north of Los Angeles, with the Santa Monica mountains to the west and Santa Susana Pass to the east (which divides Simi Valley from the urban sprawl of the San Fernando Valley), and the high peaks of the Los Padres national forest to the north. The miles of trails throughout beckon mountain bikers for some really incredible riding. Ventura County has done it right, with 53 percent of the county’s total area made up of national forest. North of Highway 126, the county is mountainous and mostly uninhabited, and contains some of the most unspoiled, rugged and inaccessible wilderness remaining in Southern California. These mountains are the habitat for the elusive and rare California Condor, with a sanctuary established for them in the area.
Most of the neighbourhoods throughout the county have trail access within riding distance, most of the trails are open to mountain bikes, and the trail systems do not close at sunset. This means legal night rides! If you have a pesky job that keeps you off your bike during the day, the trails are ready and waiting for you when you get off work.
The other trail users are super friendly and actually like mountain bikers. On my New Year’s Day ride, I must have had 30 plus hikers and other cyclists say “Happy New Year” to me as I passed them on the trail. With the amount of trails available and the down-to-earth and friendly attitude of other trail users, Ventura County should definitely be on your list of places to ride.
Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon
One of my new favourite places to ride is in the Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon area, located in the northern-most section of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Cheeseboro and Palo Comado Canyons contain thousands of acres with miles of public trails. The trails wind through coastal sage, woodlands, grassy meadows and scrubby chaparral. Oak trees and outcrops of rock provide excellent nesting sites for owls, hawks and other raptors. Rocks and boulders are strewn across the landscape, and with their reddish hue they take on a fiery glow in the evening sunset. The large network of trails enables users to connect up to many other open space areas including Upper Las Virgenes to the east and Lang Ranch/Woodridge Open Space to the northeast.
The Chumash Indians once inhabited these canyons, with their presence dating back 10,000-12,000 years. Many trails we ride on within the canyons were original Chumash trails before they were expanded by cattle ranchers.
The trails within Cheeseboro/Palo Comado open space offer riding for all levels of riders: wide fire roads, long steep climbs, bomber downhills and fun, technical singletrack. I love the variety of trails that are offered in this open space.
A good example is the Sheep Corral Trail. After grinding up the steep Palo Comado fire road, Sheep Corral Trail welcomes you with three miles of sweet, downhill singletrack that is fast and flowy with berms, rocks and ruts. Awesome stuff!
Flying down Sheep Corral you need to keep a look out for other riders who might be climbing up the trail, it’s as known for its technical climbing as it is for riding downhill. Many mountain bikers ride it to Shepard’s Flat and then turn around and climb back up to the Palo Comado trail. The Sheep Corral downhill continues when you reach a four-way intersection at Shepard’s Flat, and while I have not yet done that section, it seems to be more of the same awesome fun! Another section to add to the list.
The Palo Comado Canyon Trail which links up with Sheep Corral Trail is a 4.4 mile fire road climb and is real lung buster. One of my favourite climbs for getting a serious workout! Not only is it steep, but the trail is littered with loose rocks, sand and rain ruts, making this climb a serious challenge. As you climb along this trail you will notice rocks scattered across the trail that have fallen from the cliffs above. I can’t help but wonder whether any more rocks will come raining down around me as I make my way to the top.
The first 1.2 miles of this trail is a gentle ride along a creek to the old ranch centre but the massive elevation gain begins just past the ranch site where you will climb from 1,200 feet elevation to China Flat at 2,140 feet of elevation. A leg burner for sure!
When you arrive at the top of Palo Comado Trail you will be rewarded with a super sweet singletrack loop called the China Flat trail. This tight twisty singletrack starts near an old farm compound and loops around the surrounding hills, meeting back full-circle 2.1 miles later.
China Flat trail is a great trail for all riders since it doesn’t have any real steep climbs nor serious technical sections, but instead offers an addictive flow. It criss-crosses a number of trails so it’s easy to get lost if you’re not paying attention.
The loop is equally fun both clock-wise or counter clock-wise and consists of a flowy and fairly smooth singletrack trail that winds through grass, rock croppings and sandy tight corners. It’s a real blast to ride, all the while swooping through the trail as fast as you can. You can really get a good rhythm going, but watch out for the tight sandy corners which can get quite loose when the trails are dry.
Lange Ranch, Woodridge, Wood Ranch and Oakbrook Regional Park
Another fun set of trails is in the Lang Ranch, Woodridge, Wood Ranch and Oakbrook Regional Park trail systems that lie between the Wood Ranch subdivision of Simi Valley to the north, Lang Ranch area of Thousand Oaks to the west, and the Palo Comado/Cheeseboro Canyon area to the southeast. This beautiful and scenic area is part of the Santa Monica National Recreation area and offers awesome trails with panoramic views of Simi Hills and the Santa Susana Mountains.
If you enjoy climbing then you will love the Albertson Motorway. It is a well maintained fire road that provides access from Lang Ranch to Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon and Simi Valley.
A ride I like to do is to take the Albertson Motorway to China Flat. It is 7.7 miles and provides breathtaking views starting about three-quarters of the way up. The climb is pretty rigorous and it does not stop till you intersect the top of the Palo Comado trail and enter the upper section of Cheeseboro Open Space where you can hop on China Flat Trail. Be prepared for a strenuous climb in full sun so it is best to do this ride on cooler days. It ends with 0.2 mile kicker before the top where it ramps up to 12% grade, but the views at the top more than make up for the long haul.
Albertson is really fun to take back down to the bottom. You can really fly, reaching speeds of over 40 miles an hour! Just be aware of other trail users who maybe climbing up the trail. If you keep going on Albertson Motorway past the Cheeseboro/China Flat junction and continue following the fire road through the canyons, you will reach the highest point on Albertson Motorway, at which point you start going downhill for a few minutes with dramatic drop offs on both sides of the trail. The fire road then continues along up and down fairly steeply before you hit the final rocky loose downhill section which dumps you out at the Sheep Corral Trail.
At the top of the Long Canyon fire road there is very rocky, tight singletrack that snakes it way down a mountainside. It’s called the Hidden Canyon Trail. The first part of the trail is fairly smooth but steepens just before hitting a mother load of rocks (which gives the trail its nickname “baby heads”) and which will bounce you left and right if you don’t hold your line.
The trail continues to the bottom of the canyon where it weaves through tight vegetation until it starts the gradual climb back out of the canyon where it intersects the Albertson Motorway about a third of the way up. You can make it as technical as you want depending on how fast you want to go. Take it slow and it’s relaxing, but take it fast and it gets pretty crazy!
Located in the Santa Susana Mountains, Rocky Peak Park has 4,800 acres at the eastern end of Simi Valley. Known for it’s caves, petroglyphs and massive sandstones formations, it is a spectacular place to ride. Rocky Peak is the third highest point in the Santa Susana Mountains. The peak, which is 2,715 feet in elevation, sits on the Los Angeles County/Ventura County line and includes the Runkle Ranch, formerly owned by entertainer Bob Hope.
The singletrack here ranges from intermediate to advanced. The 6.5 mile Rocky Peak Trail is the main fire road and climbs rapidly along the ridge line with stunning views. This trail connects you up with Las Llajas Canyon Trail, Chumash Trail, Johnson Motorway and the Hummingbird Trail. One of my favourite rides here is the Chumash trail to Hummingbird Trail. This ride has everything a mountain biker would want: an ass-kicking climb and then an equally ass-kicking technical downhill. The Chumash Trail is located at the west end of the area, which is a 2.6 mile singletrack with a majority of it steep especially in the last half of the trail. It has many technical sections that will definitely keep you from getting bored. When you get to the top of Chumash Trail go right and cruise down to the Hummingbird Trail for some more fun!
In 2.3 miles you get a very technical trail with slick rock riding, switchbacks, rocks and more rocks. It’s very technical so beginner riders shouldn’t attempt it and you definitely want to only go down this trail, not up! This is some of the best singletrack in the Ventura County area.
These trail systems are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the riding in Southern California. Anyone thinking about coming to SoCal to ride will not be let down. There are thousands of acres, miles of trails and hundreds of park systems though out the entire Southern California area that I have yet to explore. In just the few months I’ve been here, I have already found some insanely cool trails, and I look forward to the upcoming spring and summer months when the warmer temperatures and longer days will make exploring this area even more rad! Hope to see you on the trails!
Michelle’s Trail Recommendations
Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon Open Space
Cheeseboro Canyon Trail
Cheeseboro Ridge Trail
Sulphur Springs Trail
Palo Comado Canyon Trail
Sheep Corral Trail
Las Virgenes Trail
China Flat Trail
Lang Ranch, Woodridge, Wood Ranch and Oakbrook Regional Park
Autumn Ridge Trail
Meadow Vista Trail
Hidden Canyon Trail
Sunset Hills Trail
Oakbrook Vista Trail
Rocky Peak Park
Michelle Lambert is a cycling obsessed resident of Southern California. She loves being outside, training, and exploring new trails. Michelle has been racing cross-country mountain bikes off and on, and five years ago she took up cyclocross as well.Michelle Lambert is a cycling obsessed resident of Southern California. She loves being outside, training, and exploring new trails. Michelle has been racing cross-country mountain bikes off and on, and five years ago she took up cyclocross as well.