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Mountain Bike Bill, Get the Dirt on the Dirt

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Just forty miles east of San Diego, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park offers beautiful pine and oak forest, broad meadows, and little streams that are special delight in the generally dry Southern California landscape.  The park is located in the Peninsular Range of mountains from Cuyamaca Peak, at 6512 feet, the second highest peak in San Diego County, you can see Anza-Borrego Desert to the East and the Pacific coastline to the west. (The above was right out of the State Park flyer)

   What does all that mean?  You can have a good time here with plenty of trails to ride.  Check out the park's website for additional information and trailmaps.

CuyamacaGrand-Map-MEDREZ.jpg (218301 bytes)

Here is the the map of the ride.  The red routes make up the Cuyamaca Grand Loop.  The Blue routes are other legal mountain bike trials.  This map is 2MB in size and is formatted for printing on 8.5" by 14" sized paper.   Download the TOPO! file here.
CuyamacaGrandLoopProfile.JPG (13853 bytes)This is the elevation profile for the Grand Loop


From LA - North San Diego County:  From I-5 or I-15 take the 78 East into Escondido.  Follow the signs closely as the 78 makes a few turns through town.  Once through Escondido continue east on the 78 into Ramona.  In Ramona the 78 will turn left.  Continue along the 78 east into Julian.  In the Julian the 78 will turn right.  Continue east on the 78 for about 3/4ths of mile and then take HWY 79 south.  Take the 79 south past Sunrise Hwy, Lake Cuyamaca, the Park Headquarters on the left, and the Horse trailer parking area on the left. The next little parking lot on your left is the parking lot for the start of the Grand Loop route shown on the map.
From San Diego area:  Take I-8 east past Alpine.  Take HWY 79 north.  The little parking lot for the Grand Loop route shown on the map is just past mile marker 4.  If get to the horse trailer lot on your right you went to far. 

Hazards: This place could get really hot in the summertime.  

April 21st, 2002 Ride Report:
  We started our ride about a mile south of the horse trail parking lot on Hwy 79. We started off heading north on a single track off the east of the 79 heading north (name East Side trail, hmm… imagine that). The trail was for the most part rolling hills among the shade of oak trees.   The rolling single track brought us up to a horse trailer staging area. From here we cut through the parking lot and traveled up Hwy 79 for about 200 yards and then hung a left onto Japacha Fire Road.  About 30 yards into that we hung a right onto another single track that parallels Hwy 79 on the west side.  Can you guess the name of the trail?  That's right… the West Side Trail.  This trail had more rolling hills and twists and turns and even a couple of easy to handle switchbacks.  

    About a mile and a half up this trail we scooted across the 79 onto a paved road the headed down to the park headquarters and some kind of school camp.  We picked up the Upper Green Valley fire road just past the school.  Now we are rolling along the edge a really pretty meadow.  Still somewhat brown but it looks like the place will be in bloom in a couple of weeks.  After about a mile we pasted the junction of the Stonewall Creek fire road off to our left.   We continued along Green Valley fire road where it started getting a little steeper and rockier.  

Cuyamaca-01-21APR02-JunctGreenValleySoapstone-1.jpg (107049 bytes)Cuyamaca-02-21APR02-JunctGreenValleySoapstone-2.jpg (102784 bytes)Eventually we ended up at the junction of Green Valley and Soapstone Grade fire roads.  If it hot out enjoy the shade here because you will not have any for the duration of your climb up Soapstone.

    From here we started up the fairly steep grade.  I worked the bike up the hill in the middle ring – big cog. This is also about the time I started cussing at the helmet camera gear that is feeling a little on the heavy side in the bottom of my pack.  About 2/3rds of the way up the middle ring is gone, it is granny ring and second cog down time.   I am starting to hate my helmet camera now.  About 3/4ths of the way up and I am thinking I should have bought one of those expensive yet tiny little mini-DV rigs like Pete Fagerlin has instead of the cheap feels-like-a-freaking-brick-in-my-pack 8mm camcorder that I have.  Just shy of the top I am staring to think that my camcorder has some sort of altimeter setup that makes it heavy the higher I climb. Finally at the peak…Ahhhh.

Green Valley Pan

Green Valley Meadow

    Now it is camera time so I powered up the camera and mic and started the camcorder recording.  We rolled down into a meadow and enjoyed some the speed the gradual downhill provided.  We passed the upper junction of the Stonewall Creek fire road and hung a right and continued rolling downhill.  We eventually ended up a one lane paved road that goes from highway 79 up to Stonewall Mine.  We turned around here and went back the way we came we could have we down Stonewall Creek fire road,  but decided go back down Soapstone.  My legs are feeling real good now. (I swear the camera weighs less when it is on.)  Soapstone was mucho fun coming down with enough ruts, dips, and loose rocks to keep you on your toes.  (I would categorize myself as a intermediate XC type so this may seem tame to some of you). 

    After this it was a blaze fest down Green Valley fire road. The park has 15mph mountain bike speed limit so at NO point on this fire road did I ever get above that speed in my big ring and little cog ;-).   We retraced our path for the rest of the trip. The up and down rolling west and east side trails were more down that up heading south so the fun factor was higher.   I even saw the white tails a few deer that I spooked on the way back to the truck. The total trip was right at 20 miles

April 27th, 2002 Ride Report:

    After posting the ride report above on the alt.mountain-bike newsgroup. I got a couple of emails from some locals asking me to join them from a ride.  So it worked out that the group planned on 8AM ride of what is known as the Grand Loop.  Well late Friday night, my normal riding chums who had been able to come up with a ride decided that they wanted to come along as well.  They live up in Orange County and they ran a little late on Saturday morning.   The weather looked okay in when we left Oceanside but became more menacing the further east towards Cuyamaca we went.  Sure enough it started raining.  We we finally got to the parking spot it was 8:30.  There was some cars there so I other guys had already hit the trail.  It was not raining now, but boy was it chilly and damp.  My Orange County hommeez had traveled 2 1/2 hours to ride this so of course we were going to ride or at least see how the trails fair with the rain.

Cuyamaca-27APR02-01-Soapstone.jpg (43168 bytes)Cuyamaca-27APR02-02-JasonSoapstone.jpg (69208 bytes)    We parked were the East and West Mesa fire roads cross Hwy 79.  From there we followed the same route, I had followed the week before (East Side to West Side to Green Valley fire road to Soapstone Grade)  The trails drain pretty well with only a mushy spot here and there.  It intermittently misted on us but nothing too drastic.  I had a long sleeve jersey and leg warmers on so some of my lighter clad friends would argue with me.  After the climb up Soapstone we followed to a paved one lane road.  We we right and followed it for about a half a mile were we went around a gate and stayed on the main road which took us back to the 79.  We were able to get up a good head of steam on both the access road and the 79 but found that the self induced wind chill took most of the fun out of going fast.  So cruising speeds was in order. 

Cuyamaca-27APR02-14-MiddlePeakFR-1.jpg (57126 bytes)Cuyamaca-27APR02-12-Deer-1.jpg (44735 bytes)    After a couple of curves of hwy 79 we pulled off to the left onto Milk Ranch fire road.  We followed Milk Ranch for a few hundred yards and then hung a right onto Middle Peak fire road.   The climb was up Middle Peak was very scenic even with the bad weather out.  We even passed a herd of mule deer early in the climb.  The wet weather was starting to wear on all of us, because we were not particularly Cuyamaca-27APR02-15-MiddlePeakFR-2.jpg (63027 bytes)Cuyamaca-27APR02-20-MiddlePeak-Ice-Composite.jpg (93371 bytes)prepared for the weather that greeted us here.  When we reach the top of Middle Peak we noticed ice on the ground!  The rain had frozen in the trees the night before and was now falling off the trees onto the pine needles below. 


Cuyamaca-27APR02-17-MiddlePeak-DaBoys-2.jpg (81081 bytes)    Cuyamaca-27APR02-18-MiddlePeak-DaBoys-3.jpg (67045 bytes)   Cuyamaca-27APR02-16-MiddlePeak-DaBoys-1.jpg (76710 bytes)

   So after a few minutes of regrouping at the top of Middle Peak we continued along Middle Peak fire road as it started descending down the west side of the mountain.  At the bottom we hung a left back onto Milk Ranch fire road and followed it for a few hundred yards and then took a right on Azalea Springs fire road.  Some where along Azalea Springs fire road we missed a turn or took a turn we should not have and ended up on Azalea Glen fire road.  We ended up on the paved Lookout fire road that goes between Hwy 79 and Cuyamaca peak.  We were expecting Fern Flat fire road to be right in front of us.  Go up or down to find it?  Well our legs collectively made the decision to go down.  Well we were wrong and ended up at Hwy 79.  

Cuyamaca-27APR02-21-HappyBikes-1.jpg (91895 bytes)Cuyamaca-27APR02-22-HappyBikes-2.jpg (90533 bytes)    We decided to rolled down Hwy 79 and connect back up with the West Side singletrack that we had been on before.   What a blast that was for a being a payment ride.  Scary fast almost.  My computer registered 40 mph as my highest speed and there were a couple of curves that I nearly blew.  We connected back up at with the single track and retrace our route from there back to the truck were we loaded up our very dirty and happy looking bikes.  24.5 miles for the adventure that day.  We stopped at the restaurant on Cuyamaca Lake and warmed up as well as filled up.    What a day!     

May 29th, 2006arrow

images/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-01.jpg It had been too long since my last visit to the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.   These mountains took probably the worst of the 2003 wildfires that really settled into this area and pretty much sanitized the soil by burning for so hot and so long.  The area is recovering nicely but I was still quite surprised with drastic changes in the look of this place.   Our plan was to do the Grand Loop but we made a slight modification or two to the normal route.    The first thing you notice on the East and West Side singletrack is that you can see farther.  The trails were pretty much the same as I remembered and Green Valley did not look too terribly different.



images/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-02.jpgimages/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-05.jpgWe opted to go up the Stonewall Creek Fireroad instead of Soapstone Grade simply because we had not gone that way before.  Stonewall Creek is shorter than Soapstone and nets you pretty much the same amount of climbing but Stonewall spreads out the climbing where as Soapstone knocks out most of the elevation gain in a steep climb at the end.  Stonewall Creek Fireroad did not seem to see too much use and it was looser than I remembered Soapstone being.  I say fireroad loosely because in many areas it is rapidly becoming reclaimed singletrack.


Cuyamaca Pan Shot
A meadow along Stonewall Creek Fireroad.   The "fireroad" is on the left.

images/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-08.jpgimages/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-09.jpgAt the top of Stonewall Creek we rejoined the traditional Grand Loop route and continued along our way making our way to Highway 79 where we connected up with Milk Ranch Road and the Middle Peak Fireroad.  While cruising through the meadow just before highway 79 we spooked a wild turkey.   It was not in a huge hurry to out of the area it was still quick enough that I did not have time to get on my telephoto lens.



images/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-10.jpgimages/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-11.jpgThe climb up Middle Peak was the biggest change I had seen so far.  I had remembered this climb being on a fairly smooth fireroad where you were almost exclusively under a canopy of huge pines and oaks.   All that is left of the old gaints are black spires that stand in stark contrast to the new and vibrantly green growth at their base.   It was downright somber riding in some parts, particularly when passing by some of the more larger trunks.    The fire road on the other hand is more trail than road now with some technical bits in it as undoubtedly the heavy rains of the winter of 2004/5 carved ruts and brought out some rocks.  This trail itself has much more character now.  There is also much more to see now that that the trees are gone and seeing Lake Cuyamaca on the climb up was a first for me. 

The climb up Middle Peak Fire Road


images/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-18.jpgimages/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-19.jpgThe Black Oak trail loop on Middle Peak was formally off-limits to mountain bikes, but the summer before the fires, local advocates were able to get this trail opened to mountain bikers.  The Black Oak trail meets up with Middle Peak fire road twice on it's loop.  Take the second Black Oak turnoff for the longest distance on this particularly nice singletrack.  I think it is ironic that name of the trail.


images/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-20.jpgimages/Trails/Cuyamaca/CuyamacaMountains-29MAY06-21.jpgOnce at the bottom of the Black Oak trail we followed the traditional Grand Loop route the rest of the way back to our vehicles.   It was a fine day to be on a bike and overall the trails are in as good of shape as I have ever seen.  While the scenery of the area has certainly changed it is still a place worth going to and getting in some good miles.