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Otay Mountain Loop

The Otay Mesa, lakes and mountain area located in the south bay area of San Diego offers some nice riding that varies from short family fun jaunts to all-day epic/death march outings. The route described here is closer to the all-day affair at around the 31 mile range with 3,900 feet of climbing (Most of that in one 8 mile chunk). You can do just segments of this route and have some great riding as well. I'll describe some those variations at the end. This route gets you some lake side cruising on buff singletrack, a long big fire road climb, a blistering descent and some snoopy style route finding on a small section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail. On a clear day you will be treated to some great views of the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel, San Jacintos, and San Bernardino Mountains as well a views down into Mexico.

Directions: From the I-805 going south from San Diego, take Orange Ave/Olympic Parkway exit (4) and turn left. After 0.6 miles. It will turn into Olympic Parkway. Continue on for 6.2 miles then turn right onto Wueste Road. Travel 1.8 miles until you see the marina on your left. You can park here or proceed further down the road until just before the Lower Otay Lake County Park where there are dirt pullouts on either side of the road. (My descriptions start from the dirt pullouts at Point A on my Map.

Hazards: It can get furnace hot here in the summer. You can also reach blistering speeds on the fireroad descent, just in time for a loose turn. The good news is that help is never really too far away (time wise) when you are on the Otay Mountain Truck Trail due to the US Border Patrol presence.
 

The Otay Mountain LoopHere is the map of the loop. The scale is a little on the small size because this loop covers a large area.

GPS Data Files: GDB, KML, GPX, TPO

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Ride Notes:
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopFrom the dirt pull outs past the Marina at Otay Lake (Point A on my map), Ride south into the Lower Otay County Park on the pavement. At 0.3 miles bear to the right to head towards the back side of the park along the base of a hill on your left. While still rolling through the parking area you will take a dirt road/path slightly off to your left. Pretty much in the same location is another trail heading further off to the left and much more uphill. Don't take the more uphill route, instead stay on the lower path. (Note: To see the dam pictured here you will need to take a side diversion at 0.3 miles. It is pretty easy to find)
 
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThis path will do a short rise and then drop you down to a picnic area at 0.6 miles. You will pick up a singletrack on the southeast corner of this area (Point B) that proceeds south contouring down along the hillside. This trail has a few switchbacks in it as it works its way down the hill. At your third or so right-hand switchback you may notice a smaller trail heading off down towards a small canyon. This trail heads out to a utility pipe crossing and dead-ends. You want to continue along the main trail which will take you down to a gate that marks the boundary of the Lower Otay Lake Park (Point C).
 

The Otay Mountain LoopOnce through/over the gate, you will take a dirt road that leads down into Otay Valley. There are several dirt road spurs that cross the Otay River (think creek) at 1.6 miles. Just pick one that suits you and then head west just a short bit to pick up the prominent fire road that turns back to the east and heads up the other side of the valley. The picture to the left highlights the route. Take note of the power line near the bottom of the fireroad you are trying to get to, it is a good visual reference.

 

The next half mile is a grunt at around a 10 percent grade. As you come out of the valley the grade mellows. You will soon see some buildings ahead of you before coming to a split in a dirt road. The more promising route looks to be to the left. However do not go to the left. The buildings in front of you are a San Diego law enforcement shooting range followed by a detention facility. That dirt road off to the left is part of their patrol route and it passes by the target side of the shooting range. Needless to say "The Man" is not fond of civilians using that road. So take the right-hand fork which is also the more prominent dirt road. At 2.1 miles you will pop out onto the paved Alta road. Hang a left onto the pavement that goes by the detention center. You will quickly see a dirt road that heads south following some power lines. You can take it if you like but in half a mile you will have to scramble up an embankment back onto the road you are currently on. I took the dirt option, cause well, its dirt. The scramble up the embankment later on was a minor pain in the butt.

 
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopBoth the pavement and the dirt road will take you roughly to Point E where the road makes a left-hand turn and overlooks O'Neal Canyon. (If you took the dirt option this is where you will scramble up the embankment back onto the road. Take a moment and look at the far side of the canyon and take note of the fireroad going up the other side. That is your route. I have highlighted it on the picture to the left. After taking the mental snapshot, follow the left-hand bend in the road and continue up the road.
 
The Otay Mountain LoopYou now have the fence of the detention facility on your left and the steep slope of the canyon on your right. At 3.65 miles you will see a large locked gate in the fence while on the right the steep hillside merges with a small knoll with a dirt road heading off slightly to the right. The dirt road that you want to take is hidden from view at this point. So take the smallish dirt road off the right and immediately stop and look behind you. You should see a fireroad that heads west down into the canyon. Get on the fireroad and descend it into O'Neal canyon. The picture to the left was taken later in the ride and is highlighted to show the route I'm describing through this section.
 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopSince this fireroad is no longer maintained it has become an interesting rocky bit of trail that dumps 400 feet in just over half a mile. Once at the bottom you will cross a small stream that most likely does not follow during the warmer months. You will start climbing the fireroad that you picked out from the other side of the canyon earlier. This climb is a grunt but is over in less than half a mile where at 4.72 miles (Point F) you will come to prominent dirt road going off to your left. The picture to the right is looking to the east down the road you are going to be taking. Take note of the old water tower in the left-hand side of the picture. There is a road going off in that direction that you will not be taking when you get there. You will continue straight on this well maintained dirt road which will bend off to the right and start working up Otay Mountain.

 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopWelcome to the Otay Mountain Truck Trail. Over the next seven miles you will climb around 3,000 feet. The overall grade is nine percent but it is not unrelenting as there are a few spots where it levels out or looses just a bit of elevation. The views will progressively get better as you climb with the Pacific Ocean, Mexico, downtown San Diego and even views of the Coronado and San Clemente Islands showing themselves on clear days.

 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopSoon into your climbing you will pass some signage that you are entering the Otay Mountain Cooperative Land and Wildlife Management Area. Do you ever get that feeling that you are being watched by people you can not see? Well you might get that feeling here. The reason is that you are being watched. The Otay Mountain Truck Trail is heavily patrolled by the US Border Patrol as it is a major cut off route for catching illegal aliens coming in from Mexico just to the south. You should encounter at least two jeeps or so over the course of your climb up the mountain. Their presence is by far not a ride buzz kill, but you can guarantee they are keeping track of your progress. I first encountered one of the patrols when I was scouting my route through the Otay Valley and they were quite helpful with me figuring out this route. Of course if you are a non-gringo riding paperless out here you may not find them as helpful as I did.

 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopHey what do you know, the grass really is greener on our side of the fence! The green/not green line you see in these pictures is the US-Mexico Border.

 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopAbout half a mile or so past the cooperative land management sign you will pass into Otay Mountain Wilderness area. Yep, this is wilderness. 16,885 acres of the mountain were designated as wilderness in 1999 by a bill introduced by Congressman Brian Bilbray and supported by Senators Fienstien and Boxer. However the Otay Mountain Truck Trail, the Minnewawa Trail and several other spur roads were excluded from the wilderness designation. You can thank the US Border Patrol for keeping those dirt roads out of the designation.

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain Loop

 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopDuring the winter/wet months you may be treated to a waterfall. It is located down in O'neal canyon and can be viewed from somewhere between points H and I. While I can not recall the actual spot it was in one of the view spots where the road turns downhill. You are never really close to it, but it was certainly a surprise to see one out here. One other thing you will certainly notice is that while the truck trail is well maintained and pretty tame, on either side of the road is some pretty rugged terrain with some deep canyons. Additionally, most of the mountains you see to the south reside in Mexico.

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain Loop The Otay Mountain Loop
Views from the western approach up Otay Mountain
 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopAt around 11.2 miles (Point I) you will see a concrete structure on the left hand side of the road as well as a small road spur. Take a break here and stroll down that spur to see some additional structures as well as some good viewpoints. The structures here are the remnants of US Navy artillery emplacements built during World War II to help defend Brown Field and San Diego from a potential Japanese naval attack. It is pretty cool to poke around here for a bit.

 
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain Loop
 
After you have enjoyed this area continue on up the road and just under a mile further up the road (Point J) is a spur off the left that will take you to a radio tower facility and the actual Otay Mountain Peak. Although it is a grunt considering what you have already done at this point it is well worth it.
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain Loop
 
After your little side trip up to the peak you will get back onto the truck trail and climb for just a bit before the truck trail makes a short and mellow descent down to Doghouse Junction at 12.4 miles (Point K). There is really nothing special here other than the junction of Otay Mountain Truck Trail and the Minnewawa Truck Trail.
 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThis is where you will leave the Otay Mountain Truck trail which continues downhill to the east into the Marron Valley area. You will hang a left here onto the Minnewawa Truck Trail which heads down the north slope of the range. This is one mighty darn zippy fireroad descent as you will dump 2,800 feet in 5.4 miles which will seem to be over way too quickly. This fireroad is not maintained to the level of the Otay Mountain Truck Trail but is sitll not what I would call rough and rugged. It does however elicit easily obtainable ludicrous speeds which could get you in plenty of trouble in the turns. Towards the bottom (and outside of the wilderness area) there are a few spurs off to the left that look promising for future exploration into the refinement of this route. I saved those for some other time and stayed on the main truck trail.

 
Pan of Otay Area
View from the Minnewawa Truck Trail
 
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain Loop
 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopPictured to the left is where the Minnewawa Truck Trail trail dumps you out right at the 1,000 Trails RV Park on Otay Lakes Rd (HWY 94) at 18.4 miles (Point L). Cross the road and into the RV park on the other side of the road and proceed west through the RV park. There is an admissions gate just as you turn west but just smile and keep rolling. (If you are low on water you can refuel in the park) As you roll through the RV park the camping spots will give way to a fireroad going across a rolling meadow. At around 20 miles (Point M) the fire road will turn towards the north while another,fainter, fireroad goes off the west. Take the fainter fireroad and continue west.

NOTE ON CURRENT CONDITONS
While I have not been out here first hand to verify things, as of late 2012, the segment of the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) described below between Points M and O has gotten severely overgrown and extremely difficult to follow. You may want to consider rolling the road from Point L to O vice trying to follow the trail.
 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThis is a segment of the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) which is intended to roughly travel the length of the state. It is marked by a brown post with a yellow cap. The picture to the left was taken near Point N and looks back at Point M and the far west end of the RV park. This area was burned in the 2007 firestorm but it is amazing the rate of regrowth that is occurring here.

 

 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe trail from here becames quite interesting from a navigation standpoint as the fire and subsequent regrowth has made the trail extremely faint. There is a scorched fence near point N that has a sign for the CRHT that would led you to believe that you should follow the fence line downhill and to your left. Not quite. You will want to continue straight past the fence and cross over a minute drainage area maybe 50 yards past the fence. There you will pickup the faint trail that goes downhill and along the base of the Jamul Mountains in front of you. The trail will soon bend around to the east and stay along the base of the mountains and north of Dulzura Creek for the next 1.75 miles. The rate of regrowth was amazing enough to necessitate using “The Force” to follow the trail in some sections. In some of the steeper hillside sections, rocks had eroded down onto the trail making it technical in spots as well. Combined this with shin-high grass over the trail and things got really interesting.

 
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain Loop
Some shots along the California Riding and Hiking Trail
 
After a somewhat slow but fun go with the route finding, the CRHT came out on Otay Lakes Road right where the creek goes underneath the road. I snooped around a bit looking for a dirt route, but I ended up on the (hanging a right as you come off the CHRT) pavement heading west for about 1.5 miles until I hit the eastern entrance to the Otay Lake Park at 24 miles (Point P). Along this section of the lake you will we see a few trails going down by the lake. They are mostly fishing trails that die out and force you to back track to the payment. Please be careful along this section of road as there is no bike lane.
 

The Otay Mountain LoopFrom Point P at the entrance to Otay Lake Park, you will cruise to the southwest on mostly double track and old pavement out to a peninsula on the Lake at at 24.6 miles (Point Q). From this point you will pick up a single track off to your right that follows along the lake. From this point on you are treated to some pretty buff singletrack heading north up the east side of the lake. There are some splits in the trail here and there but they are all basically heading in the same direction. Navigation was pretty darn easy. Take any left you like and don't go in the water.

 

The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopAfter about 2.1 miles of cruising the lakeside singletrack you will near the northern end of the lake at 26.6 miles (Point R). The mainly used singletrack will pop out onto Otay Lake Road. You have the option here to cross the road and pick up a singletrack somewhere close by to do a loop around Upper Otay Lake adding about five miles to the adventure. I did not do that on this day. Instead I followed a fainter singletrack along the north edge of the lake. I had to get off the bike at one point to keep from going in the water.

 

The Otay Mountain LoopThis faint north-end trail is only about a 75 or so yards long and will pass by a drainage under-crossing that is all pimped out in urban art deco style, [yo yo yo man, you know what I'm sayin, what I'm sayin? Gossa be down with da urban art scene and sheeznit :)]. Just after the drainage a more promenant trail comes in from Otay Lake Road above. My guess is it is wiser and faster to just pop onto the road as you near Point R and rejoin the trail in this area.

 

 
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopThe trail from here is plenty of fun with lots of singletrack that includes a few wood bridges or structures. These are well built and serve to get the users over areas that can get mushy with some moisture. There a few spots that could have used another one of the structures. Fun and functional, you gotta love it. There are also a couple of spots where the singletrack pops out onto a fireroad. Just follow the fireroad around the lake and if you see a singletrack off to your left, give it a shot.
 
The Otay Mountain LoopThe Otay Mountain LoopAt around 30.3 miles (Point S) you will roll into the Marina area. Go through the parking area and pick up a singletrack on the far side by a utility shed. This singletrack will follow along the lake for half a mile before turning away from the lake just short of a fence and go up a steep trail to Wueste Road and the the dirt pull out you started your day from. All together you should have done just under 31 miles. Now go get yourself something tasty to drink and eat as you have certainly earned it.
 

Ride Variations

 

These rides are good enough on their own that I plan on creating seperate pages for them at some point. For now you can use the description above with the following variations to create several different rides in the area. There are more options than the ones listed here that you are sure to discover as you get to know the area.

  • From the parking area I described above you can proceed around Otay Lake clockwise from Point A out to Point Q and back. Also at Point R cross the road to go explore and ride around Upper Otay Lake. This is a mostly flat with undulations ride on buff singletrack.
  • Instead of parking at the lake, park at or near the 1000 Trails RV park at Point L off Otay Lakes Road. From here you can do a out-and-back climb up the Minnewawa Truck Trail to Doghouse Junction (Point K) or even the peak of Otay Mountain (Point J). Grunt Grunt, Ouch Ouch!
  • Otay Mountain Truck Trail from the west: Instead of parking at the lake, take I-805 south nearly to the border and take the CA-905 exit east for 5.9 miles. CA-905 will turn right(south) to cross the border. You will go straight at the stop light onto Otay Mesa Road. After 1.7 miles Otay Mesa road turns left and become Alta Road. Travel 0.9 miles to Kuebler Ranch Road (dirt) and hang a right. Park anywhere in the dirt or proceed past the restaurant and a pallet plant towards Point G on my map. From here pickup the Otay Mountain Truck Trail at Point G and have a good out-and-back climb.
  • Better yet, hook up with Bonita Bikers group who do weekly rides in the south bay area. Check out their Yahoo Group.