Mountain Bike Bill, Get the Dirt on the Dirt

Calvera Lake

Calvera Lake has a lot trails in a fairly constrained bit of acreage but there are still plenty of trails to get out and about on. It located in the general area where Carlsbad, Vista, and Oceanside converge. There is a decades long history of recreational use in this area but the surrounding area has seen a lot of development since about 2004. The additional public pressure combined with the shrinking open space has made land use of the Calvera Lake area "interesting".

There are four preserves that cover this riding area with two different managers.

  • Lake Calvera Preserve --- Landowner: City of Carlsbad; Manager: Center for Natural Land Management
  • Calvera Heights Preserve --- Landowner: CA Dept of Fish and Game: Manager: CA Dept of Fish and Game
  • Carlsbads Highlands Ecological Reserve --- Landowner: CA Dept of Fish and Game Manager: CA Dept of Fish and Game
  • Robertson Ranch Reserve --- Landowner: Calvera Hills II, LLC; Manager: Center for Natural Land Management
Additionally there is open space to the south of the Carlsbad Highland Ecological Reserve colloquial known as the "Back 40".
Lake Calvera
This map does not show all of the trails in the Calvera Area. Red is generally a doubletrack/fireroad and yellow are singletracks. Additional Items: Older Aerial Photo; Older TOPO Map; Google KML file of the above map.

There are also habitat management plans and other competing enviromental interests who would like to myopically look at this area as simply a habitat restoration/preservation project and keep the hands and feet of man away from this area. Given its long history of use I do not see how the typical approach of fencing people out is going to work at all. All you have to do is stand atop Calvera Hill and see that this patch of land is surrounded by over 100,000 people and realize that no fortress of fences are going to keep the public out of here. This entire area needs to migrate to a recreational preserve if it is going to have any reasonable chance of being successfully managed.

The City of Carlsbad and the Center for Natural Land Management are doing a good job with tackling the problem. The master trails plan for the chunk of the area that is under their control has had solid input from the community and keeps much of the quality trails open while closing off much of the poor quality and unsustainable trails and fireroads. There will still be numerous problems to deal with particularly with public access points.

The CA Dept of Fish and Game (CDFG) has a long and tough road ahead of them. The department's default starting position is that biking is not allowed on the lands they manage. Despite the decades long history of multi-use in the Calvera Lake area, the department maintained that position when they took over ownership/management of this area. It is a position that simply will not allow for the successful management of this area. The public simply has not accepted (and will not) that position. Humans are a species too and the trail using sub-species of this area are not going to migrate to another area. The median home price in 2008 for this area was $652K and you can bet the availability of open space usage was part of the selling points. There is an expectation of access to open space from the surrounding community that will not be denied. The only chance CDFG has of successfully managing this area is if they take a more holistic approach to managing the area and work with the community to create a trail network plan that will met the needs of the trail using community.

Recently, I have been urged to take down the orginal page or put a vanilla style page that only showed only the offical Carlsbad trails plan. The historical usage does not mesh up with the desires of some people and they feel I'm encouraging illegal trail riding. Knowledge is knowledge and whatever actions you take based on that knowledge is soley your responsbility. The orginal maps will remain on this site and I have added a Google Earth KML file that shows most of the historical and newer trails that exist in this area. There are more trails than the ones I have shown. There is a lot at stake and if the current trail users simply "go away" is not going to help keep access to this area. The maps on this page are a snap shot in time and must be assumed to be historical in nature. When you ride at Calvera and criss-cross the various preserves and reserves, pay attention to the signage. Things change out here all the time. I also highly recommend you get involved with some of the advocacy organizations who represent the interest of mountain bikers as well as the other non-motorized trail users. The San Diego Mountain Biking Association is a good start.  


Directions: From the I-5 in Oceanside, take HWY 78 East. Take the College BLVD exit and go right.  At the second stop, hang a left on Lake Drive.  From here you can (a) After 2 miles you will see Ridge road.  Hang a right into Oak Riparian Park and park.  (b) After about 1 mile, hang a right on Skyhaven and follow the road until you see the lake.  See trail note for starting options.

HAZARDS:  The trails range from beginner to what I would consider advanced. With the overwhelming majority of them low intermediate. There is poison oak in a few spots and like most of San Diego, there is plenty of rattlesnake habitat to go around.

Lake CalveraTrail Notes:  When you look at the map above you will see that I have drawn it a blue crosshair right trough the middle of the lake.  I will be describing areas in relationship to the lake (N, S, E, W, NE, etc...). Calveras Lake mountain bike riding is all about options.  There are some options of trails and directions that it would be impossible to describe a best route.  You do an easy two-miler with a kid on a BMX bike or you do 20 miles plus by weaving in out out of the labyrinth of trails most of which are single track.  For this reason areas will be described more so than individual trails.

I am going to break from my normal routine of telling you an exact route to go, instead you should go out and investigate this area for yourself and get to know what is really at stake. There are always new "social" trails being created and I'm not going to try and keep up with them here. Your best bet is to go out and explore the place a time or two (or five). Quite frankly I believe there is too much rouge trail building going on out here. Sooner or later the various land managers are going to have shit fit when they realize that things on the ground don't match what they have as truth on thier maps up on thier walls back at the office.
Trailhead options:  When parking at the Oak Riparian Park you have two options to get on the trials.  You can ride west on the south side of the sidewalk along Lake Drive for about 200 yards and then catch trail that drops off from the sidewalk.  Your other options is to go to south end of the park and cross the creek (Don't worry, you should not get your feet wet) and hit a single track runs east-west.  You will want head west.  
    If you choose the sidewalk route to get into the lake area you will have a mostly flat land route that leads to the north side of the lake.  This area is pretty sandy and has a lot of BMX style jumps and the area see some motorcycle traffic.  Different groups  are trying to the motorcycles out of the entire area but it seems that they are content to let the motorcycle crowd play here as long as they stay out of the rest of the lake areas.
    If you choose the cross-the-creek route and take the single track west it will soon cross a big fireroad.  Hang a left take the fire road up a steep loose hill.  There is a locked gate but there is a "bike around" to it's left.  Please do not continue along single track if there was water in the creek you crossed.  The trail becomes muddy and you would only add to the trail damage caused by uninformed/uncaring hikers and bikers.  I usually have troubles with this hill because I am hitting it with "cold" legs and lungs.  This route is the quickest way to get to the good stuff and from the top of the hill you get a good view of the North and East quadrants of the area.


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Some views from around the North East portion of the Calvera area

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Some views from the middle and grasslands section of this area

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Take a look at some of the trails on the eastern area of the park in city of Carlsbad's area.  Most of these trails were old moto trails that are now closed  


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Here are some picture on the trail up to the top of the big hill. The trail used to be mostly a technical rocky climb, but since the population in this are has risen a lot people have made lots of go arounds for the technical bits so they trail is much wider now. The rocky lines are still there but they are not the predominate lines.    


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Here are some pictures of some fun single track at the south end of the area, aka "The Back 40".


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"Quality Time" with my youngest son

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Upclose with some of the locals

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Pictures from the 2008 National Trails Day Event held at Lake Calvera


2009 Trailwork Event


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Beware of "iTards" on the Trail at Calvera (Blog Post)


History Note about Connecting to Flightline NOTE: When the Flightline riding area was still active there was a connector route from the "Back 40" to that area. You can read about the demise of Flightline here.