Mountain Bike Bill, Get the Dirt on the Dirt

Carrizo Gorge

Carrizo Gorge located in Jacumba approximately 70 miles east of San Diego is not your typical mountain bike ride.   99 percent of this ride is done riding adjacent to the railroad tracks that go between Jacumba and the town of Octillo.  This ride is done for the incredible views  not the trail itself.   We did this ride on New Year's Day 2004 since it was the last day you could ride there before they starting issuing tickets. For many years now this section of railroad has been abandoned because several of the tunnels had collapsed.  Over the years there have been many projects to clear the tunnels and reopen the line, but funding usually ran out.  However it appears they have the staying power (for now) to get the final tunnel cleared and reopen the line very soon.  Hence they do not want folks near the rails anymore.

Goat Canyon Trestle
Blog Post about Carrizo GorgeSo why I am reviewing a closed/illegal ride?  Because quite a few people think that the line will simply not be profitable enough to keep the line open.   There is also some rumors that there may be excursion days were the trains will not run and it will be open for rides and hikes.   Either way there is a fair chance that this ride will be open again in the not so distant future.  When it does this is a ride you should do at least once. UPDATE December 2008 - It looks like the railroad has indeed been unprofitable and their is no evidence of recent usage. Folks who have ventured in Carrizo Gorge have reported that while the tunnels are clear, there is equipment on the tracks that would block a trains passage. Riders are once again using the route described here. Use at your own risk. UPDATE MARCH 2015 - After some attempts at using the railway for tourism between 2008 and present, the railway is still out of service and there is even some abandoned cars on the tracks. It well worth a vist.

The section of rail that goes through the Carrizo Gorge is one of the main reasons the San Diego and Arizona Railway was called the "Impossible Railroad".   There is a rich history around this rail that dates back to the track's completion in 1919.  It is a very interesting read to check out the The San Diego Railroad Museum website.

Carrizo Gorge MapTo the left is a PDF map of the ride we did. It is formatted to printed on 8.5" by 14" paper (front and back).  We did not go all the way to down Octillo. Instead we followed the Gorge all the way down to the trail  became very sandy and was almost down to the desert floor.
Electronic Files: TOPO!, KML, GPX, GDB

    From San Diego take Interstate 8 about 70 miles east.   Take the Jacumba exit.  There are two gas stations at the exit.  Parking in the dirt parking lot across the street from the gas stations.

Ride Notes:  

I would like to start off my thanking Eric Hagerty for providing most of these pictures.  

Let me start off my saying this is an exceptionally easy ride as far as mountain bike rides go.   You could easily do this ride on a beach cruiser with the exception on few optional single tracks that bypass the tunnels.  These single tracks were not always optional but all of the tunnels have been reopened with the exception of one of them.   These single tracks have some extreme exposure where the penalty for failure could be extreme.  The ride is a consistent two percent grade so you will barely notice any elevation change along the tracks.  

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-56.JPG (93763 bytes)We started this ride out in the parking lot across the street from the two gas stations at the Jacumba exit off the I-8.  From here we headed west along a dirt road the after 1.5 miles went under the freeway.  You will see the railroad tracks off to your left.  As you come into the De Anza Springs resort (a clothing optional place), you will see a small trail heading across the lawn.  Take that out to the tracks.

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-27.JPG (181787 bytes)CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-23.JPG (160214 bytes)Once on the tracks it is pretty darn hard to get lost.  The first trestle you come to (which is probably the shortest as well) is the only trestle that does not have a suitable grating on the side to ride on.  So for this one you will have to ride on the tracks.  Riding on the steel grating of on the trestles take a bit of getting used to.  Your knobby tires will wave back and forth slightly as they track along the grating.  Combined with the fact that can look straight through the grate to ground sometimes hundreds of feet below, this can give you a very uneasy feeling they may want you to tense up and try to correct when you tires drift.   Just relax and let the tires come to their own arrangement with the grating.  You with find that you will ultimately keep going in the right direction.  Also there are cable wire railing on the side of all but two trestles so there will be something there to catch you.  But I would not chance having to trust them.


The entire ride is interspersed with both tunnels and trestles.  Some of the tunnels are quite long and you should bring a light as the get absolutely bitch black.  To quote the ever-wise Sponge Bob Square Pants, "This is not normal darkness, This is advanced Darkness" 

Trestles Trestles Trestles

One of the main attractions on this ride is the Goat Canyon Trestle.  It is the longest curved wooden trestle in the world and the second longest wooden trestle.   At somewhere around 200 feet high and 750 feet long it is a very impressive sight to see.  If you are afraid of heights the trestle could wig you out a little.  

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-15.JPG (175058 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-41.JPG (117072 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-17.JPG (176099 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-22.JPG (149573 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-14.JPG (232179 bytes)

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-19.JPG (137487 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-21.JPG (134096 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-20.JPG (146448 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-34.JPG (113514 bytes)

Here are some views of some of the other trestle running along the steep slopes of the gorge.

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-24.JPG (112925 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-11.JPG (97120 bytes)

Tunnels Tunnels and more Tunnels

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-25.JPG (217040 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-05.JPG (177350 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-07.JPG (143374 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-08.JPG (208085 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-09.JPG (104437 bytes)

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-13.JPG (61618 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-12.JPG (172118 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-02.JPG (64693 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-01.JPG (215625 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-04.JPG (193001 bytes) 

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-03.JPG (153646 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-33.JPG (165182 bytes)

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-31.JPG (214793 bytes)

About 2 miles past Goat Canyon you come to some overturned cars off down the side of the gorge.  After initially posting this page, Duane Dixon emailed me and said that according to the folks at the San Diego Railroad Museum these rail cars where used in a couple of movie stunts

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-28.JPG (163892 bytes)
CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-39.JPG (146620 bytes)

To the left are some more box cars that meet had an interesting demise.

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-40.JPG (128757 bytes)
CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-38.JPG (145582 bytes) We had a geologist on the ride with us and he was quite intrigued by some some seismic events that have occurred in the area On the left you can see a slump in the hillside on on the right you can see a tunnel that was abandoned in 1920 after an earthquake caved in a portion and caused the entire tunnel to slide down the hill somewhat. CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-16.JPG (189898 bytes)

Here are a few shots of the on going work to reopen the last collapsed tunnel.  There are plans to recommence freight service soon through the gorge
CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-37.JPG (176341 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-36.JPG (197163 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-35.JPG (155635 bytes)

Here are a couple of shots of one of the singletrack tunnel bypasses
CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-43.JPG (204240 bytes)
    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-44.JPG (215002 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-45.JPG (173105 bytes)

Here are some additional pictures of Carrizo Gorge
CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-26.JPG (176403 bytes)
    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-29.JPG (141944 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-10.JPG (128692 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-18.JPG (210476 bytes)

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-30.JPG (84257 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-32.JPG (184605 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-06.JPG (121406 bytes)    CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-42.JPG (134338 bytes)

We did this ride as an out and back and did not go all the way down to Octillo.  The map does include the entire route should you chose to did as a shuttle.



Right Click to Download Video

Here is the video of our Carrizo Gorge ride we did on New Year's Day 2004.  Right Click on the image to the left to download the video.  The file size is 25MB

If you are looking for the Miles Todd Crash Video from this ride click here.