Mountain biking is one of the most fun ways to feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins. With a rocky faced-cliff on one side and a hundred-foot vertical drop on the other, mountain bike trails demand absolute concentration, nerves of steel, and reflexes that are quicker than lighting pace. Only the bravest dare conquer treacherous pathways marked only by the faint compactness of the Earth in relation to its surroundings. Of course, there are other paths that are much safer and are highly recommended for beginners as well as for leisure mountain bikers. In California, there are a lot of trails that offer a variety of challenges to a diverse group of bikers. While Downvielle Downhill is currently regarded as California’s best trail for mountain bikers, the rest are not really that far behind. Get ready with your gear as we take a look at some of the best mountain bike trails in California, divided into beginners, intermediate, and advanced tracks.
Best Mountain Bike Trails for Beginners
Designed specifically for leisure mountain bikers as well as newbies to the sport, these trails in California are known for the gentleness of their single-tracks. There are plenty of wide open areas as well as gentle uphills and equally slow downhills. Nevertheless, the view can be superbly spectacular especially if you venture into any of these three best beginners’ mountain bike trails in California.
Located in Mendocino, just less than 10 miles from Fort Bragg, is Manley Gulch. If there’s one thing that really attracts bikers and hikers to this trail, then that would be its well-maintained singletrack. While Mendocino is located on a headland giving fantastic views of the mighty Pacific, Manley Gulch gives you an entirely different view. Instead of the ocean’s deep blue, you’ll be enveloped in nature’s warm greens. The tracks wind through densely forested areas. It can get especially thin in some area but this is what makes it quite exciting even for newbies. It also provides some scary yet equally adrenaline-inducing steep edges. However, as long as you’ve been maintaining your ride, you can be sure it’s a really smooth ride. You can bring your GPS receiver with you, although it would hardly matter since the thick foliage clearly won’t allow for clear reception. Your best bet will be to get a very detailed map of the tracks form one of the shops at the trail head. Head up to interesting waymark points with equally-interesting names like Boiler, Gas Cap, Confusion Hill, and Forest History, just to name a few. Overall, it’s a very fun and enjoyable way to ride a bike.
Western Section of the Los Robles Trail
One of the most famous destinations in the Thousand Oaks area is this specific section of the Los Robles Trail. This 16-mile mountain biking heaven for beginners is located in the Conejos Open Space. It encompasses about 2,000 acres of gently rolling hills with several stretches of street-type bicycle pathways and a few sections where your technical know-how of your gear will be put to the test. The trail is bounded in the west by Satwiwa/Sierra Vista and the Point Mugu State Park, creating a wonderful blanket of backcountry spanning more than 27,000 acres of mostly open space, stretching all the way to Sycomore Cove, kissing the Pacific Ocean. The 16-mile trail can be further extended by around 8 miles if bikers choose to ride up from the Sycamore Canyon Campground at the Point Mugu State Park all the way up to Sycamore Canyon.
If you’re looking for really fantastic water scenery to punctuate your mountain biking adventures, Sly Park in Pollack Pines is the trail to go to. This trail offers a great view of a lake, a pool, and a waterfall, where you can dismount from your bike and take a much-needed dip to cool your body. The 10-mile trail crisscrosses with a horse trails which are appropriately marked. There are double tracks and paved roads that break the monotony of a singletrack as well as several campgrounds that surround the lake like natural guard posts. There are always trail signs in sections where different park features intersect. And while these are clearly marked, you can still miss them. Nevertheless, backtracking will always lead you back to where you missed the point. The main park area is at Hazel Creek where you can spend the rest of the day musing on your adventures. On a really hot day, it’s always better to take a dip at the pool rather than the lake.
Best MTB Trails in California for Intermediate Bikers
For those who are already well beyond the beginner stage of mountain biking but are still quite hesitant to call themselves seasoned bikers of the mountain trail, California offers a myriad pathways for wide-tracked and ruggedly-framed bicycles and their riders to test their wits and technical proficiency handling their gears. These trails provide just the right combination of technically difficult terrain while still allowing for some space to take a much-needed breather.
Situated in Marin, Camp Tamarancho prides itself of an excellent mix of forest canopy-covered tracks and breath-taking cliffside rides that will surely keep you on your toes. Bends and curves, obscured by thick bushy overgrowths or large stumps of hundred year old trees further add to the excitement navigating through the 10-mile stretch of this wonderful bikers’ paradise set on private land. And since it is technically a private property, be prepared to shell out some amount for a day pass. And if you do love it here, getting a season pass would really be a great bargain. While Camp Tamarancho is currently rated as a mountain bike trail for advanced beginners or intermediate riders, it only has two sections that are considered by many as really “technical”: the Boulder and the Switchback. Both of these sections will put you on the edge, just enough to feel your heart pounding off your chest. But once you’ve navigated the stretch, you can breathe easily and just listen to the whir of the wind through your helmet.
There’s a bike trail in Auburn that is visited by bikers all across the state as well as from other states. It may only have 4 miles of dirt road to boast but it’s 4 miles of pure exhilarating fun. Why? How about a tranquil view of Lake Clementine with its crystal clear waters looking like some vast mirror laid down on the valley floor? Or, how about the view of the canyons down below? Even seasoned riders have been taken aback by the sheer beauty of the place. And with an incredible flow, you’ll be riding the Clementine/Forresthill Connector Trail forever. The track is best described as a rolling singletrack, marked by a descent into a breathtaking ravine before climbing out. The track itself has many twists, turns, and bends and you’d really have to be especially watchful of your speed as going too fast might as well send you sliding off to the side. It’s an intermediate mountain biker’s dream trail.
Tahoe Rim Trail
If you’re looking for a really long run down ravines and up hills and cliffs, the Tahoe Rim Trail in Tahoe City is the place to be. You’ll be coursing through 165 miles of bike tracks that takes you literally across two states, six counties, and the entire length of the perimeter of Lake Tahoe. In most cases, you will have to walk your bike over rock gardens for the simple fact that it really isn’t the smoothest ride you’ll ever get. In addition to these natural earthy knobs, you’d also get the occasional tree root protruding well above ground. You’d have to have lightning quick reflexes to hurdles this, too. There are amazing climbs and equally fantastic descents. But what is really inspiring about the trail is Lake Tahoe itself. Its inviting waters will make you really want to dismount from your bike, just sit back, and enjoy the spectacular view. You won’t get this anywhere else. It’s the single most important reason why so many riders come to this part of California all year round.
Best Advanced Mountain Bike Trails in California
For the daredevils who have clearly conquered their fears or even for those intermediates who are now more than ready to conquer theirs, California offers many spectacular, highly technical mountain bike trails that will keep you on the edge, literally. Make no mistake, these trails are not for the faint of heart nor are they intended for the great pretenders. Great skill, stamina, and tons of nerve are needed to conquer some of California’s black diamond-rated mountain bike trails.
Dubbed by MTB Magazine as the best singletrack moiuntain bike trail in the West, Downieville Downhill deserves its moniker for the sheer 5,000 foot vertical drop that stares daredevil riders straight in the face. It’s a solid 16 miles of downhill ride, 85 percent of which are singletracks. True masters of the track start testing their will and daring with a very steep technical before going for the wind at the Second Divide. Each year the track gets even rockier, posing significant challenges to those who have conquered the trail the year before. There are fantastic waterfalls and cool swimming holes, nonetheless, to provide a respite from the adrenaline-pumping ride, giving you much-needed time to catch your breath and compose yourself. Lengthy suspension bridges can definitely add to the thrill making the Downieville Downhill a true classic that is worth mastering over and over.
Forest of Nisene Marks and Soquel
Pray that you don’t go to the forested trail of Nisene Marks and Soquel at a time when either the San Andreas or the Zayante Faults or both are at their most active. This is especially true when passing through the Soquel part of the 20-mile mountain bike trail in Santa Cruz. The good thing is that the tracks are wider and pretty much cleared since it’s mostly fire road and just several stretches of singletracks. What makes it an advanced mountain biker’s choice is the unusually numerous climbs that will really call for your leg muscles to work double punctuated with a lot of nasty rock gardens. Again, the good thing is that the climb is well shaded from the intense heat of the California sun and you’ve got fire roads to help you in the climb. Downhill is a respite and so are the small marshes and natural springs that can be found littered on the forest floor. Plus, if you’re a big fan of riparian ecosystems and redwoods, this is the place to go. There are unusually large banking turns plus a few sections where you can almost as easily turn white-knuckled riding your bike. Ride Sawpit, Flow, and Braille and you’ll understand why you need massive carbo-loading just before riding the trail.
San Juan Trail
Capping our list of the best mountain bike trails in California for advanced riders is the 11-mile San Juan Trail in San Juan Capistrano. From the Hot Springs Canyon floor, you will be burning the fuel in your leg muscles navigating through a series of stacked switchbacks that are set by Mother Nature to be so steep you’ll be huffing and puffing by the time you reach the top towards Sugarloaf Mountain. You’ll be greeted by thick brush every here and there as well as boulders the size of a car, some bigger than your home. If you can muster the strength to ease up a bit on your ascent, you’ll actually see the San Juan Capistrano skies smiling down on you, offering you a rare view of the land’s truly breathtaking beauty. It may not be as devilish as Downieville Downhill but the San Juan Trail will surely test your endurance climbing up.
California is home to some of the country’s, if not the world’s, best mountain bike trails. Each of these trails actually has different sections that are designed for different skill levels of mountain bikers. Regardless, these places are surely on the calendar of activities of every serious mountain biker in the country and on the bucket list of every other individual.