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The Five Best Mountain Biking Trails in California

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With its pristine lakes, towering peaks and diverse terrain, California packs in more nature than any other state. It’s home to 3,427 miles of coastline, mountains over 14,000 feet high and expansive state parks ripe for exploring. You’ll find scenic trails up and down the coast — ranging from the extreme tracks to peaceful tours on paved roads — for taking in the view. Discover where to go for the best mountain biking in California.

Hitting the MTB Trails in California

Use the proper mountain biking gear to prepare for unexpected weather, including a helmet, rain gear and pads to reduce your risk of injury in steep areas. Many trails weave deep into the recesses of nature, with little to no accommodations along the route. Bring emergency supplies, including a bike pump and a repair kit for fixing flats or a broken chain. Inspect your bike’s brake pads to brake with confidence when going downhill. 

Mountain bike helmet communication allows you to connect hands-free with your companion. The receiver mounts next to your mouth for seamless communication. The more experienced rider should stay out front to guide the other person through the trail. Use the Cardo Packtalk Outdoor to keep in touch in every situation. It’s weatherproof and durable enough to withstand the most extreme climates. 

The state has been in the news more than usual lately as Californians grapple with competing environmental issues. Heavy snowfall, wildfires and extreme weather can interfere with your adventure. Check the weather and contact the park beforehand to ensure the trails are open. When it rains over a half inch, the state park department restricts mountain bikes to dirt roads and closes entry to single-lane trails for 48 hours to clean up.

view of lake from mountain

Source: aaronj9/

Best Mountain Bike Trails in California

1. Mission Peak Loop

This sprawling recreational area offers panoramic views of the hills outside Silicon Valley. Although the six-mile loop may look approachable from a distance, it can take up to four hours to complete. The impressive elevation gain of 2,152 feet will give your legs a good workout. The track is open and borders along areas known for camping and horseback riding. Shade is limited, so pack plenty of sunscreen. 

2. Fortuna Mountain Trail

Want an easier climb without missing out on the views? This triangle-shaped loop in Southern California outside San Diego takes just over three hours to master, with moderate elevation gains of 1,348 feet spread out over 6.2 miles. It’s mostly gravel roads with low-lying hills for catching the sunset. All exposed terrain can leave you begging for shade in the summer. 

3. Escondido Falls Trail

Roam over the dunes of Malibu on this hidden treasure located just far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the area’s signature beaches. You can get through the 475-foot climb in just 90 minutes and hit the surf afterward to cool down. The path is narrow, with just a few feet between you and what can be a steep drop. Slow down and take in the views on the way up. It passes a waterfall, wildfires and unparalleled views of the Pacific.

4. El Moro Canyon Loop Trail

Perfect for kids and new riders, this five-mile trail makes for a challenging day trip minus the stress of a steep climb. It climbs 810 feet with partially paved roads for catching your breath when someone needs a break. The path overlooks the Newport coastline with no shade and high winds. 

hiking trail in forest

Source: Sundry Photography/

5. Mount Umunhum

Standing at just under 3,500 feet, Mount Umunhum rewards you with roving views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Nearly half of the eight-mile loop is covered in thick foliage to give you a break from the sun. The path weaves up and down the peak, brushing past all kinds of plant life. Stay on the trail to avoid getting poison ivy or shifting boulders out of place. Stop by the trail’s famous radar tower, a cement cube looming over the adjoining valley, to learn about the site’s history. You can also drive to the top if you don’t have the strength to pedal home.

Your Next Trail in California Awaits

California mountain biking ranges from relaxing beachside hangs with incredible views to vigorous climbs that test your skills. Explore this beautiful state on two wheels to see as much of it as possible. 

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