San Diego has lots of mountain bike trails. But which ones are easy enough for beginners to ride on. If they are too difficult then you may get into an accident. Worse yet you may lose confidence and not want to ride anymore. Don’t worry, I have collected the best ones for new mountain bikers below.
1. Lagoon Trail
The Lagoon Trail is an easy trail to ride aerobically. Elevation gain or loss is 10 feet depending on which direction you are going. Overall the trail is not technical as you will be riding on dirt roads. There are no singletracks or doubletracks.
The total distance of the trail is 2.7 miles going out and back. You should be able to finish the trail in 30 minutes going an average speed of 4mph. So if your average speed is 8mph you could finish in only 15 minutes. This trail can be ridden all year round and is good for mountain bikes and hybrid bikes.
As you ride you will find this to be a scenic trail. It is a great trail to see various birds. You will ride by tidal marshes and the San Dieguito River.
Begin by following the dirt road west which takes you behind a shopping center. Keep riding and you’ll see the tidal marsh on your left. Here you will see migratory birds relaxing in the water.
Ride under I-5 as the trail continues past a golf driving range. A pedestrian only boardwalk will be to your left as you stay to the right, on the dirt path. Keep going to Jimmy Durante Boulevard where you can turn around and go back.
2. Guajome Park Trail
The Guajome Park Trail is easy to bike through physically. The elevation gain or loss is 15 feet depending on the direction you are going. The trail is not technical, no singletrack or obstacles on the path. You will ride on dirt trails and roads.
The distance of this trail is 2.7 miles and consists of two loops. One is a lake loop ride going around Guajome Lake, the other is a grasslands loop ride. Riders should be able to finish both loops in 30 minutes to an hour averaging 4mph.
As you follow the lake loop ride start from the south picnic area and go north and turn left at the nature trail. You will be riding by a small creek and go through a wetlands area with many reeds and cattails.
Keep going as it goes north and turn left at a little wooden bridge. You will be able to see many ducks and birds as you get to the north part of the lake.
As you get to the main park entrance stay to the right and finish the loop and you’ll see a playground section and picnic area. When you see a T in the trail turn left and keep going along the north side of the same creek by the campground. At this point keep going to get to the grasslands loop. Stay right as you pass a small wooden bridge. Follow the trail to the grasslands trail.
3. Rancho Carrillo
The Rancho Carrillo Trail is fairly easy to ride. The elevation gain or loss is 180 feet depending on which way you are going. There are at least two climbs and one downhill which are all gradual. The trail is not technical. You will ride on pavement as well as wide gravel paths.
The distance of the trail is 3 miles and consists of two loops a western loop and an eastern loop. Riders can complete the trail in 30 minutes by going at least 4mph.
The western loop starts at the parking lot, follow the paved path west and go downhill toward the creek area. At the first junction stay left. You can see the freshwater marsh section as you cross the bridge.
Keep going right as the trail climbs. Make a sharp left turn on to a wide gravel path. You will go by ceanothus and big pepper trees. This trail eventually turns to pavement again and climbs uphill.
Turn left at Via Conquistador, and left at Rancho Caballo, then left on Carrillo Way. Stay left at Flying CC Lane and right going on to a sidewalk which goes downhill. Turn left at the bottom and follow the trail to finish the loop.
This western loop has just taken you around Leo Carrillo Ranch Park. The eastern loop goes around the head of a small canyon and around the dry valley below. Start at Carrillo Way.
4. Piedras Pintadas
The Piedras Pintadas trail is rated as easy because the elevation gain or loss is 120 feet and varies in different sections. Riders will be biking on dirt trails and roads. Plus you will come across some narrower sections of the trail and a gradual switchback. There are no singletracks or obstacles making the trail nontechnical.
The distance of this trail ranges between 2.3 to 5.3 miles depending on which way you go. Riders can expect to finish this trail in 1 hour averaging 4mph. You can ride this trail all year round, but the summer can be too hot to ride in.
There is a little hill in the middle of a section which the Bernardo Bay loop goes around. Take this trail west and you’ll have a good view of Lake Hodges and Bernardo Mountain. Go clockwise around the hill. You will see many birds and colorful flowers.
At the north end of the hill the trail narrows and there are a few rocky places. Keep going and stay to the right when you get to West Bernardo Drive. Ride on the dirt shoulder, back to the beginning of the loop.
The Piedras Pintadas trail will take you by the wetlands along Green Valley Creek. Take the trail south and cross the bridge over Green Valley Creek. Next ride around the head of a small canyon. You will pass a nice waterfall and slick rocks.
Take the switchbacks next, ride to the top of a ridge and turn ride at the junction. The trail will bare right where you go uphill to enjoy a good view of the lake and creek drainage.
5. Dark Canyon
The Dark Canyon trail is pretty easy. The elevation gain or loss is 150 feet depending on the direction you are going. You will be biking on smooth dirt trails. There are no obstacles or singletracks making this a nontechnical trail.
The length of the trail is 3 miles long as you go out and back. You should be able to finish this trail in 30 minutes going at least 4mph, and in 15 minutes averaging 8mph. Hybrid and mountain bikes can go on the path all year round.
Begin by biking on a concrete path from the street entrance. Go downhill to the canyon floor near the I-56 overpass. Ride south by turning left as the path becomes dirt and smooth. Now you’ll be riding by black sage, pear cactus, and pampas. You’ll be able to hear only the sound of birds and your tires in this quiet area.
After 1 mile the canyon becomes wider. On the right you will go by Park Village Elementary School. Next you come to Park Village Road. Watch out for the cars. Turn right on Park Village Road and left at the light on Camino Del Sur to discover the north side of Los Penasquitos Canyon. Go farther down the parking lot to find the trail. To go back just turn around and go back the same way you came.
6. Santa Fe Valley
The Santa Fe Valley trail is rated as easy. The elevation gain riding out is 200 feet, and going back the loss is 110 feet in elevation. The entire trail is dirt. It is considered to be nontechnical even though there are a few steep switchbacks at the end of the trail.
The distance of the trail is 3.6 miles going out and back. Riders will be able to finish the trail in 1 hour averaging 4mph. This trail can be ridden all year round.
This trail is also used by hikers and equestrian riders. Start riding from Bing Crosby Boulevard and ride along the golf course for a little while. You will cross a few bridges and before you ride 1 mile you will be near the San Dieguito River.
At this point the trail goes back and forth left and right zig zagging, where there are many river rocks. Now at 1.25 miles you will switchback up a hill. After you will ride south to a nice view of the river valley. Across the river you can see horse farms.
You will come to the head of a canyon and then go downhill to a bridge. Finally you will go up the other side of the canyon by following switchbacks. At the top of the hill you can take a rest and then go back the same way you came.
7. Del Dios Gorge
The Del Dios Gorge trail is not difficult to ride on aerobically. It is longer than the previous trails we have covered so far. The elevation gain and loss is 410 feet and 150 feet going one way. The trails are dirt and gravel, no singletrack or obstacles making it nontechnical.
The trail is 6.3 miles long going out and back, no loop. Riders can finish the trail in 1 and a half hours going 4mph on average. Mountain bikers can enjoy this trail year round. Equestrian riders, hikers, and other bikers also use this trail.
Start from the parking area and ride south up a paved road, turn left when you see the sign for the trail. As you begin you will see good views of the river and surrounding hills.
At 0.8 miles you’ll reach a picnic area and pass by bat houses. You’ll go downhill to the river and the steel truss bridge. Once you cross the bridge and go up a little you will pass cattails and many oak and eucalyptus trees. Next the trail drops below road level.
At 2 miles you’ll go uphill. Go over the flume and see a good view of the dam. After, the trail goes east and connects with the North Shore Lake Hodges Trail. You’ll go downhill now following the lake north. This is where you can rest and turn around.
8. Big Laguna Trail
The Big Laguna Trail is fairly simple to ride through. The elevation gain and loss is 300 feet. You will be riding on all dirt trails. No singletracks or obstacles, so it is nontechnical except for one berm.
The trail is 6 miles long and it is a loop, so you will eventually be back where you started. Riders should be able to finish the trail in 1 to 2 hours going 4mph at least. The trail can be ridden during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. If you want to ride during the winter, better use a fat bike and have some experience.
This trail begins by going uphill to a section which was burned out by the Laguna Fire. At 0.9 miles you’ll pass by the Sunset Trail, which is off limits to bikes. At 1 mile you will see a sign for the loop trail. Turn right and go across the meadow north.
At 1.4 miles keep going straight and bare left and you’ll follow along the grassy western side of the meadow. You’ll ride over tree snags and stumps as you now go down a slight hill.
At 2.9 miles there will be a berm crossing at the lake on the southern end. You will go over a bumpy berm. At 3.1 miles keep going straight to stay on the loop. Go uphill into pine trees and over roots to see the meadow below.
Finally, at 4.7 miles you should start to recognize this area. You rode west here in the beginning. Keep going straight and go downhill back to the start,
9. Marian Bear Park
The Marian Bear Trail is easy to ride physically. The elevation gain and loss is 150 feet. The trails are hard dirt packed paths and graded roads. Technically the trail is nontechnical, no singletracks or obstacles.
This trail is 6.5 miles long as you go out and then back. Riders will be able to finish the trail in 1 hour and 30 minutes riding an average of 4mph. These trails can be biked all year round.
As you ride you will see a lot of nature and wildlife. Trees such as oaks, sycamores, and willows will meet you on the path. If you are lucky you may see skunks, rabbits, and coyotes.
Beginning at the Regent Road staging area go west until you cross a seasonal rocky creek with many oak trees. Stay to the right and at 0.5 miles you’ll cross a creek and climb the bank to a bench.
Keep staying right and you’ll cross a small hill. Stay right and you’ll get to the entrance to the Rose Canyon trail. Turn around and go back to the staging area.
If you go east from the staging area, use the north side of the parking area trail. Keep going and follow the trail east through the canyon. At 0.6 miles the Biltmore Trail intersects on the right. At 0.8 miles, the Standley Trail intersects on the left.
At Genesee Avenue go under the overpass and stay right. At 1.4 miles go downhill to the Genesee staging area. Stay right passing the Cobb Trail at 2.3 miles. You can turn around at the large overpass at I-805.
10. Fossil Canyon
The Fossil Canyon Trail has an elevation gain and loss of 320 feet. So this is a fairly easy trail. You will be riding on dirt roads, but most of it is paved. There are a few small hills which are not tiring. Technically it is not technical, no obstacles or singletracks.
When you ride out and back on the trail this will cover 8.4 miles. Almost 5 and a half miles of the trail is paved. You should be able to finish the trail in 2 hours going an average speed of 4mph. Since it is mostly paved you will probably average faster than 4mph.
Since you are in a desert area the best time to ride are in the Fall, Winter and Spring. Begin by riding north on Imperial Highway S2. Then at 1.2 miles go right at the stop sign onto Shell Canyon Road. At 3.4 miles the path will turn to dirt. You will pass through yellow mud hills and see many motorcycle tracks. Some people camp here too.
At 4.2 miles the walls of the canyon start to get narrower. At this point you will reach a gate where no riding further is allowed. You can get off your bike and hide it so you can explore on foot. Or you can return the same way you came.
11. Blair Valley and Little Blair Valley Trails
The Blair Valley and Little Blair Valley trail is an easy ride physically. The elevation gain and loss is 590 feet depending on which way you are going and where you are. Most of the trail is dirt, there are some sand trails, and 0.7 miles is paved along S2.
This trail is 8.7 miles long and it is a loop. Riders can finish this trail in 2 hours to 2 and a half hours going at least 4mph. The trail is not technical, no obstacles or singletracks. Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons are the best time to ride. Summer is probably too hot because you are in a desert area.
You will start by going through Blair Valley first, going southeast. You will see small hills on your left and meadows to your right. Granite Mountain is also on your right.
There is a lot of vegetation in this area such as creosote bush, ocotillo, cholla cactus, yucca and agave. At 3.2 miles you’ll see the parking area for Ghost Mountain. Stay left to continue the loop. At 3.9 miles the Morteros Native American village is on your right. Stay left again to follow the loop.
Now you will enter Little Blair Valley and its small rock hills encircling a dry lake bed. Stay straight at the end of the lake bed and go uphill. At the S2 sign turn left and go downhill. At 7.4 miles you’ll go by Foot and Walker Pass. At 8 miles you’ll get to Highway S2, turn left and go in between Earthquake Valley and Blair Valley to the starting point.
12. North Shore Lake Hodges
The North Shore Lake Hodges trail is rated as easy. The elevation gain and loss is 180 feet. You will not find much in the way of tiring hills. Riders will be on dirt trails and roads. Technically the trail is not technical, it is pretty smooth riding.
This trail is much longer than previous ones covered at 11.5 miles going out and back. It is a good idea if you had a little bit of conditioning, if not pace yourself. Riders should be able to finish this trail in 2 hours to 2 hours and a half.
Be sure to bring enough food, water, and a first aid kit just in case. All year round riding is possible, but the summer could be warm to too hot for riding.
Begin by riding on the dirt road going north from the west end of Lake Hodges. You’ll get to a eucalyptus shaded park. Keep going east and go on to a dirt trail along the right side of the road as it goes by the Lake Hodges north shoreline.
Keep going past a parking area and boat ramp and continue southeast through a gate onto a dirt road. You will see oak trees, and pepper trees and lots of buckwheat. Now you will go uphill and follow the shore of the lake and circle around the base of the 1150 foot Bernardo Mountain to your left.
Next you will ride on an old section of highway before I-15 was used. Continue by turning right on new pavement and go under I-15. Keep going until you get to the kiosk off of Sunset Drive. Now have a rest before going back.
13. Dos Cabezas Road
The Dos Cabezas Road trails are rated as easy. The elevation gain and loss is 450 feet depending on which route you take. The trail is nontechnical, no singletrack or doubletracks. You’ll be riding on dirt roads which have some sand on them. Almost 1 mile of the path is pavement.
The distance of this trail is 6 to 14 miles long depending on which way you go. Riders will need at least 1 to 3 hours to finish the trail. The best time to ride these trails is during the Fall, Winter, and Spring. Summer is probably too hot.
Begin by going on Dos Cabezas Road south. At 1 mile you’ll get to the EC 158 intersection. Turn right and go west toward the railroad tracks. At 2.8 miles you’ll go downhill to a sandy wash, and then climb back up to the other side.
At 3.4 miles you’ll get to the EC 109 junction. If you turn right it will be 1.8 miles back to Highway S2. Then you turn right and go 0.8 miles on pavement back to the beginning at 6 miles total riding.
If you want to keep riding keep going straight and follow EC 158 around Big Bend. Eventually, 5.7 miles later you’ll get to the railroad tracks. From here you can explore Piedras Grandes, Mortero Palms, and the Devil’s Canyon.
14. Painted Gorge
The painted Gorge trail is an easy trail to ride. The gain and loss of elevation is 370 feet. You will be riding on dirt roads and well graded roads. There are no obstacles which will be in your way, so the trail is nontechnical.
Riders will just ride straight out and back which covers 11 miles. Going at least 4mph, you will need at least 3 hours. If you can average 8mph, that can be cut down in half to 1 hour and a half. Fall, Winter, and Spring are the best times to ride this trail.
If you like rocks this is the place to ride. You will encounter sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks. Depending on the angle of the Sun the hills change color.
Begin by following the gravel trail through an ORV section. You will see shipping containers, trailers, and ramshackle buildings. At 1.4 miles go left at the Painted Gorge sign. At 2.3 miles you’ll go under power lines.
Eventually you will come to dark soil with light colored hills. You’ll start climbing slightly, keep going and at 4.5 miles the road curves to a small hill and dips into Painted Gorge Bowl. Multi-hued hills will surround you at this point. Keep going into Painted Gorge for half a mile. After that you can’t go further, so you can take a rest and turn back.