Riding the Locals’ Favorite: El Prieto, Altadena, California

El Prieto has been hailed by many as one of the best singletrack rides in the Los Angeles area. After hearing such accolades, I just had to check it out! And let me tell you: the reputation is not unfounded.

To start the ride, park at the lot and head past the upper yellow gate on the paved road. After a couple of miles there will be a fork; head uphill, toward Brown Mountain. Eventually the pavement will turn to dirt, and you’ll see the bottom of the El Prieto trail off to your right. This is the trail you’ll eventually be coming down, but instead of heading up Lower El Prieto, bear left and continue toward Brown Mountain. Despite the fact that it’s labeled as the “Brown Mountain Road,” much of the climb is actually pretty killer singletrack, thanks to the undergrowth having overtaken much of the old road bed.

Upper El Prieto.

After 3 or 4 miles of exposed climbing in the direct sun you’ll reach a saddle and the El Prieto trail will descend off to the right. Hop on that, and get ready to rip! Upper El Prieto is swoopy, gnarly, and fast—hang on and rock it! It’s also still exposed to the sun and similar to many of the other trails in the area, but be sure to look for the Lower El Prieto trail taking off to the right.

Trail wrapping around the mountain with smoggy Los Angeles in the background.

Lower El Prieto is unlike any other trail I’ve ridden in SoCal. It’s gnarly, and mostly descends, but there are some smooth spots mixed in, some climbs thrown in, and a few well-shaped switchbacks—the singletrack is really a mixed bag. But what really sets this ride apart is that El Prieto winds down through a canyon bottom, following a small stream. As a result of the water flow, there is actually vegetation down here: trees, green grasses (not dryed-out brown stalks), and many other types of undergrowth. The trail actually crosses the small stream several times; the cool spray of the water and the shade of the trees is a refreshing relief from the hot sun higher up the trail.

Rare vegetation on the Lower El Prieto trail.

After some absolutely awesome rolling, twisting singletrack, the trail spits back out onto the pavement—just go back the way you came, and after about 8.5 miles of some of the best riding SoCal has to offer, you’ll be back at your car!

Impressions

This is one of the best all-around rides I found in SoCal for a number of reasons. While there’s a little bit of relatively flat road to reach the main loop, once you get there the entire loop, including the climb, is all singletrack! In my experience, that’s an incredible rarity in this region. As I mentioned above, the variety of the singletrack on Lower El Prieto and the variety of the vegetation is a breath of fresh air after riding hot, exposed, desert trails for two weeks. Add to that the fact that the climb isn’t gut-wrenchingly steep, and this loop is actually an enjoyable experience all the way around. Sure, the climb is tough and hot and exposed, but it’s all very rideable.

Photo: changito45.

This loop is pretty well-signed, but compared to real mountain bike destinations, the signage, especially at the start of the lariat, leaves much to be desired. Still, it is noticeably better than other nearby rides.

The Singletracks topo map shows trails in the upper left and lower right. The red loop shows El Prieto loop. Map data copyright Neotreks/Accuterra.

Based on one of the maps I was looking at, this loop connects to several other trails in the area that connect to others all the way up into the Angeles National Forest. Specifically, where Upper El Prieto breaks off Brown Mountain, it looks like you could keep ascending Brown Mountain for miles. Perhaps that trail no longer exists, but it looks like there is some great potential to turn this ride into much more than an 8.5 mile lariat!

Your Turn: Have you ridden in the Los Angeles area? If so, what’s your favorite trail?

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About Greg Heil

My name is Greg Heil, and I am the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com. I've been mountain biking seriously since 2005, and I love to travel and ride new trails. My travels have taken me across the United States multiple times. To date (November 2013), I have ridden hundreds of different trails in 18 different states, and am adding more singletrack to my trail resume every year! I enjoy all types of mountain biking, from ultra endurance cross country all the way up to chair lift-accessed downhill runs.

2 thoughts on “Riding the Locals’ Favorite: El Prieto, Altadena, California

  1. I did this ride today. I was going to run but the rep from Niner, Robert, was there. He set me up on a RIP 9 Pro with a Pike fork. I had a blast! You had to earn the ride down. Overall it was an hour and fifteen minutes of fun. Loved the downhill through the canyon. Met good folks along the way that made sure I was heading the right way. If I lived on LA, I’d do this ride each afternoon. It was a great break from my Georgia single track- just as fun and just as hard, but dry open, great views and much fun.

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