MTB in SoCal: General Impressions + Turnbull Canyon and Fullerton Loop

During our 2 week stay in the Los Angeles area this past summer, I had the opportunity to ride numerous trails all over the region. To be frank, while I added and/or reviewed every single trail that I rode, many of them aren’t even worth writing about. Overall I found SoCal mountain biking to be …

During our 2 week stay in the Los Angeles area this past summer, I had the opportunity to ride numerous trails all over the region. To be frank, while I added and/or reviewed every single trail that I rode, many of them aren’t even worth writing about. Overall I found SoCal mountain biking to be incredibly unappealing. Sure, there’s a mess of trails all over the place, but in general I thought the riding left much to be desired.

For one, there’s the layout and the construction of the majority of the trails. Here’s how the average SoCal ride goes:

  1. Grunt up an uber steep, nasty, totally unappealing doubletrack for several miles. Significant hike a bike may be required.
  2. Reach the singletrack trail and bomb straight back down the mountain on an eroded fall line trail.

There may be a flowy section or other entertaining trail feature here and there, but those will most likely occur by accident. At times the fall-line style singletrack can be fun in its own right, despite not being very environmentally viable, but the few short minutes of blissful descending don’t nearly outweigh the PITA of getting to the top of the trail. While I’m not one to say that every trail needs to be purpose-built for mountain biking, the entire SoCal region could use a good IMBA makeover.

Dirt Road climb at Turnbull Canyon

Then there’s the terrain itself: in my opinion, the Los Angeles area is just plain ugly. For starters, there’s the hundreds of miles of urban sprawl and all the traffic congestion and smog that goes with it.

Second, even if you do get away from the congested traffic, the few natural areas are themselves unappealing. The climate here is pretty dry–but it’s not a desert that is beautiful in its starkness and vastness like you find in Utah or Arizona. Instead, it is an ugly desert landscape with “mountains” that really aren’t so much mountains as they are big piles of dirt. The shrubby vegetation is short, scraggly, very thorny, and quickly overtakes the trail. In general, run-ins with the undergrowth is best avoided at all costs. See the Poodle Dog bush as an example. This combination of big piles of dirt and relatively little vegetation yields singletrack that is generally very dry, dusty, and loose, with some rocks thrown in.

So Cal landscape. Note the cactus and weeds in the foreground, large mounds of dirt in the middle of the picture, and urban sprawl and smog in the distance. Trail: Turnbull Canyon.

All things considered, I did enjoy my visit to SoCal and was grateful for the opportunity to ride in this area–but I don’t think I’ll ever plan a mountain bike vacation in Los Angeles.

Of course, I’m sure that for the locals, some of these trails command a special spot in their hearts–and that’s the way it should be. I don’t mean to rag on the local riding, and I don’t mean to offend. If you’re an LA-area local, you really don’t have it too bad as far as mountain biking in and around a major city goes. But viewed from the outside, I have to honestly say that there’s absolutely no reason to visit here if you’re coming solely for the mountain biking. There are enough excellent mountain bike destinations in the United States alone to eat up your vacation time for years to come, so why settle?

While some LA trails that I rode don’t even bear mentioning, here are two trails that do.

Turnbull Canyon, Whittier, California

Turnbull Canyon is a popular LA-area mountain bike spot located in Whittier. It’s also pretty popular with hikers, so be sure to keep your eyes open… but the mountain biking contingent here is strong!

Switchback on 7th Street.

Like most of the trail systems in SoCal, Turnbull is comprised of a combination of doubletrack/fireroads and singletrack. From the Beverly lot (the GPS location given for the trailhead), start grinding up the fireroad to the top of the ridge. Once on top, there are a number of options for some awesome descending down the front side, or you could hit up 7th street and descend down the opposite side of the ridge… just be prepared for the ride back up!

A radically different view of Turnbull Canyon. I definitely didn't see this side of So Cal when I visited in July. Photo: w8n4dasun.

On the opposite side of Turnbull Canyon Road you’ll find some fireroads and some great singletrack—specifically, the Worsham Canyon Trail is an absolute joy to ride!

Sweet singletrack on the Worsham Canyon Trail.

While you won’t be on singletrack the entire time you’re here, Turnbull is a great place to get in as much as 15-20 miles of legit mountain biking!

The Fullerton Loop, Fullerton, California

The Fullerton Loop is a fairly popular ride right smack dab in the middle of Orange County suburbia. While it’s not going to win any awards as the next big mountain bike destination, this 11-mile loop right in the center of Fullerton is easily accessible to the residents and makes for a great training ride or a quick loop after work.

Jamis Dakar 650b Pro on the Fullerton Loop

Utilizing a number of different trails, greenways, and unmarked sections of singletrack, the loop is surprisingly easily to follow. There are a few spots where you might need to look at a map to figure out which road to take to connect back to the trail, but for the most part you just need to look for the bike tracks and see where they go!

Photo: kentonn.

While most of the main trails are wide, multi-use doubletrack, there are many singletrack options off to the side, some of which are well-defined and are even marked. There are a few jumps and drops thrown in at intervals to keep things interesting, as well as a few berms/wallrides, including one that’s about 10 feet tall!

If you live in Fullerton or are staying here for a while, you should definitely hop on your bike and go check the trails out.

Urban riding in Fullerton.

This isn’t all. Stay tuned for more good trails from SoCal!


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