MTB Trail Report: Aliso and Wood Park in Southern California

Late last month I got a chance to attend the Pearl Izumi X-Project media camp in Laguna Beach, CA, home to Brian Lopes, CrankBrothers, and the mountain bike trails at Aliso and Wood Park. Over the course of two days we put in 35 miles on the trails at Aliso with a Mountain Bike Hall-of-Famer who just happens to be a local. This is how it all went down.

After arriving on a Wednesday afternoon, the group was set up with demo bikes from Pivot (I rode a Mach 429) and got a late start on the trails at about 4:30pm. Starting at the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course, we were able to roll through two gates that are normally locked and closed to the public thanks to Brian’s connections. This placed us at the bottom of the canyon where we could see the steep brown hills with houses perched on top rising above us on three sides. With the sun setting, we were already enveloped in the shadows of the hills, fortunate to have cool temperatures in such an arid and exposed landscape.

Brian led us to Coyote Run where we got our first taste of singletrack and the fast, dust-over-hardpack conditions at Aliso. This section of Coyote Run featured a few rocky stinger climbs and even a short wooded section where the trees blotted out any remaining daylight, causing our eyes to strain for the trail.

We popped out onto the Woods Canyon Trail, a wide fire road that gradually makes its way to the top of the canyon. Toward the top, we pulled off to the left and Brian introduced us to the first stiff climb of the evening: the Cholla Trail. While the trail is less than half a mile, it climbs 250 feet at a pretty constant 13.5% grade. Lopes hold the Strava KOM at just over 2 and a half minutes but it would take me almost double that. Still, I was just stoked to have cleaned the entire climb with no stops. Strava says my time was #225 out of 1,527–I’ll take it!

From the top of Cholla, we rode the West Ridge Trail fireroad to the Top of the World for one of the most amazing California sunsets you can imagine! Even the fireroad threw in a few sustained steep climbs which made the ocean views even more sweet once we got to the top. I was happy to find a water fountain at the Top of the World which is great for topping off after the dry, dusty climbs. Top of the World is also the jumping off point (so to speak) for Tellonics, a well known DH run in the area.

From Top of the World we cruised down through the neighborhood and jumped back into the park for one last singletrack run down the Meadows Trail. The light was really fading at this point and the temperatures were dropping so I was anxious to get back down to Aliso Creek. The Meadows Trail features a 14% average grade and at least a dozen swooping switchbacks on the way down. The trail reminded me a bit of Hazard County in Moab, complete with cramped hands, burning quads, and sore cheeks from smiling the whole way down!

Aliso and Wood: Day 2

After riding about 14 miles the first day, we hit Aliso and Wood after lunch on day 2 for an extended tour and an opportunity to put the new Pearl Izumi X-Project shoes through their paces. Since the X-Project shoes are designed to flex off the bike, Brian chose a diabolical climb up a trail called Mentally Sensitive so everyone would be guaranteed an extended hike-a-bike. Strava says this climb is just 0.7 miles long but at a 20% average grade! After hiking up this trail I knew I didn’t want to come down this way.

From the top of Mentally Sensitive we continued to climb back to Top of the World in a reverse of our previous day’s route. From Top of the World we descended to Car Wreck and the Mathis Creek Trail where it was decision time: an easy or moderate descent. Now I love a good downhill run as much as anyone but really steep stuff gets me worried sometimes, especially when there are limited opportunities to recover. I decided to skip Car Wreck and had a blast flying down Mathis Creek instead. Mathis Creek is basically a fireroad but it’s steep and forgiving which meant we could really open things up on the way down.

At the bottom of the canyon once again, we climbed back up Woods Canyon and Cholla to Top of the World and then had another downhill option: Meadows Trail or Mentally Sensitive. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy descending Mentally Sensitive based on our climb up so I chose to rail Meadows Trail for the second day in a row. The rest of the group followed Brian and ended up riding a different descent that was even more challenging so I definitely made the right choice!

This was my first time riding in Southern California and also my first ride with a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer so needless to say it was a magical experience. It really is incredible to have so many miles of singletrack ranging from mild to wild located in such a densely populated area (not to mention just steps from the Pacific Ocean). Aliso and Wood Park is highly recommended if you’re in the area and who knows–you might just bump into a mountain biking legend out on the trails.

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