Orange County Mountain Biking: Best Trails & Routes + More

Corey Philip // June 29, 2022

Despite being only only an hour from the metropolis of Los Angeles and still being a highly urbanized area, there is a shocking amount of awesome mountain biking in Orange County California.  

Near the coast you have awesome trails through 'canyons' that provide relatively steep runs up and down about 1,000' of elevation, along with amazing views of the coast.

As you head inland to the Cleveland National Forest, you get more desert-esque riding, and much more elevation.   

Best Trails Around Orange County

There's a lot packed into the area.  This list is in no way exhaustive, but I've included what I feel all of the 'must hits'.  

[Trail] San Juan Trail...

not far from civilization, it feels like a backcountry ride and should be prepared for as such.  You get an incredibly fast moving descent down about 2,500' of descent single track.  It flows together flawlessly and the faster you go the more technical it becomes.  

This video on the San Juan Trail was one of my first videos in 2021.  

How to hit it: San Juan Lollipop Route

[Trail] The Luge...

If you turned a luge run into a mountain biking trail, you would get this.  

It's a fast moving trail with carved out berms that having you dicing your bike from direction to direction.  There's a few jumps you can send or roll mixed in and some loose rock to keep you on your toes.  

How to hit it: here is the loop on Trailforks and on my Strava you can see the 'Locals' trail we added on in the video.  

[Trail] 5 Oaks....

Ready to get sendy?  You better be if you're going to hit this trail.  

It's steep and there's a few jumps mixed in.  

The very top section starts off with a huge roll in that you can build your speed on (not that you really need it).  Then as you'll hit a small drop and find yourself in a section that gets you to mach 10.  Further down there will be some steep corners with a little bit of berm to help you get around them.  It's a fun time, but many mountain bikers will be in over there head on it.  

How to hit it: follow Aliso Bangers route below.

[Trail] Telonics...

This thing is a banger, and like 5 Oaks many mountain bikers will be in over their head on it.  

The trail is technically unsanctioned but countless people ride it daily and I have not heard of any enforcement on the trail.

The top section starts off with some cool/fun rock rolls, and then as you get lower down it turns into some very steep trail.  Don't be fooled by the video which I think makes the top section look most challenging, once you get into the bush it gets steeper and more technical in my opinion.

Videoing this trail from the drone never seemed to go well as the drone was struggling to keep up and was losing track while I crossed paths with other riders that were stopped on the trail -- so I can't say I am proud of my riding in the video, but here it is!

How to hit it: follow Aliso Bangers route below.

[Trail] Old Emerald

This is a great trail, that works for every rider.  Pros can pump it down the trail and enjoy the speed, and beginners can cruise down it without having to drag the break the whole time.  You also get some killer view of the Pacific Ocean that you can really enjoy while you're riding.  

How to hit it: Laguna Wilderness Jaunt route below

[Trail] Joplin

I gotta say, I was tossed up on including this one.  

It's a wicked trail and ride down, but it is a long haul to the top.  Basically a 5,000' climb up a pretty loose fire road until you hit the single track down.  The descent takes about an hour (+/-) depending on your pace.  

Personally a consistent in the saddle climb of 5,000' gets a little uncomfortable on the manhood, so I don't jump for this ride, but it is a staple while I am in the the area.

How to hit it: Trailforks Joplin Route

Favorite Routes

These are my favorite link ups of mountain biking trails around Orange County.  To avoid the 'paradox of choice' I am keeping this to 3 great rides.  

[Route] San Juan Lollipop

Ride this if your want a nice XC ish pedal with fast flowy descent.

This is a must hit if you are in the area.  It's just a great all around mountain bike ride.  You have a solid 6 mile climb up, with about 2,500' of elevation.  Then once you hit the rock junction at the top, a loop around in rolling terrain which includes oak hammocks and desert scape (very unique), then a fast ripping descent down.  It's mostly wide open and carrying speed with a series of many (like 10+ tight switch backs near the bottom).  Riding with other people it gives the the 'straight shot' fast riders time to shine, and the switchback hoppers their moment.  I love this ride.  

There's nothing too crazy for anyone here.  Just plan for the distance and heat, with no easy bailouts.

Although this is in amazing ride I've never found any crowds here, even on the best days of Spring, so this is great ride for the weekends.

Parking: A California Adventure Pass is required for parking, but I have parked at the trailhead many times without a ticket (knock on wood).  

[Route]  Aliso Bangers

Ride this if your want gnarly stuff in the area.

Ride this if your want a nice XC ish pedal with fast flowy descent.

This route links up some of the gnarliest trails around Orange County, and with that comes some gnarly climbs.  Most riders will be in over their head on this one, both going up and down.  Things are steep and technical here. 

If you want to rip it, best to hit this on weekday.  This place is a circus on the weekend.

Trails included are: 5 Oaks, Mentally Sensitive (now formally called Sheep Run), Telonics, and Car Wreck.  

Note: XC geometry bikes will struggle here.  I ride all this stuff on a 150/140 travel Specialized Stumpjumper.  I would not want to ride it on a 100mm Specialized Epic.  I could technically do it, but it would feel very sketchy.

[Route] Laguna Wilderness Jaunt

Ride this if you want a good ride with a little spicy and great views of the pacific!

This route is a ton of fun, without going so extreme, like the Aliso Bangers Route.  The climbs and descents are solid without the really steep ups and downs.  

There are a few other GREAT trails in this route that many would consider 'Best of' Orange County.... Rattlesnake, Lizard, and Laguna Ridge... all of them are excellent.

No time for a warm-up, start off with a climb up Big Bend (or Willow).  Then enjoy Old Emerald with a view of the Pacific most of the way down.  Climb back up the ride and head to Rattlesnake which is a pretty long copy descent.  Another climb back up the ridge to get to Lizards which takes you South.  Then ride along Bomber Ridge, a fun casual double track until you hit Laguna Ride.  Laguna Ridge will be the rowdiest descent on the route.  It gets steeper and chunkier as you near the bottom.

Word On Parking: this may seem counter intuitive but do NOT park in the Orange County Trailhead parking lots.  They 'close' at 5pm and if you are parked there after 5pm you get a ticket.  Incredibly ridiculous when the sun is up until after 8pm.  Instead, looking for the metered parking on the main road near the trailhead.

Area Info

Time of year... summer can be brutally hot.  Winter can be chilly and wet.  Spring / Fall is the best time of year.  If riding in the summer.  Sticking to the Aliso & Laguna Wilderness areas near the coast will be a few degrees cooler and get a nice breeze.

Parking At Laguna Wilderness... The Orange County Parks parking lots close at 5pm.  You get a nice $45 ticket if you're parked there after 5pm... which is ridiculous when the sun sometimes sets after 8pm.  Instead look for nearby street parking.  

Bike shop... The Path Bike Shop, has a good selection of nice rental bikes, a skilled staff, and very good inventory.  You can't go wrong relying on them for anything you need  mountain bike related while you are in Orange County.

About the Author

Corey Philip

Mountain biker and trail runner. I work remotely and travel around riding awesome trails 66% of the year. Bike: 2020 Specialized Stumpjumper. Youtube | Strava | Instagram