Best Bike Rides Orange County, California  by Wayne D. Cottrell

Best Bike Rides Orange County, California Guide Book

by Wayne D. Cottrell (Falcon Guides)
Best Bike Rides Orange County, California  by Wayne D. Cottrell
This book offers rides of various lengths and terrain to cover a wide range of abilities, from short, flat treks for beginners, families, and recreational cyclists to long, hilly adventures for experienced and even competitive riders. The Orange County region is relatively compact, with an area just under 1,000 square miles. Corey Schlom’s The Unseen O.C. suggests, however, that there are sides of Orange County with which few are familiar, even within its relatively small space. This book exposes the popular spots and some lesser-known corners of the county, along with some rides on the county’s edge. The twenty road biking routes and twenty-two mountain biking routes highlighted here show why Orange County remains one of the top US biking destinations.

© 2017 Wayne D Cottrell /Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Bike Rides Orange County, California" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 42.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 42.

The Aliso Creek Sneak is a “sneaky” tour of the communities along Aliso Creek, in that use of the Aliso Creek Bikeway allows one to “sneak” through several cities without ever seeing much motor vehicle traffic (or, at times, not really knowing where one is relative to the outside world). The ride is 24.5 miles in length, out-and-back on a single bikeway, with an extension into Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park along a limited-access park road. Any portion of the ride would be suitable for children.
Lake Forest, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 24.5
The Black Star Canyon Adventure is, as the name implies, an adventurous 16.65mile mountain bike ride in the Santa Ana Mountains of northeastern Orange County. The net elevation gain of the out-and-back ride is 2,004 feet, in 8 miles. The return trip features a rapid descent. Black Star Canyon has a rich history and folklore; the canyon and surrounding lands have multiple layers of preservation, including the Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmarks, Cleveland National Forest, the Wildlands Conservancy (through the Mariposa Reserve), and some private land ownership. Artifacts from the era of the ancient Tongva-Gabrielino peoples have been found in the canyon. Mining operations in the canyon area started during the early 19th century, and continued well into the 20th before ceasing. Some old mining equipment, infrastructure, and shafts can still be seen.
Irvine, CA - Hiking,Mountain Biking,Trail Running - Trail Length: 16.65
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The Brea-Carbon (Free) Canyons Loop is a 22.8-mile ride that starts and finishes at Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea. Besides the ride, the park is worth exploring, particularly for the grove of redwood trees. Redwoods? Yes—although these trees are not native to Southern California, these were planted in the mid-1970s and, through special care, have become the largest such grove in the region. The grove is located on the east end of the park, after a 1.1-mile walk/hike along the Carbon Canyon Nature Trail.
Brea, CA - Hiking,Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 22.8
Central OC Velo is the consummate urban OC ride, taking the rider on a 44.45mile trip through a diverse array of landscapes, development, and life in central Orange County. The route makes heavy use of the Santa Ana River Trail (SART), a bike path along the Santa Ana River which has been described as a “freeway for bicycles.” Plans are for the path to be a true mountains-to-the-sea route, with grade separations, for some 100 miles from the foothills east of San Bernardino, to the Pacific Ocean bordering Costa Mesa.
Santa Ana, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 44.45
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The Chino Hills Ridges Challenge is exactly as titled. As the companion ride to Ride 4, Chino Hills Trails Trek, the Challenge takes on a longer route that explores the central and southeastern sectors of the park. Although the highlow elevation differential is “just” 1,320 feet, there are four challenging climbs along the way, such that the total elevation gain exceeds 2,700 feet. No water is available for a long stretch, so be sure to bring plenty of fluids. Also, be prepared for a microclimate in the Chino Hills that might be warmer than in the surrounding areas.
Yorba Linda, CA - Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 23.6
The 12.3-mile Chino Hills Trail Trek explores the northwestern sector of Chino Hills State Park. The park is too large (14,173 acres) to be covered in a single ride (please also see Ride 34, Chino Hills Ridges Challenge). The park is nestled between restricted open spaces to the north, the city of Chino Hills to the north and east, Prado Dam and the CA 71 highway to the east, the CA 91 freeway and the city of Yorba Linda to the south, and the city of Brea to the west.
Brea, CA - Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 12.3
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Circle Newport Bay is a compact 9.9-mile road ride, suitable for families, that traces the perimeter of Upper Newport Bay, with a slight deviation at the bay’s southern end. Any portion of the ride would be suitable for children. About two-thirds of the ride is on paved bike paths; of this, about 60% is along a road that is one-way for motor vehicles, and two-way for bicycles. The rest of the ride is on roads shared with motor vehicles, and on walkways shared with pedestrians. Only a short 0.33-mile segment along the Pacific Coast Highway is truly busy with motor vehicles.
Newport Beach, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 9.9
Circuito Chiquito Ortega is a challenging mountain bike ride that is short enough for intermediate riders (like me), but can probably be ridden straight through only by expert, experienced riders (unlike me). I had a difficult time with the technical aspects of the San Juan Loop Trail and Chiquito Trail; hence the slow time for the route.
Coto de Caza, CA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 12.85
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Coyote Creek Corridor Cities is a nearly entirely flat 22.75-mile ride, with a high-low elevation range of just 52 feet. The ride never strays far from Coyote Creek and the San Gabriel River Bikeway, while passing in and out of eight different Orange and Los Angeles County cities. City and/or county borders are crossed some twenty-two times in this ride, potentially filling up your passport. About 75% of the ride is in Orange County, with the other 25% in Los Angeles County.
La Palma, CA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 22.75
Crystal Cove Mas Moro is a challenging, 15.6-mile mountain bike ride through Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach. The main challenge is that the route climbs up to and descends from three ridges. So although the net high-low elevation difference is 900 feet, the net elevation difference of the three climbs is 2,147 feet, not including minor undulations along the way. Yet the ride features perhaps the most spectacular view of any in this book—that of the Pacific Ocean as you descend from Moro Ridge in Crystal Cove State Park.
Laguna Beach, CA - Mountain Biking,Trail Running - Trail Length: 15.6
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Cycle Surf City is a 22.55-mile loop tour of the city of Huntington Beach, although the ride also passes through the cities of Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa, and a portion of Santa Ana. About one-fourth of the ride is along the Santa Ana River Trail (SART), on its southernmost segment. (Please see Ride 3, Central OC Velo, for a ride on the SART’s central segment.)
Fountain Valley, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 22.55
El Cañada Gobernadora may be a strange ride title, meaning “Canyon of the Governor’s Wife.” It may also seem strange that this was the only ride that I could not complete, because one of the road segments, a portion of La Pata Road in San Clemente, was under construction as of this writing. The ride description anticipates the completion of the road, and your opportunity to complete the entire route.
San Juan Capistrano, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 34.7
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The El Cariso–Trabuco Peak Epic is indeed that. Give yourself plenty of time to complete this 32.8-mile clockwise loop that travels from Temescal Valley into the Santa Ana Mountains, and back down. The ride opens on the road, then goes off-road to head up into the mountains, and to descend, and then finishes with a short road segment. The net elevation difference of 3,325 feet is the greatest of any in this book. The high elevation of 4,474 feet is reached as Main Divide Road North passes by Trabuco Peak, which is the third highest in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Corona, CA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 32.8
The Elsinore Mountains Divide Ride is a 45.85-mile clockwise loop that starts high in the Santa Ana Mountains, descends rapidly into the Elsinore Trough, climbs up onto the Santa Rosa Ecological Plateau, and then continues to climb up into the Elsinore Mountains to return. The recommended direction is clockwise, such that the ride on CA 74 (Ortega Highway) is in the downhill direction. Please note that CA 74 is a two-lane highway with shoulders. There are plenty of breathtaking views, although one’s eyes tend to be glued to the road. The Lookout Roadhouse is on the left in the opening stages of the descent. This is a popular hangout for motorcyclists. You may also see small packs of motorcyclists on the highway.
Coto de Caza, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 45.85
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The Fairview-Talbert Nature Spin is a short mountain bike ride, suitable for beginners, in Fairview Park, Talbert Nature Preserve, and Talbert Regional Park in Costa Mesa. The two parks and one preserve are effectively adjacent to each other, and they are usefully connected by the Banning Channel Bikeway. The ride passes along the perimeter of the nature areas found in all three, without actually penetrating them.
Newport Beach, CA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 6.2
The Harriett Wieder Trails Express is a nifty and quick off-road ride around the perimeter of the namesake park, which is located in Huntington Beach. Harriett M. Wieder Regional Park was still developing as of this writing, with plans to establish a full trails network. When I visited the park, the core area (4 acres) consisted of a grassy field, kids’ playground, and (free!) parking lot, while the large, surrounding area contained a network of unnamed, unmarked trails.
Huntington Beach, CA - Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 3.3
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Hi-Yo Arroyo Trabuco crams a little bit of everything into a 12.05-mile loop in Rancho Santa Margarita. The route includes paved roads, paved paths, and dirt trails—the trails include wide-track and singletrack, both flat and steep. As suggested by the title, the ride’s feature is the Arroyo Trabuco, which is a seasonal wash that contributes to draining the Santa Ana Mountains. (“Hi-Yo” was, of course, the Lone Ranger’s signature shout-out to his horse, Silver—the equestrian equivalent of an ignition switch.)
Mission Viejo, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 12.05
La Ruta Margarita is a 12.95-mile loop that visits northern portions of Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita, as well as unincorporated areas of Orange County, including Live Oak Canyon and Trabuco Canyon. The route features a 643-foot elevation differential, and a total of 773 feet of climbing, making it a reasonably challenging outing, minus any truly long climbs. Roughly half of the ride is suburban, with intermittent traffic signals and busy, wide arterials. The other half of the ride is exurban, on low-volume, two-lane roads in lightly developed areas. The best of both worlds! Start the ride at Pinecrest Park in Mission Viejo. Mission Viejo was the site of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games cycling road races and is one of the country’s largest master-planned communities. Pinecrest Park is to the north of the Olympic route. The park is situated below the road. Mission Viejo is crisscrossed by a network of four- and six- lane arterials, all with bike lanes.
Coto de Caza, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 12.95
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The Laguna Beach Pageant of the Pedals pays homage to Laguna Beach’s worldwide reputation as a center for the arts, as well as its sports history. The city was already a tourist destination by the 1880s, and was attracting painters, photographers, filmmakers, and authors by the 1920s (and earlier). The city incorporated in 1927, and quintupled in size between then and the 1960s. Today it receives up to 3 million visitors annually. Today it receives up to 3 million visitors annually. The ride is a 23.6-mile, counterclockwise loop that takes you from the coast, into the adjacent hills, and back to the coast. Counterclockwise is the recommended direction, such that the ocean will be on your right as you ride along CA 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. The ride begins at Boat Canyon Park, which is a small community park in Laguna Beach.
Laguna Beach, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 23.6
The North San Juan Capistrano Steeplechase rides city-owned trails in the northeastern corner of the city, completing a loop by connecting the trails with a couple of bike paths. The ride is not a pure steeplechase, although there are a few barriers that will require dismounting and hurdling for most riders. This is a 12.1-mile counterclockwise loop that features a few short, steep climbs and some panoramic views of San Juan Capistrano. Most of the trails meander between residences in the city’s northeastern hills; it’s easy to accidentally wander onto private property in a few locations, so be mindful of staying on the trails.
San Juan Bautista, CA - Road Biking,Walking - Trail Length: 12.1
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