Ex­plore: Get­ting Rad in Ven­tura County

Mountain Bike for Her - - Contents - Words by Michelle Lam­bert

When you men­tion South­ern Cal­i­for­nia most peo­ple think of surfer dudes, warm beaches, end­less sun­shine, movie stars and tons of traf­fic. South­ern Cal­i­for­nia does have all of th­ese things, but it also boasts some pretty im­pres­sive moun­tain bik­ing. Af­ter all, many well known moun­tain bike com­pa­nies and mag­a­zines are based here, and a good por­tion of moun­tain bike rac­ing in the state oc­curs in the re­gion.

I don’t think too many moun­tain bik­ers else­where fan­ta­size about SoCal as their first choice when it comes to a rid­ing des­ti­na­tion, but the rid­ing here is def­i­nitely rad and fea­ture some of the best trails I’ve rid­den on. I re­lo­cated to Ven­tura County a few months ago, and I have been more than im­pressed by the abun­dance of trails and park sys­tems avail­able to moun­tain bik­ers.

Ven­tura county is lo­cated just north of Los An­ge­les, with the Santa Mon­ica moun­tains to the west and Santa Su­sana Pass to the east (which divides Simi Val­ley from the ur­ban sprawl of the San Fer­nando Val­ley), and the high peaks of the Los Padres na­tional for­est to the north. The miles of trails through­out beckon moun­tain bik­ers for some re­ally in­cred­i­ble rid­ing. Ven­tura County has done it right, with 53 per­cent of the county’s to­tal area made up of na­tional for­est. North of High­way 126, the county is moun­tain­ous and mostly un­in­hab­ited, and con­tains some of the most un­spoiled, rugged and in­ac­ces­si­ble wilder­ness re­main­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Th­ese moun­tains are the habi­tat for the elu­sive and rare Cal­i­for­nia Con­dor, with a sanc­tu­ary es­tab­lished for them in the area.

Most of the neigh­bour­hoods through­out the county have trail ac­cess within rid­ing dis­tance, most of the trails are open to moun­tain bikes, and the trail sys­tems do not close at sun­set. This means legal night rides! If you have a pesky job that keeps you off your bike dur­ing the day, the trails are ready and wait­ing for you when you get off work.

The other trail users are su­per friendly and ac­tu­ally like moun­tain bik­ers. On my New Year’s Day ride, I must have had 30 plus hik­ers and other cy­clists say “Happy New Year” to me as I passed them on the trail. With the amount of trails avail­able and the down-to-earth and friendly at­ti­tude of other trail users, Ven­tura County should def­i­nitely be on your list of places to ride. Cheese­boro/Palo Co­mado Canyon One of my new favourite places to ride is in the Cheese­boro/Palo Co­mado Canyon area, lo­cated in the north­ern-most sec­tion of the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains Na­tional Recre­ation Area. Cheese­boro and Palo Co­mado Canyons con­tain thou­sands of acres with miles of public trails. The trails wind through coastal sage, wood­lands, grassy mead­ows and scrubby cha­parral. Oak trees and out­crops of rock pro­vide ex­cel­lent nest­ing sites for owls, hawks and other rap­tors. Rocks and boul­ders are strewn across the land­scape, and with their red­dish hue they take on a fiery glow in the evening sun­set. The large net­work of trails en­ables users to connect up to many other open space ar­eas in­clud­ing Up­per Las Vir­genes to the east and Lang Ranch/Woodridge Open Space to the north­east.

The Chu­mash In­di­ans once in­hab­ited th­ese canyons, with their pres­ence dat­ing back 10,00012,000 years. Many trails we ride on within the canyons were orig­i­nal Chu­mash trails be­fore they were ex­panded by cat­tle ranch­ers.

The trails within Cheese­boro/Palo Co­mado open space of­fer rid­ing for all lev­els of rid­ers: wide fire roads, long steep climbs, bomber down­hills and fun, tech­ni­cal sin­gle­track. I love the va­ri­ety of trails that are of­fered in this open space.

A good ex­am­ple is the Sheep Cor­ral Trail. Af­ter grind­ing up the steep Palo Co­mado fire road, Sheep Cor­ral Trail wel­comes you with three miles of sweet, down­hill sin­gle­track that is fast and flowy with berms, rocks and ruts. Awe­some stuff!

Fly­ing down Sheep Cor­ral you need to keep a look out for other rid­ers who might be climb­ing up the trail, it’s as known for its

tech­ni­cal climb­ing as it is for rid­ing down­hill. Many moun­tain bik­ers ride it to Shep­ard’s Flat and then turn around and climb back up to the Palo Co­mado trail. The Sheep Cor­ral down­hill con­tin­ues when you reach a four-way in­ter­sec­tion at Shep­ard’s Flat, and while I have not yet done that sec­tion, it seems to be more of the same awe­some fun! An­other sec­tion to add to the list.

The Palo Co­mado Canyon Trail which links up with Sheep Cor­ral Trail is a 4.4 mile fire road climb and is real lung buster. One of my favourite climbs for get­ting a se­ri­ous work­out! Not only is it steep, but the trail is lit­tered with loose rocks, sand and rain ruts, mak­ing this climb a se­ri­ous chal­lenge. As you climb along this trail you will no­tice rocks scat­tered across the trail that have fallen from the cliffs above. I can’t help but won­der whether any more rocks will come rain­ing down around me as I make my way to the top.

The first 1.2 miles of this trail is a gen­tle ride along a creek to the old ranch cen­tre but the mas­sive el­e­va­tion gain be­gins just past the ranch site where you will climb from 1,200 feet el­e­va­tion to China Flat at 2,140 feet of el­e­va­tion. A leg burner for sure!

When you ar­rive at the top of Palo Co­mado Trail you will be re­warded with a su­per sweet sin­gle­track loop called the China Flat trail. This tight twisty sin­gle­track starts near an old farm com­pound and loops around the sur­round­ing hills, meet­ing back full-cir­cle 2.1 miles later.

China Flat trail is a great trail for all rid­ers since it doesn’t have any real steep climbs nor se­ri­ous tech­ni­cal sec­tions, but in­stead of­fers an ad­dic­tive flow. It criss-crosses a num­ber of trails so it’s easy to get lost if you’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion.

The loop is equally fun both clock-wise or counter clock-wise and con­sists of a flowy and fairly smooth sin­gle­track trail that winds through grass, rock crop­pings and sandy tight cor­ners. It’s a real blast to ride, all the while swoop­ing through the trail as fast as you can. You can re­ally get a good rhythm go­ing, but watch out for the tight sandy cor­ners which can get quite loose when the trails are dry. Lange Ranch, Woodridge, Wood Ranch and Oak­brook Re­gional Park An­other fun set of trails is in the Lang Ranch, Woodridge, Wood Ranch and Oak­brook Re­gional Park trail sys­tems that lie be­tween the Wood Ranch sub­di­vi­sion of Simi Val­ley to the north, Lang Ranch area of Thou­sand Oaks to the west, and the Palo Co­mado/Cheese­boro Canyon area to the southeast. This beau­ti­ful and scenic area is part of the Santa Mon­ica Na­tional Recre­ation area and of­fers awe­some trails with panoramic views of Simi Hills and the Santa Su­sana Moun­tains.

If you en­joy climb­ing then you will love the Al­bert­son Mo­tor­way. It is a well main­tained fire road that pro­vides ac­cess from Lang Ranch to Cheese­boro/Palo Co­mado Canyon and Simi Val­ley.

A ride I like to do is to take the Al­bert­son Mo­tor­way to China Flat. It is 7.7 miles and pro­vides breath­tak­ing views start­ing about three-quar­ters of the way up. The climb is pretty rig­or­ous and it does not stop till you in­ter­sect the top of the Palo Co­mado trail and en­ter the up­per sec­tion of Cheese­boro Open Space where you can hop on China Flat Trail. Be pre­pared for a stren­u­ous climb in full sun so it is best to do this ride on cooler days. It ends with 0.2 mile kicker be­fore the top where it ramps up to 12% grade, but the views at the top more than make up for the long haul.

Al­bert­son is re­ally fun to take back down to the bot­tom. You can re­ally fly, reach­ing speeds of over 40 miles an hour! Just be aware

of other trail users who maybe climb­ing up the trail. If you keep go­ing on Al­bert­son Mo­tor­way past the Cheese­boro/China Flat junc­tion and con­tinue fol­low­ing the fire road through the canyons, you will reach the high­est point on Al­bert­son Mo­tor­way, at which point you start go­ing down­hill for a few min­utes with dra­matic drop offs on both sides of the trail. The fire road then con­tin­ues along up and down fairly steeply be­fore you hit the fi­nal rocky loose down­hill sec­tion which dumps you out at the Sheep Cor­ral Trail.

At the top of the Long Canyon fire road there is very rocky, tight sin­gle­track that snakes it way down a moun­tain­side. It’s called the Hid­den Canyon Trail. The first part of the trail is fairly smooth but steep­ens just be­fore hit­ting a mother load of rocks (which gives the trail its nick­name “baby heads”) and which will bounce you left and right if you don’t hold your line.

The trail con­tin­ues to the bot­tom of the canyon where it weaves through tight veg­e­ta­tion un­til it starts the grad­ual climb back out of the canyon where it in­ter­sects the Al­bert­son Mo­tor­way about a third of the way up. You can make it as tech­ni­cal as you want depend­ing on how fast you want to go. Take it slow and it’s re­lax­ing, but take it fast and it gets pretty crazy!

Lo­cated in the Santa Su­sana Moun­tains, Rocky Peak Park has 4,800 acres at the eastern end of Simi Val­ley. Known for it’s caves, pet­ro­glyphs and mas­sive sand­stones for­ma­tions, it is a spec­tac­u­lar place to ride. Rocky Peak is the third high­est point in the Santa Su­sana Moun­tains. The peak, which is 2,715 feet in el­e­va­tion, sits on the Los An­ge­les County/Ven­tura County line and in­cludes the Run­kle Ranch, for­merly owned by en­ter­tainer Bob Hope.

The sin­gle­track here ranges from in­ter­me­di­ate to ad­vanced. The 6.5 mile Rocky Peak Trail is the main fire road and climbs rapidly along the ridge line with stunning views. This trail con­nects you up with Las Lla­jas Canyon Trail, Chu­mash Trail, John­son Mo­tor­way and the Hum­ming­bird Trail. One of my favourite rides here is the Chu­mash trail to Hum­ming­bird

Trail. This ride has ev­ery­thing a moun­tain biker would want: an ass-kick­ing climb and then an equally ass-kick­ing tech­ni­cal down­hill. The Chu­mash Trail is lo­cated at the west end of the area, which is a 2.6 mile sin­gle­track with a ma­jor­ity of it steep es­pe­cially in the last half of the trail. It has many tech­ni­cal sec­tions that will def­i­nitely keep you from get­ting bored. When you get to the top of Chu­mash Trail go right and cruise down to the Hum­ming­bird Trail for some more fun!

In 2.3 miles you get a very tech­ni­cal trail with slick rock rid­ing, switch­backs, rocks and more rocks. It’s very tech­ni­cal so be­gin­ner rid­ers shouldn’t at­tempt it and you def­i­nitely want to only go down this trail, not up! This is some of the best sin­gle­track in the Ven­tura County area.

Th­ese trail sys­tems are re­ally just the tip of the ice­berg when it comes to the rid­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Any­one think­ing about com­ing to SoCal to ride will not be let down. There are thou­sands of acres, miles of trails and hun­dreds of park sys­tems though out the en­tire South­ern Cal­i­for­nia area that I have yet to ex­plore. In just the few months I’ve been here, I have al­ready found some in­sanely cool trails, and I look for­ward to the up­com­ing spring and sum­mer months when the warmer tem­per­a­tures and longer days will make ex­plor­ing this area even more rad! Hope to see you on the trails!

Photo: Rick Lam­bert

Photo: Rick Lam­bert

Photo: Rick Lam­bert

China Flat Trail

Photo: Rick Lam­bert

Michelle climb­ing Al­bert­son Mo­tor­way

Photo: Rick Lam­bert

Michelle rid­ing in Wood Ranch

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