If you’re an off-road beginner looking for easy off-road trails in California, you are so in the right place!
After you gather all the Overlanding basic gadgets, you have to know Southern California has plenty of public lands with easy access to spectacular trails. And there are some great areas, like Big Bear Lake, Anza Borrego Desert, and Joshua Tree. In this article, I’ll be sharing with you 10 trails you can explore, starting with exploring Big Bear Lake.
Easy Off-Road Trails in Big Bear Lake
Holcomb Valley Road
This is one of the more famous trails located north of Big Bear Lake. The 12-mile trail is definitely a cool and easy off-road trail to explore if you’re ever in the Big Bear area.
The trail is made up mostly of loose dirt and a bit of rocky section due to all the winter off-roading. Certain sections of this trail are very rutted and can be challenging if you don’t have the proper clearance. However, tons of different offshoots and trails in the area can challenge your rig if you’re up for it.
Nearby, Holcomb Creek, John Bull, and Gold Mountain trails are considered very difficult and mainly for rock crawling. If that’s something you’d like to do, these trails are perfect for you.
There are many dispersed camping areas along the trail and an established campground that operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Overall, you can finish the trail in half a day, but I highly recommend taking the whole day to explore a bit more of this area.
A few options we’ve done are fairly easy and can be quite fun. There’s even a medal and a historic cabin you can stop by to explore. Therefore, I highly recommend taking a whole weekend to explore this area and do a bit of camping to enjoy all that it has to offer truly.
I want to talk about the Gold Fever Trail in Big Bear Lake, California. This 20-mile loop takes you through the old-growth pine forest of the San Bernardino Mountains and allows you to explore some of the Gold Rush history that once existed here.
There are 12 designated stops along the trail that mark points of interest for miners and settlers who once worked and lived in this area. The trail is smooth and winds up and down through the mountains the entire way, making it easy to traverse even when there is little snow on the ground.
There is a large network of trails that branch off from the Gold Fever route, and some, like John Bull, Holcomb Creek, and Gold Mountain, are rated as difficult trails. Unless you’re looking for a little extra challenge and excitement in your day, be sure to stick to the designated route.
There are a few dispersed camping sites in this area, and it’s always best to check with the ranger station on the current regulations. Making a weekend trip exploring Gold Fever Trail, doing some camping, and venturing off onto some of the other easy trails that are out here will make for a great adventure.
Easy Off-Road Trails in Anza Borrego Desert
Sandstone Canyon is located in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and is a trail that is just over four miles out and back. To access the trail, you’ll need to travel along Fish Creek for about 12 miles one way, which is an easy dirt route by itself and a great trail.
Once you arrive at Sandstone Canyon, you’ll be greeted with towering sandstone walls on either side of the trail. As you drive further down, the walls become narrower. Over centuries of erosion, Mother Nature has carved out magnificent formations throughout the canyon. I have personally traveled this trail over a dozen times over the years and still enjoy it as much as the very first time I was here.
The trail is generally easy; however, there are a few narrow sections that may prevent a full-size vehicle from making it to the end. Over the years, I’ve seen this trail change from time to time. After a healthy desert rain, some sections of the walls might collapse and create obstacles along the trail. Therefore, while the terrain may be easy today, there might be some obstacles along the way.
Don’t let the possibility of a small obstacle deter you from visiting this trail. Even if you can only venture halfway down, it’s still worth it. Sandstone Canyon should be on everyone’s bucket list who is planning on visiting the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Jasper Trail is conveniently located just outside the town of Ranchita. The trail spans 15 miles and is a very easy route that winds through a narrow section of the Eastern Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
In fact, the park service frequently smooths out the trail to allow for easy access to visitors. This makes the Jasper Trail an excellent option for beginners who are looking for a low-stress adventure.
The trail descends about 3000 feet in elevation when traveling from north to south, providing ample opportunities to get off the grid without having to travel too far east. Along the way, hikers can take in the stunning desert plant life and wide-open views, as well as scenic sections through the canyons.
For those who want to take a break, there are plenty of places to pull off and grab a bite to eat or even set up camp for the night. While I personally enjoy a challenging trail from time to time, I find that the Jasper Trail is perfect for those seeking a more relaxed adventure.
So, the next time you find yourself in the area, consider giving the Jasper Trail a try. It’s a great way to experience the natural beauty of the desert without pushing yourself too hard.
Mortero Wash is a trail located in the far south section of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. The trail is just under seven miles out and back, but there are many miles of trails that branch off of Mortero, which I highly recommend exploring. Not only is the desert area full of beauty but there is also a lot of rich mining and railroad history out here, with plenty of evidence still standing from back in the late 1800s.
Mortero’s terrain is very easy, and most of the trail is a sandy wash that offers wide-open views of the spectacular desert landscape. If you venture out here in the spring after a good rain, you just might be rewarded with a beautiful desert bloom. Most of the desert flora here is dormant during the dry season, but after it rains, it turns a vibrant green, and colorful flowers will carpet the landscape.
Whether you’re looking for a quick couple of hour trip or want to explore for an entire day, Mortero Wash offers both. It is a great trail to explore, stop for lunch, and soak in great history.
Easy Off-Road Trails in other Areas
Black Mountain Trail
Located just outside the town of Idlewild Pine Cove, Black Mountain is a 25-mile round trip trail that starts at just over 5300 feet and climbs up to over 7,600 feet at its highest point. The trail takes about four hours to complete, depending on how often you stop to enjoy the breathtaking views and beautiful shaded canopy of the Pine Forest.
The terrain of the trail is easy, with just a few small rocks and ruts during the last few miles. As you climb higher, the views become more spectacular, and there are spots along the trail where you can pull over and take a hike. Notable boulder climbing areas are also available if you’re interested in that.
If you’re planning on camping, there are a handful of yellow post-camping spots available on a first-come, first-serve basis. On weekends in the spring and summer, you’ll most likely come across other people exploring the area. However, in my experience, most folks don’t venture down to the last few miles of the trail, so make sure you go all the way to the end.
Black Mountain is one of my favorite easy mountain trails, and if you’re looking to escape the desert’s heat, enjoy the smell of pine trees, and experience a scenic off-road trail, this is one worth exploring. However, before coming here, make sure to check with the ranger station, as the trail can be closed from time to time after inclement weather to prevent erosion.
Mica Gem Mine
Sandstone Mica Gem Mine Trail. This trail is in the High Desert just off Interstate 8 in Yacumba, California. The trail covers a distance of seven and a half miles one way and is an out-and-back trail. However, there are several other trails that branch off from this trail, allowing you to explore further and make a full day of off-roading adventure out here.
Although the Mica Gem Mine Trail is not very well known, I like to explore it from time to time. It offers some beautiful remote high desert beauty, and it’s easy to access. The trail provides a variety of terrain, ranging from deep sandy washes to some loose rocky climbs and descents, with a few small boulder areas. The trail is easy the entire way, but a few spots will require you to slow down and be more attentive to your attire placement in a few areas.
The trail climbs and descends the Yacumba Mountains a few times along the way, and in doing so, you are presented with some views that will allow you to see for miles and miles. Although the Mica Gem Mine Trail is not going to win any awards for being one of the best trails in Southern California, it is one that I think you will find enjoyable if you’re looking for a fun day of adventure.
Keep your eyes out, and we might just cross paths out here on this trail because I’m out here quite a bit.
Burns Canyon (in Joshua Tree)
This trail starts in the Joshua Tree desert near Pioneer town at an elevation of about 4,800 feet and climbs 19 miles to over 7,000 feet, ending near Lake Baldwin. You can travel this trail in both directions, but I prefer going from east to west during the summer months. This is because while the temperature can be over 100 degrees in the desert when you start, the temperature drops significantly due to the elevation change as you go a few miles in.
What I enjoy most about this trail is the changes in the surrounding plant life. At the start, you are in the high desert with lots of low shrubs and very dry. However, as you work your way up, you pass through an amazing Joshua Tree forest and then find yourself immersed in a Pine Forest. There are not many trails out there that offer this drastic of a floor change over such a short distance.
Burns Canyon is also an excellent access trail for exploring a vast network of other trails. If you keep your eyes open and are willing to venture out onto some of the side trails, you will find some of the best remote camping spots in Southern California.
This trail is one I come back to time and time again, and I often recommend it to folks looking for a beautiful, easy day full of adventure. It’s a great place to explore when there’s little snow on the ground, and the scenery is breathtaking. If you’re looking for a challenging yet rewarding trail, Burns Canyon is definitely worth checking out.
Thomas Mountain (in Lake Hemet )
Thomas Mountain Trail, located south of Lake Hemet. This 14-mile trail is one of the easiest yet most rewarding. It’s pretty much a smooth dirt road the entire way, making it an excellent trail for beginners. Thomas Mountain climbs up to over 6,000 feet in elevation and then winds along the east and west sides of the mountains, providing breathtaking views of the Anza desert to the west and the San Jacinto mountains to the east. There really isn’t a bad view along this entire trail. Even though I’ve been up here many times, I still see and find things I missed the last time. In the spring, you will see masses of wildflower blooms; in the summer, this is another trail to help you escape that desert heat. I’ve camped up here a few times over the years, and there are plenty of dispersed sites that are so nice you won’t want to be in any hurry to leave.
Because you are on top of the mountain for most of the 14 miles, there are not many offshoot trails to explore. However, if you want to make a full day out of your trail ride up here, you can connect with the Roush Hill Trail just to the north, which will add another 16 miles to your journey. Thomas Mountain is a beautiful, easy trail that will not disappoint.
Phillips Loop in Calico Mountain
One of the most popular trails in the area is Phillips Loop, which is an easy five-mile loop that takes you along some beautiful and colorful mountain ranges. I highly recommend taking your time to explore the many abandoned mines in the area. However, be extra careful as some of these mines have been abandoned for many years and are in poor condition. There are so many options that you can try out if you like. The main trail is, however, pretty easy but can be a bit rocky and sandy in certain sections.
The most famous area of this trail has to be Kramer’s Arch. This natural arch is wide enough to take your truck or off-roading vehicles through. I’ve seen guys that take their full side truck into this arch, even though it’s somewhat of a tight squeeze. You can go through the arch in both directions; however, going down was easier with two-wheel drive. I highly recommend having a bit of clearance, as some sections can be quite rocky. A few sections are also pretty sandy; I have heard and seen people getting stuck in this area. There’s also a campground nearby that you may want to camp for the night.
I hope you have enjoyed this list of 10 easy trails. Have fun, and stay safe.