Biking Cuyamaca Rancho
This 9.3-mile loop (with a spur to Cuyamaca Peak) is a great ride if you love to climb. You'll start with 2.7 miles of strenuous uphill pedaling on the one-lane paved Cuyamaca Peak Fire Road. It is punctuated by a few very steep grades (up to 15 percent) and is closed to public motor traffic. Azalea Springs Fire Road and Milk Ranch Road are dirt, two-wheel-drive roads in mostly good condition. There are some rough sections on these dirt roads. The circuit is completed with 1.5 miles of paved cycling on CA 79.
On a clear day, the view from Cuyamaca Peak is incredible. You can see San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, the Salton Sea, and on into Mexico. Azalea Springs Fire Road is a beautiful trail that rolls downhill through deciduous forests and meadows and past the bubbling Azalea Spring.
General location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is approximately 40 miles east of San Diego.
Elevation change: The ride starts at 4,870' and rises steadily to the 6,512' summit of Cuyamaca Peak. Cycling back down, you'll turn onto Azalea Springs Fire Road at 5,400' and drop to 4,800' at CA 79. Return along the highway back to 4,870'. Total elevation gain: 1,712'.
Season: Spring through late fall. Dress in layers, for you will heat up while climbing to the peak, and it may be windy on top. Summer weekends and holidays can be extremely busy in the park.
Services: Water, rest rooms, phones, interpretive information, and camping facilities (including showers) are available at the Paso Picacho Campground. All services can be obtained at Lake Cuyamaca, just north of the park on CA 79.
Hazards: The roads and trails in this park are popular with hikers and equestrians. You may encounter service vehicles on Cuyamaca Peak Fire Road. Be mindful of your speed on the steep, paved descent from the peak. The road is narrow and winding; your view of oncoming traffic is often obstructed. Milk Ranch Road is rock strewn in places.
Rescue index: Help can be found at the Interpretive Center located near the entrance to the Paso Picacho Campground or at the park headquarters. The headquarters is off of CA 79 on the left (east) side of the highway, about 3 miles south of the Paso Picacho Campground.
Land status: State park.
Maps: The general map of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which can be purchased at the park headquarters, is an excellent guide to this ride.
Finding the trail: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is located on CA 79, about 10 miles south of Julian. From San Diego follow I-8 east to the exit for CA 79. Follow CA 79 north for approximately 14 miles to the Paso Picacho Campground and Picnic Area on the left (west) side of the highway. Park in the day-use parking area. Park regulations require that you pay a parking fee, and automobiles may not be left overnight.
Source of additional information:
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
12551 Highway 79
Descanso, CA 91916
Notes on the trail: From the day-use parking area of the Paso Picacho Campground, exit the campground and turn right onto CA 79. Immediately turn right past the Interpretive Center at the"Authorized Vehicles Only" sign. Walk your bike around the locked gate that closes Cuyamaca Peak Fire Road to most traffic. Follow Cuyamaca Peak Fire Road and reach the summit after 3 miles of riding. Return the way you came. After approximately 1.5 miles on the downhill return, turn left onto Azalea Springs Fire Road. It is an easy turn to miss, so watch closely for the signpost as you descend. In another 1.5 miles you come to a T intersection at Milk Ranch Road. Turn right onto Milk Ranch Road. This dirt road ends at CA 79. Turn right and follow the highway to the campground and your vehicle.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication