Mountain Biking Orosco Ridge and Holden Canyon
For years I had passed by a trailhead for this ride, never knowing the name was Orosco Truck Trail. Driving the “back way” to the San Diego Safari Park (on Highway 78) allows us to bypass all the rush hour traffic of the freeways. Howvever, this twisting and turning portion of Highway 78 has also caused some of our kids to feel carsickness. The Orosco Truck Trail parking lay right in the middle section of the most severe undulations on Highway 78.
- To help visualize the landmarks I talk about in the rest of this story, or to aid in your own ride on the Orosco Ridge and Holden Canyon Loop, please enjoy this interactive trail map. Map not opening on your phone? Click HERE to visit the map on the website.
- The Gold Car marks the starting trailhead … I biked counter clockwise. Click the icons for info on land-marks, both general and personal to this ride
I looked through a couple of Strava tracks until I found one (thanks Larry Fogt) with a nice loop. After a bit of studying I noticed Larry did not start at the Highway 78 trailhead. Instead he began at a place on Pamo Road, north of Ramona. I am not exactly sure why Larry decided to start on Pamo road but I soon began to realize a couple of advantages for me.
First off, the Highway 78 Trailhead offered only a couple of places to park. In contrast, the Pamo location offered almost unlimited space along Pamo Road.
Secondly, pulling out of the Highway 78 parking could be hazardous to my health as most cars travel too fast around that hair pin turn.
Thirdly, Larry’s route would have me do the majority of the climbing right away. This was very important to me as the temperatures were supposed to peak at over one hundred degrees later in the day.
So, I copied Larry’s track onto my Garmin 8oo Edge (GPS), got everything in the truck. At 8:45 am I headed out for the thirty minute drive which would lead me to my new adventure.
From the start I knew the ride could be broken down into three basic parts;
- Climbing roughly five miles up Orosco Ridge on a well-used fire road (Orosco Truck Trail).
- Flying down about five miles of oak covered singletrack in Holden Canyon (on the Guejito Truck Trail) .
- Pedaling about 5 miles along an almost flat Lower Santa Ysabel (dirt) Road
Pamo Road (naturally) runs right through a large Pamo Valley.
As I cruised up to a well-marked trailhead I noticed only one other vehicle, a mini pickup with a camper shell. I saw no humans or any other vehicles while preparing to ride.
As I headed out I checked my GPS and found the temperature had already climbed beyond 86 degrees.
I also knew the sooner I got to the top of Orosco Ridge the sooner I would be pedaling down Holden Canyon in the shade of some large oak trees.
I kept my mind occupied by listening to Alaska (by James Mitchener) as I ground up the orange dirt of Orosco Ridge. Listening to books where people struggle to survive helps me keep my challenges in perspective. I stopped occasionally to take a photo of the ever expanding view of Pamo Valley below and the surrounding mountains.
Just as my GPS showed 5.6 miles the Guejito Truck Trail appeared to my left. In front of the narrow fence passage stood two hikers (Jack and Sue).
They said they had started at the Highway 78 Trailhead and had come up the Guejito Trail. They then asked if they might be able to do a loop. I suggested they do the same loop as I but in the opposite direction.
Jack and Sue said the Guejito Trail passed through lush vegetation and under oaks along a narrow path. When I asked if I could take and post their photo they agreed. Then Jack told me they were getting prepared to hike up a Himalayan Mountain this August. I can’t remember the name of the mountain. Maybe they will list the name in the comment section below. They told me I could follow their progress on a site called Mountain Madness.
We then discussed some of our favorite mountaineering and rock climbing films (Maru, Touching the Void, To the Limit, and a few more) and parted ways.
Riding down the Guejito Trail into Holden Canyon was a treat. After leaving Jack and Sue the trail dropped down a steep, nastily rutted stretch through sagebrush before entering a dark tunnel of oak trees alongside a creek. I had to stop, not just to get a photo, but also to breathe in the cool, refreshing air … a welcome change from the heat I had been feeling while climbing the Orosco Ridge.
I have had Poison Oak four times the past year but have never come across bushes as high as these … six to eight feet tall! Fortunately, the bushes appeared mostly off the trail and were especially thick down in the creek bed.
At one point I came across a burned out area. I was surprised the area was so small. Southern California fires tend to be difficult to contain … usually burning thousands of acres.
While zooming under some trees I came upon one of the most interesting structures I have witnessed on a trail. A rusted shed? An old line shack? The walls had only horizontal slits for windows … kind of like the way the cavalry built their forts.
I rode past the Lower Santa Ysabel Road and continued to the Highway 78 Trailhead. Figuring I was more than half way through the ride I ate my two oranges and sucked up some Skratch. I spotted only one car parked in the micro lot which I figure belonged to Jack and Sue.
The Lower Santa Ysabel Road took me back to the east, staying about a hundred yards above the (dry) San Dieguito River.
Although the trail rose and fell only slightly I began to feel my body heat climbing as the old road offered no shade.
As I pedaled up to the truck I noticed the mini pickup, right where I had seen it earlier in the day. I guess they must have been hiking some other trail (or I would have passed them). Or maybe their truck just happened to break down at a trailhead. Unlikely, but possible! My GPS read 109.4 degrees before I shut it down!
I finished the ride at around 12:30 … just in time to get into the air conditioned truck and head for home. Of course I had to stop and buy my customary large cup of lemonade and some salty chips for snacks on the drive back to Lakeside.
During most visits I take many more photos than I can place on a page. To view every image I captured … 36 photos in all, please visit my Photo Gallery site.