San Juan to Blue Jay and Los Pinos … Major Climbing In Southern California
Years ago I ventured up the San Juan Trail, had a drink (non-alcoholic) at Cocktail Rock, and rode back down. Since then I have used a shuttle vehicle a half dozen times to ride the San Juan from the Blue Jay Campground to the bottom.
Yesterday, I climbed from the bottom to Blue Jay, and then continued on to the top of Los Pinos Mountain, returning to my car on the Los Pinos Trail.
San Juan & Los Pinos Mountain Biking INTERACTIVE MAP
- Below you will find a map for San Juan & Los Pinos.
- Click the P for Driving Directions to the trailhead(s).
- Click Tracks or Icons for Specific Info.
The climb from the bottom to Blue Jay reminded me, once again, of how bad my memory has gotten. Several times I rounded a turn thinking I was almost to Cocktail Rock, only to be disappointed by a clear view of my goal far off in the distance, hundreds of feet above me.
Once I reached Cocktail (6.41 miles and 2,204 vertical feet later) I drank some Scratch and ate my apple, but I was feeling pretty tired. I seriously thought about turning back. I knew 20 minutes of blissful riding could bring me right back to the car!
The same memory thing happened after leaving Cocktail Rock and heading to Blue Jay. I just didn’t remember the trail climbing so much. I thought I was never going to reach that top trailhead! Like some Einstein-ian law, I think distance and drop are distorted when barreling down a trail.
Just before I got to the Blue Jay trailhead I noticed a great view of the ridge line I would be doing later in the day.
Upon reaching Blue Jay I was totally wiped out (11.7 miles, 3,398 vertical feet). I drank a bunch and ate one of my oranges along with a Nature Valley bar. Then I propped myself up against an oak tree and was on the verge of dozing off. In fact, I probably would have if the flies would have left the scrape on my knees alone!
I decided to start audiobook stored on my phone. I listened and recouped for 20 minutes, feeling like maybe coasting back to the car on the Ortega Highway, especially since I could see the top of Los Pinos Mountain from where I lay (1,100 vertical feet above me).
But two ideas kept me on course. First, I knew I would have some easy riding up the road which would take me to the top of the mountain. And second, once at the top of Los Pinos I would have very little climbing left.
Both those ideas turned out to be false!
The pavement ended less than a mile down from Blue Jay. Not only that, the road then became so steep I could not stay on my bike, even in my granny gear! The only highlights were when I almost ran over a bright orange rattlesnake, the view of Lake Elsinore to the east, and a young man stopping his truck and giving me two ice cold waters!
My other surprise was the road didn’t go all the way to the top of the mountain. The Los Pinos trail ascended the last 200 feet straight to the top … no switchbacks to make the climb ride-able… just straight up the mountain!
The views from the top were incredible, despite a thick haze in the air. One peak looked like photos I have seen of Mount Fugi in Japan. Cindy and I tried to figure out what peak I am showing below but were not successful. Can you help us out?
However, the view to the west was frightening … for what I saw was the trail passing right over the top of a higher mountain (Los Pinos Mountain).
But I didn’t feel too depressed since I would be descending to a saddle before climbing the next peak to the southwest.
However, any thoughts of gathering up some speed and momentum were quickly dashed as I found the trail down quite steep and littered with tons of loose rock. I crept down the slope, constantly having to worry about sliding out of control or causing a rock slide!
With very little speed I hit the incline for the second mountain. But I found the trail so steep I could only stay on the bike less than a quarter of the way up!
This steep-uphill/downhill-rockslide pattern continued for no less than 6 peaks. Each time the rocky trail went straight up the mountain’s flank, passed right over the top, and continued straight down the other side. I spent the majority of the time hiking.
At one point I turned around to catch a photo of the path I had descended. Even though I had been the one who had struggled down I was still kind of shocked at what I had come down!
As I traveled my southwest path slowly turned due south and the San Juan Trail came more and more into view. I had hated all those switchbacks while climbing earlier in the day but was wishing the Los Pinos trail builders had utilized that concept!
Somewhere during the turn south I found my shifter would no longer work. My bike was suck in high gear and my pedals were somewhat useless unless I was traveling on a fast downhill stretch (which never happened on this trail)! Most places were too rough to ride up or down!
After passing through and overgrown meadow and descending some water bars made from 2×12’s and 1 inch pipes I gleefully exited onto the pavement of Hot Springs Canyon Road. I was finally able to use my pedals as I cruised the eight tenths of a mile back to the car.
A Couple of Notes
I heard explosive devices the entire day. After checking the map I realized the northeast portion of Camp Pendleton lay just a few miles south of where the Hot Springs Canyon Road turns off from the Ortega Highway.
Cindy said the rattlesnake was most likely a Red Diamond ( not Diamondback). She told me the distinguishing mark were the black and while stripes leading into a black rattle.
As this snake crawled into the bushes I distinctly remember seeing this exact tail (even though I didn’t get a photo). She also showed me how small a range this particular snake has. Would any of you be able to tell us why these snakes do not live in that small encircled section of Riverside County?
I am not sure I have biked up any other trail that rises as quickly as the San Juan Trail on its way to Cocktail Rock (over 2,000 vertical feet in just 6 miles).
The Mount Elden Lookout Road (Flagstaff, AZ) took me up 1,899 vertical feet in 6.6 miles.
Twice I have hiked from the Colorado River to the rim of Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail (4,380 vertical feet in 8 miles).
During most visits I take many more photos than I can place on a page. To view every image I captured … 95 photos in all, please visit my Photo Gallery site.