For this adventure, we headed up to Hemet, California to explore the Thomas Mountain Road Trail (5S15). This trail is very easy and can be done in 2-WD the whole way. The trail starts at the ranger station and travels from the desert up to the pine forest. The views all the way are spectacular, but the dust on the first few miles is a bit overwhelming. Once you get through the dust, the rest of the trail is excellent. If you're looking for an easy backroad getaway, this is a great option.
We joined up with the San Diego Jeep Club on this trail and in the video, I talk briefly about who they are and what the requirements are to be a member. When hitting the trail, finding a great off-road, 4x4, or Jeep club to join can really add to the whole experience and make off-roading a more enjoyable adventure.
Chariot Canyon | Oriflamme Canyon
Start / End GPS: 33.067388, -116.547604
Start GPS: 33.140467, -116.850092
End GPS: 33.189417, -116.795385
We started this adventure in our Jeep in Banner, California, which is just a few miles east of Julian. I've traveled the Orflamme Canyon Trail from east to west previously but, for this trip, I incorporated the Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail and made it a loop. Starting in Banner, along the California Riding and Hiking Trail, heading southeast on the Rodriquez Spur, and then coming back northeast on the Mason Valley Truck Trail is the best way to explore Chariot Canyon.
Oriflamme Canyon is a steep mountain canyon in San Diego County, California that descends from its head in the Laguna Mountains, in an arc northwestward then northeastward to join Rodriquez Canyon at the northwest end of Mason Valley.
The Rodriguez Spur trail had two gates along the way and neither were locked. When passing through gates on the trail, be sure to close them behind you. Rodriguez had a large section that was strictly for serious rock crawlers but there is a bypass for this section, which keeps the trail easy. Coming back up Mason Valley is very scenic. There are a couple sections that are pretty rocky or rutted out but, for the most part, it’s just a nice trail. The desert this time of year was lush, green, and filled with flowers. If you're going in the spring, make sure to bring your camera.
We ran into several PCT hikers along the way and we were happy to be able to supply them with some much needed water.
This canyon was along the route that Native Americans used to cross the mountains and desert from what is now mountain and coastal San Diego County, California to the Colorado River. It was later used by Spanish, Mexican, and American travelers, including U. S. Army couriers and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line. The latter's passengers rode up and down the canyon on mules between Carrizo Creek Station and Lassitor's Ranch in Green Valley on the short route to San Diego.
Start GPS: 33.592513, -116.607245
Otay Mountain Truck Trail
Here's a list of trails that we rate as easy. Most stock 4-WD vehicles with a good set of tires can enjoy these trails. You'll have piece of mind knowing you won't have to tackle any major obstacles and these trails are fun to explore.
The Main Divide Road leading up to Santiago Point caught my eye as it is only a short drive from San Diego, so off we went. The trail's first three-quarters of a mile was concrete and, honestly, I was worried this wasn’t going to be a fun trail. Thankfully, I was wrong and we soon hit the dirt. There was a good variety of packed dirt, rocky sections, and rutted-out muddy sections. The scenery was constantly changing; one moment we were in a canyon, the next on a mountain cliff, and then in a canopy of pine trees. The drive never got boring.
For the most part, the trail was narrow and even though we encountered a few other off-roaders, we were always able to find a good passing spot. The Holy Jim Trail is located near the peak and we had to be cautious and watch for hikers in some blind spots as they made their way to and from the trail head.
Santiago Peak was pretty spectacular with 180-degree views of Riverside County. The drive down the mountain, along the Indian Truck Trail, was just as great as the drive up. Except for a few off-road motorcycles, we pretty much had the 11-mile drive down all to ourselves. The trail ends behind a new housing development and, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, finding the trail here wouldn’t be easy as it isn’t marked.
This was a great adventure and if you are looking for an easy trail in the Riverside County area, I definitely recommend this one.
The Upper Coyote Canyon trail is located in Anza, California in the Anza Borrego desert national forest. This trail is an out and back trail, there is no passage through the mountains to the South Coyote Canyon Trail. We really enjoyed the day out there and we only ran into 2 other off-roaders the whole trip. Baily’s Cabin is a free pack-in & pack-out camp site that is worth checking out and if you time it just right, like we did, following a rain, you will see many cactus in bloom.
Coyote Canyon runs from Anza to Borrego Springs and offers two separate vehicle trails, one from the north and one from the south. Of the two, the southern approach is more popular with hikers and four-wheelers. It is also slightly easier, although a rough half-mile section will test any vehicle. For eight months of the year, hikers, horses, and mountain bikers can connect the two trails via a 3 mile section of the canyon between Middle and Upper Willows. Between June 1 and September 30 each year, Coyote Canyon is closed to all users to protect water sources for the rare peninsular bighorn sheep. A seasonal closure gate after Second Crossing restricts users during this time.
The trail is best suited for small and midsize SUV because of a couple spots where there is tight clearance between large boulders. Good clearance and tires, and an absence of side steps and low-hanging brush bars, are a definite advantage.
“Though the road's been rocky it sure feels good to me.” ― Bob Marley
Upper Coyote Canyon Trail
Palomar Divide Truck Trail
Start GPS: 33.140467, -116.850092
End GPS: 33.189417, -116.795385
Otay Mountain Truck Trail was the first place we ever when off-roading in our Jeep. We've since been back a couple times and explored many of the off-shoot trails. There's a lot to see in this area and the views are spectacular from the top. There are a couple of optional trails that are rated moderate and, if you're feeling a little adventurous, you may want to give them a go. You can take this trail from east to west or west to east. Whichever way you go, you won't be disappointed. If you elect to take the trail that starts on the west side, you will have to weave your way around the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Center.
"We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open."
― Jawaharlal Nehru
Start GPS: 32.581792, -116.918883
End GPS: 32.654551, -116.807130
Thomas Mountain Road
Bee Canyon Truck Trail
Bee Canyon Truck Trail to San Jacinto Ridge Truck Trail takes you from Hemet to Idyllwild and was a great outing. We met up in Hemet and divided into two groups. One group, with the heavily modified Jeeps, tackled a black diamond portion of the trail, while the rest of us took the easy-moderate route.
The trail was dusty almost the entire way, but there were some nice rutted-out obstacles, a few rocky sections, and a scenic water crossing. The trail climbed the mountain almost two-thirds of the way up and ended in a wooded area with cedar trees. There was still a hint of snow at the top from a few weeks prior, which was pretty cool since we don't see that much in Southern California. The waterfall is just past the midway point is a great place to stop for lunch if you decided to take this trail.
Black Mountain Truck Trail in Ramona, California is a short drive from San Diego and a great way to spend a morning. This trail takes you out into the backroad where you can enjoy nature and check out some spectacular views. This trail is easy the whole way. I would say a 2-WD truck could easily make this trail with no problems.
Black Mountain Truck Trail
Palomar Mountain trail is the perfect place to explore if you are looking for an easy day of wheeling, amazing scenic views, and the peace and quiet of the back roads! This trail starts off on Palomar Truck Trail Road and then comes down the High Point Truck Trail Road and there are amazing views all around!
The beautiful forest and mountain meadows of Palomar Mountain State Park are in northern San Diego County, high atop the west side of Palomar Mountain. Large pine, fir, and cedar trees make the park one of the few areas in southern California with a Sierra Nevada-like atmosphere. The park features camping, picnicking, hiking, and fishing (trout) in Doane Pond. Coniferous forests cover much of the 1,862 acres, in contrast to the dry lowlands surrounding the mountain.
Elevation within the park averages 5,000 feet above sea level, making evenings cool, even during the summer. A number of vista points offer spectacular panoramic views both westerly toward the ocean and inland toward the desert, particularly from Boucher Hill Summit, which has been listed in the Sierra Club's "Hundred Peaks Section" since first published in 1946. There, you'll also find the historic Boucher Hill Fire Lookout.
"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." ― John Muir