Back in 2017, right around this time of year, my husband and I packed our bikes and drove to LA from San Diego in search of epic roads to climb. As we drove up Interstate 15, I was astounded by the rounded mountain summits revealing themselves through the undulating clouds. After spending a couple of days riding in the San Gabriel Mountain range, I was quickly rid of the common misconception that “LA sucks for cycling.”
Drawn by curiosity, excitement, and the promise of adventure, we drove up again a couple of months later but this time to stay for good and make this area our home. We have since been adventuring, exploring, and escaping the hustle of everyday urban life in these mountains. In the hopes of sharing my love for this area, I could sit here and write an entire book on all the roads and trails, but instead, I will keep it short and present to you three of my favorite and most ridden roads/trails since moving here.
First Los Angeles Bike Ride: Azusa Canyon/Highway 39 | San Gabriel Mountains
Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, northeast of Los Angeles, the smooth paved road winds through the historical canyon offering picturesque scenery of the Morris and San Gabriel Reservoir. As you pedal up the road, the bodies of water peek through the chaparral sprinkled with blooming yellow and lavender flowers.
Around mile four, if when you look to your right, you will find majestic bald eagles nesting atop a tall thin old tree at the edge of the reservoir. The climb to Crystal Lake Cafe is long and exposed with an approximate elevation gain of 5,500 ft in roughly 25 miles. As you get closer to the top, the leftover winter’s white mantle covers the mountains, and the conifers make their unexpected appearance. The changing landscape helps me gain perspective and appreciate what nature has in store for me. Once you reach the top, visit Crystal Lake Cafe to enjoy a warm drink and restock your snacks or any other necessities.
Second Los Angeles Bike Ride: Marshall Canyon | Near Los Angeles National Forest
My wild side pushes me to leave the pavement behind and seek a rugged and dirtier adventure, so we head over to Marshall Canyon. This canyon is located just outside southeast Los Angeles National Forest and it is an accessible escape into nature offering a whole network of trails without ever being too far from civilization. This is a popular area for mountain biking, but a gravel bike with knobby tires will do the trick.
For the first mile or two, you are adjacent to a neighborhood and the Sierra La Verne Country Club. Marshall Creek runs along the trail, so you’ll be doing a few semi-technical water crossings. The heavy rainfall this year has increased the water level making it impossible to avoid a bit of mud splashes and wet socks. Since horseback riding is permitted in some of the trails, you will also find it difficult to avoid riding over horse manure. Stay alert for wildlife; I’ve seen deer, squirrels, desert cottontail rabbits, western toads, lizards, rattlesnakes, bobcats and a whole range of beautiful birds. One time I even saw a baby black bear making its way up the creek.
Third Los Angeles Bike Ride: Glendora Mountain Road aka GMR | Los Angeles National Forest
Glendora Mountain Road, known as GMR by the locals, was the first mountain I climbed on that first visit to LA, and it is the reason I now live six miles from the foot of it. I would dare call it the most iconic climb in the Los Angeles National Forest. It is completely paved and has breathtaking views all around. On a clear day, you can see Downtown LA peeking in the distance from the top. The climb itself is roughly eight miles with a little over 2,000 ft elevation Its many blind corners will keep you on edge, so pay close attention to incoming cars or motorcycles, and always stay in your lane.
You will eventually come to a fork where you can either connect to Azusa Canyon via East Fork or make a slight right and continue onto Glendora Ridge Road which takes you all the way to Baldy Ski Lifts. The 2019 penultimate stage of the Tour of California went through GMR with an exhilarating Mt. Baldy stage finish. Every Fourth of July, the road is closed to cars making it the perfect playground for cyclists from all around. Being a few miles from home, I am able to ride variations of this road a few times per week. From peaceful low traffic sunset weekday rides to weekends filled with visitors, every GMR ride is a special one.
LA definitely does not suck for cycling. On the contrary, these three rides are only a small taste of the endless possibilities for exploration and adventure this gentle range has to offer. Make sure to check out the Strava routes for a more detailed depiction of each of these routes.
Azusa Canyon to Crystal Lake: