For our first American installment of Trailhunter we visited Noble Canyon in the Cleveland Forest. The iconic trail network is located about 45 minutes East of San Diego coastline in a town aptly named Pine Valley.
What’s most unique about the area is it’s vast variety of microclimates and dramatic landscape changes throughout the ride. During the winter, we’ve ridden Noble Canyon in a blizzard at the top, only to be greeted with 80 degree heat by the time we reached the bottom. Wild, considering the proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and the generally ambient 70 and sunny weather we see most of the year in San Diego.
There are a plethora of trails and various ways to navigate them. This weekend we shuttled from the top at one of the highest points in the Laguna Mountains. The ride descends roughly 3,000 feet, but has some technical climbs sprinkled throughout as well. We can’t emphasize the variety on offer here quite enough.
The trail begins with some fun swoopy singletrack through rolling hills in the Pines, with some interesting old trees sprinkled throughout.
Before too long, the first descent begins to dive into the woods and heads down towards an alpine meadow.
Typically the meadow holds a rather large lake, and thus – wildlife surrounding it.
This late in the year, after following 3 years of severe drought we were a bit disheartened to find that the lake had completely dried up(pictured above)…No deer, no birds, and no signs of life.
A full trek around the meadow leads to a couple of different descents that have a high desert feel to the terrain and climate. This fun section inevitably leads to a little punch up a shale covered climb.
After some mellow, mid grade high desert single track, the trail begins to head back into some fast and flowy wooded sections. This next part is considered the actual Noble Canyon downhill trail.
“Widow Maker” is the last section that exits the woods, then leads to a creek crossing and opens up to some exposed bits of singletrack which dodge in and out of the woods. While following a creek, the trail goes blasting through some very techy singletrack and rocky bits. Definitely bring extra tubes.
After the bread and butter of the trail fully leaves the woods, the remaining climbs and descents out of the area are rough as guts, often leaving the riders exposed on bench cut trails littered with techy switchbacks. The ground is covered in jagged rock, cacti and yucca plants. Generally there is a serious drop to one side and a not so pleasant wall on your other side. This part isn’t for the faint of heart.
Almost at the end, “Stairway to Hell” will really challenge just about anyone. With no clearcut or definitive “line”, riders pick through huge, offbeat and jagged rocks aiming for the bottom.
After that, it’s a couple more fun high speed downhills in the desert, and a quick climb out. It’s quite a ride.
If you find yourself in Southern California with time to ride Noble Canyon, we highly recommend it. Just be sure to bring sunscreen, layers(depending on the season) plus lots of water and extra tubes. Oh – and keep your eyes peeled for mountain lions. We had an encounter with one there a couple of months ago.