Top 5 SoCal Overnight Trips by Your Favorite Bike Tourists 3   Recently updated !


Top 5 So Cal Overnighters

If you’ve followed me from the beginning, you may have noticed that my go-to SoCal overnight trip is riding from Ventura to Ojai to Dennison Park and staying for a night and riding back. It is very laid back with 2 route options, whether you want to stay on bike paths or on gravel roads, there is a little something for everyone. Instead of just my own perspective on other places to ride for a SoCal overnight trip, I decided to get some help from a few folks in the bike community.

These folks share the same enthusiasm for bike touring and have their share of adventure on bikes. Some people own their own bicycle-related business, some are local city advocates, while others are online celebrities in their own rights. You may actually come across their blogs, their tweets, their Instagram photos, their Facebook page, or even through word of mouth. So let us find out where their favorite Southern California overnight trips are (in no particular order).

1. Errin Vasquez – Frontage Road (Mount Lowe & Chantry Flats)

Errin on his MukLuk

If you enjoy biking and also drinking coffee (particularly coffee outside) in Los Angeles, I bet you have heard of Errin Vasquez or commonly known in the social networks as @Area45 (Twitter & Instagram). In recent months, Errin started the Los Angeles’ coffee outside movement using the hashtag of #larivercampcoffee and have been blogging about his bike touring adventures on his blog, Frontage Roads. Errin may look familiar as he has co-presented with me in last year’s Bike Touring 101 at Stan’s Bike Shop, and we’ve ridden up the Verdugo Mountains once together.  He’s such a cool guy and has that spirit of adventure burned deep down inside.

Errin’s favorite overnight, as he told me, is a ride up to Mount Lowe and Chantry Flats. This one is one of his favorite overnight trips because it is both challenging and a lot of fun. It was also here that he took his titanium Salsa Mukluk on its maiden voyage for an overnighter. In his own words, here is how you would get there.

“For the locals out there, we rode from Alhambra to Altadena. Then up Cheney Trail Drive and Mt. Lowe Fire Road, all the way to Mt. Wilson Road. From there, we descended to Red Box for water. Then took the Red Box-Rincon road to West Fork Campground. In the morning we continued on Red Box-Rincon road to Newcomb Pass. Then singletrack took us all the way down to Chantry Flats and the final annoying climb of the day.”

This sounds like quite an adventure!

Check out Errin’s post on Frontage Roads for more photos and details about this trip.

2. Russ Roca & Laura Crawford – The Path Less Pedaled (San Luis Obispo Loop)

More Carrizo Plain - D300 pix

My next destination was provided to me by 2 very special people who I’ve been following on their blog for a few years now, Russ & Laura of The Path Less Pedaled. I finally met them in 2013 at the National Bicycle Tourism Conference in Iowa and was able to ride with them through the Verdugo Mountains when they were in town early last year. They have been the inspiration to Milestone Rides and my own personal journey to focus on bicycle tourism as my passion. They currently live in Portland, Oregon, but have spent a lot of time taking trips around Southern California where they used to live in Long Beach, California.

When I asked for their favorite overnight destinations, they gave me 2 options. We share the same favorite overnight trip to Ojai at Dennison Park, so instead of reiterating that, I am going to share with you their other trip, which is more of a 2-nighter trip through San Luis Obispo. In their own words, here is how to get there.

“(Take the) train to San Luis Obispo. Ride to Morro Bay via Los Osos Valley and Turri Rd. Camp at the State Park by the golf course (which used to have a hiker/biker, not sure if it still does).  Then out thru town, North on Hwy 1 to Old Creek Rd and Santa Rita Rd (beautiful, no traffic), which becomes Cayucos Templeton Rd, which becomes Bethel Rd, to Hwy 46 East, then the frontage road into Paso Robles.  To make a loop, you can fly down Hwy 46 (long downhill to the coast) then take Hwy 1 South and backtrack through Morro Bay into SLO.”

They recommend using the train out of Los Angeles as a way to finding such great overnight camp options.

If you haven’t visited their site, I highly recommend doing so and bookmark it. They are master storytellers and an inspiration for all bicycle tourists out there.

3. Rob Perks – Ocean Air Cycles (Wheeler Gorge / Rose Valley / Matilija Creek)

Rob on tour

With most people in the bicycle community these days, I recognize their online avatars before I ever get to meet the person behind it. It was no different with Rob Perks of Ocean Air Cycles. Rob custom builds beautiful bikes for customers of the Rambler varieties. These beautiful pieces of art caught my attention one night when I was browsing through the Twitter feeds, and I immediately started following him. He is also very handy with the camera and have eye-catching pictures of his day-to-day life in Ventura, California. Rob has been an inspiration to several of my own creative Instagram photos. I finally met him last year when I was doing my first Ventura to Ojai trip. He had received word of the trip through Topanga Creek Bicycle’s social media feeds and decided to meet us for a part of the trip up to Ojai. Rob also made the journey down from Ventura to Los Angeles for a #larivercampcoffee outting late last year, so we got to ride together again.

Rob’s favorite overnight trip is to Wheeler Gorge. This is the type of trip you go with your buddies who are in the mood for adventure on two wheels. In his own words, this is what Rob had to say about his pick.

“If it were me and a bunch of buddies, we head up the (highway) 33 and poach in the back country.  Wheeler Gorge is the closest legal answer to the later for a fast trip and Rose Valley for the longer. The back country around here is fantastic. The real campgrounds get over run with idiots at times, not often, but it happens. We have camped up Matilija and spots that (don’t allow) bikes, but at the right time of (the) year you may not even see other humans.  There are even more spots up the 33, Pine Mtn is fantastic and great bouldering if you have the legs to get there. Everything but the last mile on that trip was legal. I want to get a hammock and head back to the first spot that was all trees.”

Part of Rob’s trip is on the same bike path up to Ojai from Ventura. His trip goes further up pass Ojai into the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Here are further details about Rob’s trip in his blog post.

4. Orange and Purple – Bikenanigans! (Leo Carrillo State Park)

Leo Carrillo S24O

I was first made aware of Orange and Purple when they joined Russ and Laura of the Path Less Pedaled on a few bike touring trips in Oregon, as well as in California. They ride either their Xtracycle (in purple or orange of course) or their folding bikes to various trips. Both are very active in the local advocate circle in the Los Angeles area, especially in the Santa Monica chapter of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Santa Monica Spoke. Both are super friendly and super passionate about bikes and photography.

Here is what they have to say. Their answer was almost a blog post on its own, so I’ve edited it down some.

“Yay bike camping! If we’re choosing our favorite S24O destination simply based on number of visits, we’d have to go with Leo Carrillo State Park. Located just 28 miles north of Santa Monica, it served as the destination for our first ever S24O years ago and countless visits since.

Now we won’t lie, riding on PCH can be stressful sometimes due to high speeds, disappearing shoulders and heavy coast/beach traffic. This can be mitigated, however, by traveling with a few friends and/or timing your trip to avoid peak traffic. If we can swing it work-wise, we usually like to head up on a mellow Sunday morning and return after the Monday morning commute. To be honest though, there’s only a handful of spots you need to watch out for and once you pass the halfway mark of Pepperdine University, it’s smooth sailing!

5.5 miles before Leo Carrillo you’ll come across Trancas Country Market Shopping Center. An excellent place to stock up on grub and adult beverages that didn’t make it into your panniers at home. Coincidentally, there’s also a bus stop here for the Metro 534 should you feel like taking a shortcut to or from Santa Monica.

As you near the park, you crest over a medium size hill and are treated with a view of Leo Carrillo State Beach on the left and Leo Carrillo State Park nestled in a canyon to the right. Zooming down to the park entrance is always a nice way to celebrate the end of the ride and get you stoked for setting up camp. Yeah, we said stoked!

Surrounded by large oak trees, the handful of hike or bike campsites at Leo Carrillo are some of the best in the park and a bargain at $7 a night per person. They’re nice and secluded away from the rest of the car camping sites and some of the few places in the park that get cell signal if you’re jonesin to update your Instagram. All of the sites have fire pits and picnic tables and plenty of space to set up all your camping accouterments. A short ways away, you’ll find flush toilets, showers and a small camp store that sells firewood.

The next morning after some delicious #coffeeoutside (face it, it’s the real reason you went camping) all that awaits you is a sunny tailwind ride back south. All in all, a great destination for a quick getaway. Close enough to be accessible, but far enough to give you that warm fuzzy outside wilderness feeling. Yay!”

I’ve personally passed Leo Carrillo several times on my bike tours, but never had the opportunity to stay there. Sounds like I’ll need to make it a priority to check it out based on this pick.

Orange and Purple’s Bikenanigans! blog is still a work in progress. Stay tuned for future updates! In the meantime, you can also find them on their Facebook page.

5. Chris Kelly – Topanga Creek Bicycles (Big Bear)

TCB Big Bear Trip 2014

When I started to get into bicycle touring back in the days and wanted to see if there were any bicycle stores that carried touring bikes in their brick & mortar shop within Los Angeles, Google pointed me to Hollywood Pro Bicycles on Hollywood Blvd. I’ve visited the shop once before they moved from Hollywood into Topanga Canyon and changed their name to Topanga Creek Bicycles.

The owner, Chris Kelly, sold me my Salsa Vaya and sold a Salsa Fargo to my brother-in-law, Sang Hyun. He has been supplying other people like Errin (#1) and Orange (#4) above with their own adventure bikes. Chris not only sells the tools of our dreams, but also opens up his shop and invites people to join in on a lifestyle that can be easily summed up in one term that he coined, “Unpredict Your Journey”. You’ll see it plastered all over his merchandise and on stickers, as well as part of his philosophy of work when he closes his shop on Wednesdays to get out there and ride…sometimes with customers even. I’ve been on several trips with him last year as documented in my first Ojai ride and an-off road version.

When I asked what was his favorite ride in Southern California, I was surprised to hear that Big Bear was his favorite (I was confident it would have been somewhere in Ventura or Santa Barbara area). Here is what he has to say about his favorite trip:

“One of my favorite bike packing trip includes a 40 mile loop around Big Bear. Follet’s Local Trail Map is a must have map.  Park a little West of downtown Big Bear.  Get ready to climb.    Mill Creek Road off of Boulder Bay is a great climb for an evening ride to camp. Head up the mountain. You will make it to Skyline, also 2N10. Camp away from the road, out of sight and you can camp anywhere in the National Forest. Don’t make an open fire, it is against the rules. Wake up to breakfast, coffee, etc…and head East on Skyline. There is a little singletrack off to your right that I am still figuring out and another fun one when you are leaving the Forest. It drops you into a neighborhood. Head to Big Bear Lake via Moonridge and cross the East Bridge to the other side. Turn right on the main road that circles the Lake and look for 3N09.  That is a left through the mountain on the other side. A slow fire road will take you to up past a campground. Turn left when 3N09 turns left and you will head down. A right on 2N71 will annoy you climbing because you just descended, but it is the only way toward the fun single track. There are some amazing views along this fire road.   Take a left on 3N12, quick right on 2N71 and left into the Hanna Flat Campground. The start of the trail is between sites 49 and 51. Everyone loves this single track.  FUN FUN FUN. There was a fire here a few years ago, and you can see the new growth. The topography is amazing. Go down, it is a little tricky to stay on the trail, but look for 2N97Y left and left again to Grout Bay Trail.  If you find yourself on a horrible climb, you missed something. When you get down to the water, follow the lake counter-clockwise staying on the main road back to where you parked. Downtown Big Bear has a handful of terrific diners and restaurants. Try the Big Bear Diner and the Himalayan place.  Both are great. Enjoy your trip, and perhaps join us sometime.”

This is quite the loop! Another great one that I look forward to riding one of these days. Here are more photos from this trip taken on a Unpredict Your Wednesday overnight bike packing trip last September.

If you want to check out a really cool bike shop in Los Angeles that caters to adventure bikes and mountain bikes, look no further than Topanga Creek Bicycles. Visiting the shop dog, Rover, will make your trip all worthwhile.

Final Thoughts

I am actually surprised that each person picked 5 different locations to go on an overnight trip. I talked to each person independently and no one had the same trip mentioned.  Proof that Southern California is an ideal spot to go out on mini adventures. I also found it interesting that no overnighters were identified anywhere South of Los Angeles in Orange County or San Diego. Perhaps I’ll need to talk to others located in these areas for the next time.

Let me know if you enjoyed this post in the comments below. I had a lot of fun discovering these trails and looking over the photos from each person’s trip. Goes to show that I still have a lot to see in Southern California.


About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He’s also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association’s Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.


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