California is literally crisscrossed with trails. Almost everywhere you go in the state, there are amazing hiking and biking trails to be found. But which ones are worth driving hours to or planning an entire trip around? I’ve lived in California for about four years and I’ve had the opportunity to explore some pretty amazing California bike trails of all shapes and sizes. There are the epic singletrack downhill descents of Downieville, the oceanfront bike paths of LA, a multi-day bikepacking trip around Lake Tahoe, and so much more.
I haven’t had the chance to check off each of these rides (I’ve done most of them), but believe me, they’re on my bike-it list! Just researching them makes me want to rearrange my calendar for this year. So if you’re looking for a two-wheeled California adventure, this post highlights some of the best bike trails around the state. Be sure to bring your camera and snacks (always lots of snacks).
Ready for some adventure? Here are 10 of the best California bike trails for every outdoor enthusiast from scenic paved bike paths to rough and rowdy DH descents.
California Bike Trails – Mapped
The 10 best California Bike trails
1. Palm Canyon Epic
The Palm Canyon Trail in Palm Springs, California may just be one of my top ten rides of all time and definitely one of Califonia’s best bike trails. It’s an IMBA Epic, meaning that it’s not just me that thinks it’s hot stuff. This 28-mile shuttled descent starts above the city of Palm Springs and descends 6,700ft down to the base of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains. But don’t be fooled, there’s still plenty of climbing. Expect remote, rugged, sandy, and backcountry riding as well as incredible views and beautiful vistas. This ride is not for beginners and you definitely need a mountain bike in good working order.
2. Cannell Plunge
The Cannell Plunge is another California IMBA Epic that I personally have yet to tick off my bike-it list, but I’ve heard great reviews and the photos look amazing. This 25-mile shuttled ride is located above Kernville, California, and is an all-day endeavor. Like the Palm Canyon Epic, this trail still has a hefty amount of climbing, most of which is near 10,000ft, so be prepared for some suffering. In all, there’s about 2,000ft of up and a whopping 8,000ft of down. While most of the trail is rated ‘blue’ on TrailForks, expect some rowdy rock gardens and tricky features.
Book a shuttle: Mountain and River Adventures
3. Downieville Classic
The Downieville Classic is one of the most iconic mountain bike trails in the state and every summer hundreds of mountain bikers flock to Downieville to ride it (there’s also the Downieville Classic bike race, but here I’m referring to the actual route). Over the last few years, this area – called the Lost Sierra – has exploded with new and just as amazing trails (see Mt. Hough below) and it’s definitely worth a visit for anyone looking to experience a classic California bike trail.
The Downieville Classic route starts at the top of Packer Saddle and descends down through the forest and along ridges back to the town of Downieville. It’s about 15 miles long with 800ft of climbing and 5,000ft of descending. There’s a little bit of everything from fast flow to chunky rock gardens, amazing views, and tight trees.
4. Mt. Hough
Mt. Hough is part of a relatively new trail system in Quincy, California and its network rivals that of its Downvieville neighbor to the west. The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship has been hard at work over the past few years transforming this area – the Lost Sierra – into a recreational destination for all outdoor enthusiasts including mountain bikers. One of their newest achievements is the Mt. Hough trail. This bomber descent winds its way 10 miles down from the top of Mt. Hough to Spanish Creek at the bottom. Most of the trail is smooth and buff, making it a great option for kids and families or those not quite up for the technical features on the Downieville Classic.
5. The Tahoe Twirl
Part epic adventure, part serious sufferfest, the Tahoe Twirl is a 190-mile bikepacking loop around Lake Tahoe and through the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. The loop begins in Reno and winds its way along a mix of fire roads, singletrack, and mellow bike paths for 5+ days of backcountry adventure. Riders can expect incredible views along the Flume Trail, dusty desert Jeep roads outside of Reno, classic Tahoe Rim singletrack, and plenty of crystal clear cold mountain water swimming spots.
This route isn’t for the faint-of-heart or newbie bikers. It’s rugged, rough, challenging, and requires a high level of fitness and skill. If this doesn’t sound like you, Tahoe is still an amazing destination for cyclists. Road bikers can ride the 72 miles around the lake or meander along the Tahoe East Shore Trail, dubbed America’s Most Beautiful Bikeway. Mountain bikers will have a field day will all the trails and singletrack in South Lake Tahoe and beyond. There is no shortage of amazing bike trails near Tahoe.
Learn more: The Tahoe Twirl
6. Marvin Braude Bike Trail
Most LA locals will already know about this California bike trail (a combination of the Santa Monica Bike Path, Venice Beach Bike Path, and South Bay Bike Path), but if you’re not from the City of Angels, you definitely need to get your butt down to the waterfront and pedal along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail.
This 21-mile paved path wiggles its way parallel to sandy beaches and offers amazing views out over the ocean. Along the way, there are tons of great places to stop for people watching (including the bros at Muscle Beach), shop, grab some food, or enjoy an afternoon beer. If you don’t have your own bike, there are plenty of places to rent one for the day or just a few hours.
Learn more: Marvin Braude Bike Trail
7. Crystal Springs Regional Trail
Crystal Springs Regional Trail is a scenic and popular pathway that runs parallel to Crystal Springs Reservoir and San Andreas Lake south of San Francisco. The path is 16.5 miles long and mostly flat with lots of twists and turns through wooded areas. It’s beautiful! There are three distinct segments to this California bike trail and it can be ridden in sections or as a whole. Check it out next time you’re in the Bay Area!
Learn more: Crystal Springs Regional Trail
8. Santa Cruz Flow Trail
To some, the Santa Cruz Flow Trail may be the best descent in the state. Sure, it’s a blast, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the ‘best’. That being said, the Flow Trail is definitely a must-ride if you’re a mountain biker. Even you’re not a mountain biker, you’re sure to have a grin on your face after this one! So what is the Santa Cruz Flow Trail? It’s a 3.4-mile slalom descent in Demonstration Forest outside of Santa Cruz. It’s all machine-built and there’s virtually no need to pedal from top to bottom. There are a few rollers and tabletops, but nothing is mandatory or technical. The only catch? It’s a climb to get up there. I recommend doing two laps in Demo Forest – one down the Flow Trail and the other down neighboring Braille DH.
Learn more: The Santa Cruz Flow Trail
9. Titus Canyon
Titus Canyon is a fun and different way to explore Death Valley National Park on a bike. It’s essentially a dirt road that starts just outside of Beatty and traverses 26 miles through several canyons. You pass by the abandoned Leadfield ghost town, pedal beneath towering limestone cliffs, glimpse tall peaks of the Grapevine mountains, and potentially spy some bighorn sheep.
Riding Titus Canyon east to west (recommended), there is 2,300ft of climbing and 5,500ft of descending. You will need to set up your own shuttle. Drop a car at the end of Titus Canyon Road at the junction of Scotty’s Castle Road and then drive car #2 40 miles to the start of Titus Canyon Road outside of Beatty.
Learn more: Titus Canyon Death Valley National Park
10. San Juan Trail
The San Juan Trail is a classic California mountain bike trail outside of Los Angeles. It’s mostly made up of nice, long, intermediate singletrack with a few rock gardens and features thrown in. It’s arguably one of the best descents around the city! You can either choose to pedal up the San Juan Trail (expect 20+ miles total if you go all the way up) or it is possible to shuttle this ride via Long Canyon Road. If you’re looking for a classic California bike trail, this is one!
Learn more: San Juan on TrailForks
Honorary Mention: Tahoe Rim & Flume Trail
I’m adding this IMBA Epic ride to this list even though it’s technically in Nevada. But it’s so close to California that I feel like it belongs on this list (and most people equate Lake Tahoe to California, not Nevada, right?). Anyway, the Tahoe Rim and Flume Trail is one of my favorite rides. Not only is it incredibly scenic, but it also has great flow and fun features.
The whole ride is about 24 miles. It starts up at Tahoe Meadows and slowly descends down to Tunnel Creek near Incline Village. The Flume Trail will probably be the most jaw-dropping trail you’ve ever ridden (or at least top 5). You do need to set up a shuttle or book one and if you want to ride the entire route, you’ll need to plan your ride on an even day as the first section (Tahoe Meadows to Tunnel Creek Road) is only open to mountain bikers on even days.
Learn More: Epic Review: The Tahoe Rime & Flume Trail
What are your top picks for the best stand-alone California bike trails? Which destination rides did I miss? Leave a comment below!
Hi there! My name is Becky and this is my bike travel blog. I’ve always loved exploring the world on two wheels and it’s my mission to help others do the same! My first love is mountain biking, but I’ll never say no to any two-wheeled adventure.