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Off-Road Trails: California

The country’s most populated state is full of riding opportunities

Photo credit: Andrew S/Shutterstock.com
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As the country’s most densely populated state, you would be forgiven if you assumed that California doesn’t have a lot of room for off-road trails. Despite having more people than all of Canada (and it’s not really close), California is loaded with places to ride.

From sand dunes to rock-strewn trails, you never have to travel very far in California to find some truly epic riding destinations for you and your friends to experience. And some of them are a lot closer to crowded cities than you might think. Here are a few of our favorite places to ride in the Golden State.

Destination Yamaha

If you are looking for an off-road adventure in California but you don’t feel like towing an ATV or UTV all the way there, Destination Yamaha has a pair of locations in California where you can rent a machine.

These rental partners have everything you need for an amazing off-road experience aboard a Yamaha ATV or UTV on some of the best terrain in the state.

Size 8,000 Acres

Skill Level Intermediate

Trailhead Cantil, CA

Jawbone Canyon OHV

Size 8,000 Acres

Skill Level Intermediate

Trailhead Cantil, CA

Part of the Bureau of Land Management, Jawbone Canyon OHV offers a wide variety of riding conditions just about an hour north of Los Angeles. Jawbone is home to a wide variety of sand and rock-strewn trails. You will find a good mix of beginner-friendly drives and expert-only hill climbs that are sure to please anybody. Primitive camping is plentiful and free, though there are no RV hookups and shade is hard to come by. You can pick up essentials like ice, firewood and some limited groceries at the nearby Jawbone Canyon Store.

Distance 130+ Miles

Skill Level All

Trailhead Gorman, CA

Hungry Valley SVRA

Distance 130+ Miles

Skill Level All

Trailhead Gorman, CA

The coolest thing about Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) is just how close it is to the millions of people that live in the greater Los Angeles area. It is situated in the Tejon Pass, which is just 60 miles or so from Los Angeles. More than 130 miles of off-road trails are ready to be enjoyed, offering huge elevation changes from 3,000 to 6,000 feet. It offers scenic hill climbs, sand washes, and trails to test all skill levels.

Size 118,000 Acres

Skill Level All

Trailhead El Centro, CA

Imperial Sand Dunes

Size 118,000 Acres

Skill Level All

Trailhead El Centro, CA

If you love off-road adventures, the Imperial Sand Dunes (known as Glamis) simply must be on your bucket list. Located in the southeast corner of California, this dune system is some 40 miles long in a band averaging five miles wide. If you make the pilgrimage to Glamis, expect to find windswept sand with massive climbs and scenery you just won’t find anywhere else. If you don’t like crowds, avoid the long weekends as Glamis can host tens of thousands of off-road enthusiasts. But a mid-week adventure offers wide open space with limited interruptions.

ATV Trails California

Size 3,500 Acres

Skill Level All

Trailhead Oceano, CA

Oceano Dunes SVRA

Size 3,500 Acres

Skill Level All

Trailhead Oceano, CA

While not as vast as Glamis, what sets the Oceano Dunes SVRA apart is the proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Those ocean breezes mean you can ride here throughout the summer – something we wouldn’t recommend at Glamis. Located about 12 miles south of San Luis Obispo, Oceano Dunes SVRA offers approximately 3,500 acres of off-road riding, though that is limited to approximately 1,100 acres during the snowy plover nesting season, which runs March through September. You’ll find all manner of off-road vehicles here and it can get very crowded on the weekends. You would be wise to make camping reservations ahead of time, as Day Use passes can be hard to come by. Getting to experience the dunes while looking at the ocean is something you’ll be glad to share with family or close friends.

Size 8,500 Acres

Skill Level All

Trailhead Borrego Springs, CA

Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Size 8,500 Acres

Skill Level All

Trailhead Borrego Springs, CA

Ocotillo Wells SVRA is a diverse desert riding area that is about 60 miles west of Glamis and 90 miles northeast of San Diego. This area is also absolutely free to use for off-road riding and camping. Ocotillo Wells SVRA features a number of interesting areas to explore, including the Blowsand Hill dune, Devil’s Slide, Barrel Springs, Shell Reef, and Pumpkin Patch. Keep in mind that this area sees big crowds – especially on long weekends.

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