Los Peńasquitos Canyon aMTB2 Loop

Rating: aMTB2


This is one of my usual loops (until we can work on some more trails) in PQ Canyon. It has everything - - fast flowy DH, technical DH, climbing and scenery. It incorporates the famous Tunnels, Cobbles and some cool bridges. I have ridden all this on my own, but there are some really sketchy spots and i highly recommend a support rider on your first try. Pease also be sure to read in detail all the POI’s in TrailForks. I put some serious time into these because i take you into some spots where, if you make a wrong turn, things can go bad easily. If you go to the route in TrailForks, click on each POI individually and read the more detailed description below the map.


My favorite staging spot in the area is a brand new park on Carmel Mountain Road. It has paved, flat parking spots, clean bathrooms with running water, water fountains, plenty of space and convenient trail access. See map for driving directions.

The Route

Los Penasquitos Canyon Loop aMTB-2 on Trailforks.com

The Ride

Most of what you need to know, is in TrailForks (see above), but for more information, different options and my personal take on the ride, read on…

This ride starts off fast with the famous Cobbles downhill because the trailhead is conveniently located right next to this staging area. Beware uphill traffic! Stop and enjoy Duck Pond at the halfway point

On the second half of Cobbles, there is a cool table top. It very tough to get up and over it though because it is steep with a lip at the top. I recommend just scoping it out the first time and, if you can remember where it is, try to get enough speed and be in the right gear next time. For your first time, there is a ride around to the right. There are also a few old wash outs - - it happens every winter - - that can cause an issue for adaptive riders. Last time i took someone through here, they needed a push through one of them. I recommend just slowing down and being in a low enough gear to crawl through.

Towards the end of Cobbles is a quick steep rock garden. My friend needed a push here as well. After a wood post fence on the left, there is kind of an S-turn. Be ready in lowest gear. If you have a power assist, maybe bump up the power a notch to make sure you get over it. Consult route POI’s.

At the bottom of Cobbles is the waterfall. There is now an accessible viewpoint just to the west. Here is also where you can decide to shorten the ride significantly or go for an adventure. Go left (east) and head towards the Powerlines climb to eliminate about four miles or head right (west) for a loop on the canyon floor. You will get to cross some cool bridges if you choose the longer route. If your bike is over 36” wide, you will need to go left. There are two narrow bridges lined with chain link fences to the right. Turning around will be nearly impossible if your bike cannot fit so might as well make the safe choice and avoid it.

After turning right (west), you will run into another decision right away. You will come to a fork. Go left for technical fun or right for the ride around. If you choose the technical section, have your support rider ready to help out. It gets pretty precarious. I ride this section solo now, but my first few times, I definitely needed a spot. After the rock garden is the first of the narrow bridges. It looks like its about 36” wide with chain link fences lining each side. I barely make it through. After this first bridge is another rock garden and the second bridge. Be ready in a low gear for the rock crawling. I have ridden this 100 times and have a line I am comfortable with, but i recommend getting a spot. After the second bridge is the last sketchy spot for a while. There is a little ride around trail for the bridge that goes down to the creek and creates a nasty cambered situation for us three-wheelers. I take this fast and can get through it with ease, but it has serious potential for disaster and a spot would be good here. Once through, you are in the clear for a while. Crank hard and get your heart rate up!

Landmark to look for is the Wagon Wheel Crossing sign. Take this trail and be ready for some off camber, one wheel up and wheel down. Definitely gear down too. The ramp up onto the bridge here is a little steep. This bridge is super cool — wooden suspension bridge. Its barely wide enough for me, but my wheels kind of ride up on the ropes a little bit and its no problem at all. Great place for a photo op!

After the bridge, go left. It all wide open fire road so get both hand on that crank and get your sweat on! You are now riding along the south side of the creek that runs through the middle of the canyon. Before crossing, you were following it on the north side. I usually stop and have a drink at the waterfall. Again, adaptive riders will not be able to view it, but an accessible viewpoint is coming soon. Continue cranking east until you get the Carsons Crossing sign. Hang left here and be ready for the one of the coolest bridges in the area. Another great photo op spot!

After ducking into the trees, before crossing, make sure to stay left to catch the bridge. If you go straight, you will either need to cross the water or turn around. The hop up onto the bridge is tiny bit tricky. I use the kind of rock ride up on the right. The bridge is plenty wide, but narrow enough to demand some caution and awareness. Just take it slow and enjoy the view.

After crossing, there are a few trail junctions and things can get a little confusing so consult the map to stay on course. Hang slight right after coming out of the trees and stay straight. Follow the power lines up and start cranking! This is a long climb. I like to stay on the right side of the road because people sometimes downhill this (I don’t know why) and its a good practice to be ready for those weirdos.

Once to the top, its decision time again. If you have had enough, turn left to catch the Preserve Path towards the car. This cuts out about a four mile loop and is only about a mile back to the car. If you go this way, you could even do The Shits and climb Cobbles back (see map). I do that a lot. Turn right for the coolest trail in the area. Its a lot of work though, especially for the first time. These are going to be four tough miles with more climbing, so if you are tired at all, maybe opt out.

After turning right, basically stay left an look for the trip sign for Bowtie Rim. This is fun little single track. It borders the environmental preserve fence though and gets very narrow along it. Be ready in a low gear and just crawl through. This trail spits you out onto the fire road at the entry to Tunnels. Just ride straight across the road to the gate. This gate is just barely wide enough and i have found that its just easier to go under. At the end f the road is the trailhead and a circular donut berm. The rule is that you must do it once before diving into Tunnels. My best is three times around. See if you can beat it! Its a lot tougher than it looks. This makes for some light hearted fun and a good warm up before needing to be on your A-Game.

The trailhead is just off to the right of the donut. I usually let my buddy’s go so they can go faster, but make sure someone is behind you. I have my lines memorized and can ride this solo now, but you will most likely need a spot the first time. It gets tight sketchy and cambered. This is seriously the coolest trail in the area. Super fun! Beware of uphill traffic though.


Towards the bottom the trail turns right towards the east. Be on the lookout for a trail sign with two arrows, one forward and one left. Go left. If you miss the turn, things will be very difficult — Lifting your bike sideways through narrow trees sort of difficult. I actually missed the turn once and there are two trees i cannot get through almost right away. Pretty clear indicator.

When you turn left, this is East Deer Canyon. Immediately after making the turn stop and look around. The trees get tight so I perform a little ride around to the left. You should be able to see it. On 11/18.18 there were some branches to roll over, but not too bad. This trail is very narrow at first and you will be doing some bush wacking but it widens up slightly in a bit. Definitely be in a low gear. There are also some very steep undulations with loose dirt and rocks. There is a creek crossing right away. The lead in and the lead out are kind of deep ruts that i straddle. I do this solo, but a spot here might be good. After climbing out of the creek, is where you will be bush whacking for a little bit, but the rest of the trail is plenty wide. Some camber though and quick steep climbs so be ready.

Once you are though East Deer Canyon, you can take a huge deep breath. You are almost in the clear from anything potentially sketchy. Congrats though! Not too many adaptive riders have ridden what you just came through and its a famous trail. One last thing before riding onto the road though. Right now, there i big lip about 1 1/2 feet high that you will need to ride down to gt onto the road. Normally this is no big deal but this section of the road is kind of steep and it is a little sketchy. Lately, to avoid incident, i have been turning left and turning around. You’ll see.

After turning right and climbing up the road just about 50 yards, the trail head for West Deer Canyon will be on your left. Take this. This trail is wide enough but there are some tricky camber and surprise steep climb situations. Be ready.

You’ll also encounter a barbed wire fence. Its almost always open. I had to reach up and open it once though. As of right now, this is private property, but riding this trail is accepted since the city bought this land and will be updating this trail in the near future. There is a pond off to the left but you wont really be able to see it. Ive tried to do the trail that bordered it but its too narrow. Its not much to look at anyway.

When the trail begins to widen and open up you will head towards the Santa Monica Ridge Fire Road. If you follow the trail the way it looks like you are supposed to go though, it will take you to a ravine and you will need to back out. Consult the POIs and take the high road. Turn left on the road and enjoy a little descent. Its all fire road, wide trail and horse path from here so fun is over and its time to spin out any reserve energy. Almost home!

At the junction you can go left if you want. Its shorter but theres a steep concrete road/ramp up to the neighborhood. I like going right better. If you go left, there is only one trail off to the right. Keep an eye out for it. This is the last limb. It gets a little sandy but not bad. At the top, you will be in a private horse race. They are used to mountain bikers. Don’t worry! Turn left, pass the stables towards the road. Try not to disturb the horses. Cross the road and catch the horse path. The car is at the top of the street to the right. If you are feeling adventurous and have a support rider there is a very sweet single track off to the right about halfway up the horse path. This is rated aMTB-3 though and a support rider is needed. If you take this, turn left after the tunnel that crosses under the road to head back to the car. If you don’t take it, you are all done. Nice work! Enjoy a beer!

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to email contact@theunpavement.com

Trail Videos

Deer Canyon East UNCUT

Full UNCUT video of Bowtie Rim Trail in Los Peńasquitos Canyon in San Diego
Tons of cool bridges and features in San Diego's Los Peñasquitos Canyon.