Category: San Bernardino National Forest


San Bernardino Mountains – Valley of the Falls – CA-38 (State Route 38) to Forest Falls Hill Climb

  • 4,279 ft elevation gain
  • 14.5 miles in length
  • 5.6% average grade
  • If you start in Mentone, those are the stats. That is definitely a solid climb. You can also cut off a few miles of somewhat boring climbing and start at the intersection of 38 (Mill Creek Rd) and Bryant. If you do this, you will miss almost 900 feet of shallow climbing. With that said, the climbing you will miss is nothing special. So, if you are going for overall climbing, start in Mentone. If you are going for scenic climbing, start at 38/Bryant. Additionally, if you start at 38/Bryant, your average grade will be 6.3% for over 10 miles. Not bad. The rest of this post assumes a starting point at 38/Bryant.

    The initial section of 38 (above Bryant) has a minimal shoulder:

    From 2010-07-11 – San Bernardino Mountains Cycling – 38 to Forest Falls

    Given the relatively steady traffic, this is the only somewhat unpleasant section. Luckily, the shoulders open up pretty quickly for the rest of the ride:

    From 2010-07-11 – San Bernardino Mountains Cycling – 38 to Forest Falls

    The rest of the ride along 38 is a very scenic ride up a valley with few curves:

    From 2010-07-11 – San Bernardino Mountains Cycling – 38 to Forest Falls

    The traffic, while not heavy, is relatively constant and somewhat fast. The wide shoulder for most of 38, however, makes this section surprisingly pleasant.

    From 2010-07-11 – San Bernardino Mountains Cycling – 38 to Forest Falls

    The grade is, for the most part, extremely steady and relatively shallow. While I love steep climbs, it is also nice to be able to shift up a few gears and power on at more than 6 mph at times! And, of course, some pleasant scenery doesn’t hurt.

    From 2010-07-11 – San Bernardino Mountains Cycling – 38 to Forest Falls

    Awesome valley to be riding up!

    From 2010-07-11 – San Bernardino Mountains Cycling – 38 to Forest Falls
    From 2010-07-11 – San Bernardino Mountains Cycling – 38 to Forest Falls

    Read the Full Ride Report


    CA-39 (aka Hwy 39 or San Gabriel Canyon Rd or CA State Route 39) Climb to Angeles Crest and Dawson Saddle (at 7901 ft!)

    Note: As of March 2014 a rock and mud debris field is covering 39 a few miles south of Angeles Crest at Snow Spring:

    Views: Cycling State Route 39 above the closure gate by Ryan Allison

    The above is a 360 degree photo sphere – drag it around to see all of the scene. If anyone rides 39 and finds that this debris field has been cleared, please do leave a comment!

    This climb is one of the best sustained climbs in southern California. Starting from 1600 feet elevation, 39 climbs continuously to its high point where it intersects with Angeles Crest Highway at an elevation of 6800 feet. From here, the climb continues up Angeles Crest to its high point at Dawson Saddle – elevation 7901 feet! Yes, that’s right – about 6300 feet of climbing without a single descent. In southern California, no less.

    Actually, in the interest of technical accuracy, there are a couple of descents tilting just barely down that do last for a couple dozen feet. For all intents and purposes though, there are no descents for this 22.5 mile long climb. The whole climb averages just over 5.3%, with the majority section along 39 averaging about 5.6%. There is nothing here that is tough with respect to grade – it is only tough because of the rather large amount of climbing involved.

    This alone should be enough to entice those riders who enjoy long, sustained climbs. If not though, there are two other good reasons to try this out. First, it is very scenic – especially late spring/early summer when the mountains are nice and green (this year was probably particularly good since we had a fair amount of precipitation). Second, most of this climb is free from traffic. Yes, all traffic. Due to road damage higher up, most of the road is completely closed to vehicles. Of course, this means, for most of the climb, you are entirely isolated from civilization. Bring more water/nutrition than usual to be safe (a camelback is not a bad idea for this ride). A riding partner would also be a good idea. This situation may change relatively soon though. Word is the road to Crystal Lake, at the very least, is hoped to be opened sometime later this summer. When that happens, there will likely be a snack bar open at Crystal Lake itself, so you will have access to water and food there. For now though, err on the side of caution and pack extras.

    This time, I parked just above the OHV area along 39 – about 10 miles north of Azusa. You can also park in Azusa and add those 10 miles to your ride. The 10 mile stretch is scenic, rolling hills that gradually climb upwards (starting elevation ~800ft, finishing elevation ~1600ft). You get nice views of Morris Reservoir and San Gabriel Reservoir along the way, including ~1 mile long descents next to each one. However, traffic is heavy (especially on weekends) along these sections and the shoulder is often narrow, so I find it to be not so pleasant. I rode this section the first time I did this climb, and would still semi-recommend it as the scenery is pretty cool. However, if you want to skip this warm-up and start right at the point that the traffic dies down and the climb actually starts in earnest, park where I parked. There are a couple of large parking areas right after the OHV area. They are easy to spot – right after the OHV area and the first true parking lots that you see. There are a few lots – all right below and above West Fork (West Fork, by the way, is a paved road that is also closed to vehicles and is a popular hiking and cycling road…about 15 miles round trip for that section…I haven’t tried it but plan on adding it in next time). On this Sunday, there were probably a hundred or so cars parked around this area – quite popular! Note that you will need a Forest Service Adventure Pass to park anywhere around here – $5 for a day pass and $30 for an annual pass. Worth the money, in my opinion, to support areas like this.

    Starting from this parking area, the scenery is immediately beautiful:

    From 2010-06-13 – San Gabriel Mountains Cycling – CA-39 to Dawson Saddle

    Cloud cover provided shade for much of the first part of the climb (nice to have given an 80 degree starting temperature):

    From 2010-06-13 – San Gabriel Mountains Cycling – CA-39 to Dawson Saddle

    There are a few stretches that stay straight as an arrow for longer than expected given the ruggedness of the mountains:

    From 2010-06-13 – San Gabriel Mountains Cycling – CA-39 to Dawson Saddle

    Looking up the canyon:

    From 2010-06-13 – San Gabriel Mountains Cycling – CA-39 to Dawson Saddle

    Beautiful pavement here:

    From 2010-06-13 – San Gabriel Mountains Cycling – CA-39 to Dawson Saddle

    Truly a beautiful valley:

    From 2010-06-13 – San Gabriel Mountains Cycling – CA-39 to Dawson Saddle

    Right after the last shot:

    From 2010-06-13 – San Gabriel Mountains Cycling – CA-39 to Dawson Saddle

    Talk about a scenic backdrop for this road! Even better, the permanent closure for cars is just slightly ahead. The previous section is also often closed to cars – but, at least on this June Sunday, was open to cars (although the traffic level was very light). Just after the gate that closes the road to vehicles (duck under or around with your bike):

    From 2010-06-13 – San Gabriel Mountains Cycling – CA-39 to Dawson Saddle

    Amazing. A road like this, in scenery like this, all to your self.

    Read the Full Ride Report


    Old Waterman Canyon Rd, CA-18 (Rim of the World Hwy) & CA-138 to Crestline Loop

    A few weeks ago I was hunting for a new, long climb to do within an hour or so of Long Beach. Flipping through my Complete Guide to Climbing book (a must have for anyone who enjoys climbing), I decided on CA-18 heading up to Crestline and the Lake Arrowhead area. 18 is pretty heavily trafficked and the speeds are high (55mph speed limit), so early Sunday morning was the chosen day. And, more importantly, I found out about Old Waterman Canyon Road – a steep, super low traffic road that takes the place of 18 for about half of the climb.

    Sunday morning. 6:15AM. Already around 80 degrees. Luckily, a layer of clouds took the edge off of the heat. Climbing in hot weather can, of course, be masochistically grueling. Those clouds stuck around though, so the heat was bearable for the day.

    After climbing a bit on 18, I turn on Old Waterman Canyon Road. This road takes a route mostly parallel to 18, but, instead of lazily winding up along the hill, basically goes straight up it. This is a tough, almost 3 mile climb. The average gradient is around 8.6%, with the last mile and a quarter averaging 10%. I would have taken pictures, but I was too busy suffering my way up. Next time!

    After those tough 3 miles, 18 was a nice relief when it came to the grade. 5.3% grade for just over 4 miles and 1200 feet more of gain. The road itself is huge – two lanes each way winding up into the mountains:

    From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

    The views along the way are very good – Rim of the World Highway is a very appropriate name for the road:

    From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

    This would qualify as an exceptional climb in my book – lots of elevation gain, great views along almost the whole thing – if it weren’t for the traffic. 7 or so in the morning on a Sunday and there was already a somewhat consistent stream of cars heading up at the 55mph speed limit. The shoulder was decent enough for most of the way, but there are a couple of spots where you will have to hop into a traffic lane for a few feet. That said, the road itself is pretty impressive:

    From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

    4 more miles down and I am to the junction with 138. This rather precariously placed junction itself is rather amazing to look at:

    From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

    By the way, if descending 138, make sure to scrub some speed before hitting the junction. Unless, of course, you like descending a couple thousand feet in a matter of seconds. 138 itself is quite steep for this portion. This shot gives a rather accurate idea of the grade:

    From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

    My legs were burning going up a couple of the steep switchbacks. This portion is only a mile long, but averages around 10%. And, finally, civilization:

    From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

    There are a couple of restaurants here to grab a bite to eat..well deserved after nearly 4000 feet of climbing. From here, Lake Gregory is very nearby and Lake Arrowhead is only a few miles away. While I didn’t have time to do this, grabbing a sandwich at a store or restaurant up here and bringing it to one of the lakes would probably be quite pleasant. Continuing on Crest Forest Drive, I enjoyed the peace and quiet of this heavily forested road:

    From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

    Light traffic, thankfully. Additionally, it got me above 5,000 feet – no way I was finishing at 4,800 feet at the village when I could continue going up and get above 5,000. Rolling over those thousand foot increments is just so satisfying. I also found a road called Great View that I figured would lead to some great views. There were some great views along the way and some rather amazingly located houses. Imagine your backyard looking down 4000 feet, unobstructed, to the valley below. I also found that this road is private (it is only posted at such at the other entrance to the road…grrrr…) and, more importantly, contains two dogs that will chase you for daring to glance at them. Actually, I imagine they will chase you no matter what. So, yeah, you may want to avoid this road. Aside from that, riding around here was very pleasant!

    Finally, you reconnect with 18:

    From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

    From here, the descent is great. 9 miles of almost continuous 35+ mph riding. With two lanes descending, taking the lane was no problem at all (and traffic wasn’t going that much faster). Top speed of 45 mph – while pacing a car to my left and watching an officer run radar on the side. Fun!

    Ultimately, I enjoyed the ride. I just wish the 4 mile stretch ascending along 18 was nicer. The rest of it was great. And Old Waterman Canyon would make for a great training road or repeat road if you lived in the area.

    Back down by about 9:30AM and the temperature was already approaching 100! Glad I left when I did!

    The whole ride:

    Just the Old Waterman Canyon part:

    Make sure to click View Elevation for that. It is a nice graph 😉

    And, the full set of pictures can be viewed here.


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