Looking for a big ride? You want to get the full Noble Canyon experience? You think shuttling is for chumps. Well then shoppers, for the mere price of about 30 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing, you can proudly add the "Tour de Noble" to your "Been There Done That" list. This ride is a combination of several rides here on the site: Noble Canyon, The Laguna Mountain Recreation Area and the Cuyamaca to Noble route. Noble Canyon on it's own is considered a SoCal Classic and doing this route gets you the deluxe package of three distinct ecosystems including desert scrub, oak forests and alpine meadows. Done at certain times of the year you will might have to wipe some snow off of your shorts.
Directions: From San Diego, take I-8 east to the off ramp for Pine Valley. Exit the highway and turn left. Travel north for .3 miles to Old Highway 80. Turn left onto Old Highway 80 and travel about 1.2 miles to Pine Creek Road. Turn sharply right onto Pine Creek Road and travel 1.6 miles to the trailhead parking on the right. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required.
|Map: To the left is a map of route and below is the elevation profile.|
Hazards: Treacherously technical trail with steep drop offs just off the trail. This is not a place to try to bring a beginner. This place can get really hot in the summertime and the lower portions are very exposed.
Ride Notes: (While this is a big ride, you can even "Super-Size" even more, starting right with the start)
The Extra Credit Start: If you are into the challenge of some technical climbing I recommend taking the trail up. You will have a 1 mile climb up to a saddle where you will some very technical spots to navigate. After this main section of climbing you get to enjoy a fun downhill section. At around 2.5 miles, the Noble Canyon trail makes a very distinct switchback turn. There is also a trail that shoots off the the west that will quickly take you to Pine Creek Road. Take the cutover trail and turn right when you hit Pine Creek Road. From there it is a 2.2 mile climb up 950 feet to the junction of Pine Creek Road and Laguna Meadow Road.
The Normal Start: From the lower trailhead go back to the road you came in on, hang a right and start up Pine Creek Road. After a little bit of mild rolling, the climb turns into a meat grinder with some really nasty pitches. At 3.6 miles the pavement will make a sharp right hand turn at a large Oak Tree. From here you will continue straight and downhill onto Pine Creek Road. This dirt road is a nice break from the climbing. At 5.1 miles you will come to the junction with the Indian Creek trail on your right. (The Deer Creek trail will be coming in on your left at the same spot, but that is another ride.)
Turning right onto the Indian Creek trail starts a downright mean two-mile climb. The grade is only about 14% but the trail has many technical and loose sections that make you work even harder.
The foggy pictures below are from a socked in climb on the Indian Creek trail on April 16th, 2007. The clear one are from a ride on May 19th.
At 7.0 miles we reached Champagne Pass and the end of most of the grunt work climbing for a while. At Champagne Pass there is a four-way intersection. The trail to the left goes up to a better vantage point, Straight ahead the Indian Creek trail continues on and to your left is the start of the Pine Mountain trail.
We took the left onto the Pine Mountain trail where we did a little bit more climbing before we enjoyed a nice and slightly downhill cruise for the next two miles. At 9.2 miles the Pine Mountain trail comes out onto the paved Sunrise Highway.
From here you will hang a right and ride along the highway (two lane mountain road) for just under two miles to the Pine Pines parking lot and the upper trailhead of Noble Canyon. (For a quite viewpoint diversion: At the trailhead, pick up a trail on the north side of the road and take a quick 200 yard hike over to the Pacific Crest Trail where you will most likely find a stunning view of the Anza-Borrego Desert below.) Note: There is normally water at the Noble trailhead. If for some reason it is turned off you can got to the Big Laguna Campground, further along on this route.
From the upper trailhead parking area you will proceed south on the Noble Canyon trail for about 100 yards and hang a left onto the Big Laguna Trail (normally referred to as the BLT). From there you will have about a mile of a very gradual climb up to the Big Laguna Meadow. Just before you reach the meadow the climbing will stop. It is in this area that you will see a trail off to your right. Make note of it but you are not taking it. Continue on as you cruise down to the meadow that you should see by now. There will be a split in the trail at the edge of the meadow. Either direction is good, but for this description you will take the right fork in the trail and go around the meadow counter-clockwise.
Shortly after the trail around the meadow bends almost 90 degrees to the left to stay with the meadow you will see another trail splitting off to the right. This is the Sunset trail which is off limits to bikes so bear to the left and stay on the Big Laguna trail. The trail will continue following along the west side of the meadow and eventually Big Laguna Lake as well.
|At the south end of the lake (at 14.0 miles) there is a trail that goes directly across the meadow where you can pick up the BLT on the other side of the meadow. If for some reason the water was out at the Noble trailhead you could cut the BLT loop in half here and go to the Laguna campground. (I have marked the campground with a water faucet on the map).|
|If you did not take the short-cut continue heading south down the west side of the meadow. You will soon come to a very small pond where the trail goes around the pond. Just after the pond there is a split in the trail where you will go to the left. There are about a handful of splits in the trail at this end of the meadow. Instead trying to give you complicated directions, just be observant and generally stay along the edge of the meadow. There is only one significant trail that cuts across the meadow at this end so if you see one go for it. If you start spending a good bit of time continuously climbing in the woods you have probably missed a turn. Look around and find the meadow again and head back that way. There are at least 10 miles of other trails out in the area and some of them are really sweet so getting "lost" is not a bad thing.|
Here are some show shots of the April 16th, 2007 ride with some bits of snow above Big Laguna Meadow
So if the description above did not get you blissfully lost you should have followed the edge of the meadow around to a trail junction with a sign that points to the campground (Shown as mile 17.0 on the map). If you need water, take a diversion off to the campground and get back to this point. From this point you will continue following the trail around the meadow until you get to the other side of Big Laguna Lake where the trail turns north and heads along the east side of the meadow. You will soon come back to the top of the meadow and the split you took earlier. Retrace your way back towards the Noble Canyon trail junction. When you get back to the junction your mileage should be about 20.2 miles. From here you will hang a left on the Noble Canyon Recreation Trail.
|The upper portion of Noble Canyon offers some smooth rolling single track and a short gradual climb before the descending starts. You will cross Laguna Meadows road a couple of times as you head down Noble Canyon (The last time will be at 22.7 miles) Also you will pass the junction of Indian Creek Trail that heads off towards the Cuyamacas Mountains via Champagne Pass that you were on earlier in the day. Continuing along Noble, after descending for some time along the fast smooth stuff you will come to a horse gate that is normally left open.|
|Shortly after the horse gate you will come to a couple of switchbacks where the trail changes dramatically from forest to chaparral. Also the trail starts to get rockier and more technical. At the first creek crossing you will encounter the first really technical rocky outcropping. After this section you have a long descent that is packed with drops and rocks that requires good bike handling skills. Speed can be your friend here.|
|The terrain continues to change the further down you go. Before too long you leave the chaparral and find yourself in desert scrub. The trail is very narrow and the penalty for failure can be quite steep if you screw up. One such section is known as the "Stairway to Hell". There is no "line" per se through this section. Just a bunch of rocks all over the place. Speed and good weight transfers are the name of the game here.|
|At 26.6 miles the trail makes a sharp left hand turn (nearly a switchback). A fainter trail heads off to the right and out to Pine Creek Road. If you did the extra credit start earlier in the day you should recognize this spot. From this spot you will stay on the Noble Canyon trail by going left where it will soon cross a creek that marks the start of a mild 1.5 mile climb. I use the term mild with caution as most folks will be feeling at least a wee bit whopped at this point and this "mild" climb can really stick it to you. This is particularly the case in the summer when you will be in the full afternoon sun by this point in the ride. At 28 miles you will thankfully top out.|
|From here you will be cruising downhill again and in about half a mile you will come to a split in the trail that is signed showing Noble Canyon continues to your right. Go right and enjoy a bit of swooping back and forth turns as you work your way down hill. The last half mile of the trail get pretty technical with lots of rocks to go up, over, around and various combinations of all of them. The trail will soon roll out into the lower trailhead parking lot where you hopefully have a cooler with some well earned refreshments waiting for the latest finishers of the "Tour De Noble".|