Mountain Bike Bill, Get the Dirt on the Dirt

Carrizo Gorge

Carrizo Gorge located in Jacumba approximately 70 miles east of San Diego is not your typical mountain bike ride.   95 percent of this ride is done riding adjacent to the railroad tracks that go between Jacumba and the town of Octillo. This ride is done for the incredible views and not the trail itself. What you are really going to see is Goat Canyon Trestle and ride on the other 13 trestles and through numerous tunnels in just 11 miles. Over the years the San Diego Railway has struggled to keep the track profittable or even operational.  When I did this ride on New Year's Day 2004 it was the last day you could ride there before they starting issuing tickets. For many years now this section of railroad has been abandoned because several of the tunnels had collapsed. Over the years there had been many projects to clear the tunnels and reopen the line, but funding usually ran out. However in 2004 the line was indeed reopened with the final tunnel being cleared. In 2009 Tunnel 3 was damaged in a fire and the line has not been operational since. These days it is still not technically legal to ride this amazing bit of history, but it is extremely unlikely that anyone is going to kick up a fuss about you being out there. Unless you fall off a cliff or something and end up on the news. But that is another story.

Goat Canyon Trestle Goat Canyon Trestle, the worlds longest Wooden Trestle

The section of rail that goes through the Carrizo Gorge is one of the main reasons the San Diego and Arizona Railway was called the "Impossible Railroad".   There is a rich history around this rail that dates back to the track's completion in 1919. It is also worth checking out the DesertUSA website for updates on the progress (really the lack thereof) of this defunct railway).

From San Diego take Interstate 8 about 70 miles east.Take the Jacumba exit. Turn right at the Jacumba Exit. Travel west on Carrizo Gorge Road. After about 1.5 miles you will pass under the Interstate 8. Look for a pull out on your right. drections Alternately you can page in the dirt parking lot across from the gas stations.drections  

The Jacumba area gets exceptionally hot spring through fall making this a winter time ride. There is not water available along the route. While riding along the tracks is non-technical you will have to go around at least a few collapsed tunnels The go-around trails have sections of nasty exposure and some technical bits, typically in conjunction with the exposure. Cholla (The most evil of all the cacti) is abundant on these go arounds. Bring a light for the tunnels.

Maps and Resources
Trailsforks Map. Mobile TIP: Access fullscreen via Expand
GPS Files for all trails in area: GPX
Featured routes in this area (See Description Below):
Out And Back From Top: GPX Long Trailforks Long Ride
Old School Map (PDF)
NobleCanyonMap-LR.JPG (536004 bytes)
Related BLOG Posts
Related Blog Posts



Ride Notes:

Thanks to Eric Hagerty for providing most of these pictures.

Let me start off my saying this is an exceptionally easy ride as far as mountain bike rides go.   You could easily do this ride on a beach cruiser with the exception on few optional single tracks that bypass the tunnels.  These single tracks were not always optional but all of the tunnels have been reopened with the exception of one of them.   These single tracks have some extreme exposure where the penalty for failure could be extreme.  The ride is a consistent two percent grade so you will barely notice any elevation change along the tracks.

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We started this ride out in the parking lot across the street from the two gas stations at the Jacumba exit off the I-8.  From here we headed west along a dirt road the after 1.5 miles went under the freeway.  You will see the railroad tracks off to your left.  As you come into the De Anza Springs resort (a clothing optional place), you will see a small trail heading across the lawn.  Take that out to the tracks.

CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-27.JPG (181787 bytes)CarrizoGorge-1JAN04-Eric-23.JPG (160214 bytes)Once on the tracks it is pretty darn hard to get lost.  The first trestle you come to (which is probably the shortest as well) is the only trestle that does not have a suitable grating on the side to ride on.  So for this one you will have to ride on the tracks.  Riding on the steel grating of on the trestles take a bit of getting used to.  Your knobby tires will wave back and forth slightly as they track along the grating.  Combined with the fact that can look straight through the grate to ground sometimes hundreds of feet below, this can give you a very uneasy feeling they may want you to tense up and try to correct when you tires drift.   Just relax and let the tires come to their own arrangement with the grating.  You with find that you will ultimately keep going in the right direction.  Also there are cable wire railing on the side of all but two trestles so there will be something there to catch you.  But I would not chance having to trust them.

The entire ride is interspersed with both tunnels and trestles. Some of the tunnels are quite long and you should bring a light as the get absolutely bitch black. To quote the ever-wise Sponge Bob Square Pants, "This is not normal darkness, This is advanced Darkness"

Trestles Trestles Trestles

One of the main attractions on this ride is the Goat Canyon Trestle. It is the longest curved wooden trestle in the world and the second longest wooden trestle.   At somewhere around 200 feet high and 750 feet long it is a very impressive sight to see. If you are afraid of heights the trestle could wig you out a little.

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Here are some views of some of the other trestle running along the steep slopes of the gorge.

Tunnels Tunnels and more Tunnels

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About 2 miles past Goat Canyon you come to some overturned cars off down the side of the gorge.  After initially posting this page, Duane Dixon emailed me and said that according to the folks at the San Diego Railroad Museum these rail cars where used in a couple of movie stunts

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To the left are some more box cars that meet an interesting demise. (Also part of the movie stunts)

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We had a geologist on the ride with us and he was quite intrigued by some some seismic events that have occurred in the area On the left you can see a slump in the hillside on on the right you can see a tunnel that was abandoned in 1920 after an earthquake caved in a portion and caused the entire tunnel to slide down the hill somewhat.

Here are a few shots of the on going work to reopen the last collapsed tunnel. There are plans to recommence freight service soon through the gorge
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Here are a couple of shots of one of the singletrack tunnel bypasses
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Here are some additional pictures of Carrizo Gorge
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We did this ride as an out and back and did not go all the way down to Octillo.  The map does include the entire route should you chose to did as a shuttle.