Mountain Bike Bill, Get the Dirt on the Dirt

Thomas Mountain and the Ramona Trail

Thomas Mountain located near Lake Hemet and the San Jacinto Mountains is a 17 mile loop ride that is a great aerobic workout as you climb over 8 miles up a dirt/fire road followed by and a great descent down the Ramona trail that will keep you on your toes while providing you with stunning views of the Garner Valley and surrounding mountains.  Located very close to the Hurkey Creek campground as well being near Idyllwild this is a great ride to do if you are going to check out the riding scene in the area.
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Here is a PDFmap of Thomas Mountain and the Ramona Trail

GPS Files for all trails and spurs on the immediate area: TOPO!, GDB, GPX, KML.  

The route described: GPX Described Trailforks Route

Thomas Mountain Posts

DIRECTIONS: You can do this loop starting from either the bottom of the Ramona Trail or at the start of the Thomas Mountain Truck Trail. It depends on if you want to do the 2.8 mile road part of the loop at the beginning or end of the ride.

RIDE NOTES: These notes are for starting at the beginning of Thomas Mountain Truck Trail.  Add to 2.8 miles to the mileage I mention if you start from Ramona Trailhead.     

2021 Update

I did not ride this trail between December 2006 and May of 2021. I was pretty surprised at how much the trail had changed during that timeframe. The bottom section of the Ramona trail is a mere shadow of the raw technical goodness that is was during my pre-2006 rides. It is way smoothed out with lots of rocks kicked out of the trail. I can't call it sanitized, but it is no where near as challenging. While the offical trail name has always been the Ramona trail, it was typically referred to as the Ramona Downhill as climbing it was for the most part nearly out of the question. That is not the case anymore as the trail has be tamed enough to make climbing up the trail an option. From my asking around this taming happened in the general timeframe of 2017-18ish. This is still a fantastic trail, but if you used to ride it back in "The Day" and you are expecting the same raw technical on-your-toes experience, you will most likely be disappointed on your first return. You will still have a great time but just realize it is going to be a little different.
While some of the published routes for this ride have you starting on Thomas Mountain fire road from the northwest end near Lake Hemet, the ride described here was done starting from the southeast end.  On the map above I show the route we took in red and the route from Lake Hemet is shown in blue.

    I first did this ride with Mike Kim on December 20th, 2003 with an early start.  It was quite nippy by Southern California standards (around 40 degrees) at 4,750 feet.   The initial climb was actually welcomed as it was guaranteed to get us warmed up a little.  The fireroad was not too tough  and we made good time up to the ridgeline at the 1.2 mile mark where we broke out into some welcomed sunshine..
ThomasMT-20DEC03-Pan-LookingSouth.jpg (502132 bytes)Here is a panoramic shot take once up on the ridgeline at Point A (see map) looking south-southwest across the Cahuilla and Anza Valley at the Iron Spring (near) and Palomar (far) Mountains in the distance.

ThomasMT-RamonaTrail-20DEC03-12.JPG (139286 bytes)RamonaTrail-20DEC03-SShot-5.jpg (85178 bytes)The next section of mountain road started out as chaparral and slowly gave way to sparse pine trees as we climbed  up to Toolbox Springs Campground at 6,150 feet at mile 5.5.    This is the "traditional" start of the Ramona trail.  We did something different that added some more singletrack.  We picked up the Ramona trail off to the right of the restrooms.   (The picture to the left was taken from the trail).  We then rode down the trail for maybe 100 yards and then hung a left onto another single track.  I am unsure what the trail name is, but it is labeled with a USFS trail marker that does show it is open to Mountain Bikes.

RamonaTrail-20DEC03-SShot-7.jpg (58352 bytes)RamonaTrail-20DEC03-SShot-12.jpg (52441 bytes)We followed this rolling singletrack (more rolling up than down) until at mile 6.15 it crossed a fireroad that connects some primitive campsites to Thomass Mountain Road. We did not continue on the singletrack at this point. Instead we hung and left on the fireroad and went uphill. We rejoined Thomas Mountain road at mile 6.5 and continued uphill (to the right). This section of singletrack is a nice break from the climbing, but you may just want to continue on Thomas Mountain Road instead of taking this side trip as you will go down this singletrack latter in the ride. (My GPX route, reflects staying on the road)

ThomasMT-RamonaTrail-20DEC03-13.JPG (145846 bytes)ThomasMT-RamonaTrail-20DEC03-16.JPG (153622 bytes)From this point the climbing became a little more intensive and the pine trees became larger and views just kept getting better.  We also starting noticing the remnants of snow in the shade which is always nice to see in SoCal.   At 8.3 miles we peaked out at 6,667 feet near the peak of Thomas Mountain.  There is a trail off to the left that takes you up to the peak at 6,825 feet (we did not take it).  From here Thomas Mountain Road turns downhill, but we only went a short ways (at little over .1 mile) to the first sharp turn (left) where we picked up a single track.   There is a trail marker right in the middle of the turn so it is somewhat hard to miss.  The trail does not have a signed name or forest service trail number.  For lack of anything else I will refer to it as Upper Ramona Trail.(Update: As of May 2021, the trail marker does not reflect a name or number but the update forest service maps show it to be "Thomas Mountain Bike Trail", number 3E37.)

ThomasMT-RamonaTrail-20DEC03-15.JPG (80758 bytes) ThomasMT-RamonaTrail-20DEC03-19.JPG (154539 bytes)If I had to describe this upper trail in one word it would be CHANGE. Up near the top the trail is somewhat soft as you weave through pine trees on mostly buff trails. However there are small technical sections that pop here and there that can trip you up if you do not pay attention. There are also a few roots to contend with as well that could get you an unscheduled dismount if you start zoning out. The top of the singletrack started out rolling through a wide open meadow that cut through sparsely spaced pines that provided a very alpine feeling to the experience.  The trail did have a few tight places and transited through dense brush along the hillside at times.

ThomasMT-RamonaTrail-20DEC03-18.JPG (110575 bytes)ThomasMT-RamonaTrail-20DEC03-17.JPG (92691 bytes)After 2 miles or so of fun singletrack riding we crossed campsite fire road at mile 10.75 where we came out on before. This time we went straight across the fireroad and enjoyed this section of the trails going the other direction. We soon were back to where we had originally peeled off from the traditional Ramona trail.  We hung a left here and the trail started to get a little more technical with rocks and roots as well as some tight switchbacks.  The trail made you stay on our toes as sections of rocks would often pop up around corners they required you to stay fully engaged mentally.  This added a really cool feel to the trail.   

ThomasMT-RamonaTrail-20DEC03-14.JPG (70103 bytes) RamonaTrail-20DEC03-SShot-1.jpg (89410 bytes)The upper portion of the trail has quite a few sweeping turns that offer stunning views of the Garner Valley as well as Santa Rosa Mountains off in the distance.  It would be worth your time to take a break and take it all in at least once during the descent.

RamonaTrail-20DEC03-SShot-10.jpg (64456 bytes)RamonaTrail-20DEC03-SShot-13.jpg (56794 bytes) For many of the rock sections the adage "Speed is your Friend" is quite true because many of these rocks could get you an express pass to Endo City if you hit them going too slow. The further down the trail we went the more technical the trail got as it transitioned from pines to chaparral. The lower portions of the trail were quite reminiscent of Noble Canyon with lots of small rock drops and loose sections. As of 2021, this trail is a lot less like Noble Canyon and the speed is your friend thing is less of a concern.

RamonaTrail-20DEC03-SShot-14.jpg (48241 bytes)RamonaTrail-20DEC03-SShot-15.jpg (42898 bytes) The switchbacks also got harder as they became more armored with large enough rocks that required some interesting weight shifts while navigating the turn. (As of 2021, I just don't think this is the case, the trail is not longer like Noble Canyon. It is still a technical trail but it is much more of like a flow trail down at the bottom.   Ultimately the trail dumps out onto HWY 74 at mile 14.8.  You will hang a right and take the highway for 1.5 miles until you reach Pyramid Peak road where you will hang a right and go .4 miles to a T-junction at Hop Patch Springs road where you hang and left and go .8 miles back up to your parked vehicle. If this is where you started the loop, your done! Hopefully you have a cooler with something tasty and cold in it.  If not you can head over to the Paradise Cafe at the junction of Hwy 371 and 74 where you can both tasty beverages and grub.  

2021 VIDEO


2003 VIDEO



Here is a video of the ride on December 20th, 2003.  29MB

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Here are some video capture shots