Let me just start by saying, San Diego is not considered a mecca of mountain biking.
When you think of the world’s top spots —Moab, Whistler, Santa Cruz —it really doesn’t even come to mind.
But it’s not because San Diego doesn’t have world-class trails. It definitely does.
It also has a few other things going for it.
For starters, with an annual average temperature of 70 degrees, and high temps in the 60s in winter, it can be a nice respite when the icicles start forming on your gutters.
San Diego also has many options for activities outside of riding, including an interesting old-town area and miles of open beaches.
But back to what you came here for: Here are our 5 favorite mountain biking trails in San Diego.
(1) Noble Canyon
I’m starting with one of the harder-to-access San Diego rides with good reason: it’s my favorite.
Located 40-minutes by car from downtown, Noble Canyon offers 18 miles of technical single track that makes it by far the best trail in San Diego.
I’ve found the easiest way to do Noble Canyon is to ride up the paved fire road that connects the bottom of the trailhead with the top. But the ride can also be shuttled, and if I’m honest, this is how most of my friends do it.
Either way, going up the pavement avoids having to worry about head-ons, and makes the overall ride much quicker.
A few notes: The trail is pretty smooth and fast on the top section. But once you reach the horse gate, it becomes more technical with some rock drops.
Even lower, when the terrain and vegetation changes from chaparral to desert, the trail narrows and becomes more exposed above the canyon floor.
My best advice is to take it slow the first time you ride Noble.
(2) Balboa Park
The polar opposite ride of Noble Canyon is Balboa Park.
Balboa Park is located literally in downtown San Diego, and is one of the most heavily-touristed areas in town.
But like all things California, 5 minutes away from the hustle and bustle is a nice trail network to keep you busy for a few hours.
The entire area of Balboa Park is small, 1200 acres in total. But that makes the trails easy to find and impossible to get lost on.
I recommend what the locals call the Balboa Loop, which consists of riding the trail at the outer edge of the park. Once you have done this, you can use the trail next to Pershing Drive to make it a figure eight and hit the same section you just rode, except backwards.
This also make for some interesting sightseeing of the gardens and some of the park’s iconic buildings.
(3) Black Mountain Open Space
Now back to some more serious riding.
I should start by thanking the San Diego Mountain Bike Association for the existence of Black Mountain. The organization’s tireless efforts to work with the City of San Diego to create this multi-use trail network demands a huge kudos.
And on to the riding.
Black Mountain offers challenging climbs and moderately-technical single track, all with beautiful views of the surrounding area.
There are many loops available at Black Mountain, but the Lilac Miners Summit route takes you to the top and is my recommendation. You can then ride the extended spur, which makes for a great 2- to 4-hour out-and-back ride.
The best part about Black Mountain is that it’s well marked. One note though, if you’re riding Black Mountain in summer, bring plenty of water. The trail gets lots of sun, and can be hot.
Because it’s also surrounded by a major urban area, I also recommend being extra polite to other trail users.
Calling this area Fortuna is a bit of a misnomer, but it’s the name preferred by locals. A more accurate designation would be Mission Hills Regional Park, and the network of trails within the park carry the Fortuna designation (more on that later).
This riding area is located just East of San Diego, near the city of La Mesa. Because it’s so close to the urban sprawl, Fortuna is one of the more heavily-trafficked open spaces near the city.
That said, it’s also one of the best riding areas within a short drive of downtown.
I recommend starting with the Fortuna Saddle Trail, which traverses the preserve southwest to northeast, and is comprised of paved fire road and dirt doubletrack.
This trail leads to the Fortuna Saddle, which offers amazing hilltop views and sets you up to ride the many intersecting trails.
If you are searching for something technical, try the North Fortuna Trail, with a loop-back on the North Perimeter Trail. If you’re just cruising, consider South Fortuna Trail up to the top of Fortuna Summit.
It’s an out-and-back, as the trails leading from here are closed to mountain bikers. But it’s still worth the pedal because of the vistas.
(5) Noble Canyon
Okay, okay, so I am repeating my number 1. But that’s because it’s my number one favorite trail down in San Diego.
I’m also repeating Noble because it is better the second time through, when you know how to get there and what to expect with the terrain. So rather than messing around trying some lesser ride, just head back to Noble and enjoy all this beautiful area has to offer.
Local Secret Series: 5 Best Mountain Bike Trails in Moab