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Mountain Bike Trails of North County San Diego

mountain biking san diego

For the cycling enthusiast that prefers dirt and rocks over asphalt and cement, these North County San Diego mountain bike trails are for you!


The Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve entrance is located at 8833 Harmony Grove Rd. in Escondido California, just past San Elijo. The park contains approximately 750 acres located within the Olivenhain Municipal Water District. The park offers moderate elevation changes, scenic mountain views to the east and ocean views to the west. You will also find a variety of wildlife among the coastal sage-scrub and chaparral.

Elfin Forest has approximately 17 miles of mountain biking, hiking and equestrian trails. It’s considered an intermediate ride due to the elevation change and moderate technical challenges. This is an out-and–back ride with several loops at the top. Check the trail map at the parking lot for guidance.


  • There are two parking lots at the park entrance off Harmony Grove Road. Parking is limited, so carpooling is highly recommended.


The Rancho La Costa Preserve is a the small mountain open space located near where the communities of Carlsbad, Encinitas, San Marcos, and Olivenhain converge in coastal North County San Diego. With maybe six miles of trails here, it’s a gem of a neighborhood trail. What this place lacks in mileage it makes up for with “smileage.”

While in nearly all directions you can see residential development, there is still the sense that you’ve escaped to high ground. Most of the trails are semi-buff single tracks with a few rocky areas, there is one trail dubbed “NASCAR” that will be challenging for most intermediate riders on cross-country and all-mountain bikes.


  • Take the Leucadia Blvd exit off I-5 and turn east away from the ocean. After about a mile and a half, Leucadia Blvd. becomes Olivenhain Rd. and that becomes Rancho Santa Fe Road after another mile. After a couple of miles, turn right onto Camino Junipero. Turn left at the first street, Corte Romero. Park alongside the green belt area.


Located in the northeast part of Carlsbad and bordering the City of Oceanside, Lake Calavera is an open space preserve that is popular with hikers, mountain bikers and nature lovers. Lake Calavera Preserve was set aside to conserve natural lands for the protection of native plants and wildlife. Recreational activities, such as hiking and mountain biking, are conditionally allowed, but must be compatible with habitat and species protection.

Lake Calavera Preserve is surrounded by about 100,000 residents. Although not crowded at all times, the trails on this preserve can get pretty busy, even midweek. It’s important to watch for residents walking their dogs or out for a hike. There are also plenty of trails that will end in frustration, as they will be fenced off just as you get going on the ride. Check the trail map posted for the most updated access.


  • From I-5, you’ll exit either Tamarack or Carlsbad Village Dr. These streets will intersect about 8 miles east of the coast. Continue on Tamarack for another block, cross College, and you’ll be at the Strata trail parking lot. This lot is really small, so you might want to park closer to the preserve off Tamarack. Rather than crossing College, you’ll turn left. Then, turn right at Tamarack East, and follow until you see Calavera Hill on the right. Park along the street.

A Few FYI’s:

  • Since these trails are considered “multi-use”, it’s a good idea to use a Bear Bell to warn equestrians and hikers of your approach.
  • If you encounter equestrians on the trail, dismount your bike in the immediate vicinity of horses.
  • On most trails, freelance trail building or stunt construction will not be tolerated. Please remember to be good stewards of the trails!
  • Make sure to be courteous to your fellow trail enthusiasts! The local mountain biking trail advocates have culitivated great relationships with the land managers of the trails and all those that enjoy them would like to keep it that way.

Your Turn…

Do you have a favorite North County mountain bike trail? Let us know in the comments below…

Happy Trails!

Sugar Jones: Sugar Jones has been blogging about life since 2008. She has contributed to various local news stations for lifestyle segments, speaking about tech, social media, travel, food, and family.