Trail Grams: The Gabrielino Trail


Jim Hasenauer enjoys a ride on Southern California’s Gabrielino Trail. Hasenauer was one of the co-founders of CORBA (Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association) and is a member of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. (Photo by Steve Messer)

It’s so exciting to have the Gabrielino Trail open again (MBA, January 2019)! This trail has something for every mountain biker. The Gabrielino Trail is 28 miles long, with four main trailheads at Chantry Flat, Redbox, Switzers, and the corner of Windsor and Ventura in Altadena by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

The out-and-back ride from JPL to Brown Mountain Dam is a local favorite, with a gentle grade and a dozen creek crossings. The most popular shuttled section is from Redbox to Switzers—four miles of swoopy technical singletrack with some extra-chunky rock gardens, switchbacks and stream crossings. A great point-to-point shuttle is from Redbox to JPL. For bikepackers, the trail passes five campgrounds, none of which are vehicle accessible. The trail passes three waterfalls and a dam and offers a variety of views of the San Gabriel Mountains and the city below.

No matter which way you ride it, there will probably be some hike-a-bike involved. “The Gab,” as the locals call it, is a historic trail that wasn’t built to modern standards. It’s narrow, exposed and very technical in places. There is steep cliff-side exposure in many places where a mistake could have dire consequences, and there’s no cell phone coverage to call for a rescue (don’t ride it alone!). Much of the trail follows stream beds, which can affect the trail after heavy rains. One section is listed on maps as “unmaintained primitive trail,” as the trail follows the wide sand and gravel wash behind Brown Mountain Dam for a mile and changes with every winter storm.

But, it’s all of these things that make the trail so special. It’s a true backcountry trail that starts from the edge of the city. Each section has its own character, and just about everyone will find a section they’ll call their favorite and at least one they’ll dislike (but suffer through to enjoy the rest!).

Jim Hasenauer
San Fernando Valley, CA

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