California is known for a lot of things, from Hollywood to surfing beaches, and the often laid-back culture of the cities. But you might not know that California is also an incredible state for riding ATVs and other off-road vehicles.
California’s large size, varied ecosystems and terrains, and the many parks make for a fantastic place to ride ATVs. Not to mention that ATV riding is a great way to see a side of California that many tourists and even residents forget or overlook.
If you love ATV riding or want to see the wild side of California outside of Hollywood, you’re in the right place.
Top ATV Trails In California:
Because California is such a huge state, there’s no way we can list all of the ATV trails and riding opportunities you can find in the state here. We’re going to list some of the most popular and most well-rated options, but it’s always a good idea to ask friends and family who’ve ridden California trails if they have their own recommendations.
Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find hidden gem trails and the most beautiful vistas.
And remember, California is such a big state that there’s no way you’ll be able to see everything you want to see or do everything you want to do in one trip. If you have a great time in California on that first visit, you can always plan another ATV tour in the future.
Now, without further ado, here are some of the best ATV trails and riding opportunities you can find in California.
Crowley Lake Columns
This is a 4.2 mile out and back trail, and it’s best for people who have some experience with this kind of trail before. It’s a highly popular hiking trail area so don’t be surprised if you see some hikers while you’re on the trail.
This trail has a long peak season, which is nice since you can visit any time from May to October and have peak performance.
Both the beginning and the end of the trail have fantastic ocean views, and the whole trail has plenty of incredible views all the way through.
Lost Horse Loop
Another moderately challenging trail, this loop generally takes a bit more than two and half hours for the full loop. You're also in for a fun loop here during the typical ATV off-season, because the Lost Horse Loop really is at its best October through April.
No dogs allowed here, and this is a multi-use area, so you'll probably see other off-road vehicles in the area, and maybe even a few hikers on the trail.
You’ll also get almost 900 ft of elevation gain going up and down Lost Horse mountain and incredible views of the desert.
Just remember that you’re in Joshua Tree National Park and there is a lot of protected flora and fauna out there. It’s important to stick to the trails and not wander too far away unless you know what you’re looking for and how to avoid causing harm to the rare desert plants that call this area home.
Remember, like any alpine area, desert areas tend to have long growth cycles and very little growth in short periods. That means that any damage you do while visiting the Lost Horse Loop is likely to be there for years to come, so being mindful of the environment is critical to preserving this trail for the future.
Gold Fever OHV Trail
Never done a point-to-point trail before? The Gold Fever OHV trail is a great first time point to point trail for moderately skilled ATV riders.
Like a lot of the trails in California, this is a little bit of a higher-skill trail because of the long route, the variety of terrains and vistas is incredibly captivating.
However, this trail is pretty well known so it can be a little crowded. If you’re looking for more solitude on the trail, you might want to skip this one.
That said, this trail is open year-round, so you might be able to get a little more solitude if you're riding during the off-season.
Holcomb Valley OHV Road
Another great point-to-point trail (and it's nice riding in a state that has enough land set aside for this kind of run) is an easier route than a lot of the others on this list.
It takes an average of just over 4 hours to complete this trail, at just under 11 miles to cover.
However, it’s also a very popular run and tends to be even more crowded because of how easy it is to ride this trail.
Pioneertown to Big Bear OHV area
Looking for a longer point-to-point run? This is another easy route, this one is crowded, but long enough that you can actually find a bit of solitude on the trail. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is a great place to get that experience.
Plus you’re driving through the Bighorn Mountain Wilderness area, so it’s a great chance to admire an incredible ecosystem, with a chance to see some of the amazing animals who live in this area.
Pilot Rock OHV Trail
This 11.3 mile trail is a fun ride with plenty of coastal views along one side of the trail, and inland terrain and ecosystems so it gives you a good variety of the California experience.
Just be aware that you are going to see other people on this trail, and dogs are welcome. All dogs should be on a leash, but drivers should be aware that there is an increased possibility of encountering a dog while you’re on this trail.
Santiago Peak Via Maple Springs
This 9.5 mile trail isn’t for the faint of heart. The trail itself is only a moderately difficult ride, suitable for an intermediate or advanced ATV rider. However, the challenges start before you get on the trail. Having a 4x4 vehicle bringing your ATV out is a must.
Most people spend a little over 4 hours on this trail, which can give you a sense of how difficult it really is since the trail itself is under 10 miles long. You'll gain more than 1,400 ft in elevation over the course of the trail, and this is an out-and-back trail, not a loop.
The rocky terrain and sometimes complicated turns and elevation gain all contribute to the difficulty of the trail.
It’s also important to note that this location can close due to weather conditions, fires, and flooding. You should always check on trail status before you head out, and keep an eye out for signs that the trail is closed since emergencies can force an unexpected closure at any time.
Bee Canyon is a shorter run that’s considered one of the best desert scenic roots you can find in California.
This is one of the most beautiful 4-mile runs you can make, and the desert location means it's open year-round. There is also OHV camping nearby if you want to take a more extended trip in the area.
However, like most of California’s desert ecosystems, this area is pretty delicate and it's important to stay on marked trails and human-use areas.
Dumont Dunes is a great place to go if you want to experience sand riding on an ATV. It's 13 square miles of area and allows ATVs, UTVs, motorcycles and dirt bikes, and 4x4s.
However, like a lot of dunes locations, the cost is a little higher for this location at $30 per vehicle for a day pass or $40 for a holiday or weekly pass.
Glamis (Imperial Sand Dunes)
Want an even larger Dunes experience? Glamis is 34 square miles and also accepts drivers of all experience levels and the same vehicles as Dumont Dunes.
However, the larger size also comes with higher fees, and you can expect a $50 permit fee or $150 for a seasonal pass to drive in Glamis.
Honestly for people who live in the area or are going to visit Glamis twice or more in a year, the season pass is very worth it.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Here are a couple of the most commonly asked questions about ATV riding in California.
How Should I Prepare For An ATV Ride In California?
More even than most states it’s important to check the difficulty level of the trails you’re riding, as well as making sure the trails are open before you head out for the day.
California has a huge range of terrain types, and a lot of trails are on the difficult side.
The weather and riding conditions are also highly unpredictable in some of the best riding spots, and the fires in California the last few years have proven how quickly a fire can start and how easily they can cut off trails and access routes.
Always make sure you’re checking your safety postings, difficulties, and everything before you head out.
Are There Any Unique Safety Measures or Rules I Should Be Aware of While Riding ATV Trails In California?
The biggest unique regulation you need to know about in California is that out-of-state visitors are required to purchase a non-resident permit to ride on ATV public lands. That doesn’t necessarily apply to private land like an ATV riding club, but it does apply to most of the trails and parks we’ve mentioned here.
Also, with the difficulty of riding in the state, it’s critical to never go out alone. Make sure you have at least one other person with you, ideally two, and know the limits of your skills and your ATV’s capabilities before you hit the trail.
If you find something more difficult than you think you can handle, turning around is generally better than trying to push through it.
Are There Any Guided ATV Tour Trails In California?
There are! In fact, there are a lot of different tour trails, and tours range from designed for complete beginners to challenge runs for more experienced riders.
If you’re looking for a guided ATV tour, it’s a good idea to look for tours in the area you’re visiting. Chances are there’s going to be a couple of different options. Call ahead to talk about skill requirements and anything else you need to know before signing up for a specific tour.
Ready To Hit California’s Best ATV Trails?