Happening Now: Riding Past Current SoCal Road Closures

Happening Now: Riding Past Current SoCal Road Closures

The classic California combination of an earthquake, a brush fire, and a landslide often imperils the best riding roads in the state. That has never been more true than at the present.

Wet weather, following wildfires, took some of the most popular routes out of commission for most of 2023—a situation that will be true well into 2024.

The worst of the road closures affected Angeles Crest Highway from Los Angeles to Wrightwood, Pacific Coast Highway from Lucia to Big Sur, and SR 39 in the San Gabriel Valley.

But that’s no reason to stop riding. Here are some alternate routes that will almost make up for the closures and get you to more or less the same locations.

Angeles Crest Highway (SR 2)

This massively popular Los Angeles County ridge route, which attracts all kinds of motoring enthusiasts nearly all year long, is closed from Red Box Canyon to Upper Big Tujunga, and then again from SR 39 to Vincent Gulch Divide.

To enjoy some of the best of the Crest, either use the portion that runs from La Cañada to Mount Wilson or enter the mountains via Big Tujunga Canyon Rd, connect to Angeles Forest Hwy, and then use Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Rd to connect to the Crest. You can ride this section through some of the best scenery and twistiest corners.

To get to Wrightwood—and to avoid freeways while doing so—use Big Tujunga Canyon Rd to connect to Angeles Forest Hwy going north. Continue to Mount Emma Rd, and then onto Frot Tejon Rd, followed by Valyermo Rd. This turns into Big Pines Hwy, which in turn runs right into the Crest a few miles west of Wrightwood.

There are attractions along the way. Check out Big Tujunga Dam Overlook, Devil’s Punchbowl, Saint Andrews Abbey, and Jackson Lake.

Pacific Coast Highway (SR 1)

The mightiest of California’s scenic roadways draws drivers, riders, and tourists from all over the globe. But for much of the last three years, some of its prettiest sections have been closed by mudslides and landslides that followed a series of devastating fires and rainstorms.

It’s still possible to ride north past Cambria and San Simeon to the hardly-a-place-on-the-map Lucia, which boasts a hotel, a restaurant, and nothing else. It’s also possible to go south from Monterey and Carmel to Big Sur, which features all kinds of lodging and dining options. The section in between, however, is closed.

For the last two years, I’ve used alternate routes for my annual pilgrimage to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel Valley. One of my favorites follows the coastline a few miles inland, where there are no road closures to contend with.

After passing through the beach cities of Morro Bay and Cayucos, and maybe detouring for a meal in charming Cambria, take SR 46 inland through the wine country to US 101. Take this north for two exits before turning left onto 24th St in Paso Robles and then right onto Nacimiento Lake Dr.

Stay on this road as it turns in Godfrey Rd, rises past Lake Nacimiento, and then turns back into Nacimiento Lake Dr. Just before it hits US 101, swing left onto Jolon Rd, which runs through the communities of Lockwood and Jolon and some very scenic countryside until finally passing an exit for Fort Hunter-Liggett.

Stop here if you like military bases or are interested in California’s mission system. Mission San Antonio de Padua, one of the state’s most beautiful, will take you about 15 minutes out of your way.

As a little-known fact, there’s a hotel on the military base, built for publishing giant William Randolph Hearst by the same architect who designed his famous castle at San Simeon. Originally a hunting lodge for Hearst and his guests, it is now known as Hearst Hacienda Lodge.

Stay on Jolon Rd north back to US 101 and take the highway north a few miles to the town of Greenfield. Here, find Arroyo Seco Rd, which will become E Carmel Valley Rd, for the ride of a lifetime.

A narrow, little-traveled two-lane road rises up into the hills separating the Salinas Valley from the coastal cities of Carmel and Monterey. The twisties are endless, many under the shade or ancient oak trees and running past vineyards.

Continue on Carmel Valley Rd until it ends at SR 1 and you are back on track for the coastal ride through California.

SR 39

Old-timers will remember the days when a motorcyclist, bicyclist, or automobile enthusiast could make a large, beautiful circle using SR 210, SR 39, and Angeles Crest Hwy. The loop linked high-speed slab to the storied Angeles Crest ridge route via one of the twistiest and most dynamic roads in Southern California.

SR 39 rises from the flatland community of Azusa (which civic boosters said contains “everything from A to Z in the USA”) through the deep gorge of San Gabriel Canyon. This road squirrels along for 30 miles of increasingly tight corners past two massive reservoirs, a large OHV park, and alongside a burbling brook.

In time, it passes a turnoff for the quaint snack shop and camp ground at Crystal Lake before continuing another four miles or so until it hits the Crest at Islip Saddle.

But no more. SR 39 has been gated just above Crystal Lake since 1978 when a rockslide made the road impassable. For reasons that are not entirely clear, it has never reopened, despite periodical plans and promises to do so.

Instead, use SR 39 to ride up to Crystal Lake, climbing a section that cyclists describe as the shortest distance and the greatest elevation gain in the southland. After a snack at the lake, ride back down SR 39—but this time, take a left over a bridge that crosses the San Gabriel River onto E Fork Rd.

This road will turn into the insanely twisty Glendora Mountain Rd (GMR to locals), which then hits Glendora Ridge Rd. To the left, it’s 12 miles to the delightful village of Mount Baldy. From here, the main Mount Baldy Rd drops over a scenic stretch back down to the freeway at SR 210.

Alternatively, visit Mount Baldy and return as you came, then continue straight down Glendora Ridge Rd to the intersection with the GMR. Go straight another 11 miles back to SR 210.