By Karen Carlson
Many of you know that I am an equestrian and my horse Cricket and I explore the trails all over San Diego County and beyond. What you may not know is that most trails that are suitable for riding a horse are also suitable for hiking and sometimes bicycling. Yes, I just said that; horses, hikers and bicyclists all often use, and are on, the same trail — at the same time.
We are so fortunate in Ramona to be in the center of the county so no place is really that far away. From beach to desert to mountains, we are able to get out into the outdoors and commune with nature and ourselves. Riding right here at home often provides the solace needed from time to time and is of course the least expensive means of getting outside and getting some exercise.
You may be aware that Ramona is surrounded by Cleveland National Forest lands and, on that note, are you aware that these are public lands and accessible to you? Well, get set to get out into the wide open spaces!
One of the more challenging trails is a Forest Route Road also dubbed the Upper Santa Ysabel Truck Trail (USYTT). I looked at it on Google Earth before I set out which is something I always recommend. It helps keep your bearings when on a new trail. Google Earth is my greatest trail ally.
The trail runs from Lake Sutherland to Pamo Road. USYTT is about five miles one way, and several trails intersect with it. Most are Forest Road (Route), dirt, and ranch road type trails, at least for the most part.
Cleveland National Forest rangers use these roads (trails) to patrol the area. Staging at the end of Sutherland Dam Road is your best bet for parking. This is a small, open, dirt patch on the side of the roadway at the end by the lake. There are no amenities like tie rails, water or restrooms. Lock your rig with no valuables inside.
You can park along Pamo Road at the other end of the trail as well. You must park along the roadside as there is no staging area on the west end of the trail, then enter at the forest gate, which is clearly marked and about two miles in on the right (or east) side of the road. If the gate is locked, there is a step-over for access on the right side of the gate entrance.
From the Sutherland Dam end, the trail heads left, up the hill going north and west, then forks with USYTT heading left, or west, and Black Mountain (Road) Truck Trail heading right or northeast (I do not recommend BMTT for riding or hiking due to vehicular traffic). At the Historic Bridge (built in 1913) simply head right, then at the fork go left. There was a sign up there to make it easier, but often trail markers and signs are absent or missing in CNF lands.
The trail runs atop and along the hills of the Cleveland National Forest. Since it is a road for the rangers and there is a viewpoint on top, you may run into motor vehicles from time to time, but it is doubtful. There is no shade, and water crossings are possible in several areas. It is also quite steep and a climb in areas, so try not to ride or hike here on warmer days. With a little research and planning, you can have a challenging 10-mile (round trip) ride.
From the Pamo Road end there is a long climb that takes you up about 1,000 feet in elevation before it levels off a bit. Keep right from this direction. You will be riding up then back down on this trail and areas can be nerve-racking for the “height challenged” like me. I recommend watering your horse well before you ride and having water available at the trailer upon your return, or having someone drop you off at one end and pick you up at the other end.
The forest roads (routes) are rutted in areas, especially after a recent rain, and bicycles may find many of them too difficult to traverse. Rocky in a few areas, the terrain is not too bad on Cricket’s hooves.
Be aware that an Adventure Pass is required to park at either end of the trail. They are available for $30 (a second for $5) for the entire year and are good for many locations throughout the State of California and a very good deal. You may obtain a pass at the Chevron Station at the Main and Eighth Street intersection or go to the Forest Office on Black Canyon Road. The CNF phone number is 760-788-0250 and you are likely to get an automated message — budget cuts have affected everyone, but you may get lucky and get an answer. I do check the CNF website www.fs.usda.gov/cleveland/ to ensure the trail I want to ride is open. Check before you haul is a good habit to have.
The Adventure Pass is great to have since Ramona is surrounded by national forest lands and there are thousands of acres to be explored by foot or by hoof! Maybe we’ll cross paths on the trail sometime. I hope we do.