Well, we’ve reached the apex of our Cali trails breakdown, and we’re ready-and-waiting with a nice long list of can’t-miss trail runs in Southern California. Known for its ideal weather, enviable coastline, and endless array of celebrity sightings, SoCal is one of the most recognized regions in the world. But what many guides gloss over and tourists sadly miss are the downright majestic natural wonders the area has to offer.
From the enigmatic diversity of Death Valley to the gold rush history of Big Bear Lake, down to the rolling waves revealing tucked-away coves, there’s much more to see than big cities and traditional tourist traps. So, if you find yourself (and your trusty 4×4) in the SoCal region, see if it lines up with one of these must-do trail runs—or simply set out on your own and choose your own adventure!
Panamint Valley Days
As we were quick to state in our other trail run breakdowns, if it weren’t for non-profit interest groups like CORVA and Cal4Wheel, off-road recreation in California would be shockingly limited. These organizations spend an inordinate amount of time and resources lobbying for enthusiasts’ right to access these incredible lands. They’re also dedicated to educating the public on how to properly interact with these areas, so the federal government isn’t so quick to cut off access.
Obviously, fighting litigation and spreading awareness takes money. And what better way to raise capital than through a fundraising trail run?!
Panamint Valley Days is a fundraiser for Cal4Wheel, with all proceeds supporting the association’s daily operations and conservation projects. A variety of runs are available, from easy sight-seeing wrapped in a local history lesson to hardcore wheeling with curated instruction on important off-road techniques. (Check out the list of available options here.)
Base camp is located just outside Trona, along the Death Valley escape route, Slate Range Road. Each trail run explores a different aspect of this incredibly diverse area, visiting abandoned mining towns, canyons, waterfalls, unusual geological formations, and even the infamous Barker Ranch where Charles Manson and his “family” lived.
The organized event runs from November 8-9, but you can extend the 4×4 fun by joining the “Escape from Death Valley Run” that starts on the 6th. Alternatively, you can always choose to trek these trails on your own but we highly advise first-timers consider joining a guided run like this. It ain’t called Death Valley for nothing.
57th Annual Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari
As the largest and longest-running off-road event in Southern California, this is a trail run you surely don’t want to miss. Formed in 1962, the nonprofit Tierra Del Sol Four-Wheel Drive Club was incorporated the same year it launched the first Desert Safari. Traversing the badlands of Southern California, namely the desert area known as Truckhaven, the event offers plenty of steep hills, plateaus, and washes, promising a weekend of challenging 4×4 fun.
The official trail run departs at 8am sharp on Saturday, March 2, with registration opening two days prior. The event has become so popular that Tierra Del Sol reports many participants begin lining their rigs up at midnight the previous day! Aside from the great riding, attendees can expect an enormous raffle (over $150k in prizes!), fantastic vendors, and truly dedicated off-road enthusiasts. Like Cal4Wheel, Tierra Del Sol works hard to keep public lands open for recreational use, and all proceeds from the event go toward this fight.
3rd Annual Death Valley Jeep Jamboree
Visiting such unique spots as Cerro Gordo, Titus Canyon, Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, Badwater Basin and Harmony Borax Works, this “signature” Jamboree promises two full days of Death Valley exploration. A registration fee covers all the legal stuff, plus an experienced guide, six square meals, three nights lodging, and some sweet Jamboree swag. This particular event is limited to 20 participant Jeeps and there are very specific vehicle requirements (which you can read about here.)
Organized and detailed, the Death Valley Exploration trip is perfect for those who like a structured and stress-free trail run. Jeep Jamboree USA handles the nitty gritty so you can focus on the Moderately Demanding-rated trails, eerie abandoned mine towns, and beautiful California back roads. This year’s trip runs October 31 – November 2, and will definitely fill up fast! Click here for registration details.
27th Big Bear Jeep Jamboree
Also hosted by Jeep Jamboree USA, this SoCal trail run explores the old mining and logging trails of California’s historic Wild West. With rocky trails ranging from moderately difficult to very demanding, you’ll cross old gold-panning streams from the 1800s and crawl along the mountain’s edge, for breathtaking views of Big Bear Lake and the California High Desert. (Oh, and learn a little thing or two about what you and your 4×4 are truly made of in the process.)
The trip runs May 9 – 11 and has actually already filled up. But you can still join the waitlist here.
21st Annual Superstition Mountain Run
Last, but not least, on our list of worthy trail runs in Southern California is the Superstition Mountain Run hosted by the San Diego 4 Wheelers Club in the OHV area of El Centro, California (oddly not located in central California). Offering multiple trails of differing skill levels through a variety of terrains, this annual event is held every January and is open to any 4×4 that doesn’t require a helmet.
With plenty of wheelin’ and plenty of fun, as well as the good feeling that comes with supporting (yet another) dedicated off-road enthusiast group fighting for public land access, this is an event you’ll want to pencil in each new year.
Grab that 4×4 and let’s get going!