Cruising’ down the L.A. river without a care in the world.
No doubt you’ve driven down the 605 & seen the familiar scene from your car – bicyclists looking like they are suspended above, cruising by on a concrete path. That path you see – which extends for 28 miles from the canyons to the beach – is the San Gabriel river bike trail.
Starting near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, & cutting south through Whittier Narrows, Pico Rivera, Downey – & eventually ending at Seal Beach – the path starts east of the L.A river on the north-end, and then stays right alongside it after Whittier Narrows.
We truly can’t think of a better way to get a unique perspective of all that makes L.A. what it is. Along the stretch of trail, you undoubtedly encounter various encampments of people, as well as great parks you can pull into to get some water, take a break, or lay in the grass. One thing that urbanites like ourselves found incredible, was the extent of ranch & rural zoning alongside the river. Throughout much of the first half of the northern stretch, you’ll see horse trails, barns, small-scale farms, & always make sure you say hi to the dudes riding horses along the river bank – who we are always totally jealous of because they usually have a beer in their hand & seem content-as-can-be.
The San Gabriel river bike trail begins (on the north end) right off the 39 in Azusa, but a great spot to catch the trail & begin your journey is the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area. The Santa Fe Dam is a great park with open fields, a lake that you can swim in during the summer – but is open all year to fish & rent paddle boats on. Food is limited to concessions, so pack a lunch – & make sure to rent pedal bike if you are with your family, so you can cruise around the path bordering the lake.
Going south from Santa Fe, you cross through Whittier Narrows park, which is 1500 acres of pure park. With lakes, activities, & tons of amenities – it’s easily one of the best parks, if not the best – in Los Angeles County.
South of Whittier Narrows, the river trail continues along the L.A. river, through a mishmash of rural & urban settings, where you are bound to see a concrete structure – most likely hydroelectric, or a full-on horse stable, all within a few minutes of each other. The juxtaposition of different things to see is what makes this trail amazing overall.
Depending on which stretch of the San Gabriel river bike trail you’re on, it’s inevitable you’ll see swaths of water occupied by birds, ducks, & other wildlife. Depending on the water levels, sometimes you can cross a ton of animal activity – & you can see that the L.A. river is more than just a concrete bed stretching between the freeways. The pathways are mostly level, with no huge grades – so from a “bike experience level”, it’s totally doable for most levels of expertise. We’re not in the best shape right now, & doing about 10 miles on the trail was easy-peasy. As is the case with any adventure, always keep your wits about you & try to time it so you’re not on the trail too late or once it gets dark. We’re not saying it’s unsafe, but you are separated on all sides for much of the ride, so emergency access isn’t necessarily as good as it would be on the streets or in neighborhoods.
Whether an avid bicycle enthusiast, or someone who just dusted off the old Schwinn in the garage & you’re ready to take it for a spin – the San Gabriel river bike trail is fun for all ages, & a great way to spend a weekend morning or afternoon. If you plan to do the full stretch from the mountains to the beach, please plan accordingly – as that’s a long stretch & DOES require a bit more experience (or endurance!)
Enjoy! – & feel free to comment below with questions or ideas about this blog.
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