The Stagecoach 400 Bikepacking Route

  • Distance

    385 Mi.

    (620 KM)
  • Days

    5

  • % Unpaved

    75%

  • % Singletrack

    25%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7.5

  • % Rideable (time)

    98%

  • Total Ascent

    27,920'

    (8,510 M)
  • High Point

    5,660'

    (1,725 M)

Contributed By

Logan Watts - Pedaling Nowhere

Logan

Pedaling Nowhere
A beautiful and challenging bikepacking loop through a mosaic of contrasting landscapes leads riders from remote mountains through a seemingly endless desert, into the city and along the sea.
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The Stagecoach 400 is a masterpiece of stitchworked dirt doubletrack, sandy desert roads, technical singletrack, urban bike paths, and rolling tarmac. The purpose-built bikepacking route was crafted by Brendan Collier and Mary Metcalf-Collier of The Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild California, where the route begins and ends. Albeit an endurance race loop (The Stagecoach 400 Race debuted in March, 2012), the route was founded on the idea of an epic multi-day adventure route encompassing the three distinct biomes of southern California: craggy forested mountains, spectacular and desolate desert, and the ocean, with its rich coastal canyons and urban center of San Diego. “I was inspired to put together a route that would highlight what I found most intriguing about southern California, the proximity of mountains, desert and ocean, as well as the contrasts of remote areas with population centers…” states Brendan Collier.

This route is not to be taken lightly; it’s highly advised to make a $30 donation here and get full cue sheet, and advice from Brendan and Mary (the route may change based on conditions, private property issues, etc).

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Cycling from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
  • The Anza Borrego Desert spring wildflower show.
  • The top-shelf IPAs of Alpine Brewing Co.
  • Amazing mountain scenery in Oriflamme Canyon, Indian Creek Trail, Orosco Truck Trail, etc.
  • Hugs (and great company) at the Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild.

When To Go

  • Although doable most of the year, it’s best ridden in the early spring or late fall; the heat of the summer can be intense in the desert where a significant amount of mileage occurs on day 1 and 2.

Logistics

  • This route is not to be taken lightly; it’s highly advised to make a $30 donation here and get the updated GPX, cue sheet, and advice from Brendan and Mary (the route may change based on conditions, private property issues, etc).
  • There are several options for parking and pre-camping in Idyllwild; contact the Hub Cyclery and speak with Brendan or Mary to make arrangements.
  • There is a significant amount of sand on the route, and it should only be attempted on bikes with tires wider than 2.2; a 29+ bike is ideal, but a fat bike may be overkill due to the amount of pavement enroute.
  • With ~25% of the route on asphalt and paved surfaces, it’s advisable to use a tire with less aggressive tread to maintain speed through these sections.
  • This route is challenging; while the race record currently stands at 1 day and 15 hours, enough time should be allotted based on your skill level; pulling it off in 4 days is tough.

Dangers and Annoyances

  • Be advised that there are plenty of rattlesnakes on this route; also keep an eye out for scorpions and black widows.
  • On most stretches away rom the Sand Diego section, wild camping options abound; the section between Alpine and La Jolla may be tricky; take precaution and plan accordingly.
  • There are hotel options in a few areas including Chula Vista where rates are fairly reasonable; in Borrego Springs, expect to pay over $100 per night.
  • There are several adequately spaced resupply points throughout the route; we added a few to the GPX below, but there are several other options and it’s advised to get the latest cue sheet from The Hub Cyclery for a full update, including hours and open status.
  • There are a few natural sources of water along the route, but the loop can also be completed without a filter if resupply and water storage is planned accordingly; it is advised to carry 4 liters of water into the Anza Borrego Desert prior to Fish Creek Canyon.
  • Food is available at most resupply points; the route can be done without cooking equipment if stops are well planned.

2016 Course

The route now follows a counterclockwise direction of travel. It is more in line with what the original ride (Idyllwild to Pizza Port) and also for a more “survivable” experience in the desert for the majority of riders coming out. It also lightens our footprint in the Anza Borrego Desert.

The route now follows a portion of the Coast To Crest trail, from Lake Hodges to Solana Beach. This is a more permanent solution to riding through this area of North County San Diego, and happy to share tire tracks with a sanctioned route. Also, the move out of Penasquitos Canyon is more sustainable in a variety of weather conditions. Bonus: The pizza & beer at Pizza Port are outstanding.

This year’s route does not go to Coronado Island. The change is bittersweet but ultimately makes for a more streamlined ride experience for the mass start. (touring riders will always have the option) On the plus side, the tacos on the city side are far better. Riders wishing to ride the Coronado Island portion can follow the cues addendum, attached here, with no penalty for going “off route.”

The return leg into the mountains now uses another small portion of California Riding & Hiking Trail, rather than the hike-a-bike up Jim Truck Trail. This is a better ride and hopefully exposes more riders to the relatively obscure and historic CRHT.

Clockwise Route (from 2015)

This is the route we rode in 2015; it begins in Idyllwild, a quirky mountain town located two hours by car from San Diego, and flows over dirt roads and singletrack through the mountains before dropping in to the Anza Borrego State Park via Coyote Canyon. The initial rugged decent eventually leads through a mesmerizing oasis called the Willows, which you need to see to believe. A long winding sand road decent leads to a nice break spot and resupply point at Borrego Springs where a burrito at Los Jilbertos is not to be missed.

The Desert

On day one, or two, depending on speed and intent, the route follows remote highways that lead to Ocotillo Wells. Make the time to check out the larger-than-life metal sculptures en route. Refuel at the Split Mountain Store, and follow tarmac for 9 more miles before the route veers off into Anza Borrego via Fish Creek Canyon. This long sandy slog follows a beautiful wash through a magical geological maze of desert landscapes. A good checkpoint at the end of this leg is the Agua Calliente Hot Springs and General Store; the proprietor of the store, Mark, is very friendly and is glad to help with provisions and camping suggestions.

The Mountains

The route climbs out of the desert via the spectacular Oriflamme Canyon, and follows the Mason Valley Truck Trail, a scenic doubletrack as it continues up to the Sunrise Hwy and eventually mounts an epic traverse on Noble Canyon and Indian Creek Trails into the Cuyamaca State Park. A couple of small mountain towns provide options for resupply, and if you time it right, you can have a pit stop at Alpine Brewing Co for some of San Diego County’s most sought after IPAs.

San Diego and the Sea

After a singletrack roller coaster on the California Riding and Hiking Trails, the Sweetwater Park trails, and a fair amount of pavement, a stretch on the coastal bikeway leads to Coronado Island and a ferry ride across the San Diego Harbor. The route then traverses city bike paths, popular tourist areas, La Jolla beach, and local county trails.

The Return

One of the more challenging and soul-crushing parts of the Stagecoach 400 is the return. After leaving the orange groves at the end of the San Pasqual Valley Trail, there are a few necessary miles of climbing on the dangerous and ever-busy Hwy 78 before being flung into the beautiful mountains on Guejito and Orosco Truck Trails. After Warner Springs, the “land of a thousand false summits” begins which leads to the massive ascent back to Idyllwild where high fives and hugs await at the Hub!

Additional Information

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  • Mike

    How many rattlesnakes did you role over!? Looks fun!

  • Alan – Dirty Teeth

    great write up and great photos – thanks for the link too!!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Just one!!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Alan!

  • Kate Tierney

    Hey, I know you mention it being hot in the summer but a friend and I were hoping to do it aug 24. Do you think it will be too hot? And what would you recommend as far as sleeping bags are concerned? I assume a down bag would be overkill? Thanks!

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ bikepacking.com (Logan)

    Hi Kate. I think it would be very hot in the Anza Borrego, but I’d recommend speaking with Brendan or Mary at the Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild. They’ll know much more than I about the temps in late August…

  • Kate Tierney

    I will certainty reach out to them. Thank you so much!

  • Zach Windsor

    I read what you had to say about tire size, but I am still kicking around the idea of riding this on my AWOL. How bad of an idea is that?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I wouldn’t do it, but if you are a damn good sand rider, you should be able to make it out alive. 2″ tires?

  • Zach Windsor
  • Matthew Liggett

    I recently attempted a curtailed loop starting from downtown San Diego. A few notes.

    – Definitely grab a fresh GPX and cue sheet from Brendan. I rode a random GPX from the 2012 race I downloaded online, with no cues. In some places I had to route-find around new gates (no biggie), and in others I suspect I missed some singletrack I didn’t notice because of an adjacent dirt road and not having cues.
    – Getting there via transit: If you are willing to start from somewhere besides Idyllwild, you have options.
    (1) What I did: Amtrak into downtown San Diego. The Pacific Surfliner allows roll-on bikes, but you must book in advance.
    (2) If you want to limit the amount of city/suburbs riding at the start (I wish I had for my shorter tour), Amtrak to Oceanside instead, and possibly take the light rail (Sprinter) to Escondido. From there it’s only about 2 hours to Guejito Truck Trail and you can be sleeping on National Forest land during night #1.
    – All that said, there are many gems even in the suburban part of the route. The Peñasquitos Tunnels are a hoot.

  • Alex

    I currently have wtb trailblazers 2.8 tires on my bike (rockymountain sherpa) I was thinking about putting the wtb trail boss 3.0 tires on my bike to for the march 11th start of the stagecoach. Or is there better option.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I really liked the Trail Boss on our Spain traverse… Thought it was a fast roller for a 3″ tire. Another to consider is the Chronicle…

  • jkan997

    Hi, can you roughly estimate % of technical single tracks on sections
    1. San Diego – Rancho Cuyamaca
    2. Idyllwild – Borrego Springs
    3. Idylwild – Warner Springs
    4. Warner Springs – San Diego
    Which section is most interesting for technical MTB?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Hmm, that would require a lot of map digging… You might contact The Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild to ask.

  • Brad Branan

    Logan,

    I’ve got a very basic question – but I’m a news reporter, so the dumb question is the one left unasked. What is the criteria for your difficulty scale? Are you talking about endurance? Technical skills? I’m returning to mountain biking after a long hiatus. I’m good enough to handle single track at the ski resorts, but I started again because I’m an explorer – i.e., I want to bikepack. Is this a route someone with lower intermediate technical skills but in good shape can handle, given he allows himself enough time – say six days or more?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Hi Brad. I base it on technical level, physical difficulty, the level of resupply challenge for food and water, length, etc. this is a tough route, but if you allow the time I think it could be doable. Although I definitely don’t think it’s the best route for your first. Even with 6 days, that still would average out to almost 5,000′ of climbing per day. There are a couple technical sections and there are a couple big stretches of thick sandy terrain… Which could be really difficult on smaller tires. Also, the resupply points are tough.

  • Brad Branan

    Thanks Logan. I have done some short and easy bikepack trips, but this would be my first real trip. I don’t think I’m ready for this one. I think I may tackle the Black Canyon Trail for my first voyage, instead. The Stagecoach will be on my wish list.

  • Mike Gurnham

    Looks like an awesome route, I am trying to get to San Diego from Canada for January 2nd to start the Baja Divide, and as you would imagine flights are very expensive during the holiday season. I can get a cheaper flight if I come down earlier, so I thought maybe I could do this route before the Baja, then a couple days off in San Diego. If I am not in a hurry, could I extend this route to 7 or so days? Does camping all for that, and are there potential side trips? I’m packing light for Baja, just a groundsheet and bivy with plenty of storage for water. If I rode this route over Christmas time would I have have decent weather? I’m not too worried about cooler temps, it will be warmer than Ottawa, just hoping its dry. Will snakes and spiders be sleeping??? I hope so. Thanks for the advice.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Well, watch the snow forecast for the Idylwild area. But other than that, you should be all good. Talk to Brendan at the hub for potential extensions…

  • Isabel Van De Voorde

    Hi, we are planning to do this route end of December. Any recommendations on what temperatures to expect so that we can take appropriate materials with us? thx