Route Overview


Southern California



Days Out


Recommended Tire Size



Fall through Spring

Elevation Gain



6/10 Physical
6/10 Technical

Primary Surface(s)

Sandy 4x4 Road/Wash

Route Map

Route Details

The Ranchita Rambler covers the high and low deserts in one go with epic landscapes, the best mom n pop resupply shops you could ask for and camping in a designated Dark Sky community.

This route is perfect for exposing mountain bikers to bikepacking but also fun and adventurous enough for the seasoned rider – it’s short, has breathtaking landscapes, has resupply and camping options with amenities, and supports rural communities via low-impact tourism.

This fall-spring season route starts and ends in Ranchita, CA (parking at the Ranchita Bodega) – basically whenever it’s cool enough in Borrego Springs to ride safely. The route is easiest and fastest after a few rains have packed down the sand. When conditions have been dry, expect to take more time.

After warming up the legs with some early climbs through the Ranchita foothills, the route explores a rippin’, sandy descent down Grapevine Canyon to the Anza-Borrego Desert. This is the most remote section of the route with no cell service. When you come to the junction at Yaqi pass, riders can choose to navigate either pavement (highway) or the San Felipe Wash (*conditions in the wash are highly variable as there’s no road/trail/track, just follow the flow of water). Before starting into the wash or the highway, water can be refilled with a filter at the nearby Yaqi campground. Both route options reconnect at Cactus Valley double track, one of the prettiest sections of trail in the Valley, especially at golden hour.

For the annual grand depart (the weekend daylight savings ends), Riders will camp together in a group site at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground where flush toilets and hot showers are nice, but no match for the epic night sky. Quintessential California style burritos are along the way to camp in the town of Borrego Springs, as well as other local resupply options.

For non-grand depart campers, Hike-in/Bike-in sites are available at Palm Canyon Campground for $5/person/night. Bring an extra $1 to exchange for shower tokens.

Day 2 offers riders ample time to explore the Palm Canyon oasis on foot, have a breakfast burrito in town, or start up the iconic Montezuma Valley Road, also called the “Glass Elevator” for its incredible views. There’s no shame in taking breaks to soak up the massive vistas as the desert floor is left behind. Riders ditch the pavement near the top and are routed through the Culp Valley Cultural Preserve. The Culp Valley Overlook offers views all the way out to the Salton Sea from fun double track trails and has multiple educational and interpretive sites. The total climb from camp to car can take a fast/strong rider 2ish hours with no stops. Most people complete it in 3–4 hours.

Riders end at the Ranchita Bodega, where a fine selection of drinks and snacks can be purchased and enjoyed on the front patio. Don’t be surprised if a local chats you up, they often love to engage with PCT hikers and Rambler riders.

The Ranchita Rambler Grand Depart is not a race, but you can ride fast if you want to. Think of it as a chill weekend of bikepacking with friends. Riders will start together and camp together, but are encouraged to ride their own pace and navigate for themselves. Grand Depart registration happens in October via postcard. Details @RanchitaRambler on Instagram.

Any All Terrain Bike (ATB) with adequate tire clearance will work, suspension not necessary. Larger tires (2.3”+) are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for getting through sandy sections. If you run something smaller, you are committing to potentially lots of sandy Hike A Bike.

  • Paved: 50%
  • 4×4 Road: 25%
  • Sandy Washes: 25%
  • The route is very close to some private easements near Culp Valley. There are signs to direct users on the correct path for State Park access.
  • Parking: Ranchita Bodega – a general store on Montezuma Highway that supports the Rambler.
  • Note that a previous route alternative utilized a section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail. The route creator has subsequently learned that bikes are not permitted on this single-track paralleling Jasper Trail (dirt road leading to Grapevine Canyon). This reference has been removed from the route. While the California Riding and Hiking Trail does permit bikes in many places, it is not universal. Please respect State Park rules and avoid this segment.
  • Check out The Ranchita Rambler on Instagram @ranchitarambler for more photos of the route.
  • John Schilling wrote a blog post about his ride on the Ranchita Rambler.

Emily Elliott, one of our Regional Stewards, created and stewards The Ranchita Rambler route. Here is a little about Emily in her own words:

I really love scouting trail, mapping routes, and fine-tuning logistics. The Ranchita Rambler is my first public route. It was created in partnership with local stakeholders wanting to encourage low-impact tourism to Ranchita in hopes of encouraging some economic development. PCT hikers are the #1 source of economic activity, but consolidated into just 3 months of the year, and adventure cycling is seen as an off-season compliment.

I often put together little routes for friends in areas I know well. The Ranchita Rambler was first my own personal route and a favorite for a cool season overnighter. After hosting 2 annual grand departs, the Ranchita Rambler is beginning to take hold as a weekend staple for southern California bikepackers.

I live about 2 hours from the route and ride it, or a variation of it, a few times each year. I maintain an Instagram page for the route and will post updates as appropriate. Before each Grand Depart, I pre-ride the route, often recording video and photos to publish a ‘route conditions’ update. The Instagram account is also used to re-post conditions and experiences from other riders.

Emily has offered to be available to answer questions if you are planning a trip on this route. We encourage you to be respectful of Route Stewards time though and to review publicly available materials first before reaching out with questions.

Please also get in touch with any updates on route conditions that may be relevant to other riders.

Please submit your questions and comments on the route via the contact form below.

    This route traverses the traditional lands of the Cahuilla, Cocopah, and Kumeyaay peoples.