Name: Santa Ana River Trail (SART)
Forest Service Designation: 2E03
Distance: 16 miles one way
Overview: Scenic Trail cutting along the sides of steep ridges in the Santa Ana River Valley
Activities: Hiking, Horses and Biking
Trail Type: 98% Single Track
Description: An EPIC trail with tons of variations. The Santa Ana River Trail will bring you to large meadows, steep cliff edges, peaceful creeks, and breathtaking vistas through the Santa Ana River Valley. It begins by Heart Bar Campground with sandy rocky single track that is crisscrossed with many other trails and then travels through an arid forest and along and above a beautiful meadow to your right. Crossing over Highway 38 at the South Fork area the trail continues, becoming distinctly different with smooth compact single track that twists, turns, rises and falls on exposed cliff edges in a lush environment. Descending, the trail intersects with Glass Road and continues its descent on less exposed single track that crosses several creeks and small meadows. The single track continues down to Angelus Oaks crossing several dirt roads. Going left and up Middle Control Road will bring you to an end at Highway 38 to shuttle, or you may turn back around for the ride back. However the Santa Ana River Trail continues as single-track to Mentone where the rest of the trail continues in a wider format to the Pacific Ocean, making it southern California’s longest trail.
Possible Loops and Variations: Park at South Fork Recreational areas on Hwy 38 ride Santa Ana River trail down to make a right on Glass Road and another right on River Road to climb up back to South Fork recreational areas. Park at Glass Road ride up or down SART and back, using River Road as you please to make a possibly preferred dirt road climb. Park at Middle Control Road turnout on Highway 38 and either go down Middle Control Road to make a right at the SART trailhead to ride and return as pleased. Shuttle any option as you see fit. For extended epic rides, intersect SART with some of the following trails, Wild Horse Trail, Seven Oaks Trail, Radford Road and Clarks Grade.
Trail Heads and Parking: Heart Bar Campground/Coon Creek Fish Creek – South Fork Recreational areas on Hwy 38 – Glass Road at SART Crossing – Middle Control Road Turnout on Highway 38 (.3 miles past Angelus Oaks Post office.
Trail Etiquette: Always be courteous to other trail users. All users yield to equestrians, with cyclists also yielding to hikers. Travel only at safe speeds, and stay on designated trails to protect our fragile mountain environment.
For Your Safety: Beware of the narrow eroded trail and sharp left hand turns, too much speed may lead to a tumble down the hill. Wear a helmet and also watch out for the downed trees on the trail. Always notify someone of your planned route and estimated time of return. Outdoor activities can be dangerous; use caution at all times and be prepared with water, food, and adequate equipment and knowledge. The Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation provides this description as a courtesy, and does not guarantee the accuracy of the information. You accept all responsibility for your outdoor activities.
I’ve ridden this trail with all sorts of Variations, as there are many, and found them all to be great and even distinct from each other.
The first 5 mile section starts at the Heart Bar Campground/ Coon-Creek SART trailhead. The initial 100 yards is really sandy and rocky and I’ve had to walk my bike through a couple sections there. The trail remains loose and rocky and is crisscrossed with lots of other trails in the area, but the forest service has done a good job in making it clear where SART/2e03 is with plenty of signs. Soon the trail starts to make a consistent cut into the side of a steep ridge below and to your right a nice meadow opens up. Don’t look at that meadow long because the trail ahead begins to descend and is littered with big rocks and boulders making it possibly the most technical segment. The SART really gets enjoyable here and makes that earlier struggle worth it as it winds its way to the South Fork/Highway 38 area; water is also available here at the campground.
After crossing Highway 38 to the SART trailhead sign, the second segment of 6 miles begins as the single-track starts up on your left with a mellow climb. The trail is packed down considerably more and smoother than the last segment and your surroundings get green and lush. This segment of the trail has the most prominent roller coaster feel, with quick, blind, exposed lefts, dipping rights and ever narrowing single track that keeps you on your toes one after the other. The trail opens up to some of the best views here and it might be worth it to get off your bike for a second and appreciate them. Towards the end a speedy descent gets you going as you intersect with Glass Road.
The descent continues into the last 5 mile segment as you fly down less exposed single track. Crossing a couple creeks the trail rises and falls. It turns right at a point into double track to continue on, eventually emerging at Middle Control Road where you can pedal up a 3-mile climb to Highway 38.
No matter which direction you ride it, the Santa Ana River Trail is great. It rises and falls in tune with its twists and turns, making the rider feel like a kid again. It seems that the more you put into it, the more you get out, and by that I mean PEDAL. I mean getting the timing of this trail dialed in and keeping your momentum right is key.
The first time you ride it some things like the blind, sharp, and exposed lefts might sneak up on ya and spook ya a bit, and the dipping rights might take away a little of that speed you love as you get found out in the wrong gear. But pay attention to the trail and its patterns or ride it again and you’ll get the rhythm. The Santa Ana River Trail is distinct and great and it will get you smiling.
Note: I’ve heard of a great ride that starts down a 4×4 road that runs by the Angelus Oaks post office. You follow that road down and then make a right at the SART sign onto some great single track (Some say the best) that’s not too technical but exposed and fun. That Section of trail soon intersects Middle Control Road and the remaining sections of SART that have been discussed above.
– Garry Dodds