The Fullerton Loop is a popular mountain bike route that is located, somewhat incongruously, in the heart of Fullerton, California, a small city in Orange County that is about 5 miles north of Disneyland. Fullerton is nestled against the Coyote Hills and there are numerous city-maintained walking and equestrian trails that thread through the city and residential areas. The Fully Loop, as it is also known, is comprised of segments of a number of these trails, plus sections through small city parks, along a functioning railway, short stretches of city streets, and through the Brea Dam Recreational Area. The Loop is not obvious and "discovery" of the Loop is widely attributed to avid bike-rider Richard Cunningham, in 1983, who later went on to become editor of Mountain Bike Action magazine.

Bike manufacturers' reps have been known to park a trailer full of demo bikes at the trailhead and local bike shops and clubs host events from time to time. In November 2007 the Fourth Annual 'Tour de Tryptophan/24-hours of the Fullerton Loop' was held the day after Thanksgiving, a benefit for injured star-rider Tara Lanes. Previous years' events benefited other patients or groups with medical issues.

Why Ride The Loop?

The Loop is not especially demanding and there are easier paths alongside the more 'technical' single-track sections, so riders can adjust the trail to suit their skill and desired level of exertion. The climbs and the flat or slightly downhill sections alternate somewhat, so there is ample time to recover from a climb before tackling the next one. The whole ride takes 60 to 90 minutes for an average rider, depending on time at rest stops; serious riders can do the circuit in 40 minutes or less. Because of the easy access and adaptability the ride is very popular with weekday riders, before or after work, who don't have time to drive to the more conventional trails in the nearby Santa Ana Mountains and beyond. On weekends riders of all different stripes get out on the Loop. Group rides are popular - a local club has a long-standing Thursday evening ride and impromptu group rides are often arranged via the internet. The trails and parks are actually open 24/7 and night rides are common. The Loop is widely recognized as a great conditioning ride and a great change of pace from the mountains.

More traditional mountain bike rides, those actually in the mountains, generally involve a longish drive to the trailhead, long climbs up remote fire roads or trails until one reaches a landmark, such as a lookout tower, followed by a quick descent down the same road/trail or some other trail, often a single-track (hiking) trail. One is surrounded by chapparal or forest, far from the madding crowd. One might encounter a few other riders or hikers, possibly hunters or a ranger. An appealing thing about the Fullerton Loop is that the environment is completely different and the time invested is mostly spent actually in the saddle. Along the trails there are people out for a run, to stroll or power-walk, casual bike riders, people on horses, and so on, depending on the day or time of day. There might be sports teams on the athletic fields and people playing volleyball or sandlot baseball in the parks. The trail goes through some nice residential tracts, past fisherman at tiny Laguna Lake, along a few holes of the Fullerton Golf Club, and even a half-mile of commercial district after Brea Dam, before reaching the standard start/finish point, the parking lot of Fullerton's courthouse. Traditional mountain bike rides give a welcome sense of escape and solitude along with the release of exertion and speed. The Fullerton Loop gives a sense of connectedness with the city and the people out doing their thing, of being one thread in the tapestry. That connectedness can be elusive, especially in Southern California, where one might have several activities each day in widely separated areas, but the only links between them are the impersonal freeways, traversed anonymous and snug in air-conditioned, sound-dampened, glass-and-metal cocoons.

Variety is the Spice of Life

One of the great aspects of the Loop is that the environment changes radically every mile or so. The start is wide, soft, and tree lined, the next section is coasting on single-track winding along a creek, the next is through a quiet neighborhood, then wide open along railroad tracks and through a grassy park. The changes continue, the speeds vary, and the trail surfaces run the gamut from soft to smooth to rutted. These changes keep it fresh and let the rider practice different techniques.

The most popular way by far to take the Loop is clockwise from the Fullerton courthouse, but there's no reason not to reverse it. Riders looking for more of a workout will do it once clockwise then turn around and do it again counterclockwise. With all of the roads that are crossed more than once, one can devise ways to mix it up: skipping or repeating sections, taking some again in reverse, making a figure eight, and so on. The character of the Loop is different throughout the day and in the heat of summer vs. the (slight) chill of winter. The Loop can be started from anywhere along the course; the parking lots at Gus Grissom Park and at Laguna Lake are natural choices. Finding a need for elaborate variations could mean one needs to get out and ride in the mountains.

The Big Picture

The Fullerton Loop is just over 11 miles long with about 850 vertical feet between the lowest and highest points and is mostly on dirt paths. Total climbing is about 2000 feet and most climbs and descents are gradual. Variations in the finishing portion through the Brea Dam area account for the different distances and total climb that are reported in different guides. Taking the Loop clockwise, there are two short very steep climbs; the second is followed by a moderate climb to the Loop's highest point and is known as 'Cardiac Hill'. There are a couple of short steep drops followed by shallow downhill stretches early on and a longer descent after Cardiac Hill, with some more moderate downhill single-track options later. There are 5 places where the route crosses major streets and a few minor street crossings. A couple of the busier crossings aren't at intersections but there are buttons that activate flashing amber lights to alert motorists. Riders need to be very cautious of traffic rounding curves or cresting hills, especially during morning and evening rush hours. As the fastest people on the trail, bikers have to be cautious of and courteous to the slower users; relations between riders and non-riders are generally good, but there have been issues from time to time.

A Disgruntled Resident

From June to December of 2007 odd 1'-2' holes began appearing in the trails in the vicinity of Laguna Lake. The holes were sometimes obscured with brush and tree branches. In other places concrete pieces and small logs were placed on the trails. Some riders stumbled into the holes, but no injuries were reported. Detectives began monitoring the trails occasionally and interviewing residents. In December a man was seen walking his dog in a section that had just been checked - the detective checked again and found a fresh trench in the trail. Detectives later set up a stake-out and saw the same guy with his dog on the trail section. The man was stopped and the trail checked. Officers found fresh holes and obstacles across the trail. His reason for creating the hazards was that some time in early 2007 he had been "nearly run over" by some mountain bikers. The story was carried on the national news wires and the culprit was eventually charged with felony vandalism. This story is clearly an aberration, but it highlights the need for caution and courtesy by riders.

The Nitty Gritty

The following detailed description of the Loop will probably sound confusing, but all of the connections are logical and fairly clear. Knowing the names of all the trails and parks isn't at all necessary. A web search for 'Fullerton Loop' yields many links to maps and descriptions. The best way to learn the loop is to have it shown to you, possibly via one of the group rides previously mentioned; a daylight ride would be best. After a time or two it will be second nature.

Starting in the courthouse parking lot at Harbor and Berkely, the trail north climbs gently for 3/4 of a mile on a former railroad right-of-way, now known as the Juanita Cook Trail. Turning a sharp 120° left one drops into the Hiltscher Trail, a tree-filled creek bed that leads to wider Hiltscher Park before crossing busy Euclid Ave. after 3/4 mile. A few hundred feet further along the same gully system is the very steep 40' climb (if you stop you're walking the rest of it) up to quiet West Valley View drive for 1/3 mile on pavement, followed by a short jog up Bastanchury Rd. and left on Warburton Way (500' total). North again beside active railroad tracks for 1/4 mile before crossing Parks Road and angling left to join Parks Trail into Edward White Park and a series of little climbs past school athletic fields and through Roger B. Chaffee Park, completing a 1/2 mile on dirt. The last climb in this section features a dense network of exposed 1"-3" roots to negotiate, which isn't difficult but is always interesting. Crossing Rosecrans Avenue requires care, as the road drops sharply just to the east. The next stretch is a 0.4 mile gentle climb up an asphalt-paved path along a drainage ditch at the edge of Gus Grissom Park, named for the local Apollo astronaut, before crossing a residential street and getting back to the dirt. The trail goes one-house deep, turns left and climbs briefly, entering narrow West Coyote Hills Tree Park. After 1/5 mile there's another street to cross, followed by a steep drop into the Tree Park proper. One can turn left before the drop and instead do one of a few short steep single-track variations to drop into the park. This part goes about 1/3 mile, using sidewalk for 100' and cutting between some homes back down to Rosecrans Avenue. The trail goes west down the undulating sidewalk or next to it on the dirt, both well away from traffic, along Rosecrans for 3/4 mile, and one turns right where the brick wall ends, off the sidewalk and north onto Castlewood Trail. This is the far western side of the Loop.

Castlewood is where the 'real' mountain biking starts - a mile of steady climb along the foothills, heading east and skirting housing developments, to the top of Cardiac Hill. This section is road and wide trail, and after the first 1/4 mile, where it turns east, there is a fun, moderately challenging option, a single-track trail that winds sharply through the neighboring trees before rejoining the main trail. After a mile of winding up-and-down the trail crosses North Gilbert Street and goes along Castlewood Drive for 2/5 of a mile before joining the Nora Kuttner Recreational Trail for the climb up Cardiac Hill. The first part climbs steeply about 100' vertically, with numerous wooden erosion-control speed bump beams to get over, followed by a gentler climb to the crest. Many stop at the crest to rest and take in the view.

Next comes roughly a 1/2 mile of downhill where one has to control speed and keep a sharp eye on the ruts and the transverse beams. There are signs reminding riders to watch their speed. Arriving at Euclid Street, the trail goes left half a block to a pedestrian/equestrian crossing where Laguna Road intersects from the other side. Just down Laguna the Bud Turner Trail goes left into Laguna Lake Park, climbing through trees and passing a parking area before running along the SE side of Laguna Lake. This entire section is 1.3 miles and one should go slow past the lake, as there are lots of people walking and kids running around. At this point the trail heads generally south, for the home stretch.

Crossing the next street and turning right, one is on another part of the Juanita Cook Trail, the old rail path that starts the trail. This is 6/10 mile of steady downgrade and one can go right down the middle though most take the fun single-track along the right side, about 15' above the trail proper. Crossing above some railroad tracks (the same tracks as those near Bastanchury) the Loop departs the Cook trail, dropping left sharply to the tracks (which sometimes have trains) and heading right for 1/4 mile, passing under Harbor Blvd. before making an 8-foot-high climbing 170° turn and running next to a private road for a few hundred feet. Where the road curves the trail crosses it, back onto dirt, and it is a fun undulating downhill single-track along the Fullerton Golf Club for 1/2 mile. There are tall netting fences to catch stray golf balls; try not to disturb the golfers. The trail comes to a clean, paved, twin-culvert that passes under Bastanchury Road and into Brea Dam Recreation Area, the basin behind the dam, which is rather maze-like, with narrow trails through tall dense reedy vegetation. At this point one can go right or left. Right is a 1/2 mile gentle looping climb along the dam, out of the basin, past tennis courts, and up to St. Jude Medical Center. The Emergency Room is right there, should one need it. Go out the paved road to Harbor Blvd. and it's about 1 mile in a bike lane down Harbor to the courthouse parking lot to complete the ride. Going left from the culvert takes one to the east side of the basin and there are many intersecting trails that lead up to a spillway that is roughly dam-top height. A trail east of the spillway leads to a street that connects to Brea Blvd., which heads SW to Harbor and the courthouse parking lot. West of the spillway is a final steep climb to a peak, with a couple of challenging single-track trails that lead to a parking lot on the east side of Harbor, almost 1/2 mile north of the Brea Blvd. intersection.

So Many Paths Up the Mountain

A steady diet of Fully Loops would probably lead to burnout quickly, but it fits very well into a schedule of other nearby rides and trips farther afield. Chino Hills State Park, rich with more traditional trails, is only a few miles to the east. Alternating rides between Chino Hills and the Loop would keep a rider satisfied, well-rounded, and engaged for a long time. Chino Hills is regularly closed for a few days after rain, to preserve the trail surfaces, and, at the time of this writing, is expected to be closed well into 2009 due to the recent devastating brush fires there, so the Fullerton Loop is likely to see heavier use. The Santa Ana Mountains extend south toward San Diego and there are excellent rides all along both sides of the chain. The mountains to the north of Los Angeles and the San Bernardino mountains to the east also offer a multitude of riding areas. SoCal mountain bikers have a treasure trove of trails to cherish, and the Fullerton Loop is a rare gem, not to be overlooked.

Personal Experience (map) (map) (guide w/pix) (vandalism)

Trailhead, Fullerton Courthouse: 33.879840°N, -117.926243°W
Fullerton Loop in Google Earth:

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