Rain and Riding Wet Trails Around Los Angeles

Brown Mtn saddle gets muddy after a good rain. Tread lightly.
Brown Mtn saddle gets muddy after a good rain. Tread lightly.

It finally stopped raining!

If you’re like me you’ve spent the day inside while it rained, detailing your frame and getting every speck of muck off your drivetrain. Your fresh kit hangs by the door, all your batteries are charged, your stanchions are sparkling, and you’re itching to ride! But should you ride as soon as the rain stops?

Well, why not? After all, it’s not raining anymore…

At MWBA the majority of our maintenance work on the local trails is repairing water damage. If you count always-growing brush as water damage, rain is the root cause of most of the maintenance we perform year-round. Saturated soils mean easily-damaged trail tread and unstable hillsides. Big tracks (made by tires or feet) in the tread affect how the trail can handle water in the future and may develop into major ruts. Water-heavy trees become more susceptible to the pull of gravity. And in general the changing landscape presents a greater potential for unanticipated circumstances. Waiting to ride gives the trails a chance to recover and stabilize.

Another reason to wait is preventing damage to your bike. Saturated soil, AKA mud, will hasten the wear on your drivetrain. And if you’re driving to the trailhead, when it’s wet out you might be driving home with a real mess on your hands. And on your steering wheel. And in your hair. And on your dog.

OK ok ok, I’m a good trail steward and I’ll wait to ride. But how long do I wait? When can I ride?

Well, that’s not always an easy answer as there are a lot of factors to consider. Like any other adventure in nature, the more you know before you go, the better prepared you will be to stay safe and have fun. Here’s a few things to take into consideration when deciding when to ride after rain:

  • Soil composition – Many trails in the Angeles National Forest are decomposed granite (DG) and can handle plenty of water without major deformations. But many trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Clarita, and Simi Valley have high clay content, which means MUD, damaged tread, damaged bikes, and damaged reputations.
  • How dry the trail was before it rained – Trails like El Prieto that follow a watershed and feature splashdown crossings can become flooded and impassable after rain; even if the soil is firm it is best to wait until water levels return to normal before riding.
  • Trail location – Trails on north-facing slopes or deep in canyons don’t get as much sunlight and dry out much slower than trails that are sun-exposed. Sunset Ridge Trail might still be very wet a day after rain, but Condor Peak Trail might dry faster since it gets so much sun.
  • How much it rained – Did it sprinkle for a few minutes this morning? You’ll probably enjoy hero dirt in the afternoon. But did it rain 2 inches in 2 hours? For trails that aren’t mostly DG, the general rule is wait 48 hours for every 1″ of rain the day before.

There’s always more to consider. And as is evident each time it rains, none of these matters are set in stone. But keeping all these factors in mind and choosing with care which trail to ride after it rains will help keep all our trails in good shape, better your chances of a fun MTB ride, and help ensure your status as a good trail steward.

trails and rain

So… Where should I ride when things are wet?

We always encourage riders to wait until the trails are dried out before riding. Even if a trail has been modified to handle water with drains and proper outsloping, and even if that trail naturally handles rain well, and even if you are just one rider and will have minimal impact, the cumulative impact of everyone heading to “the trails you can ride after it rains” can still be damaging. Again, it is best to wait.

Having said that, many trails in the ANF handle water well. Sunset Ridge Trail has a system of drains all along it to keep water from being captured by the trail and forming ruts, but is mostly on a north-facing slope and is therefore slow to dry. El Prieto is usually just extra wet after rain, though the climb up Brown Mountain Rd can get muddy in places and the first saddle (with the benches) definitely gets the muck. Condor Peak Trail is arguably at its best after a rain, though steep side-slopes mean increased danger of hillside instability and old fire damage means dead trees still fall across the tread. Asking friends or friend groups (like the MWBA Facebook discussion group) where to ride is a good way of finding out which local rides are best after rain, and which you should avoid.

What’s the difference between HERO DIRT and TRAIL SLUDGE?

Hero dirt–slightly damp trail surface over normal, unsaturated hard-pack–provides amazing grip and satisfying wooshy noises as you rail down the singletrack. You might see a slight dusting of trail on your tires, but nothing accumulates between the knobs and you’re not leaving distinct tracks. On the other hand, if you can tell what tires the rider before you is rolling on from the tracks they left behind, and your own tires are gooping up with mud, the trail is too wet.

Brown Mountain Saddle muck

If it’s been pouring buckets of rain, wait a few days before riding our trails. They can still sustain damage; our trails are made out of rock, dirt and poop, not steel.

Additionally, exercise caution when riding after a rain or a wind storm. You may know the trail well, but don’t let the dislodged rock, fallen tree or landslide on the trail take you by surprise. Be aware that our trails are constantly shifting and rarely remain the same after a storm.

Finally, if you do encounter issues on a local trail please let us know!

Email us at [email protected], hit up our DMs on Insta, or post on our FB discussion group. We’ll get right on it!