5 Great Places in California to Learn Overland Motorcycle Riding

Wildfire Moto
Courtesy of Drew Ruiz/Wildfire Moto

You’ve heard of adventure motorcycling, maybe even overland riding, and now you’re ready to give it a shot. The first thing you need to know is that whether they call it OHV, overland, off-road, or adventure riding, it’s all about getting out and having fun on your motorcycle – only off the highways.

Southern California is a mecca of off-highway vehicle recreation, with the best year-round weather and plenty of wide open places to get loose in the dirt. From the high mountains down to the low desert, enthusiastic moto lovers can experience most environments pretty much year-round.

Steve Green, founder of adventure motorcycle brand Wildfire Moto, made the switch from riding traditional highway touring motorcycles to overland adventure in 2017.

“I was riding home from Sturgis and kept passing all these incredible places that I wanted to ride in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and all over Utah,” Green tells ASN. “When I got home, I went straight to the dealership and bought a 2017 Honda Africa Twin adventure bike. There are no biker clubs or ideals as far as what you should do. Just get out there and enjoy raw motorcycling in its purist form where you can navigate all possible terrain.”

Wildfire Moto
Courtesy of Miguel Benavidas/Wildfire Moto

As Green tells it, part of the adventure is finding your own way. He started by looking up all the fire roads in California – a huge network of Forest Service and BLM roads and trails, most designated for off-road vehicles.

“There are also a lot of great apps and blogs where you can follow other riders’ favorite rides and trails,” he says. “This is a sport that’s all about meeting like-minded people and having fun while you problem-solve fun terrain.”

And having your own motorcycle and tons of gear is not necessary to get dusty as there are plenty of places in most recreational riding areas that will rent motorcycles and gear, offer training classes and tours -you can even sign up for some pretty gnarly international riding tours.

So if you’re feeling like Ewan McGregor from “Long Way Round” might be your spirit animal, ASN has done some of the homework for you, so that you can spend less time on the Internet and more time in the dirt. Here are five great places to get started. For the rest, as Green puts it, “It’s up to you to get out there and find where to ride. That’s part of the adventure!”

Wildfire Moto
Courtesy of Dennis Orr/Wildfire Moto


Nearly centered between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area (commonly called “Gorman” because that’s the name of the exit to get there) encompasses over 19,000 acres and offers more than 130 miles of maintain off-road trails. There are miles of smooth trails with minimal rocks for new riders and also hill-climbs, rocks, sand and single track for the more savvy.

And there are full-service rental companies local to the area that will deliver your bike right to you for your convenience. The park is also a great place to camp with friends and family, with shaded campsites, bathrooms and fire-rings. Hungry Valley is easy to find, right off the Gorman exit right behind the Chevron gas station at 49815 Gorman Post Road.

Wildfire Moto
Courtesy of Wildfire Moto

Johnson Valley

Centered in the San Bernardino County, Johnson Valley falls under Bureau of Land Management and covers nearly 100,000 acres of rocky mountains, rolling hills and dry lake beds – even a bit of sand dunes, if that’s your thing.

Johnson Valley is a haven for riding motorcycles and other OHV riding and, at 4,600 feet elevation, can be a bit cooler in late spring and fall. There are plenty of wide open places for camping, but be mindful of the eastern boundary shared with the Twenty-nine Palms Marine Air-Ground Combat Center.

El Mirage

The El Mirage Dry Lake Off-Highway Recreation Area is a fantastic, Mars-like dry lake bed where you can get in some practice on your overland motorcycle or literally attempt a land-speed world record during an event run by the same sanctioning body that oversee the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Surrounding the lake bed are fun trails, sand washes, and scattered OHV play areas. Located in the Mojave Desert, El Mirage is approximately 6 miles long. Annual or day permits are cheap, and photography opportunities in this otherworldly landscape are next level.

Wildfire Moto
Courtesy of Drew Ruiz/Wildfire Moto

Big Bear

Not only a fun SoCal place to go skiing or snowboarding, Big Bear rests in the the San Bernardino National Forest and is home to a ton of fun fire roads, trails and off-the-beaten-path forested areas that are all fun for beginners and advanced riders alike.

The Burns and Rattlesnake Trail runs about 20 miles, descends through Joshua Trees, and ends down in Pioneertown in Yucca Valley. This particular trails has some great rocky terrain and dried creek beds in addition to ending in an “Old West” movie set town from the 1940s.


Most people don’t make the connection between Mammoth and OHV, since it’s one of the ultimate California snow recreation areas. But in the summertime, once all the snow is melted, Mammoth is quite lively for off-road vehicle fun and the scenery that cannot be beat.

This may be our favorite recommendation for learning to ride or taking the entire family for some off-road good times, since camping is free at Mammoth Lakes and the area offers a nearby creek, plenty of shade, lakes and hot springs to enjoy plus miles of smooth and fun trails to ride.

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