Backyard Off-Roading in San Diego: Anderson Truck Trail

Aug. 19, 2015 By Justin Fort

Access to Get In, Places the Trails Take You, Things You’ll See
In our years writing about backyard off-roading (neighborhood trails you can hit without blowing a whole day), this one might have been the closest to our Fletcher Hills headquarters. Less than 20 minutes out of the driveway, we were poking around the exit at Willow Road in Alpine, CA, for the turnoff to the Victoria Drive loop. Backtracking west on Alpine Boulevard led us to Victoria at a freeway underpass, and up the hill to Anderson Road, which becomes Anderson Truck Trail. Our backyard adventure is related to our San Diego locale, but the idea of “backyard off-roading” is that many of us have trails close to home that may or may not be the most challenging, but they offer a quick off-road escape that doesn’t require an entire weekend to accomplish.

The start of the trail is rather unassuming, though well marked.

Anderson Truck Trail: San Diego County
- a fun, as-sporty-as-you-like trail that terminates above El Capitan Reservoir (way above it)
- a killer views of lake and surrounding mountains like The Captain
- challenging terrain is available on several spur trails that splinter off the main
- lots of room to play, practice or test equipment on aforementioned spurs
- useful interconnects between sections of trail
- popular but not crowded
- you can get home in time for lunch

- the trail isn’t long – less than five miles of it is truckable (realistically), and you leave the way you came
- even the difficult sections of trail aren’t that challenging – the offshoots never get above a three on the five-scale
- Super-Duty-sized trucks will have a tricky time in a few of the turns, so leave your longbed at home if you don’t want bush-rash
- some of the trail users can be... jerkular... whether or not you’re nice
- get over the fact that people built homes up here

You’ll see more than a few houses on the first two miles of Anderson Truck Trail. Perhaps they’d like to have you over for tea and crumpets – wave!

The trail begins at an altitude of about 2200 feet. It helps to zero your odometer. You will climb, but plan to drop as much, and then more – Anderson Truck Trail works its way overland to the edge of the ridge overlooking El Capitan Reservoir, and anyone with a good wheel can then drop over the edge a ways and really enjoy a view of El Cap with their picnic brunch.

Somewhat visible (you’ll need to take our word for it), the network of auxiliary trails branching off Anderson Truck Trail makes for a decent selection of terrain features. Some of those features are strictly biker-style, but most are truckular.

You’ll quickly realize that you’re driving a backyard trail – several driveways to homes (including properties burned out in past fires) click off to the left and the right, and in some cases, you’ll be making a spectator sport of their back yards. You’ll encounter gates or warning signs in most cases, but prepare to back out if you aren’t paying attention. At one sign – “599” – bear right, and you’ll see batch of homes to your left shortly thereafter. Another set of homes lies off to the right past two miles in. There will also be a number of wide spots where folks park to climb nearby Viejas Mountain, or to unload their motorcycles and bikes. Remember to wave – you never know when one of them will be able to pull you out.

The main trail never gets worse than this, with a few of those off balance-but-not spots that look worse than they are.

You’re done passing homes when the trail gets lumpy. At this point, it’s no longer a driveway, but honest backcountry access. Several offshoots pop up, including a high-quality spur to the left about three miles in. The main road bears right there, though at several later intersections it heads left. You can usually identify spur trails because they quickly get weirder than the main road. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but remember where you are. The complex of spurs to the south of Anderson Truck Trail work their way toward a generally flat mesa to the south, where numerous interconnects loop back and forth into each other, and can be driven back to the main trail if you manage your sense of direction. It’s in areas like this where that awareness – where you’re headed, where the main trail is, where you want to wind up – is essential. Pay attention (not only to yourself but to others on the trail) or you might just fall in the lake. Literally.

In a classic case of “It was worse than it looks,” we give you the only place where the locker used – heavy ruts, rutted further by folks doing the same thing we were.

Hard Points: What, Where and How
Route and Trailhead: Anderson Truck Trail (15S30), accessible from Victoria Drive in Alpine, ala the 8 freeway.

Terrain: graded dirt/rough dirt/heavily rutted dirt/washed-out dirt road, some narrow sections, expect to pucker once or twice, longer rigs might need to multipoint a few turns or back up, spur trails vary greatly and can get interesting.

Making friends on-trail is usually a good idea, especially when there’s a lot of them. In addition, if you’re a dual-user (we bike these trails when we’re not truckin’ them), it’s likely we’ll see these dudes again. Hi!

Necessities: main trail = two-wheel drive with good articulation/four-wheel drive for trucks that don’t flex, good tires, a brain; spur trails = four-wheel drive, advanced vehicle control, a rear locker would be helpful.

Your Skill Level: main trail = novice with instructor/spotter or better; spur trails = intermediate, or novice with instructor/spotter and another truck, or better.

Author’s Equipment: third-gen 4Runner with more mileage than Apollo 11, four-wheel drive, rear locker, custom three-inch lift, worn Goodyear Wrangler Silent Armors @ 25psi, plus skills.

Hmmmmm. Must be barricade-hunting season. Be vewy vewy quiet. Then, follow the trail to the left.

Local Trail Means Popular Trail – Mind Your Step
There will be others with you in the bush – this is a popular set of trails, close to San Diego proper. Some folks come out to shoot, though it is our impression that it is not a legal area to do so; there’s plenty of BLaM land nearby where it’s perfectly okay, so don’t push it. Other users of Anderson Truck Trail include mountain bikers – lots of them – and the two-wheel enduro/dirt bike set. Most of these folks, including all we met on this run, were plenty friendly once we warmed them up. Several hikers were also encountered, and their friendliness was less consistent. All of these folks should haul out what they bring in, though you’re bound to find some litter they left behind. Remember, the granola crunching foot-only elitists are not just interested in getting trucks off these trails, they want bikes gone too (witness several cases of bikers being banned in Orange County and San Diego, for example), so People of the Tire need to stick together. We should all support trail-sharing organizations like Blue Ribbon Coalition.

As described, Black Ryan’s pinchy spot just past Viewpoint Watson... Going beyond this is not Sunday fun run material.

The Drop-In to El Cap’s Viewpoint Watson
A friend of the author, who goes by “Black Ryan” on a local gearhead radio show called the Garage Hour, rides Anderson Truck Trail frequently. He described the point about five miles in where the trail necks down to barely truck width (at a landslide that took some trail with it). He said this is where to stop going forward: shortly past a stand of old scrub oaks, there’s a wide point in the trail followed by Black Ryan’s Gap, which all but advanced trail rigs would be unable to pass. It was our impression that a third-gen 4Runner could have squeezed through (right?), but without a spotter and only limited recovery gear, we weren’t going to try. Black Ryan said the trail continues on its tight and windy way beyond the pinch, but don’t assume you can make it without serious effort. Plan to return the way you came. If we didn’t believe him, he suggested we find and ask the owners of at least four trucks balled up below the trail. Not everyone on-trail is nice, including whomever tumbled these stuck trucks down the mountainside instead of helping retrieve them.

About four miles in, you’ll come across a wide section of trail, with a large circular turnaround and two spur trails heading north and south. Try them both, and learn a little about this network of trails for yourself. If you’re out here in your big-boy truck, this is the place to turn around – the trail tightens on the downhill. Anything longer or wider than a half-ton with the standard bed will probably pick up a scratch or two, and unlifted two-by trucks might not have the clearance for a few of the ruts.

This XTerra was tossed over the side less than a year ago. Rumor has it the truck was stuck but recoverable, which means someone else chose to destroy personal property instead of save it. This happens with vehicles left unprotected more than we want to believe.

Past the barricade just west of the wide big-boy turnout, Anderson Truck Trail meanders downhill over a rutted, partially washed-out dirt road. You’ll be in first or second gear, and probably on the brakes. When the trail begins to straighten and you can see the lake (preferably on your right), you’re almost out of road. Past a copse of old scrub oaks, the trail widens just enough to pull to the side of it, and then necks down at Black Ryan’s aforementioned pinch; we’d recommend you avoid it. Here’s where you either K-turn the trail to head out, or prepare to back fifty feet to pull a K under the oaks. For most, this is the end of the trail, though mountain bikers, motorcyclers and hikers would take this section of trail downhill to Peutz Valley Road. You could (!) go further, though not with our recommendation. If nothing else, walk a few hundred yards of the narrowed Anderson (Not Very) Truck Trail and see for yourself. Then spend a few minutes admiring the vehicles that did not survive the maneuver you are considering.

Some of these wrecked wrecks have been here a long time. Story has it that a Dodge pickup was recovered a few years back, but most are left to rot. Sad.

It should be noted that we never used four-wheel drive or the rear locker on the main trail – heading in or out – though they were handy on the offshoots. However, if your truck does not boast the extensive articulation of a modded 4Runner (particularly the rear axle, which would wander off if it didn’t have a leash), four-wheel drive will probably be necessary.

Official self-with-truck moment of reflection. We’re bringing lunch and the girl next time – it’s a high-Q spot to find some chill.

Trails like this speak to the usefulness of narrower tires. While this selection is less effective in the sand of San Diego’s desert terrain (witness this 4Runner’s inability to climb San Dam after a dozen tries, while matching 4Runners with wider tires can), it is ideal for tight trails and lumpy rock crawling the author prefers – better steering, narrower footprint, more accurate tire placement. Of course, in this case, we used a tired set of the Kevlar-booted Wranglers that just refuse to curl up and die, and they were more than enough. Newsletter
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