Off-Road Travel: San Gabriel OHV Area (a.k.a. Azusa Canyon)

Jan. 19, 2011 By Jaime Hernandez
River crossing at Azusa Canyon, Project Retro F-350

The largest mud pit in Southern California is at San Gabriel Canyon OHV Area (a.k.a. Azusa Canyon).  This off-road oasis is the closest destination for city dwellers with 4x4s in the greater Los Angeles area.

The San Gabriel OHV Area (a.k.a. Azusa Canyon) is located off Hwy 39, just north of Azusa, CA.  It is run by the U.S. Forest Service and is open on weekends and major holidays. (GPS: 34.2376°N 117.86°W, Elevation: 1,512 feet (461 meters).

The San Gabriel OHV area is actually part of the Gabriel Dam, which is a controlled dam for water shed off the San Gabriel Mountains. Most of the year the OHV area is accessible for off-roading, and there’s always some mud. As water is released and the water level drops, more mud becomes available.


Our family has been going to Azusa Canyon since the early ‘70s. We’ve made friends there and now second and third generations enjoy the sport. Believe it or not, even though I’ve been to such places as Baja, Colorado, Moab and Crandon to name a few, this mud pit still holds a special place. It’s where I rode my first bike, experienced the great outdoors and got to share the fun of off-roading with my family. 
Gil Lopez playing in the mud with his Ford Bronco, rockin’ 42-inch Pit Bulls on 1-ton axles.  Gil and his family are old friends from the Canyon.

Today, Azusa Canyon is a bonafide off-highway vehicle park with a parking lot/ staging area, bathrooms, U.S. Forest Service Rangers and soon to come Obstacle Course and ATV track for the youngsters to increase their riding skills (for more information, visit 
For more information on the San Gabriel Canyon Obstacle Course and Kid track, please visit

In June of 2010, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved funding for the construction of the Azusa Canyon Obstacle Course and ATV Training Area.

The local off-road club ACORA (Azusa Canyon Off Road Association) has been an integral part in making this project finally gain some traction. Big players like Yamaha have also stepped up to provide a grant to aid in the development.

Mike Bishop, President of A.C.O.R.A., gives us a show in his early Ford 4x4--flinging mud in every which direction.


The real attraction at Azusa Canyon is the mud.  Featured in countless off-road magazines, catalogs and videos—it is among the top off-road destinations in the west for hard-core mud boggin’.

Filled with adrenaline junkies and mud warriors, Azusa Canyon is the place for a great mud bog. If you’ve never been boggin’—you’re missing out. 

On any given weekend, it’s not uncommon to see purpose-built mud trucks rolling on 42-inch tires, low gears and big horsepower. 

ATVs, Dirtbikes and any type of licensed Off-Highway vehicle is allowed to frolic in the mud.

It’s a completly different sport than rock crawling, desert racing or even running trails. It’s dirty, at times nasty, but overall a lot of fun.

Besides flexing your horsepower and defying the consistency of this tacky substance, part of the fun of mud boggin’ is seeing how far you can push your rig and your driving skills before they come to a halt. Then you really get dirty. 

This K5 Blazer not only got buried to the axles, it also found a rock and blew the rear tire. Luckily some of the A.C.O.R.A. members were there to rescue him.

Most of the regulars are willing to give a helping hand to a stuck vehicle, but don’t expect AAA service. You need to get out of your 4x4 and help hook up the tow strap even if it means getting muddy.


If high-power mud boggin’ isn’t really your thing, Azusa Canyon has more to offer.  There are sandy washes, stream crossings, dirt hills to climb, and even some areas for rock crawling.   

Jimmy in his white Chevy 1-ton, another A.C.O.R.A. member, helps a distressed off-roader that was having a little too much fun going up a sand bar.  The brown truck got sideways and came close to rolling over.

Since most of the action is at the rim of the dam, the rest of the canyon is pretty open for riding ATVs and dirtbikes. Places for setting up your day camp, BBQ and hammock are plentiful. If you’re up to it, take a dip in the stream. We always did as kids.

We spotted a rock crawler from Randy’s Off-Road in Azusa, CA.  Those are 2.5 Ton Rockwell axles under the frame—just to put things in perspective.

Stream crossings are plentiful at San Gabriel Canyon OHV area.

Azusa Canyon isn’t just for mud boggin’ it’s also a great place to get a free show.  These onlookers weren’t really up to getting dirty, but still had fun watching the mess from their Hummer, Pinzgauer and Jeeps.


There is no overnight camping at the San Gabriel OHV Area, but campgrounds are nearby. The closest campground with full-hook ups is at Camp Williams Resort located at East Fork—about 5 miles away from the San Gabriel OHV Area. Hotels are also available in Azusa and neighboring Glendora, CA.

Families having fun on the San Gabriel River, next to Camp Williams (Photo compliments of Camp Williams Resort).

FUN FACT: CalTech and the US Navy had a torpedo test site at Morris Dam during WWII. The test site still remains and can be seen as you head up to San Gabriel OHV area on Hwy 39.


Azusa Canyon OHV area is only open on weekends and major holidays.  It does close on occasion if the water level of the San Gabriel Dam is too high.  Make sure to call ahead for status.

$8 per vehicle/day

For more information contact:

San Gabriel OHV (USDA - Forest Service)
Entrance Station
Highway 39
(626) 910-1235

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