This trail is broken into two major segments, and has a third, the Burkhart Trail, which continues to the west and south.
VINCENT GAP TO SOUTHFORK CAMP:
Starting from Vincent Gap at 6500 ft., drop down into the canyon to the north. Excellent trail in this section, passing through stands of white fir, maple, live oak, and jeffrey pines. Some rock gardens here, but mostly smooth and fast. Next section has some switchbacks, and some dry wash crossings that are steep and very rough. The trail deteriorates and becomes very gravelly in sections, unfortunately on some critical uphills. There are some very narrow sections where folks tend to crash off the side of the mountain! About halfway down to Southfork Camp there is a bad walking section where landslides keep the trail at bay. After this, the trail improves again. The final switchbacks down to Southfork are really fast and have some great jumps.
DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL TO SOUTHFORK CAMP:
I'll describe this section in the direction it is most often travelled by bicyclists. I usually am going the other way (SF to DP) in order to complete the two sections in one day.
From Devil's Punchbowl, ride up the signed Burkhart Trail (which is signed as a multi-use trail). Just past the DP picnic area is a junction with the Punchbowl Trail. Go right and keep riding uphill toward the mountains. After meandering through a beautiful pinyon and manzanita forest, the trail meets a dirt road. Make a left and keep going uphill. After another quarter mile, the dirt road reaches the junction with the Manzanita Trail and the Burkhart Trail. Go left here and head toward the Devil's Chair. The first section is a nice quick downhill to the creek crossing. Then, mixed climbing, descending, and traversing on more excellent trail before climbing quite a bit to the top of a ridge overlooking the Devil's Chair. Descend some round switchbacks, careful around blind corners, and make a right at the "T" intersection where a short trail goes left to the Devil's Chair. Drop into the canyon, passing some not-too-rideable switchbacks. The trail crosses the creek in a shady grove of cedars and sycamores and alders, then begins to climb up the opposite side of the canyon. A few switchbacks later the trail climbs across a dangerous slope, where the trail has recently been repaired. Reach a saddle overlooking Southfork Camp, the bomb down some of the fastest downhill on the ride. Smooth trail combined with sharp, airy corners make this part quite exciting. Cross South Fork Big Rock Creek and ride across the riverbed to Southfork Camp.
VINCENT GAP: This is the top end of the trail. From I-210 and CA-2 jct. in Pasadena, drive up CA-2 past it's high point at Dawson Saddle, then down to Vincent Gap. From I-210 and I-15 jct. in Azusa, go north on I-15 to CA-2, then up CA-2 past Wrightwood, then on to Vincent Gap.
SOUTHFORK CAMP: From CA-14 and CA-138 jct. near Palmdale, go east on CA-138 to Pearblossom, then right on Longview, then left on Big Pines Hwy. (Valyermo Rd.), then right on Big Rock Creek Rd., then right on Southfork Camp spur road (dirt).
DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL: Same as Southfork, but continue south on Longview, following signs to Devil's Punchbowl County Park. Pay $3 for parking at the lot.
Summary: As of Sep. 2012 this trail is awesome! Super tight trail, rocks, turns, switchbacks, jumps. If your going north bound from Vincent Gap then you'll run into a few climbs, but for the most part its downhill. If your gonna ride it, just rembember there are a few larger rocks and rock crossings.
Other recommended trails in the same area: Devil's Chair from Devil's Punch Bowl.
Summary: I've been riding this trail 3-4 times a year for the past 13 years including riding/pushing up the trail when I first found it to see where it went. It has been unfairly maligned by some reviews so I hope to set the record straight on this incredible trail. When I first rode it, it was much more ridable with very little hike-a-bike until the big El Nino about 9 years back. The trail was overwhelmed with washouts at every drainage and skree landslides became massive. Some repairs were done but they were only bandaids which were washed out by the next storm. On 8-23-2000 the FS sent a small dozer and hand crew out to make more permanent repairs on the lower 2 miles including adding reinforced walls on the landslide areas. I know because I rode the trail that day and couldn't believe I was hearing heavy machinery on the trail. That day and for a couple years after the dozed section was horrible. Soft dirt covering rocks and a wider, more tame trail but the landslide problem was eliminated. With time however, the trail has hardened and the walls have held. I last rode it on 4-24-04 (I avoid it in hot weather) and there were a few washouts in the upper third and some dirt had washed over the retaining walls but I'm sure those problems have been repaired by now. There are some climbs out of creek crossings and a variety of terrain like dirt, gravel and baby head rocks but it is a great trail comparable with any I have ridden in Utah, Colorado or Idaho only with dry mountain and high desert scenery. It has fast, buff sections and slow tech parts and almost 6 miles of singletrack. I too have seen a huge reddish colored bear on this trail to add to its appeal. If you want a smooth, speed enhancing, unchallenging and low work level trail, go to McGill in Frasier Park. If however, you want a real challenge of terrain, technique and skill then ride Manzanita!
Recommended Route: I park where the dirt road to South Fork camp leaves Big Rock Creek road. Peddle up the pavement past the work camp and hit 2 miles of dirt of which I walk about half being a 215lb Clydesdale. At Vincent Gap you can take the FS road north or the old road south to an abandoned mine for more riding. The loop alone is 12 miles; add 4 more for the round trip to the mine
Other recommended trails in the same area: Blue Ridge, Acorn, Punchbowl, Burkhardt. These can be joined together for a massive shuttle ride. E-mail me and we'll ride it.
Review Date May 8, 2003
Overall Rating 4 of 5
Ridden Trail: Ridden Once
Reviewed by: Ian
, from Costa Mesa
Summary: Excellent Riding, Worth the climb up to Vincent gap. Some very fast sections if you don't mind the narrow trail & big drop off the edge, had a few near tree misses, a lot of fun. Some very tight, steep switch backs. Two sections where a carry is required across some fallen rocks. Look stright at the bank when you lose the trail in the dry river bed. It dosn't look that well used on the other side. You are going to need some riding skills to pull this trail off & not for the faint hearted. Watch out for dips in the last stretch (which is very fast) they will buck you if your not paying attention!!!, but good air time. Need to go back & really give it what for next time. A worthy ride
Recommended Route: As top, pretty detailed
Review Date December 1, 2000
Overall Rating 1 of 5
Ridden Trail: Ridden Once
Reviewed by: Eric J
, from Los Feliz, CA
Summary: The uphill is brutal. Paved, steep, relentless. Almost 6 miles of grinding. The downhill that we worked so hard for - well, it never delivered. Somehow, with the rocks and washed out scree, the trail never seems to go down hill. Could it be true that we rode for 6 miles up hill and then had to ride 6.5 miles up hill again to get back to the car? Obviously not. But it seemed that way. If it weren't for the California brown bear I almost ran over on the trail, this would have been a complete waste of time.
Recommended Route: Drive CA 138 to Pearblossom. Head south through Valyermo. Park at Sycamore Flat Campground and ride uphill on Big Rock Creek Road to the top of Vincent Gap. Roll downhill on the Manzanita Trail.
Review Date August 25, 1999
Overall Rating 4 of 5
Ridden Trail: Once a month
Reviewed by: Tom Kenney
, from Reseda, CA
Summary: This ride is one of the more technical trails in the county. Also, the remoteness gives it a real wilderness feel. Some of the gravel sections are quite frustrating, especially if you are taking on the BIG ride and need to save energy. My favorite variation on this ride is to park at Punchbowl, ride roads up to Vincent Gap, ride out the Blue Ridge road through Wrightwood/ski areas, then back to Vincent Gap, where I dive down the Manzanita Trail and ride it all the way back to Punchbowl. Big, BIG miles, but spectacular scenery and great variety the whole way.
Recommended Route: SHORT RIDE (beginner): Devil's Punchbowl to Devil's Chair and back LONG RIDE (expert): Devil's Punchbowl to Vincent Gap and back BONUS POINTS (adv-exp): Burkhart Trail to Burkhart Saddle - GNARLY climb!!!