Adventuring touring motorcycles are built with one purpose in mind: Adventuring (duh!). These motorcycles built to ride to the ends of the earth, and everywhere in between. So why not use them for their capabilities?
In the section below and moving forward, we dive into the best California ADV routes by region, finding you the best terrain and roads to conquer—from sea to shining sea!
Now, we aren’t going to go for all dirt or all asphalt routes. That’s not what ADV riding is about. Instead, we’ll dabble between both and find an epic mix of both!
Whether you’re on an Africa Twin, BMW GS Adventure, or a more off-road-oriented bike like a Honda CRF450L, at least one of these should be added to the bucket list.
California is arguably one of the best places in the United States for ADV riding, hands down. How so? The expanse of the golden state offers nearly every type of terrain imaginable. Long deep sand washes and rocks will surely entice the desert rat, while backcountry roads and national forests have something offer the backwoods rider.
The best part of California? Riding 365 days a year! Moderate climate conditions mean that on any given day, there’s somewhere for your to head out for a rip, on road or off.
Try to find a state with more ADV riding diversity and friendly weather conditions. We dare you.
Below is a list of the five best routes and riding areas in California. Fill your tank, pack your panniers, and set out on your next adventure.
Barstow to Vegas
The LA Barstow to Vegas ride (LA-B-to-V) is iconic. Taking place the day after Thanksgiving for over 30 years, District 37 organizes a two-day ride covering roughly 400 miles from Palmdale to Las Vegas. The intriguing bit? The ride never touches Interstate 15—the most direct and paved means of reaching the Sin City.
It’s anything but an easy dual sport tour, and big ADV rigs are a minority. The majority of the hundreds that take part come prepared with 450cc dual-sport rigs, tackling the optional harder sections of trail. That’s not to say you can’t conquer it on a big-bore adventure bike. It can and has been done.
- Organized group ride
- Hosted by AMA District 37
- Moderate to hard difficulty, favoring off-road skills
Death Valley National Park packs an ADV punch. The park is one of the most inhabitable areas in the western hemisphere, yet one of the most rewarding places to explore on two wheels.
Natural geographical features like the Ubehebe Crater, Eureka Dunes, and Racetrack Playa—the dry lakebed known for “sailing stones”—offers unique destinations for all riders.
Navigating through Death Valley, however, comes with a catch. Tricky rock gardens, deep sand, steep inclines, and technical descents challenge ADV riders on big-bore machines, and only riders with heavy dirt experienced riders should partake.
- Treacherous terrain and conditions
- Deep sand, rock gardens, steep climbs and descents
Kennedy Meadows is one of Southern California’s hidden gems. The OHV area in the Sierra Nevada mountains off highway 395 plays host to several different outdoor recreational activities, but the most important is motorcycling.
The area encompasses hundreds of miles of the difficult single-track trail system, favoring the use of more off-road-oriented machines, but an ADV bike will get the job done. Most trails in Kennedy Meadows are open from mid-June to the first snowfall.
- Treacherous single track terrain
- Water crossings, campgrounds, and highly remote locations
If you’re going to have tour California in any capacity, riding Highway 1 is a must.
The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) begins in Dana Point covering a total of 656 miles before coming to an end in northern California’s town of Leggett.
While all paved, Highway 1 runs through many sensually rich and emotion-evoking stretches of coastal roads while making its way through the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. It always has something unique to offer a rider.
Got the itch for dirt? Highway 1 runs past several off-road areas, offering easy offshoots to tackle tricky terrain. The legendary Nacimiento Ferguson road? A direct shoot off PCH!
- A paved highway with long stretches and tight twisties!
- Pack layers. The weather conditions from southern to northern California can fluctuate dramatically
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, China Peak and surrounding areas are home to a network of unique and extremely entertaining paved roads and off-road trail system.
Simply, it has something to offer every type of rider, whether you’re a hardcore off-road enthusiast or canyon carver.
Bald Mountain is the highlight of the China Peak area. Climbing to the peak, a flowing 4X4 trail offers easy access, hold for the final tricky section including a stairstep rock climb and loose dirt. The reward is an unbelievable view atop a fire lookout, overseeing Shaver Lake.
- A wide variety of riding options… On- and off-road!
- Picturesque scenery
Bonus Riding: Baja California!
OK, while not exactly California—or even in the United States for that matter— riding Baja California is an easy and highly entertaining, just be sure to pack your passport.
Exploring Baja is about taking the back roads. Sure, getting to spots like Ejido Eréndira, a tiny fishing village a couple of hours south of Ensenada, on paved roads like Highway 1, but where’s the fun in that? Baja, Mexico encompasses a network of two-track, unmarked roads that wind its way down the coast.
Never been to Baja? A number of ADV tour companies offer fly-in, multi-day guided rides, sharing their knowledge of the land with you to make the trip safer and more enjoyable. Exploring Baja is about long clouds of dust behind the rear wheel and fish tacos in the stomach.
Besides, who doesn’t want to feel like Baja 1000-legend Johnny Campbell ripping through Mexico?
- Passport required!
- Endless routes and networks of paved and unpaved roads