Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rough Riding Northern San Diego County: Nate Harrison Grade up Palomar Mountain

The view of just the lower part of Nate Harrison Grade.
"One of the roads up Palomar Mountain has been known for five decades as 'The Highway to the Stars.' The road named after Nate Harrison might well be known as 'The Highway Back Into Time.' If you listen, besides the sound of the wind and hawks wheeling effortlessly overhead, you can hear horses straining against their leather harnesses, wooden wagon wheels creaking, and teamsters swearing and cracking the whip over the necks of the sweating beasts." So said David Ross in "Making the Grade: NATE’S ROAD HAS STORIES TO TELL" in a very lengthy and interesting article published in the Valley Roadrunner. Click here for the full story.

After two years of staring at the squiggly line on my Auto Club map of San Diego County which depicted an intriguing alternate - and unpaved - road up Palomar Mountain, we decided to go check it out in person on Thursday, November 6, 2008.

The dirt road itself, which goes literally all he way up Palomar Mountain, is 9.5 miles long and ascends about 4000 feet - from about 700' to about 4700'. Once you add in the last, paved, climb to the Boucher Fire Lookout, you've climbed 11.1 miles and ascended to 5438'. Then you have some rolling paved miles across the top of Palomar Mountain through the State Park to Mother's Kitchen, the General Store, Post Office, and bathroom. There you head over to the stop sign where you can take South Grade back down to where you started, for a total of 40 miles. Plan on five hours, to allow time to enjoy the views along the way and especially from the top, plus the water / food / bathroom stop at Mother's. Though the route can be climbed by an accomplished rough rider on a road bike with 28mm tyres, definitely I wouldn't recommend descending Nate Harrison without a full-on mountain bike. South Grade can have a lot of "crotch rocket" motorcyclists on weekends, so go on a weekday if you possibly can. This is really a phenomenal ride and we highly recommend it!
Above: Just a few miles up, you can see the road quality:
Pretty good. I could do it on 700by28mm road tyres easily.
Above: Most of the climb is very wide open, until you hit the tree line.Above and Below: Entering the forest.
Above: Near the end of the unpaved section, a lot of trees have been cut down - probably being cleared from the fires of recent years - so there is a lot of wood chips on the road, making it a little bit sketchy to ride for about 50 yards.
Above: The fabulous view from the top, looking south by southwest, from Boucher Lookout. My title for this ride and for this photo in particular is "All That You Can Leave Behind" - a reference to that idiotic casino down there, and the traffic associated with it and the other casinos which decimates the back roads of San Diego County.

Useful Links and Info:
"Nate Harrison Grade is on the southwest side of Palomar Mountain in the north end of San Diego County. Parking is best at Pauma School about 1/4 mile south of Highway 76 on Cole Grade Road. To reach this point take Highway 76 east off of Interstate Route 15 for about 15 miles, or Valley Center Road out of Escondido through Valley Center to Highway 76 in Pauma Valley and go west for about 4 miles. Thomas Guide page 1050 H4." (You can only park at the school on a weekend. We parked at the Casino Pauma which is amazing hard to find. It's at 777 Pauma Reservation Rd, Pauma Valley, CA 92061. Google Map of the location.)

"Nate Harrison Grade is on the southwest side of Palomar Mountain in the north end of San Diego County. This is one continuous climb that will certainly test your climbing strength. It has an average grade of 8% over 11.1 miles with some parts being much steeper. With almost 4700 feet of climbing this is a great workout ride with the reward of stunning views and a real sense of accomplishment at the top."

Here is Mountain Bike Bill's map of the route.
Here is Mountain Bike Bill's topo of the route
Here is Mountain Bike Bill's route description
(talk about a consistent gradient!)


Mary Elizabeth (MErider) said...

Fantastic ride report, thank you for sharing. The pics are amazing. I'm going to checkout the slide show as well when I'm back on a laptop with sound (this one lacks it). I need to get down south to try out Palomar as I've heard so many great, epic tales on rides up it, either on dirt or paved road.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fantastic report and photos. I've got to get some of those 28 cc tires and give Nata a try! ... Dan Crain, Irvine, CA.