In the 1970s, the once tiny and now thoroughly suburbanized community of Alpine displayed a sign along its main highway boasting “Best Climate in the USA by Government Report.” The town’s boosters eventually got what they wanted. Thousands of people moved there to enjoy relatively affordable housing on spacious hillside lots. Traffic has increased on Alpine’s highways and byways, but not so much that bicyclists can’t enjoy a spin around the greater neighborhood — as long as that effort takes place during weekend early-morning hours, when car traffic is relatively scant. Several of the rural roads here have no shoulders, so riding here is a matter of sharing the road with cars. Do wear some brightly colored clothing, so that drivers are sure to notice you.
Described here is an almost-never-flat, 17-mile loop ride amid the oaks, chaparral, and scattered suburban/rural housing of the Alpine, Harbison Canyon, and Dehesa areas. As is typical during early autumn, the morning marine layer often lies much lower than the 1000- to 2000-foot elevations found here. Often by 7 a.m. you can be bathed in pure white sunshine.
To get to Alpine by car, drive east from San Diego on Interstate 8 and exit at Tavern Road. Make a right and a quick left on Alpine Boulevard and park somewhere in the area that serves as Alpine’s town center. Start your bike ride by heading west on Arnold Way, which crosses Tavern and descends crookedly through an attractive rural residential area. At the bottom of the grade, turn left on Harbison Canyon Road. Subdivisions fill part of the valley ahead.
The road soon pitches downward along the bottom of narrow Harbison Canyon into the town of the same name. Cruising through here in a car, you might easily miss many of the unique sights, sounds, and smells of this small community. Balanced on two quietly spinning wheels, you can savor the atmosphere of this cool, wooded canyon to the fullest. Oak-shaded Old Ironsides County Park, on the left, is a good place for a water stop or a picnic.
Farther down the canyon, turn left on Dehesa Road and shift into a low gear that best suits the long, moderate uphill incline ahead. Like so many rural byways in or near Indian reservation lands, this one can at times be busy with cars entering or leaving the Sycuan Resort and Casino. As you gain altitude on Dehesa Road, the hillsides become steeper. Swept by wildfires twice in recent years, they look dry and ragged with pioneering shrub vegetation. Spiky yuccas are among the first plants to thrive in the post-fire environment. Next spring, after the winter rains, these same scrubby hillsides will turn a bright shade of green.
Make a left turn when you reach the Tavern Road intersection. After more climbing, turn right onto South Grade Road. This gently rolling byway takes you past many of Alpine’s more spacious properties. When you reach Alpine Boulevard, swing left and coast the final two miles back into Alpine’s town center.
Alpine-Dehesa bike ride
Cruise on two wheels through the rural communities of Alpine, Harbison Canyon, and Dehesa Valley.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 29 miles
Biking length: 17 miles
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous