Jawbone Canyon OHV Day Ride

April 3, 2009
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
Off-Road Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog |Blog Posts |Blog RSS

Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

Jawbone Canyon OHV sounded like a good way for us to get away from the rest of the world for a day or two. A wide variety of multi-use trails proved that it was.

There’s nothing better than hanging out with your buddies, especially when it includes a couple of Yamaha WRs and an incredible day like the one we had at Jawbone Canyon OHV located in the Mojave Desert.

For a dirt bike enthusiast, Jawbone can be a lot of fun. The terrain offers just about any type of riding you’re after… fire roads, whooped-out trails, sand washes, single track, whooped-out trails, flat-out desert, beautiful boulder formations and did I mention whooped-out trails? The views are spectacular and if you’re lucky enough to show up right after a rain, the desert floor comes alive with wild flowers.

Looking for a new place to get out and ride? It’s easy to tire of the regular stomping grounds, so we loaded up our Yamaha WR250F and WR450F and headed out of L.A. to meet up with some friends at a popular off-road riding destination – Jawbone Canyon OHV.

The Jawbone Canyon Store has what you’ll need to fuel your bikes and bodies. It’s a great meeting point and is right on the highway.

Unless you’re coming from an epic ride through Death Valley (MotoUSA, Summer, 2008), accessing Jawbone will likely be from the south where Highway 58 intersects 14 at Mojave. You could creep up the 395 past Johannesburg and then back down, but the ticket is Highway 14. From there it’s simple, just look for Jawbone Canyon Road or the infamous sign. Don’t worry, you’ll understand immediately when you see it. Fortunately, the trails will leave a more lasting impression than a massive troglodyte billboard. It’s only a couple hours from Los Angeles and well worth the trip.

Guarded by the fattest beach lady in the high desert, Jawbone Canyon Store is a dusty little joint right off the 14 and served as the starting point for our adventure. We were able to fill our packs with water and snacks, and kick things off with decent breakfast burritos and hot coffee from the deli. The store, which was rebuilt in 1998 after a fire, is unique in that it depends on off-road riders. Without us, there would be no reason for a small, rectangular building in the middle of nowhere with edibles and generic camping necessities. Inside you’ll find some basic motorcycle and ATV parts, the ones that break often enough to warrant space on the cluttered shelves, hoping they’ll see action. There’s also a bar so you can trade the morning cup of joe for a frosty post-ride brew.

Plenty of riders and their families choose to camp in the open riding area and small RV cities are known to crop up during holiday weekends. Living and working in the remote high desert of California takes a certain amount of spizzerinctum, but a weekend camping trip or even single-day outing is completely manageable for the everyday man. We hit it during a Monday and as you would expect, bike traffic was extremely low.

The BLM-managed OHV trail system offers over 7000 square miles of open terrain located south/southwest of the Sequoia National Forest. All forms of motorized fun are welcome so buggies, ATVs, Jeeps and bikes all need to share. Vehicles that aren’t street-legal will require green sticker registration. We didn’t encounter any officers, but BLM rangers are on patrol. Predictably, much of the more open terrain is battered into the standard desert whoop-fest, but there’s also plenty of quad trail and single track for those who appreciate tighter travel. We also found good access roads that will allow 2WD vehicles with campers to get in and get situated.

There’s plenty to see and do in Jawbone Canyon – as long as you’re on a motorcycle. Other attractions are nonexistent in this remote place.

Head up Jawbone Canyon Road, or many of the surrounding washes and trails, and you’ll see one of the most important features of everyday SoCal life. Riding underneath the 12-foot steel pipes of the second Los Angeles Aqueduct is a unique experience as it works its way around the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

For the most part, the area is above the manure-tainted smog of Bakersfield and L.A.’s acidic atmosphere. Leave the basin’s airborne particles behind as the Kern River travels its twisty canyon commute from Isabella Reservoir. The popular watersport destination is to the northwest of Jawbone. To the southeast lays an enormous grid of undeveloped city blocks and empty cul-de-sacs; a reminder of how California City never realized its full potential before being abandoned. It hasn’t been completely forgotten, however, and in addition to a small city, the Honda Proving Center of California (HPCC) sits nearby, basically right across the highway from the Jawbone Store, about three miles as the crow flies. As much as we’d all like to turn some laps on the supercross or motocross track, the testing facility for Big Red is off limits.

Elevation ranges from around 2200 feet in the canyon to nearly 4500 on the surrounding peaks. It’s possible to leave the OHV park and venture out into what’s classified as the Jawbone-Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The upper section is crossed by the Pacific Crest Trail. Here your opportunities are restricted to designated roads and trails, but it does provide access to expanded distances. The region is a latticework of connecting BLM and county roads that can get you to remote locations. Just check out some aerial maps.

Robber’s Roost is one of the region’s notable landmarks. This former hideout for stagecoach bandits overlooks the city of Ridgecrest off in the distance. More than just a tidbit of trivia, this is an important footnote for any off-roader because the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital is possibly the best option for rapid and extensive medical attention in the remote

Riding is always better with a friend, and there’s plenty of terrain for your entire goup.


Jawbone Canyon isn’t the be-all and end-all of OHV riding in this part of California, but the desert and mountain terrain expand over an immense distance that incorporates other sections of available riding opportunities. For instance, the adjacent Red Mountain area is well-known for hosting an assortment of races including the entire United States Desert Racing series as well as National Hare & Hound events. Randsburg is a former mining town-turned tourist waypoint. Many of the businesses in this territory might not rely as heavily on off-road motorcycles and ATVs as the Jawbone Store, but it’s certainly nice to park the bikes outside a restaurant or fuel station and be greeted with cheer rather than scorn. Finding a welcoming attitude for our sport can be difficult these days, especially in SoCal. Keep that in mind the next time you get tired of the same old trails and ol’ Jawbone can be a fresh shot in the arm.


TRAILS 4/5: We liked the aqueduct as an unusual landscape feature but mostly it’s just sand washes, whooped out trails and single track – pretty typical high desert terrain. Rock outcroppings make for fun playgrounds and we ran across some big, sandy hills that were a good test of horsepower. There was little traffic during our weekday ride and we never encountered any rangers. The store nearby for gas and snacks is an additional plus as well as the Jawbone OHV Station. Both are located right off Highway 14 and serve as good meeting points if you split up or get lost. Trail markers

Getting to Jawbone is easy and there’s plenty of camping options inside the riding area. There are no RV hookups, but campers can easily be accommodated.

are relatively scarce but maps are available.

SCENERY 3/5: Scrub brush and dirt are fun to ride through but not necessarily breathtaking. There are some decent views from higher up but the general air quality of SoCal makes for a relatively dingy outlook. We did like some of the different colors in the rocks, especially some interesting aqua-green and rusty reds. Robber’s Roost is pretty cool.

ACCESS 3/5: Roads into Jawbone OHV are easy to navigate and in good shape. You can find plenty of extra mileage if you want to take the long way home, but honestly, it’s probably pretty far from home anyway. Southern Californians are accustomed to a commute before riding, but this area is several hours away from most major population densities. Even though it’s a ways out, Jawbone is still worth the effort. We’d recommend spending a few days and making a camping trip out of it.

BIKES 4/5: Yamaha’s WR450F and WR250F are great trail bikes. The suspension is a little soft for heavy pounding through the whoops, but we didn’t spend all day hammering ourselves to death. The bikes are comfortable, well-rounded, have a decent range and are green-sticker legal in stock form. 

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