Say there was a town, a town that was perfect for the adventure motorcyclist. It was close enough to beautiful beaches, close enough that you could head there for an afternoon or evening, and have a great ride there and back, because this town was smack-dab in the middle of national forests. And, if you wanted sun and sand without the waves, you could ride in the other direction and hit desert within minutes. Or maybe you needed a day off the bike, and you just wanted to relax in a scenic town, filled with history, good food, and culture?
Julian, California, is that town, and on November 4–7, you can head there for the GEICO Motorcycle Adventure Rally & Camp, running out of the Stagecoach Trails Resort.
Not sure what’s happening at the rally weekend? See details for the weekend’s activities below, to see if it’s what you want. Otherwise, if you’re already planning on going, skip ahead to find some suggestions on routes to ride to get to the rally, and other things to do and see in the area.
The rally weekend
In the points: This is the second year for the Motorcycle Adventure Rally & Camp event in Southern California, after the event moved there in 2019 (the 2020 event was canceled, thanks to COVID-19). Previously, the Motorcycle Adventure Rally & Camp event ran in other locations, like the Sierras or the Rockies. However, thanks to Julian’s excellent blend of street and off-road riding potential, as well as its geographical location and the town’s unique culture, it’s returning there.
This rally is a scavenger hunt-style event, aimed at riders of all skill levels. Riders must participate in teams of two to four members. Rally organizers have put together almost 100 points of interest to locate, including new POIs this year, within a 100-mile radius of the rally’s base camp. The riding is self-directed, and the checkpoints range in difficulty; some are newb-friendly, some are going to take a pro-level effort. The trails are accessible to all ADV bike manufacturers, and all are welcome; this isn’t a single-brand event.
Organizers recommend a motorcycle with at least a 250 cc engine, to handle the on-road and off-road segments. The great thing about scavenger-style events is that they aren’t focused on raw speed through gnarly terrain; contestants will combine navigation skills with off-road and on-road riding skills, and they must work as a team, if they want to win. Furthermore, there’s no single route that riders must follow; they get to choose their own adventure, with no mandatory checkpoints. Riders will get a map showing bonus locations in the area, color-coded by difficulty, and placed at locations with historical or topographical interest. They can decide which locations they want to attempt to find, and if they want to take an off-road focused route, or stick to the street as much as possible. Upon reaching the POIs, they take smartphone photos of the locations, upload and tag them, and staff at base camp will keep score.
To find the POIs, rally-goers will head through a wide variety of terrain: mountains, valleys, deserts, and even twisties. The SoCal geography around Julian has a lot to offer. Riders can tackle the trails throughout the whole three-day event, or choose to take a day or two to hang around home base, too, as there’s lots going on at the Stagecoach Trails Resort.
The riders who earn the most points on each day will be recognized that evening, and the team that gets the most points over all three days will win the Adventure Cup. We also get the new-for-2021 Club Cup this year, for the riding club that performs best at the rally, and the Industry Cup, which goes to the top-scoring industry insider team.
Back at the ranch, the organizers are also putting together Moto Games, giving riders a chance to earn extra points performing special tests on their machines, with a championship awarded for the top team.
Just for fun: Even if you’re not aiming for the top of the points standings, there’s lots of other fun at the resort’s base camp. There are several camping options, including basic tenting spots, as well as parking areas for RVs (and rentals in the area, too), along with cabins and bunkrooms. Hanging around in the evenings, there will be bonfires, motorcycle movies in the evenings of the 4th and 5th, and Tap Truck is bringing its mobile bar service, with local craft beverages. The Reflectors, a San Diego-based classic rock cover band, will be playing over the weekend as well.
As well, Lance Thomas is returning with his mobile blacksmithing booth. He’s making this year’s awards, and will also be doing demonstrations at his booth. If you want to try blacksmithing for yourself, Lance can hook you up—for $20, he’ll show you how to make a forged wall hook, from start to finish.
Riding classes: What if you are more interested in sharpening your riding skills than you are in competing for points? The Adventure Brothers school is back, with four classes: Thursday (9 a.m. to noon), Friday (9 to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.) and Saturday (9 to noon). Cost is $50 a class, with students working on their slow speed balance control, counterbalancing in turns, off-road braking, and other skills that can be fitted into the class as time permits. Class size is 15 riders, and Lance Thomas is teaching these events, when he’s not blacksmithing. He spent five years at BMW’s Off Road Riding Academy, and still teaches dirt riding clinics at BMW dealers around the country. The Adventure Brothers classes should help you master your big GS, then, but of course other brands are also welcome.
Industry/Demo rides: Like most rallies, the industry will have a presence at this event. Along with a lineup of ADV-focused vendors, Harley-Davidson will offer test rides. If you want to throw a leg over the new Pan America 1250 adventure bike, here’s your chance to do so.
Other details: Cost to attend this year’s rally is $90, or $200 if you want the four-day breakfast and dinner food package (see the menu here). If you want to go with the food-included package, you must sign up before November 1. There’s also going to be lunch provided for those kicking around the base camp mid-day, at extra cost. And, there are options for adding extra food, or only including the rally-end prime rib dinner, cooked for the award hand-outs on Saturday night.
Your lodging isn’t included with that reservation; to book a spot at the Stagecoach Trails Resort, visit the rally website for information or find the resort’s site here. Of course, there are also hotels and other lodgings in the nearby town of Julian, which may be more preferable to riders, especially if the resort is running low on space. See TripAdvisor’s listings here, and AirBnB’s listings here.
See a full schedule for the rally’s weekend plans here. Other rules, policies and fine-print details are here. You can find some reviews of the 2019 rally here on ADVrider, and if you search the #advrally hashtag on Instagram, you might be able to dig up photos of that event! Some ADVers are also making plans for last-minute team-ups in that thread, too, so if you want to find riding partners, you can look there. You can also check this thread for details on the 2021 rally, or to try to put together a team.
Getting to Julian/Riding the area
The area surrounding Julian, California, is a motorcycling paradise. Motorcycle manufacturers with their head offices based in or near the Inland Empire will take motorcycle journalists on day trips through the areas during press launches, so you know the scenery and roads are both very good.
So, how do you get there? If you’re looking for offroad-heavy routes, your best bet is to either ask politely in ADVrider’s Trip Planning sub-forum, or California’s regional sub-forum. When it comes to dirt roads and trails, there’s no substitute for recent, boots-on-the-ground knowledge. Those sub-forums will have the most up-to-date information you can get, from locally savvy riders. These sub-forums will also tell you how to set up your bike for the area. Not that we want to stir up this hornet’s nest, but given the considerable amount of sand you can encounter in Southern California, you might want to carefully consider which tires you’re running, and match them to your expected off-road riding.
Depending on which direction you’re coming from, you may also find the Backcountry Discovery Routes of some assistance. The CABDR South route doesn’t go right to or through Julian, but you may be able to piece it into your route. The same goes for other BDRs based in the Southwest—see more here.
Otherwise, if you’re riding pavement to the area, you’re in for a treat, and you may even want to tack on a few extra days to your trip to take advantage of all the area has to offer.
If you’re coming down from Los Angeles or the surrounding area, State Route 79 is a moderately curvaceous highway, with good scenery as it winds through higher elevations. You can branch onto SR 79 off Interstate 5 below Temecula, if you dare attempt the freeway. You can also get onto State Route 76 at Pala Mesa; both the 79 and the 76 will meet above the Santa Ysabel Reservation, and both will offer you the chance to detour onto the excellent riding of Mount Palomar.
Mount Palomar itself has excellent paved and unpaved routes; however, as this ADVrider thread points out, sometimes the roads are closed. Sometimes private landowners want to restrict access, or sometimes there are other issues. Unless there’s some horrible wildfire situation (unlikely, given recent rains), you can likely expect the South Grade Road (totally paved) to the Mount Palomar Observatory to be open. If you want gorgeous scenery, you can try the Nate Harrison Grade, one of California’s OHV trails. Make sure you’ve got a USFS-approved muffler.
If possible, you might also wish to tie the Ortega Highway (State Route 74) into this route, as you’ll get a drive-by of Lake Elsinore before you connect with the 15. Good road riding, combined with a taste of American moto history.
If you’re coming from the San Diego area, you need to get to El Cajon or Escondido. From Escondido, you’ve got access to State Route 78, through the San Pasqal Valley. El Cajon gets you over to State Route 67, which also meets up with 78. Or, you can blast easterly on Interstate 8, then north on State Route 79.
If you find these roads are too busy for your liking, or otherwise unenjoyable, you can branch off in many places to take side routes, or even unpaved roads. However, SoCal is SoCal: chances are, to get anywhere, you’ll have to slog through some traffic at the start of your trip, and the closer you get to Julian, the better the roads get, especially as you’re riding through state parks, national forests, or other tracts of public land.
Travelers coming in from the east side of Julian will have to navigate around the Salton Sea (this landlocked body of water is well worth a side visit—more details here). To the south of the Salton Sea, the roads are more straight, but at least you get the enjoyment of the Anza-Borrego desert. Make a visit to Borrego Springs and take S22 past Hellhole Palms, if you need a break from the straight pavement.
On the northerly side of the Salton Sea, a trip through Palm Desert and then up into the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains on State Route 74 will certainly interrupt the monotony. Make sure to stop at the lookouts on the easterly side of the mountains; the view is incredible (and Palm Springs, just up the road from Palm Desert, is certainly a funky little town for an enjoyable lunch stop).
Generally speaking, no matter which side of town you come in from, the roads around Julian are all pretty fun, and you should explore the pavement in the area if at all possible. With miles and miles of mountain twisties, this really is a special area, and you can usually expect stereotypical Southern California sunshine.
The unpaved riding is also spectacular, and if there’s something you don’t get to see during the rally’s activities, you might want to stick around late, to check out some different territory . . . or maybe return to conquer some off-road section that defeated you during the rally. We’ve all been there.
The town of Julian
Along with the great riding, the town of Julian is pretty special, too. The main attraction is apple pie, believe it or not, with the Julian Pie Company enjoying an especially great reputation, but other diners and eateries also offer their own take on this all-American classic. You can see other recommendations from TripAdvisor here.
Julian also has a fun gold rush history. The gold mining here happened long after the Days of ’49; in fact, it was California residents who were moving back east at the end of the Civil War who settled the area, discovering the town’s site by accident as they moved back to Arizona. A few years later, Julian had its own gold rush through the 1870s, accompanied by all the financial and political skullduggery that accompanies such activity. In the long term, it seems the apple trees planted by settlers have been more beneficial to the area than that initial gold discovery.
Still, the town is proud of its rootin’, tootin’ past, and you can visit the historic Eagle Mine and High Peak Mine, exploring the tunnels with now-obsolete equipment on display. They’ll also teach you how to pan for gold, which might come in handy, if your demo ride at the rally convinces you that you need a new motorcycle.
The Julian Pioneer Museum also shares details on the town’s past, and even if you aren’t into historic displays, you might enjoy walking around the town’s scenic downtown core, with a wide selection of independent eateries and businesses.
If all that history is boring for you, you can also try howling at the moon at the town’s California Wolf Center, a non-profit that’s dedicated to returning wolves to their natural habitat.
Again, if you want the food-included package, you must register by November 1. See here for full details of registration. Your registration kit includes an event T-shirt and sticker, a custom-designed rally map and clue book (you’ll need them for navigation), a plate sticker, and a gift bag. If you wish to sign up for rider training, you can also do that at this same registration page.
Disclaimer: This post was kindly sponsored by ADVRally. Thank you ADVRally for supporting ADVrider.