Every year, tens of thousands of cyclists and other motorists make the zigzag ascent to Mount Palomar. On the map it is designated as part of California Rt. 76. It has been described as “the most technical road in Southern California” – meaning it is a marvel of complex road engineering, climbing hundreds of feet in a few dizzying miles.
Riders love this stretch of Highway 76 as much for the challenge of making it uphill as for the spectacular scenery you encounter.
Keep your wits about you
Route 76 crosses I-15 in Temecula, leading you across flat terrain including chaparral, thick forests and beautiful vineyards.
After about 15 miles on 76 there is a sign for Palomar Mountain Road. Here you make a left turn. Six miles further up the road, you come to San Diego County Road 6, or just S-6). Take it. At this point the trip starts in earnest. You will need all your wits and concentration to make the ascent.
This stretch of road is a pure 5 in the motorcycle road quality category – one decreasing radius turn after another, with back to back hairpin turns.
At a four-way stop sign you will come to Mother’s Kitchen biker bar and diner. You now switch onto East Grade Road. It will take you down to Lake Henshaw. If you want to, you can head back at the next stop sign, leading you right back to 76. Many people, exhilarated by what they have just seen atop the Cleveland National Forest, turn around and take the same way back.
Stop and look
The sight-seeing atop this loop is simply fantastic – but, we don’t advise sight-seeing with your bike in motion. Best to park the bike, stretch your legs, and gaze out at the surrounding vista.
You may be aware there is a world famous observatory up top – the Mount Palomar Observatory, home of the Hale Telescope. The 200-inch telescope here was the world’s largest and most important telescope from just after World War II until 1992.
The Observatory is there for the same reason you are – to see the immense universe, far from civilization and the light impurities that cities emit.
(Palomar, by the way, is Spanish for pigeon’s roost. Lucky pigeons, to have such a wonderful roost!)
Beautiful? You bet. Dangerous? Likewise. Every year there are fatalities along this fabled road. But we can talk about that another time.