Some cities in the United States are famous for their unique attributes.
The mountain town of Aspen for example, has some of the best runs skiers can touch west of the Alps. Right out in front of most houses on the north shore of Oahu, are the most perfect and sacred waves surfers can dream of. The neighborhood of Pebble Beach, CA has 18 glorious holes that have been cemented onto the bucket lists of golfers around the world and directly out of the back gate of Hidden Hills, CA is a 2,983-acre park known as Ahmanson Ranch.
Ahmanson is home to some of the best trails for Mountain Biking, Hiking and Horse Back Riding the country has to offer. For a number of years, the ranch was the center of some controversy due to its original owner, Washington Mutual Bank, having plans to develop 3000 homes, a golf course and a shopping plaza on the open property. Besides the concerns about congestion from the extra traffic on the 101 freeway and Valley Circle Rd, the area is also home to a few endangered and protected species of wildlife. In 2004 the bank instead sold the land to the state for a park and now it is open for riding and hiking.
The ranch features nearly 30 miles of trails that are connected directly to Calabasas and Hidden Hills on one end and Simi Valley on the other, offering the residents a plethora of opportunities to get out and enjoy their activities, no matter their location. Ahmanson is so unique from many other parklands in the area because of its “untouched vibe” that other areas might have tainted with signage and fencing that feel more like manmade courses than a natural trails.
Although I grew up minutes away from Ahmanson, I never experienced it aside from a casual hike. I’ve always wanted to get a better understanding for it’s true beauty, so I figured I would take a mountain bike ride in the park to get a real experience. To do so I enlisted a local resident who has not only moved to the area for its abundance of trails but has made bike culture his occupation and life. Robbie Schaefer is a Hidden hills resident and owner of Pedaler’s Fork and 10 speed coffee, a restaurant and coffee shop in old town Calabasas that encompasses all that is cycling culture down to it’s full pro level bike shop in the back.
Robbie was thrilled that he would be my “Ahmanson Sherpa” as he rides there roughly 5 times a week and is so deeply passionate about how special the trails really are.
Per his request, I met Robbie at his house about an hour before sunset as he told me the only way to really have the full experience was to finish the ride just before dark. He set me up with a bike and helmet and we set out directly from his driveway. The ride started by getting a steady pedal going. We got some help from Robbie’s handlebar mounted wireless speaker setting a vibe in the background, like Soul Cycle but much better. Before long we arrived at the park entrance. The luxury of being able to ride there instead of needing to drive is very apparent once you experience it yourself. Upon entering the gates, it becomes obvious how untouched the area really is. Besides a lightly paved path that is intended in case of the need for a fire truck, the park is vast and empty for as far as the eye can see. One main trail that breaks off from the entrance is the one Robbie suggested we take. Known as the “Mary Westbrook Loop” the trail bends and climbs around a wide, flat valley called the “Lasky Mesa”. The mesa gives off a time travel feeling to before the San Fernando and Canejo Valleys were inhabited. The absence of any structures or civilization and the presence of hundred-year-old oak trees and unkept grass allows park goers to fully escape from reality.
“We kept great speed as the bikes handled turn after turn and soon we were happily cruising under an umbrella of oak trees.”
We started pedaling, Robbie at a much greater and fluid pace than myself.
As we began to climb to the top of the mesa’s bordering range, the temperature began to drop with the aid from a nice breeze, and the scenery began to change. The originally plain setting started transforming into a more complex backdrop. We stopped for a water break at the summit where the trail forked, which was realistically no more than 2-300 ft higher than the beginning but felt like 5 times more. Robbie explained that the different avenues we could take would actually lead to different terrain and environments. “To the left down there you’ll end up on the north west corner of Ahmanson where it gets pretty hilly and there are trails that will drop you off near Agoura. Straight will take you on a trail all the way to the 118. To the right the vegetation gets thicker and it’s a great downhill ride all the way towards West Hills.”
As a treat to my legs and stamina, we went right. Cruising down the tighter but descending trail was a total blast. We kept great speed as the bikes handled turn after turn and soon we were happily cruising under an umbrella of oak trees. The lower end of the park felt cooler and damper. Somehow with the extreme heat and dry climate of summer the trails and surrounding land felt to have retained some moisture. Robbie explained that due to the low point of Ahmanson and how many different mountains and parks surround it, water always ends up here. Another water break and a slight geography lesson later we were back to slow pedals and climbs. We were more than 4 miles in at this point. I followed and gave it my best shot to keep pace, even with my camera equipment on me.
As we approached the final summit of our loop, it became apparent that we were also nearing toward the edge of the park. Couples, kids, and individuals eagerly said hi to us as we passed by. Some were on bikes, others just walking and we even passed a woman taking her horse for a sundown stroll. Over a span of a mile and a half I got to experience how special this place really was. So many different people enjoying such a simple and cost free area. At the top we stopped and watched as the last bits of sun hid behind the neighboring range. The lighting instantly switched to the mood of an old western as we dropped into the final downhill section that ultimately dropped us right where we started. Minutes later we were pulling into Robbie’s driveway and with full satisfaction and joy he said, “See! that’s why I love this so much. It’s just a simple ride away from where I sleep, it’s such an amazing place.”
If you live within even a 30- minute drive from Ahmanson Ranch do yourself a favor and visit. Enjoy it, take it all in and just dedicate an hour of your week to escape civilization. You’ll thank me later.