The Manzanita Trail is the old nick-name of the eastern half of the High Desert Recreation Trail (HDRT). This trail traverses the base of Mount Baden-Powell and Mount Lewis between Vincent Gap at it's high end and South Fork Campground at it's low end.
This section of the HDRT is considerably rougher and more challenging that it's 'better half' - The Devil's Chair - to the west. There is more variety, and trail conditions vary from packed duff to gravel to scree, with acorns, sand, and bouldery stream crossings thrown in for fun. Unfortunately, the Manzanita does not get much traffic, so the conditions don't 'form up' like other well-travelled trails. What the Manzanita lacks in trail conditions, it makes up in scenery, wilderness feel, technical challenge, and easier loop logistics.
GoogleEarth Placemark - Manzanita Trail (HDRT E)
From the high point at 6550' at Vincent Gap, the trail passes through a wooden split-rail fence across the highway from the Mount Baden-Powell trailhead parking. The first obstacle is a steep drop down to a small wash-out. Once the washout is passed, conditions become good to excellent for a couple miles. The route traverses across the base of Mount Baden-Powell, passing through groves of white fir, ponderosa pine, black oak and big-leaf maple.
A few more wash-outs are passed, then the trail drops through two small switchbacks before crossing a wide rocky stream bed. Some walking is required for mortals here, as the trail drops down a loose, rocky chute before gaining the far bank of the stream bed. A short, loose climb follows.
When the climbing ends, some rough descending is encountered as the forest turns to California live oak. The trail is covered with acorns and sticks and other debris, and is very narrow in places here. As of this writing, there are two large fallen trees on the trail, requiring dismounts.
A small waterfall is crossed at the back of a canyon, then the trail makes another climb over a shoulder of the mountain. The following descent is pretty spicy as the trail gets progressively steeper and rockier approaching a very wide dry stream bed. The final drop into the stream bed is a steep half-buried rock face, and care should be taken not to build up speed. The run-out from this drop leads directly into the loose gravel and cobbles of the stream bed.
The trail passes across the stream bed, with loose and challenging riding over cobbles and between boulders. On the far side of the stream bed a dismount is required to climb the far bank and gain the trail again.
A mellow climb leads up to a notch in a ridge of red dirt. The descent following this notch gets narrow, and near the bottom it is covered with acorns as the trail passes beneath a huge live oak. A rocky section across a small stream bed leads into another loose climb, then the trail levels off and conditions improve greatly for a fast run above Big Rock Creek christian camp.
Partway through this section, a zone of landslides must be walked, then a mellow climb leads over another notch and into the final descent to South Fork Campground. This section is the sugar! Big switchbacks with moguls lead down a steep mountainside directly over the campground. The trail bends to the north and crosses another section of red dirt before descending directly to the parking area at 4500' elevation.
FROM POINTS WEST:
From the junction of Highways I-5 and CA-14, go east on CA-14 to the Pearblossom exit and CA-138 East. Continue east on CA-138 to the small town of Pearblossom.
FROM POINTS EAST:
From either the CA-18 / I-15 junction in Victorville, or the CA-138 / I-15 junction at Mormon Rocks, go west past the CA-18 / CA-138 junction and continue to Pearblossom.
Go south on Longview Road and head south towards the mountains. At Fort Tejon Road, go left and continue to Palette Creek Road, then go left briefly on Palette Creek to Valyermo Road. Go right on Valyermo Road and continue to Big Rock Creek Road. Go right and continue up Big Rock Creek to the signed spur road leading to South Fork Campground.
There are two options for reaching the upper trailhead at Vincent Gap. The first is also the riding route for the climbing portion of the loop.
Big Rock Creek Road:
From South Fork Campground, return to Big Rock Creek Road and go right (south). Continue uphill to Camp Fenner, where the road turns to dirt. The dirt road continues another 3 miles, climbing steeply up to Vincent Gap. This road may be closed in winter, and was recently closed for 2 years straight due to damage suffered from a huge avalanche down the north face of Mount Baden-Powell.
Big Pines Highway / CA-2:
From South Fork Campground, return to Big Rock Creek Road and go left (north). Continue to Valyermo Road and go right. Valyermo Road becomes Big Pines Highway at this point, and continues on past Mile High Ranch at Largo Vista Road, past Jackson Lake, and reaches Highway CA-2 4 miles north of Wrightwood. Go right on CA-2 and continue about 5 miles to Vincent Gap.