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How to Bike the Once-Restricted Stowe Trail

Though you’ll need a permit to access the area, here's how you can can hit the four-mile route winding through sycamore trees along single- and double-track paths
The Stowe Trail in Miramar, San Diego featuring a mountain bike on a trail with blooming wildflowers in the background
Photo Credit: James Murren

More than a century ago, the Stowe Trail was a transportation link created to connect the Santee and El Cajon area communities with Poway. In time, it became part of the property of MCAS Miramar’s eastern region, but local residents still utilized the trail. In 2001, it was dedicated a Millenium Trail. During this time and until more recently, however, it was technically unlawful for people to use the trail. Nevertheless, mountain bikers, hikers, equestrians and trail runners continued using it.

Stories of Marines on patrol citing trail users with violations were not uncommon, and in January 2016, things came to a tipping point when some 50 mountain bikes were seized. Outrage ensued. Public meetings were held. The decades-long work of former County Supervisor Dianne Jacobs, along with the leadership of San Diego Mountain Bike Association and support from local advocates and elected officials resulted in an agreement with MCAS Miramar in early 2017. It allowed people to use the Historic Stowe Trail, if they had a permit (see how to get a permit below).

At nearly four miles long from end-to-end, the trail morphs between being double track and single track, passing through a copse of oak and sycamore trees. Coyotes wander, quail swoosh, and during wildflower season, a painter’s palette colors the surrounding landscape, highlighted by one area that in some years becomes a California poppy lover’s dream

With signage the entire way, it is impossible to get lost while out there. There are trails veering off the Stowe Trail, but officially, they are not part of the permitted areas. On the northern end of the trail, it connects into Goodan Ranch/Sycamore Canyon County Preserve, where you can continue to ride other trails, with Martha’s Grove Trail being one of my favorites in all of San Diego County.

A mountain bike on the Stowe Trail along Miramar's Marine Corps Station  in San Diego
Photo Credit: James Murren

How to Get a Stowe Trail Permit

Begin by going to the Miramar Marines official website and downloading the forms. All parties wanting to access the trail will need a permit which is required for those 10-years-old and older. 

Fill out the forms and drive to MCAS Miramar’s East Gate entrance off of I-15. When you drive up to the security checkpoint, the person on duty will direct you to the transportation office, which is on the right. Proceed to the parking lot there and go inside.

When called, present your documents, along with your driver’s license. If you don’t have one, a U.S. passport will suffice. You also need to provide the person with your Social Security number, but you do not need to show them a social security card. Assuming everything is filled out correctly, they’ll ask you to take a seat and wait while they run a background check. 

If that all checks out okay, you’ll get called up to a window to have your photo taken and then you’ll wait a few minutes while they print your permit to access the Stowe Trail. It is good for only one-year, so you’ll need to renew it annually.

Note: Currently, to access the Stowe Trail in Santee, there is a new temporary entrance. You should park your car along Ganley Rd. and then bike north on Strathmore Rd., about a half mile where it dead ends at a cul-de-sac. Step through the opening in the fence, as is indicated there. Proceed up the slight rise/hill, staying to the left. The trail will connect into Stowe Trail that is down on the left. At that point, turn right and ride north towards Poway via the Stowe Trail, taking in views of the distant Cuyamacas to the east.

By James Murren

James Murren is an award-winning adventure/travel writer, with nearly three decades of independent journalism experience. He's often having a good time in our local mountains, deserts and waters, when he's not teaching classes at SDSU.

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