Great California Motorcycle Rides: Palm Springs to Idyllwild

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Lake Hemet
The Lake Hemet area looks like Montana (Photo by Freddy Sherman)

Motorcycle Ride Through California

Those of us who ride motorcycles are always seeking great bike roads and great riding routes. As someone who rides and lives in Southern California, I’m fortunate to have an incredibly wide variety of riding routes of all lengths. One of my favorite rides is the 90 minute-long ride from the desert of Palm Springs to the mountain town of Idyllwild.

Palm Springs map
The route from Palm Springs to Idyllwild (Image from Google Maps)

The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway Route

The core of the ride is done on CA 74, appropriately (and officially) known as The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway. The two-lane road connects the desert city of Palm Desert (with its palm trees) with the mountain town of Idyllwild, (with its pine trees) 6,000 feet up in the San Jacinto Mountains. I started my ride in downtown Palm Springs and headed out on Palm Canyon Drive (CA 111), continuing to Palm Desert, about 20 minutes away. We turned onto CA 74 and headed up into the mountains. CA 74 ends in Palm Desert, but it technically starts 111 miles away in San Juan Capistrano, a beach town in Orange County. That half-day ride, from the beach of San Juan Capistrano through the high desert and the mountains to Idyllwild and then onto Palm Desert is also a great one.

Idyllwild
The mountain town of Idyllwild (photo by Freddy Sherman)

The Ride
From Palm Desert to Idyllwild, the ride is 50 miles and takes about 90 minutes. In those 50 miles you rise 6,000 feet in elevation, passing through multiple landscapes and terrains. The ride starts in Palm Desert, on the hot desert floor, where the summer temperature can exceed 120 degrees. The road then snakes up into the mountains, carving through solid rock canyons.There are some sheer drops, and some great views of the Coachella Valley a few thousand feet below you. Riders (and drivers) need to pay attention to the road, there is no room for error in many parts, a rock wall on one side, a guardrail and a cliff on the other side.

idyllwild
Arrived in Idyllwild, 6,000 feet up in the San Jacinto Mountains (Photo by Freddy Sherman)

You rise into a more mountainous terrain, where you’re greeted by bighorn sheep warning signs as the wild animals can be found on the rock walls and cliffs above the road. The next area is the high desert and you enter the Santa Rosa and Santa Jacinto Mountains National Monument. This leads into the first area of pine trees and the road is lined with them for miles. They gradually open up into vast meadows backed with the highest peaks of the San Jacinto mountains in a setting that looks like Montana. This is the area around Lake Hemet. After passing Lake Hemet, the road begins to snake upward into the mountains and the San Bernadino National Forest. As the pine trees get taller and taller you arrive in Mountain Summit and then the town of Idyllwild.

CA 74 motoryclce ride
Riding on the CA 74 (Photo by Freddy Sherman)

Visiting Idyllwild California

Home to a thriving arts and music scene, the small, mountain town is a great destination for a day-trip or weekend getaway. I always have lunch (and some pastries) at Idyllwild Bakery & Brew. The entire town is filled with shops and art galleries and it’s possible to spend a few hours wandering around. The town is surrounded by amazing hiking trails and connects with several larger regional hiking routes. There are also many little bed & breakfasts and small inns should you want to spend the night.

Idyllwild
I always have lunch at Idyllwild Bakery and Brew (Photo byF redd Sherman)

The Bike
For this ride I went big, riding the 2019 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide. CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) is the motorcycle company’s extreme line of performance and luxury bikes, like their version of AMG. As one of the most expensive Harleys you can buy ($43K), the CVO Road Glide comes with every possible option and technical amenity. It also comes with Harley’s massive 117 cubic inch v-twin engine, which is almost the size of a 2.0L car engine. It gives the bike some amazing power and torque, all accessed before it hits its low 5,500 rpm redline. As someone used to riding sportbikes with redlines north of 10,000 rpm, it takes some getting used to. What doesn’t take getting used to are the amazing features like cruise control and Harley’s new Boom! Box GTS infotainment system. Yes, this Road Glide has an infotainment system controlled with a built-in tablet. It’s a big bike, at over 800 pounds, but it handles really nicely on the mountain roads and when cruising on the freeway.

CVO Road Glide
The 2019 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide (Photo by Freddy Sherman)

Read more of Freddy Sherman’s take on travel on his Go World Travel Blog. You can also follow more of his adventures at luxuryfred.com blog, his luxuryfred Instagram feed and on his YouTube channel.