Ballinger Canyon is a high desert Off Highway Vehicle area similar in terrain to Hungry Valley, but about half the acreage. Ballinger has 11 jeep trails interlaced with about two dozen ATV and motorcycle trails. There are two main roads through the canyon, both easy to moderate with a few more challenging connectors.
Entrance to the canyon is off Highway 33 near-ish to route 166.
On this trip I arrived mid-afternoon to do some hiking in the canyon. I drove Trail 24, an easy road with mostly soft soil that is compacted into a billowy washboard ride…something like riding a jetski on a choppy day. I hiked up Trail 14, an ATV-only trail, and a stiff uphill to boot. But the trail wends through a nice pine habitat and there are some beautiful views.
I made it back to the Jeep about 4:30 pm. And I really didn’t want to drive all the way back down 33. Now, here’s where good map skills would come in handy! I’ve got an aging DeLorme map book that shows Ballinger Canyon road (NF-9N10) cutting all the way through to Cerro Nordeste–which would take me into to Frazier Park. As a matter of fact, Google Maps also shows 9N10 connecting to Cerro Nordeste.
If I had paid a little better attention to the map posted at the park entrance, I could have spared myself a wild ride. The trail map makes it pretty clear that there are no through routes. But my made it look like I was within spitting distance of the highway so I gave it a try.
Now, trail 24 is marked as an easy route, but as it climbs eastward up the canyon it starts getting damp and rutted. There was snow on the sides of the road and in places the mud had been whipped into a froth. In a few places there was barely enough width to the trail for a Jeep and a wrong touch on the gas could easily have sent me skidding into a big ditch. I had visions of getting high-centered and spending a frosty night trying to dig myself out in the moonlight.
Did I mention that it was getting dark by the time I hit the end of Trail 24? And yes, Trail 24 comes to an end with a big red timber closing off the drive.Â In the dark it was a little challenging to navigate the maze of trails that often petered out into a motorcycle track. Finally I decided to bite the bullet and slog back the way I came.
Overall it was a fun ride, in a white knuckley sort of way. I think I might wait until Spring to go back. It is supposed to be one of the best areas to view wildflowers.