Updated: Feb 9
El Compadre Loop connects two of northern Baja's popular off road routes creating the perfect weekend get away through the boulders and pine forests of the Sierra Juarez Mountains.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 141 miles, 1.5 - 4 days
Season: Typically year round, but the section from La Rumarosa to Highway 3 occasionally experiences snow during the winter months. Travel is not advised with heavy mud or snow.
Avg Technical Rating: 2
Peak Technical Rating: 4
Typical Terrain: Wide graded dirty roads that can get sandy, and expect washboards. The first section that is La Rumarosa Hill Climb is the most technical (rocky, steep, and lots of exposure). Conditions in Baja can be extremely variable, so be prepared for the worst (and to turnaround).
Recommended Vehicle: 4x4 with all terrain tires. Recommended Gear: Standard Baja gear- 1 full size spare and recovery gear.
Adventure Vans: Yes! Skip La Rumarosa hill climb and stick to Laguna Hanson Road. Variable conditions on el Compadre Trail (suffers from ruts and other erosion) may be difficult for Sprinter 4x4s to navigate, but you're welcome to give it a shot!
Alternative Routes: n/a Passports, Permits & More: You will need a passport and Mexican vehicle insurance to cross the US-Mexico border. Check Bajabound.com for the low down on vehicle travel in Mexico. Gates are becoming more and more of an issue throughout Baja, and it's possible you may encounter a local (or group) manning a gate and demanding permits or payment. Most people are able to pass without issue, but if you're traveling on a weekend, one of the local ejidos or a rancher may closer their gate in hopes of shaking down off road travelers for a few bucks.
If there was ever a place synonymous with off road travel, Baja would likely hold the crown. Sure, sure, the Aussies may try to make a valid argument with their numerous dirt tracks through the outback that extend for up to 1,000 km at a time without services. Whether you're on a dirt bike, atv, SxS, Land Cruiser, heavily modified Jeep, or a hulking 20,000 lb Earth Cruiser, you'll find them all in Baja. Americans love to talk about freedom, but anyone who's ever experience the Baja outback knows that freedom is best experienced far away from the bustling city streets. Whether you're a season vet or hitting the trails in Baja for the first time, el Compadre Loop is sure to keep you smiling and coming back for more.
El Compadre Loop connects two of northern Baja's popular gateway routes and the track can be driven in either direction. To the east lies Camino a la Laguna Hanson (Laguna Hanson Road), and to the west the namesake el Compadre Trail connects Ojos Negros with el Hongo. El Compadre Trail is a favorite among off roaders of all types, so don't be surprised if you run into Jeeps, SxS and dirt bikes ripping along the track. While Laguna Hanson Road is popular among locals, especially during the summer months when many visit and camp at Laguna Hanson and Constitution 1857 National park.
We begin our route with the famous La Rumarosa hill climb (DP1), which has been a key trail in numerous Baja rally races and is often referred to simply as "La Rumarosa". Expect a lot of cliff exposure going up the steep, loose, and rocky switchbacks as you rapidly gain elevation. Don't be deterred if the heat is sweltering along La Rumarosa, as the track continues to gain elevation and temperatures will begin to cool. Once you reach the town of La Rumarosa, there are a number of cool sites checking out, like the Giant Stone House (DP2), Campo Alaska Museum (DP4), and the views atop Mirador Ojo de Aguila (DP3) are fantastic (translates to Eagle Eye Viewpoint). The town of La Rumarosa is the perfect place to top off your fuel, as you won't see any gas stations until reaching Ojos Negros. La Rumarosa and the entire track to the south sits in the Sierra Juarez highlands. The Sierra Juarez Mountains parallel the track to the east and descend precipitously to Laguna Salada, which sits as much as 5,000 feet below the granite crested mountain tops. Just south of town are numerous hiking trails to interesting rock formations and if you're lucky you might even stumble across some cave paintings. Laguna Hanson Road is relatively wide and well maintained compared to your typical Baja trail. However, you can expect sand and washboards, and quite a bit of traffic during the summer months when locals flock to Laguna Hanson for camping.
One of the things we love most about this track is that it features a variety of biomes that you may not expect in Baja unless you've traveled the high country before. The giant granite boulders and rock outcroppings are immediately noticeable, but you'll pass everything from dusty desert landscapes with cacti, scrub and chaparral, pine forests and even deciduous forests. If you can, head over to the Canon del Tajo viewpoint (DP6), which does require a short but steep hike through the rocks. The views down the canyon are impressive, and if you up the viewpoint atop Gran Tono, you'll be amazed at the awe inspiring views of Laguna Salada below and you might even catch a glimpse of the Sea of Cortez to the south east.
Laguna Hanson (DP7) is a popular hiking and camping destination and sits within Constitution 1857 National Park (DP8). While there isn't much water in Laguna Hanson, the pine forest and rock outcroppings have a special charm to them, and the park is the perfect place for a lunch break or to set up camp for the night. About 20 miles south of Laguna Hanson the trail hits the pavement of Highway 3. Take Highway 3 West for a short jaunt until you reach the pueblo of Ojos Negros. Once you leave dirt you're on the famed el Compadre Trail.
El Compadre is a bit more rugged than Laguna Hanson Road, and you can expect to see a few off road travelers as this is a favorite launching point for Americans and Canadians crossing the border and heading south. You'll want to stay vigilant for dirt bikers as the site lines aren't nearly as good on much of el Compadre Trail, especially with its narrower width. Be advised that el Compadre Trail is much more remote than Laguna Hanson Road. While there are a number of ranches, including the trail's namesake Rancho el Compadre (DP10), ranches and homesteads along the southern section are far and few between, which could mean walking 20+ miles if one was to suffer a breakdown. The official el Compadre Trail ends just west of el Hongo (translates to the mushroom), but it's possible to split off one of the dirt tracks to the east and head straight into town, which is the terminus of this Baja quickie.
There are numerous ranches along much of the route. Many ranchers are willing to let you stay on their land for a small fee. Don't be afraid to talk to the locals, even if you know little to no Spanish. Our favorite places to set up camp tend to be among the giant boulders of the Sierra Juarez near canon del Tajo.
DP1- La Rumarosa Hill Climb
DP2 - Stone House
DP3 - Mirador Ojo de Aguila
DP4 - Field Alaska Museum
DP5 - Vallecito Archaeological Site (cave paintings)
DP6 - Viewpoint Canon del Tajo
DP7 - Laguna Hanson
DP8 - 1857 Constitution National Park
DP9 - Ojos Negros
DP10 - Rancho el Compadre
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