Teaching a Teen to Drive – Canyon Driving, Part 1

When teaching a teen to drive, I like to spend a lot of time driving the canyons of Southern California. These roads tend to be narrow, two lane roads where the driver has to work on setting up the car and controlling it through the corners. It also requires the driver to stay alert since these are not simple, straight roads where you can slip into auto-pilot mode.

In the first drive, we mixed a little bit of everything into the drive – freeways, canyons, two and four lane roads, and urban driving. In this second drive, we’re going to focus primarily on canyons, with some urban driving and open 2-lane road portions mixed in.


You can see a list of all the drives (and articles) in this series by clicking here.

For this drive, we’re going to use the Camarillo train station as our starting and end point. We start by taking a right out of the train station and head northeast on CA-34/Lewis Road. We take a right onto Upland, and then a left onto Santa Rosa Road and head out into the Santa Rosa Valley. At the end of the valley, we go straight onto Moorpark Road and head up into Thousand Oaks via the Norwegian Grade. The Norwegian Grade will be our first canyon challenge, albeit a relatively short one. At top of the hill, we switch into urban driving mode and head through Thousand Oaks and into Westlake Village via Thousand Oaks Boulevard. Then we make a right onto CA-23 south, and then a right onto Potrero Road. Potrero is an extended canyon drive mixed in with some 2-lane driving. There will be plenty of opportunity to work with the teen driver on both uphill and downhill canyon driving along Potero Road. Eventually, Potrero Road will meet up with Lewis Road, just past CSU Channel Islands. That’s where we’ll make a right on Lewis Road and head back to the Camarillo train station.

Overall, the drive will take between 75-90 minutes covering a little over 40 miles. It’s a bit shorter than the first drive, but a little more challenging. The extended canyon driving, particularly on Potrero Road, will teach the teen driver essential cornering skills that are valuable lessons for many types of driving conditions.

A couple of notes for this drive:

  1. I usually do this drive on the weekend. It doesn’t much matter the time of day, although I usually go late morning or early afternoon during a time when both driver and teach are rested and alert.
  2. I do this drive in one shot – no stops. You could break it up with a stop in Thousand Oaks or Westlake Village, but I’ve found that it’s not necessary.
  3. If you don’t have ‘canyons’ in your area, a narrow, windy two lane road will be the same as a Southern California canyon road.
  4. The key to this drive is a lead-in (straight-er 2/4 lane road), then the first canyon, then a break, then the next canyon, then the finish.

Here’s the overview of the drive in Google Maps to give you a feel for time and distance.

Learning to handle a car through tight corners on narrow roads is an essential skill to teach a new driver in my opinion. The skills are applicable to many different types of driving conditions, which is why I like to touch on canyon driving multiple times during the teaching process.

Next up – Freeway and Canyon Driving, Part 2.