Monday, August 08, 2005

Trailing The Top (CitySports Magazine)

Gordon Wright wrote two great articles in the August, 2005 issue of CitySports for the San Francisco Bay Area. "Trailing the Top" has tips on Bay Area trails, and "Bouncing Back" talks about recovery and physical therapists in the area. Be sure to also check out Martin Dugard's great story about the Dipsea, "Take Me To The Water".

- SD

Trailing The Top
By Gordon Wright

There are hundreds of miles of trails in the Bay Area, ranging from the famous (see our story on the Dipsea) to the nefarious (the Paradigm illegal singletrack that netted its builders a felony charge). So how to choose a few to highlight? It seemed like an impossible task, so we threw it open to our readers, who replied with unbridled enthusiasm.

One of our trail guides is Scott Dunlap, an emerging force on the national trail running scene and the 2004 Overall Champion in the Trail Running Magazine Trophy Series. A resident of Woodside and a high-tech vice president, Dunlap gives up his favorite trails in the South Bay, “Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail in Big Basin State Park, Boulder Creek is one of my favorites.”

He notes that, “It is a bit of a drive (almost to Santa Cruz), but well worth it. First growth redwoods, Berryessa Falls and super-soft trails all give the feeling you are miles from civilization. The full loop from Big Basin is about 12 miles, or you can start at the ocean for a longer version. I also like Ridge Trail in Woodside’s Purisima Open Space Preserve. This trail has a bit of everything—open views to the ocean, exposed cliffs, finishing with thick redwood and fern groves that cross a few raging creeks. It is a good representation of the varied California terrain and is about nine miles, with the trailhead just off Skyline Road.”

His final suggestion is to try Richards Road/Pfleger Estate, in Woodside’s Huddart Park. Dunlap says that, “If the hills scare you, this one is a fairly flat out-and-back that gives you a taste of the lushness of Huddart Park, and the adjacent Pfleger Estate. Plus it ends near Buck's Restaurant, which is always worth a visit. Come on the weekends and you may be passed by the gazelles of the Stanford cross-country teams.”

Tom Morrow, of Pleasanton, helped us find some of the tastiest trails in the East Bay. “My favorite trail is the East and West Ridge trails—the 8.2-mile loop—at Redwoods (East Bay Regional Park). I love the change from the coastline fauna (redwoods, ferns, succulents) on the West Ridge by the Chabot Space Museum, then down through the Stream Trail along the salmon-friendly creek, then back up the wicked Canyon Trail to the deciduous trees, pines and grasses on top of the East Ridge. I like the mix of surfaces on the trail too: a little hard rock, mud, pine needles and soft sand. Drinking fountains in the parking areas allow the water bottles to be left home and there are also a couple of washrooms along the way. “ Another East Bay trail runner, Rob Gendreau, says that his favorite is long, but epically scenic.

“Essentially, you start at Mitchell Canyon on the Clayton side of Mt. Diablo State Park. The run starts relatively easily, with a couple of miles of fire road up towards the mountain. Lots of flowers, including some unique ones, and a nice creek with water that runs fairly late in the season. Then the fire road starts getting serious and steep; you’ll climb a bunch of switchbacks higher and higher. At Deer Flat you get a break for a bit, but then there’s another very tough bit before you crest a ridge with great views to the east and west near the Juniper Campground. Here you can refill with water, and you’ve now entered high chaparral. Another steep mile or two up nice singletrack and you’re at the summit of Diablo, with some of the best views anywhere.

“To descend, drop down the Summit Trail to Devil’s Elbow. From here you drop down a wonderful singletrack with lots of flowers around the southern side of the mountain. You descend to Prospector’s Gap, where you can hook up with another great, but technical, singletrack called Bald Ridge. This trail is narrow and fairly enclosed in brush, but soon opens out with great views to the north and east. The terrain changes and the trail becomes rather boulder strewn. You pop out at Murchio Gap, on a saddle above Mitchell Canyon, which you ascended earlier.”

My own favorite is a little-known and completely bike-legal singletrack in Marin. I’ve never seen another bike rider on Olema Valley Trail that skirts Point Reyes National Seashore, which makes me wonder why anyone would bother poaching illegal trails.

The trailhead is about four miles south of the town of Olema on Highway One, and is approached by a quarter-mile dirt road that leads to the Five Brooks Stables. Once you find the trail, it ascends steeply. It also narrows abruptly at times, often degenerating into an ugly, deep rut. You eventually reach a peak that feels like attaining the summit of Courchevel. Keep heading south at a signed junction, and get in the groove. It is narrow and winding, with a few ups and downs to keep you amused. After a few marshy areas, you arrive at what looks like the end of the trail. But a sign helpfully informs you, incredulously but definitively, that you go THIS way. Toward Dogtown. Up. And you still have 3.1 miles to go.

The remaining miles pass by in a blur. You wade through a shallow river. You glide through a downhill track that isn't quite switchbacks but more like chicanes that you just lean into and carve like a black diamond run. You’ll be bobbing and weaving the abundant plant life and scattering jackrabbits as you pass through cow parsnip, lupine, wild iris and redwoods. After all that bliss, the final mile is even better. It's a long, not-steep downhill through high grass— just racing the bumblebees—capped off with a quarter-mile of gorgeous open meadow. The trail literally disappears, and it will be just you and your bike and the grass sweeping over your handlebars.

Scott Dunlap puts it best, “I’ve run and raced in almost every state, and am constantly reminded that we have the best trails of anyplace in the world.”

(Copyright 2005 for CitySports, all rights reserved)


  1. I think the Marin Headlands is better than the South or East Bay. But you're right that there's a lot to choose from.


  2. I thought you said Lake Tahoe was your FAVORITE!!! - Todd

  3. i have ridden the olema trail and i thin k the reason you don't see many bikers on it is 1) it's boring as watching grass grow and @0 there are a lot of horses on it.


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