SF Peninsula Traverse

  • Distance

    112 Mi.

    (180 KM)
  • Days

    3-4

  • % Unpaved

    75%

  • % Singletrack

    30%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    5

  • % Rideable (time)

    97%

  • Total Ascent

    16,372'

    (4,990 M)
  • High Point

    3,060'

    (933 M)

Contributed By

Valas Valancius

Valas Valancius

Guest Contributor

Valas, originally from flatlands of Lithuania, got hooked on mountain biking in the SF Bay Area. When not biking (or drooling about biking when checking out new routes at bikepacking.com), Valas plays with his son and codes for a living.

Sandwiched between the misty beaches of the Pacific and the urban sprawl of the San Francisco Bay, stand peninsula mountains that beckon. The SF Peninsula Traverse is an easy-to-reach and easy-to-bail, weekend-warrior-compatible bikepacking route that will bring you deep in the forest where you will forget civilization, and high up on the ridgelines with expansive ocean and bay views.
Share Facebook 0 Twitter Pinterest Google+

South of San Francisco, mountains rise between the bay and the ocean. Where there are mountains, there will also be trails. This ride explores these trails and connects a number of gorgeous public open spaces and parks that the Bay Area is fortunate to have within reach.

The ride has three distinct phases, each taking roughly one day. The first day will bring you down to the ocean and its cool marine layer, that, depending on the season, can blanket the coast for most of the day. If the fog is extra gloomy, you can escape to one of the breweries in Half Moon Bay (they have two!). Before you reach beer, however, you’ll have to conquer a mix of glorious singletrack and a few steep pitches of fireroad in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with views to match the area’s name.

You’ll spend the second day wandering through deep coastal redwood forest singletrack. The day will start on a paved bike path, but soon you will hit famous Purisima and El Corte Madera (Skeggs) open space preserves, with towering redwoods basking in marine climate. After Skeggs, you will finally hit Bay Area Ridge Trail where you will take in the views of both the ocean and the bay – sometimes at the same time!

The third day will start with a lovely jaunt on John Nicolas redwood singletrack trail in Sanborn County park. The day, however will be dominated by fire roads which you will hit in the mountains south of South San Jose. The fire roads are steep but the views will be rewarding. You’ll end the trip by descending to Almaden valley back to civilization.

  • SF Peninsula Traverse bikepacking route
  • SF Peninsula Traverse bikepacking route
  • SF Peninsula Traverse bikepacking route
  • SF Peninsula Traverse bikepacking route
  • SF Peninsula Traverse bikepacking route
Difficulty: This route was assigned an overall difficulty of 5 out of 10. It is fairly easy (3/10) on a technical scale as it’s mostly smooth single track, gravel, or road. However, it’s quite challenging physically (8/10) with a lot of miles and elevation each day. Resupply and logistics is rather simple (3/10) as it is relatively close to civilization, easy to bail, and there is decent public transportation to get close to either trail end.

Route Development: This trail, where possible, follows Bay Area Ridge Trail, with small detours to make it bike legal and/or more fun. This trail would not have been possible without tireless work of Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, all the trail volunteers and all the parks that trail traverses. Shout out to Don Nolan who recently completed full Bay Area Ridge Trail. The SF Peninsula Traverse was a runner up in our ROUT3 contest.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Single track sampler in El Corte Madera Creek Open Space Preserve (OSP). The preserve offers area’s best single track trail network in the most scenic redwood setting (see the pictures!).
  • Rolling marine layer over the mountain tops (in SF they call it Karl, the Fog). If you start the first day early enough, you might be lucky to observe up from very close how marine layer slides over the mountain tops and drops into the valley, just to dissipate as it descends.
  • Views of the ocean and the bay (sometimes at the same time!) on the ridge in Russian Ridge OSP. On a clear day you can see the skyscrapers of San Francisco, some 30 miles away.
  • 10 mile segment of an uninterrupted single track between the Long Ridge OSP and the Sanborn County Park. You will, however, have to interrupt it if you camp at Castle Rock State Park.
  • John Nicolas Trail downhill in Sanborn County park. This long and flowy trail is a local favorite.
  • Cozy campsites of Castle Rock State Park campground. No reservations needed.
  • The views of the Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz Mountain Ridges from peaks of Sierra Azul OSP.
  • If you decide to camp in Castle Rock and follow the route exactly, your second day will be extremely exhausting. For more sane ride consider taking more of Highway 35; specifically you can skip Windy Hill OSP loop and Long Ridge OSP section, which are mostly steep fire roads. Also, camping in Black Mountain Campsite would help make second day shorter (at a cost of longer third day).
  • Highway 35 on weekends is full of sports cars testing their pedigree. The shoulder is narrow, and the turns are tight.
  • Poison oak is a permanent fixture in the parks around Bay Area. You’ll be fine if you stay on the trail.
  • This route is beautiful all year round, save for a 3-4 random weeks in winter when it rains.
  • No permits required at any point of the route.
  • Since you’re on the ridge most of the time, it will be always very easy to bail down to civilization if you need to.
  • If you don’t have a buddy to drop you off, you can reach either end of the trail by pedaling your bike from nearby transportation hubs.
  • North trail head is 4 miles away from San Bruno Caltrain station.
  • South trail head is 6 miles from Almaden VTA station, that can connect you to SJC and Caltrain. Make sure to check VTA schedule if you plan to catch a late train – they stop early.
  • If you’re flying in from outside the Bay Area and on a budget: 1) arrive to SJC Friday morning, 2) stash your bike box where you can find it after the ride, 2) take Caltrain to San Bruno and commence the ride, 3) Sunday night pedal to from Almaden to the motel you booked in San Jose, and 4) fly out Monday morning.
  • You’ll only pass food stores the first day as you, as you navigate coastal towns and mountains in between them.
  • Don’t forget to sample Half Moon Bay breweries!
  • Second day, after you leave the coast, you’ll pass only one restaurant (Alice’s). There will be 2-3 few spots with drinkable tap water.
  • The last day, unless you detour to Los Gatos, you’ll only have tap water at the camp. There is drinking water Lexington reservoir, but you might want to filter it. Pro tip: at the Lexington reservoir ramp there is boat inspection station. If you ask nicely, they might give you water.

First day: Fire road over the ridge to Pacifica. Use the bike paths to get to the start of Pedro Mountain Road. Roll over the side of Montara Mountain, traverse Moss Beach and hit the singletrack Spine Trai. This will bring you to GGNRA and to the steepest section of fire road on the whole ride. You will walk your bike at times. Descend over a glorious single track to El Granada and grab some beer before heading to campsite at Half Moon Bay.

Second day: Bike path on the side of a fancy golf course. If you want to spoil yourself, grab breakfast at Ritz-Carlton with the views of the ocean. Cover several miles of paved road towards the mountains to reach your first redwood forest in this route. Traverse Purisima and Skeggs – these are, in my opinion, the most beautiful forests in the Bay Area (perhaps modulo Santa Cruz ;-)). Survive Highway 35 ride to reach Windy Hill OSP. Suggested ride winds down and then up Windy Hill, but you can cut quite a bit of miles and elevation if you skip the Windy Hill loop and continue on Highway 35 to reach Russian Ridge OSP. From Russian Ridge it’s mostly miles and miles of singletrack to your second camping spot in Castle Rock SP.

Third day: Enjoy your last taste of redwood singletrack in Sanborn County Park. Leaving it, you’ll pass by Lexington reservoir and hit Sierra Azul OSP. It’s mostly fire roads, but the views are rewarding. If you have time and energy left, hit up Mt. Umunhum, which opened for the first time to public in September 2017.

Additional Resources

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Nick Jensen

    Great route Valas! I agree that the less time you’re on Hwy 35 (Skyline Blvd) the better.

    Even though riding to the top of Mt. Umunhum adds 4 extra miles of on-road climbing, the views on top are spectacular. Plus, the descent back to Hicks Road is loads of fun.

  • Ian Zuckerman

    Excellent route! I’ve bikepacked all of this in one form or another, and wouldn’t change a thing. If you have time, stash your bags in the woods when you get to Corte de Madera, and spend some time on what many think of as the best singletrack in the Bay. If you camp at Black mountain (where you can also find non potable water) you may want to take Indian Creek, Canyon Trail, climb up Charcoal rd to get back on the Bay Ridge Trail. Finally, some spots might be more fun on a mountain bike, but it’s all quite bikeable on a gravel bike as well. So cool to see my local trails up here, maybe see you in the trails sometime, Valas!

  • Ian Zuckerman

    There’s also nonpotable water on spring ridge trail near the top, and a drinking fountain near the bottom of spring ridge at the parking lot off of Portola rd.

  • Arūnas Vyšniauskas

    Love it!

  • bmw633o1

    Thanks for the write up the views look so nice.

  • Barron_Park

    It’s a great route, and I’ve done bits and pieces of it. But one big question: where do you spend the night after Half Moon Bay?

    You’d have to be in really good shape to bike all the way from HMB to the Castle Rock campground. That’s about forty miles and most of the trip’s elevation – probably around 10,000 feet cumulative. Any suggestions on interim accommodations or camping?

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Indeed! If done exactly as displayed, second day will be a monster one. We did make it from HMB to Castle Rock in one long day, but it’s not something I would recommend.

    For more balanced ride, I believe it would be better to camp at Black Mountain Backpack Camp. This would shorten the second day at a cost of longer (but still sane) third day. Alternatively (or in addition), I would trade some steep fire-roads to Highway 35. For example, Windy Hill OSP adds ~1.5K ft elevation and ~8 miles just to save you from riding ~3 miles on highway.

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Great tips! Missed the water source at the top of Spring Ridge Trail. Indian Creek indeed would be a really amazing trail to start your third day!

    I also forgot to mention grocery/deli across from Alice Restaurant. ‘Godfather’ panini goes down well after climb out of Corte de Madera. On the topic, there is a worthy detour to Los Gatos Cofee Roasting Company; it adds 4 miles and ~600ft of climbing in the last day, but you get to sample some great crepes.

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Agreed on the Mt. Umunhum option! There is also a new amazing ~3.4 miles long single track from top of the mountain to Barlow Rd.

    On related note, keep an eye to VTA schedule on the last day! Last I checked, the last VTA train on weekends from Almaden leaves at 8:28PM.

  • Barron_Park

    That’s good to know, thanks! I’m no fan of biking on Skyline, but that three miles would be a way to make the second day more manageable. Thanks for the report!

  • Jake Dean

    That flask is terriffic.

  • Ian Zuckerman

    Totally agree about Bella Vista, which is also a much nicer trail. Charcoal Road is such a beast to climb, though, so if people camp at Black Mountain and take Bella Vista back, you might as well just go to the Monte Bello parking lot and bike a half mile on Page Mill to Russian Ridge to pick up the ridge trail from there. Also good point about Los Gatos Coffee :)

  • Grant Henderson

    I was on the first leg of the route at the weekend (San Bruno to HMB) – the route takes you down a very, very steep trail into Pacifica which we found impossible to ride with loaded rigs, loaded Karate Monkey and a Wednesday, a local we met said it would have been better to follow the other trail down to Vassler Avenue and descend that way. We did the reverse of this on our return to San Bruno the next day and it would be a better way for those with very heavy rigs! My two cents! Nothing worse than climbing then having to walk down the other side.

    Great day, going to attempt the full route next month.

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Yes, that spot is sketchy, sorry! Bailing to the left to Fassler (?) Ave is a better option.

    Another potentially sketchy spot is soon after you connect from Pedro Mountain Rd to North Peak Access Rd. The proposed route points up left to include two sections of rather technical single track. With rigid rigs I would go right and just use the Pedro Mountain Rd to get down to Montara.

    Besides these two spots I think the rest of single track is fun with any rig. There is however a few seriously steep sections of fire road. Specifically, up in GGNRA above El Granada (which you can avoid by skipping that GGNRA loop) and, on the last day, in Sierra Azul.

    Here is one version of a route that avoids the steep single track sections mentioned above: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/26531340. It also routes to Black Mountain Backpack Camp instead of Caste Rock SP. This makes last day longer, with perhaps convenient bailout/finish spot at Los Gatos.