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.
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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

  • Resources

    link

  • 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: http://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.

  • spike 180

    do you have this map on strava

  • LeMuffin

    Is this doable on a gravel bike? Looks like a perfect ride to me.

  • Andrew Magill

    I just completed (in late December) 75% of this route and then made a loop by riding South to Santa Cruz and NW along the coast as well as some inland roads through the hills west of HWY 1. It was FANtastic! I realized how many different routes could be created in this area and plan to return. Highlights for me were Russian Ridge OSP, riding the Coastal Trail South of Half Moon Bay and also (off Route) at Wilder Ranch and Coastal Diaries State Parks, a climb and descent (on road) south of Los Gatos towards Nisene Marks SP, Big Basin SP and the general store with excellent baked goods in Pescadero. Thanks for this route and the comments from other riders.

    If anyone is missing a portable backup battery for their electronics- I found one as I was descending into Pacifica from Sweeney Ridge. Email me with a detailed description and I could mail it to you within the U.S.

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Go for it, I think you’ll have fun. There is a ton of fireroads, bikepaths and smooth single track in the route.

    Here is a version that excludes some of the sketchier parts: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/26531340. It still includes several spots that have rocks/roots, which you could walk around. Specifically: Skeggs descent has some rough sections, Russian Ridge has some rocky spots (just in the beginning 5%, later it gets flowy), and Bay Area Ridge Trail has several rocky spots between long sections of smooth singletrack. There are also some rather steep fireroads (e.g. Table Mountain to climb out of Stevens Creek trail and Sierra Azul), so if you have conventional road gearing, you might have to push :-)

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Nice! Did you cycle back to Bay Area after Santa Cruz? What route did you use?

  • Andrew Magill

    Well – mostly along HWY1. I camped just south of Santa Cruz at New Brighton Beach SP – they have a bike site and then at Big Basin Redwoods the next night. I realized that one could ride from Castle Rock to Big Basin Redwoods SP easily – however – some of the trails in Big Basin are hike only. After passing Ano Nuevo, I detoured inland to ride along the West edge of Butano SP, through Pescadero, through San Gregorio and back to HWY 1 ending in Half Moon Bay where I have family. Funny – after arriving at New Brighton Beach on X-Mas Day, having taken four days to get there (25-35 mi/day) a couple of riders on carbon road bikes rolled in having left the Airport that morning and looked pretty chipper for having completed 90 mi in a day.

  • J. Coley

    Please add a warning about exceeding 15 MPH in Mid Peninsula Open Space District properties (Long Ridge, Russian Ridge, Montebello, Saratoga Gap, Sierra Azul, et. al.).

    The asshole rangers in these properties actively use radar guns and will give you a $400 ticket without batting an eye. Not a warning, an actual fucking ticket that you can’t ignore; doing so turns it into a bench warrant. Then when you get a jaywalking ticket and they look you up, you get arrested for ignoring that “silly little speeding ticket you got riding your bike on a dirt trail on land that has nobody on it.” Little will you know…And don’t give a fake name–they’ll radio you in, and evading them is equivalent to evading a peace officer.

    All these things happened to a very close friend of mine…

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Didn’t know it’s that harsh :-(. Can you at least pay the fine by mailing in a check or online? I’ll ping Logan to add a note.

  • Stephen

    A huge thank you to Valas and bikepacking.com for this route. It’s a great exploration of the diverse coastal CA environments and strings together some excellent trail segments (esp., Pacifica area, Skeggs, John Nicholas) . I completed (most) of this adventure in mid-Feb with some friends over 3 days. Camped at HMB and Black Mountain. We bypassed Windy Hill and Russian Ridge OSP and banged out some road miles on Skyline due to degrading conditions (winds/precip/cold) and the short days. It was a challenging route but mostly rideable with exception of some hike-a-bike in Rancho Corral de Tierra and Sierra Azul. The trip was completed using public transit which was really nice. San Bruno BART at start and Almaden VTA light rail at end. Thanks again Valas for the contribution.

  • Nelson Costa

    Anyone know how these trails are after rain? Do they get really muddy or trails have good runoff?

  • Neil Thomson

    We are planning to do this route over memorial day weekend and wondering if this would be the better route if we did it south to north. Is there any trail or logistical reason not to start in San Jose and end up in San Bruno?

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Should be fine both logistically and trail-wise. There are a few spots where you can make the trail more fun for the other direction:

    – El Corte Madera + Purisima Creek OSP. Current track is optimized for North->South, where downhills are single track and uphills is fire-road (where possible). These parks have ton of trails that can be stitched together to make it more fun the other direction. Specifically, Whittemore Gulch trail in Purisima is one of my favorite pieces of flowy single track (check park website for closures when that trail is wet).

    – GGNRA above El Granada. You might want to climb up the GGNRA ridge via Quarry Park, instead of a single track.

    Perhaps there are some other spots. If you find a good route, please post it here. Also, if you do go, please update it here on how did camping work out on Memorial Day.

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Section from Purisima OSP to Sanborn Park (most of the second day route) does get muddy. Needs 3-4 days of sun to dry out. The rest has a decent runoff.

  • Ellis brandt

    Im think of this as my first bike packing trip. Am I just being ignorant or is 30ish miles a day not seem like very much

  • Vytautas Valancius

    It all depends on your motivation and level of fitness. Elevation and terrain usually matters more than miles. In this specific ride, if you notice it’s pushing your limit, you can take quite a few shortcuts (e.g. rack up miles on Hwy 35 instead of parks) or just bail back to civilization.

    Check this out as well: http://www.bikepacking.com/bikepacking-101/when-to-go/

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Here is one version of it:

    First day: https://www.strava.com/activities/1242919556 – passed by the ocean instead of GGNRA.
    Second day: https://www.strava.com/activities/1242919575 – took Hwy 35 to bypass Windy Hill and Long Ridge OSP.
    Third day: https://www.strava.com/activities/1242919574 – added extra stop to Los Gatos (pancakes!) and made a wrong in Quicksilver.

  • David

    I’m looking to do a modified version of this route (modified == easier) in June. We’ll be camping day 2 at San Mateo Memorial Park, which does mean some more time on the road (but not Skyline). Here’s the modified route I’m thinking: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27330658/

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Looks very solid. Skipping Sierra Azul in summer months is a good call. Are you going to try to camp the 3rd day or aim for the Caltrain?

  • David

    Plan would be to camp, even though Caltrain would be pretty doable. But camping will let us have a leisurely last day, beers on a patio somewhere in Los Gatos, before heading home.

  • themore weexplore

    I just completed this route yesterday, along with 2 others (video coming soon). I’m just a weekend warrior mountain biker, not a tour divide distance athlete, so take my comments in that context. I’ve been mountain biking for 20 years and I do 35-40 mile singletrack rides regularly on my MTB. This isn’t my first time bikepacking, but I’m definitely not an endurance athlete. This route was built for an endurance athlete.

    This was an incredibly beautiful route, but the climbs were absolutely brutal. I was able to climb almost all the hills (I pushed maybe 10 times), but it was extremely taxing. If the climbs had been 10-30% less steep it would have been an incredible route, but those climbs destroyed me (especially those out of lexington res, and the sections above half moon bay). Aside from Valas and his group, I’m assuming that most of the comments in this thread are from people who have ridden sections of this trail on an unladen MTB, vs people who’ve completed all 3 days in a row following the route. Valas and his group are machines for riding all of this in 3 days with fully loaded rigs. I assumed a lot of the comments in this thread were from people who had ridden the whole route with a packed up rig, but now I’m doubting that. To those who have completed the route as mapped, with a fully loaded rig 3 days straight, I salute you.

    Hopefully my thoughts and experience help someone else who is contemplating this route.

    Unless you’re one of those endurance athletes and you enjoy 4 mile long 45* steep gravel fire road climbs, I would strongly recommend modifying the above route in the following ways:

    Day 1: cut out the loop above the half-moon bay airport. 90% of this loop had poison oak less than 3″ from the trail. We had to actually ride through poison oak for part of it. The climbs were doable, but it was an overgrown trail with lots of brush, and the climb seemed to go straight up the ridge of the mountain. It was a pretty steady climb for a lot of it. Toward the top, there was some of the most difficult hike-a-bike I’ve ever done. The grade was steeper than 45* and was extremely loose. It took us about a 45 min to push our bikes up 6 of these relentless 1/4 mile steep pitches. It was misery, and it sapped our energy. The downhill out of this area was decent, but definitely not worth the climb up. I would totally skip this loop, and ride the roads near the airport. The rest of day 1 was fantastic, and really well put together.

    Day 2: If you wish to camp at black mountain campsite, you need to make reservations 2 weeks in advance. This was a fantastic day with some great planning to connect all this. We had a blast. The only issue is the number of miles and insane amount of elevation required to get to Castle Rock campground. It’d be ideal if there were a camp in the Purisima Creek Redwoods (there isn’t). That would have been a great place to end day 1 (provided you cut out the poison oak forest loop above the airport).

    We left half moon bay bike camp at 8AM and arrived at Alice’s restaurant around 3. I would recommend starting day 2 no later than 6AM. I didn’t love riding on skyline drive with all the sports cars zipping around the corners, but we had blinking tail lights and most of the cars were pretty respectful and gave us the room we needed. NOTE: There is NO bike lane on this road. It’s a 2-lane windy mountain road with zero shoulder that sports cars love to drive aggressively on. Beautiful road, and not too steep, but quite dangerous. We ended up running low on daylight, so we cut out the Coal Mine Ridge loop and stayed on Skyline. The section on Russion Ridge was great, but we were still running low on daylight, so we hopped back on Skyline at Steven’s Creek. We skipped Lone Ridge (which looked fantastic), and stayed on the road. As it started to get dark, we decided to move off the road and hop back on the singletrack. Eventually, we became worried about mountain lions after dark, and headed back to the road. We made it to Castle Rock campground by 9PM. It was a brutal day, with too much distance and not enough time for our group. We had considered camping at Black Mountain, and we even had reservations there, but we were concerned with making day 3 longer, and we didn’t know the best way to get to Black Mountain without going through some steep climbs. Day 2 was extremely beautiful, but brutal. One of our riders was in tears at the end of the night.

    Day 3: This is where we got our reward for all that climbing from Day 2. The first half of the day, to Lexington Res was almost all downhill and was a blast. This was the most fun part of the trip. The trail flowed extremely well, and it wasn’t too technical, so it was fun on a bikepacking rig. In hindsight, I wish we would have ended the trip at Lexington Reservoir. There were some fairly beautiful spots beyond Lexington, but it was all fire roads, zero singletrack, and an insane amount of steep climbing/pushing. I’m talking 4 miles straight up. I was able to ride 90% of it, but it was a total grind and not enjoyable in the slightest. The descent into Almaden was loose gravel fire road that was quite steep (be careful not to cook your brakes), and wasn’t extremely enjoyable. Almaden state park was pretty, and the riding there was totally smooth. We were dissappointed to arrive back at the vehicle to find a $45 parking ticket for parking overnight at Almaden Quicksilver parking lot, despite no signage stating it was illegal.

    I want to give a huge shout-out to Valas for creating this amazing route and posting it! That being said, I would never complete this route again as mapped. Very few of these trails were built with mountain bikers in mind, and are simply service roads that go straight up the ridge of a mountain. If they’d had some switchbacks, or climbing relief it would have been an entirely different story, but grinding up 4 miles of singletrack for 2 hours really killed our enthusiasm.

    The only way I’d reride this route would be if:

    1) I cut out the poison oak forest/airport loop on day 1
    2) could camp at Purisima Redwooeds (not possible/legal)
    3) camped at Castle Rock state park on day 2
    4) ended at Lexington Res.

    It was a great way to see some really cool spots of the bay, and an exciting adventure to try to survive. To Valas and anyone else who has completed this route as mapped (without cutting segments out), I salute you. This was a brutal, brutal route.

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Looking at the route more closely, some notes:
    – From San Bruno, I personally prefer Sneath Lane from the very start.
    – Around Moss Beach Distillery, I’d loop closer to the shore, it has some nice views (Ocean Blvd.)
    – When you hit Tunitas Creek road, if you turn right and go for about a mile, you’ll reach The Bike Hut. It’s a self service kiosk for bicyclists where you can make a cup of coffee for yourself. Open 24/7.
    – You could cut some miles in the end if you hop on 902 line VTA light rail @ Winchester.

    Overall I personally think this route is nicer than the ‘official’ one. Splitting second day, skipping Sierra Azul and skipping some of the steeper single track will make the ride more enjoyable.

  • themore weexplore

    I just completed this route yesterday, along with 2 others (video coming soon). I’m just a weekend warrior mountain biker, not a tour divide distance athlete, so take my comments in that context. I’ve been mountain biking for 20 years and I do 35-40 mile singletrack rides regularly on my MTB. This isn’t my first time bikepacking, but I’m definitely not an endurance athlete. This route was built for an endurance athlete.

    This was an incredibly beautiful route, but the climbs were absolutely brutal. I was able to climb almost all the hills (I pushed maybe 10 times), but it was extremely taxing. If the climbs had been 10-30% less steep it would have been an incredible route, but those climbs destroyed me (especially those out of lexington res, and the sections above half moon bay). Aside from Valas and his group, I’m assuming that most of the comments in this thread are from people who have ridden sections of this trail on an unladen MTB, vs people who’ve completed all 3 days in a row following the route. Valas and his group are machines for riding all of this in 3 days with fully loaded rigs.

    Hopefully my thoughts and experience help someone else who is contemplating this route.

  • themore weexplore

    Unless you’re one of those endurance athletes who enjoys 4 mile long 45* steep gravel fire road climbs, I would strongly recommend modifying the above route in the following ways:

    Day 1: cut out the loop above the half-moon bay airport. 90% of this loop had poison oak less than 12″ from the trail. We had to actually ride through poison oak for part of it. Most of the climbs were doable, but it was an overgrown trail with lots of brush, and the climb seemed to go straight up the ridge of the mountain. It was a pretty steady climb for a lot of it. Toward the top, there was some of the most difficult hike-a-bike I’ve ever done. The grade was steeper than 45* and was extremely loose. It took us about a 45 min to push our bikes up 6 of these relentless 1/4 mile steep pitches. It was misery, and it sapped our energy. The downhill out of this area was decent, but definitely not worth the climb up. I would totally skip this loop, and ride the roads near the airport. The rest of day 1 was fantastic, and really well put together.

    Day 2: This was a fantastic morning with some great planning to connect all this. We had a blast. The only issue is the number of miles and insane amount of elevation required to get to Castle Rock campground. It’d be ideal if there were a camp in the Purisima Creek Redwoods (there isn’t). That would have been a great place to end day 1 (provided you cut out the poison oak forest loop above the airport).

    We left half moon bay bike camp at 8AM and arrived at Alice’s restaurant around 3. I would recommend starting day 2 no later than 6AM. I didn’t love riding on skyline drive with all the sports cars zipping around the corners, but we had blinking tail lights and most of the cars were pretty respectful and gave us the room we needed. NOTE: There is NO bike lane on this road. It’s a 2-lane windy mountain road with zero shoulder that sports cars love to drive aggressively on. Beautiful road, and not too steep, but quite dangerous. We ended up running low on daylight, so we cut out the Coal Mine Ridge loop and stayed on Skyline. The section on Russion Ridge was great, but we were still running low on daylight, so we hopped back on Skyline at Steven’s Creek. We skipped Lone Ridge (which looked fantastic), and stayed on the road. As it started to get dark, we decided to move off the road and hop back on the singletrack. Eventually, we became worried about mountain lions after dark, and headed back to the road. We made it to Castle Rock campground by 9PM. It was a brutal day, with too much distance and not enough time for our group. We had considered camping at Black Mountain, and we even had reservations there, but we were concerned with making day 3 longer, and we didn’t know the best way to get to Black Mountain without going through some steep climbs. Also: If you wish to camp at Black Mountain, you’ll need to reserve your permits 2 weeks in advance. Day 2 was extremely beautiful, but brutal. One of our riders was in tears at the end of the night.

    Day 3: This is where we got our reward for all that climbing from Day 2. The first half of the day, to Lexington Res was almost all downhill and was a blast. This was the most fun part of the trip. The trail flowed extremely well, and it wasn’t too technical, so it was fun on a bikepacking rig. In hindsight, I wish we would have ended the trip at Lexington Reservoir. There were some fairly beautiful spots beyond Lexington, but it was all fire roads, zero singletrack, and an insane amount of steep climbing/pushing. I’m talking 4 miles straight up. I was able to ride 90% of it, but it was a total grind and not enjoyable in the slightest. The descent into Almaden was loose gravel fire road that was quite steep (be careful not to cook your brakes), and wasn’t extremely enjoyable. Almaden state park was pretty, and the riding there was totally smooth. We were dissappointed to arrive back at the vehicle to find a $45 parking ticket for parking overnight at Almaden Quicksilver parking lot, despite no signage stating it was illegal.

    I can’t imagine trying to hop onto public transit after completing this route.

    I want to give a huge shout-out to Valas for creating this amazing route and posting it! That being said, I would never complete this route again as mapped. Very few of these trails were built with bikers in mind, and are simply service roads that go straight up the ridge of a mountain. If they’d had some switchbacks, or climbing relief it would have been an entirely different story, but grinding up 4 miles of singletrack for 2 hours really killed our enthusiasm.

    The only way I’d reride this route would be if:

    1) I cut out the poison oak forest/airport loop on day 1
    2) could camp at Purisima Redwooeds (not possible/legal)
    3) camped at Castle Rock state park on day 2
    4) ended at Lexington Res.

    I hope this doesn’t come off as a complaint. I truly appreciate Valas. I just wanted to share my expectaions and reality with others, in case they aren’t prepared for this route, as I wasn’t. It was a great way to see some really cool spots of the bay, and an exciting adventure to try to survive and hit our miles every day. :) To Valas and anyone else who has completed this route as mapped (without cutting segments out), I salute you. This was a brutal, brutal route.

  • themore weexplore

    I can’t imagine trying to hop onto public transit after completing this route.

    I want to give a huge shout-out to Valas for creating this amazing route and posting it! That being said, I would never complete this route again as mapped. Very few of these trails were built with bikers in mind, and are simply service roads that go straight up the ridge of a mountain. If they’d had some switchbacks, or climbing relief it would have been an entirely different story, but grinding up 4 miles of singletrack for 2 hours really killed our enthusiasm.

    The only way I’d reride this route would be if:

    1) I cut out the poison oak forest/airport loop on day 1
    2) could camp at Purisima Redwooeds (not possible/legal)
    3) camped at Castle Rock state park on day 2
    4) ended at Lexington Res.

    I hope this doesn’t come off as a complaint. I truly appreciate Valas. I just wanted to share my expectaions and reality with others, in case they aren’t prepared for this route, as I wasn’t. It was a great way to see some really cool spots of the bay, and an exciting adventure to try to survive and hit our miles every day. :) To Valas and anyone else who has completed this route as mapped (without cutting segments out), I salute you. This was a brutal, brutal route.

  • themore weexplore

    Day 3: This is where we got our reward for all that climbing from Day 2. The first half of the day, to Lexington Res was almost all downhill and was a blast. This was the most fun part of the trip. The trail flowed extremely well, and it wasn’t too technical, so it was fun on a bikepacking rig. In hindsight, I wish we would have ended the trip at Lexington Reservoir. There were some fairly beautiful spots beyond Lexington, but it was all fire roads, zero singletrack, and an insane amount of steep climbing/pushing. I’m talking 4 miles straight up. I was able to ride 90% of it, but it was a total grind and not enjoyable in the slightest. The descent into Almaden was loose gravel fire road that was quite steep (be careful not to cook your brakes), and wasn’t extremely enjoyable. Almaden state park was pretty, and the riding there was totally smooth. We were disappointed to arrive back at the vehicle to find a $45 parking ticket for parking overnight at Almaden Quicksilver parking lot, despite no signage stating it was illegal.

  • themore weexplore

    For some reason, my responses are being flagged as spam and I’m not able to post them here.

  • themore weexplore

    Day 2: This was a fantastic morning with some great planning to connect all this. We had a blast. The only issue is the number of miles and insane amount of elevation required to get to Castle Rock campground. It’d be ideal if there were a camp in the Purisima Creek Redwoods (there isn’t). That would have been a great place to end day 1 (provided you cut out the poison oak forest loop above the airport).

    would recommend starting day 2 no later than 6AM. I didn’t love riding on skyline drive with all the sports cars zipping around the corners, but we had blinking tail lights and most of the cars were pretty respectful and gave us the room we needed. NOTE: There is NO bike lane on this road. It’s a 2-lane windy mountain road with zero shoulder that sports cars love to drive aggressively on. Beautiful road, and not too steep, but quite dangerous. We had considered camping at Black Mountain, and we even had reservations there, but we were concerned with making day 3 longer, and we didn’t know the best way to get to Black Mountain without going through some steep climbs. Also: If you wish to camp at Black Mountain, you’ll need to reserve your permits 2 weeks in advance. Day 2 was extremely beautiful, but very long.

  • themore weexplore

    Day 3: I wish we would have ended the trip at Lexington Reservoir. There were some fairly beautiful spots beyond Lexington, but it was all fire roads, zero singletrack, and an insane amount of steep climbing/pushing. I’m talking 4 miles straight up. I was able to ride 90% of it, but it was a total grind and not enjoyable. The descent into Almaden was loose gravel fire road that was sustained steep downhill (be careful not to cook your brakes), and wasn’t extremely enjoyable. Almaden state park was pretty, and the riding there was totally smooth. We were disappointed to arrive back at the vehicle to find a $45 parking ticket for parking overnight at Almaden Quicksilver parking lot, despite no “no overnight parking” signs at the trail.

  • themore weexplore

    I want to give a huge shout-out to Valas for creating this amazing route and posting it! That being said, I wouldn’t ride this route again, without some major changes. Very few of these trails were built with bikers in mind, and are simply service roads that go straight up the ridge of a mountain. If they’d had some switchbacks, or climbing relief it would have been an entirely different story, but grinding up 4 miles of singletrack for 2 hours really killed our enthusiasm.

    The only way I’d reride this route would be if:

    1) I cut out the poison oak forest/airport loop on day 1
    2) I could camp at Purisima Redwooeds (not possible/legal)
    3) I camped at Castle Rock state park on day 2
    4) I ended at Lexington Res.

    I hope this doesn’t come off as a complaint. I truly appreciate Valas and all pioneers who scout new routs. I just wanted to share my expectations and reality with others. It was a great way to see some really cool spots of the bay, and an exciting adventure to try to survive and hit our miles every day. :) To Valas and anyone else who has completed this route as mapped (without cutting segments out), I salute you. This was a brutal, brutal route.

  • Kyle Sutherland

    Well said. I came here to write my feedback as well, but you said it well. As one of the people in this party, I agree. I really did enjoy the route, it was really cool how everything looped together. I’d totally ditch the poison oak forrest as well.

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Hi there, I totally agree. Your feedback is inline with what the others are saying as well. I think I optimized too much on hitting all the cool spots on the way and boosting the fraction of singletrack and unpaved sections. The route can be greatly improved if we focus on quality instead of quantity.

    I reached out to Logan to see if/how we can update the route.

    Specifically, in broad strokes, I would:
    – skip GGNRA loop above El Granada (skip energy sapping hike a bikes + poison oak (especially in spring!))
    – skip Windyhill OSP (8 miles of fire road with 1500ft elev gain vs 3 flat miles of highway to Russian Ridge)
    – camp at black mountain (shorter second day)
    – skip Sierra Azul (finish in Los Gatos) (skip step fireroads, more balanced third day)
    – other comments/suggestions welcome.

    Looking forward to the video, please share a link when you have it :-)

  • themore weexplore

    I think that will be a fantastic modification. I really appreciate all your great work putting this together. We are about 2 or 3 weeks away from finishing the edit.

    I grew up in the bay area and didn’t know half these tail systems existed. There are some real gems along this route. Thanks again for all your hard work, we had a blast despite the physical challenge.

  • Alex Torres-Clemens

    I just finished this with 4 friends, all on slightly different bikes and in 3 days. The most amusing was my friend on a Specialized AWOL (rigide 29er) with Alfine Di2 and a front rack with panniers https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e60eb8181032b6a521ff2dbb8be5001bcbe9bbcb8c6a4f541a5a0b885073f489.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/75d2d16788ae9ee55338e18f0ccaab86cc07b3241a30cede1de3cc3fcff51c8d.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4705dddb9ecb3fdcef6392751016a807986bf5c3a4186deb5e631d618ab8edf2.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7ffefdb089ee86e3c641aa987a40de1fd325d1e02a0f32b071c33c55bf251e68.png . He rode all the descents and had a blast. Day one was really tough and the last loop before the brewery was brutal! I can understand why people would skip it, but it gave us a lot of appreciation for the following 2 days! Day was great. We did skip the Wind Hill segment after reading more into it, but did not skip Long Ridge. Long Ridge has some of the best views throughout the trip, so i’m glad we stuck with it. The third day is icing on the cake. The descents and trails were so unbelievably perfect. The AWOL friend lives off Summit, so we did route ourselves a little short on Day 3 to finish at Summit Store with lunch and a couple beers. Highly recommend the trip! It’s tough, but well worth it.

  • themore weexplore

    ^ That hike-a-bike was brutal. This pic captures it nicely! Did you guys end up getting much poison oak? Good call cutting out the last bit of day 3, it was a slog.

  • CDB

    There was no shortage of unavoidable poison oak during the overgrown sections on the Rancho Corral de Tierra GGNRA loop on Day 1. We were bulldozing oak and thistle several times.

    We picked up some Tecnu wash at the drug store when we got to Half Moon Bay, and three days later, I’m still clear at this point.
    The Half Moon Bay campground has amazing quarter-operated showers by the way, so bring a buck in change… especially if you decide to hit that loop.

    If it weren’t for the overgrown sections, I would say that GGNRA loop is definitely worth it for the views. The scenery is a great contrast to all the other amazing environments you’ll see. You could practically be in Hawaii or China. (Admittedly, we did have the fog to help with this effect.)

  • CDB

    Woops, didn’t realize you had already done the ride, so you already know! Well… more info for prospective riders of the route anyhow.

    Nice job getting through all that overgrowth, and thanks for helping to smash some of it down for us!

  • Vytautas Valancius

    Is that guy dropping in with AWOL? He’s my new hero. On my MTB with a dropper post I chicken out of the same dip ~50% of the time.

  • Laura Patton

    Just rode this route over the past 3 days (May 15-17, 2018) and followed most of Valas’ recommended updates (D1: skipped the GGNRA loop above El Granada, D2: skipped the Windy Hill OSP loop, D3: finish at Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos). The ride was BEAUTIFUL but also still quite hard!

    Day 2 is mostly suffering with tons and tons of climbing, but day 1 and 3 are pretty mellow. According to the other comments you need a reservation to camp at Black Mountain, so we still camped at Castle Rock even though Black Mountain would have balanced the days more as Valas noted. Beware that you have a pretty steep descent into the camp at Castle Rock, which you have to climb back out of the next morning. At Lexington Reservoir we took the Los Gatos Creek trail all the way into San Jose and caught Caltrain.

    I think this route deserves a higher difficulty rating because of all the tough climbing, which will better prepare future riders for what is in store. I would recommend this route to anyone who wants a big challenge with great views and a wide variety of awesome scenery. That being said, if you live in the area maybe you will enjoy the riding more if you do the route in day trips and aren’t loaded down!

  • monkey

    I’ve done this ride before, but usually end at New Brighton beach the end of the second day. Some people stay at half moon bay bike camp the first night. I am fortunate to be able to camp on private property near Star Hill rd. ( backside of el corte madera) which really helps on the second day distance. Its a bit more for a first day, but really helps make the 2nd day much more manageable.

  • Jamey Pappas

    Stoked to hear how it went! I’m planning on doing the south to north route in July.

  • Anne Paulson

    If you stay in Memorial Park, you have the perfect chance to take Old Haul Road, one of my favorite dirt roads. It goes from Memorial Park to Portola Redwoods State Park. You then have a steep paved climb to rejoin Alpine Road halfway up to Skyline, where “steep” in this case means about half as difficult as the climb out of Lexington Reservoir on the original route.
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27650343

    Alternatively, you could take Old Haul Road to Camp Pomponio Road. This section is entirely dirt, and is a piece of cake. I’ve done it on my road bike with 28 mm tires. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27650343

    Either way you’d avoid backtracking.

  • Anne Paulson

    Even with these changes, I suggest that a rating of 5 is too low. You take out some of the steep climbs and descents, but some remain, and you’re adding the climb to Black Mountain Trail Camp. Consider that on this site, the Great Divide is rated at 5.5 and the Oregon Outback at 7. Numerous people who could do those routes with no trouble will have hours of pushing on the SF Traverse, even as modified.