Golden Gate Bridge and the Headlands from China Beach

Mountain biking in

The Marin Headlands

- Conzelman - Battery Kirby - Coastal Trail - Slacker Hill - Hill 88 -
- Wolf Ridge Loop - Hawk Camp - Tennessee Beach - Coyote Ridge Loop - Technical Loop -
- The Tunnel - Death March - Superbowl - Photos - Links - Home -

This is the local scene for San Francisco, and what better warm up could I ask for than a spin across the Golden Gate Bridge to the trailhead. Three grassy ridges running in parallel east-to-west make up the Headlands: Conzelman Ridge, Wolf Ridge and Coyote Ridge, each with their own distinct character. Rodeo and Tennessee Valley run between the ridges, and there are many charming beaches and vistas scattered throughout. The land here once served as military bases, and evidence of outposts can be found from wartime eras going back to the California's adoption as a state. Spring is when the Headlands light up as pastel accents of yellow, white and lavender wildflowers color the hillsides and subtle scents are carried on breezes through the valleys.

The Marin Headlands is now run by the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, under the National Park Service which tends to be restrictive of Mountain biking. Consequently, very little singletrack is legal to use, and even a number of fireroads are off limits. Nothing here, nothing that is legal anyway, can really be described as intense or extreme if that's what you are looking for. But the long mellow grinds across the bleak hillsides covered with coastal scrub, and distant Pacific coast vistas, has a certain meditative quality that keeps me coming back.

Web Page - Maps & Brochures - Quick Map (264K GIF)

Extending from the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Bonita, Conzelman Ridge is the southernmost of the three ridges that comprise the Headlands. It is also the most developed with roads and historic batteries overlooking the inlet to San Francisco Bay. Conzelman Road begins at the Northern end of the Golden Gate, climbs steadily to Battery 129 and Hawk Lookout, then descends sharply down to Point Bonita. The main trail here is the Coastal Trail which starts about halfway up Conzelman, where it intersects with McCullough, and descends gradually to Rodeo Valley. Otherwise the ride along Conzelman is very scenic, and Battery Kirby and Slacker Hill are interesting detours. A short and sweet Conzelman Loop, starting from the Golden Gate Bridge, would be to ride up to the top of Hawk Hill along Conzelman, and descend to Point Bonita. The Point Bonita lighthouse is open to visitors until 3:00 pm. Then continue down to Rodeo Beach. Head back along the Rodeo Valley Trail, then take the Coastal Trail back up to Conzelman and return to the Golden Gate. You can make it longer by detouring up Hill 88 from Rodeo Beach.

The Conzelman Loop and Hawk Lookout

"Pausing in front of Battery 129, I regarded the thin stip of asphalt that wound quickly and steepy down Hawk Hill and extended out to Point Bonita. In a moment the Pacific breeze would cool me down, screaming in my ear, as I cranked my highest gear against it, in the rapid descent to Rodeo Beach. But for now, taking in the steep hillside that dropped to the rugged coast, gazing back at my home city across the strait, I found a calming respite." (b. January 19, 2002)

Directions: Conzelman Road is a street that passes along the inlet to San Francisco Bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge (Marin side) out to Point Bonita. This loop is a sorta mountain bike ride that passes along the southernmost ridge that makes up the Headlands. Most of it is along regular roads and can easily be converted to a road bike ride. It is a decent local workout for wet and rainy weekends, and is conveniently combined with a (mostly paved) detour up to Hill 88. By car, If you live in San Francisco, you may as well just ride to Conzelman, which starts at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you insist on driving or live elsewhere there are plenty of parking lots on either end of the bridge. On bike, from the parking lot on the northwestern end of the bridge, exit to Conzelman Road. Turn left and follow the road past McCullough to Battery 129 at the summit, where you can take the steep little path to the very top, Hawk Lookout. Follow Conzelman down the other side as it becomes a one way road toward Point Bonita. If you plan to go to the lighthouse, bring a lock because you can't bring your bike, and be aware that it closes at 3:30. This road is one-way, so it's dangerous, steep, and illegal to return back along Conzelman. Head all the way down to the Visitors Center, then turn right on Bunker Road. Return up to Conzelman along the Coastal Trail which veers right at the firing range, or if you're on a road bike return via McCullough Road or the Tunnel instead.

Profile: From the Golden Gate heading north, you will see Conzelman road winding along the southern face of the headlands, toward a grove of trees on the highest peak, which is Hawk Hill (elev. 920). Getting to the very top is 700 feet of vertical if you start at the bridge (elev. 200), but the grade is easy and smooth, not to mention paved. It starts out pretty steep, but levels quickly after the first bend at Battery Spencer. Then the grade picks up a little after the McCullough intersection (elev. 600) where the Coastal Trail will reconnect.

Comment [8]: Given the views, for blacktop this is as good as it gets. It was here, May 2001, watching the fog engulf the bridge, that I decided I would start bringing a digital camera, and came up with the idea for a webpage. For a longer ride, consider detours to Battery Kirby, Hill 88, and maybe Slacker Hill. Back to top.

Detour: Battery Kirby

"A ghost from another era poised on the strait, the stained and crumbling concrete of battery Kirby sits ready to shell point blank the broadsides of an invading fleet. But, for yet another day, it is silent, as children hide in it's shadows and campers play softball nearby. Days before the summer solstice, in this blistering weather, I rested under the thick canopy of coastal cypress. Soft, gentle waves licked the sandy beach below." (b. June 16, 2001)

Directions: Easily overlooked riding along Conzelman, a dirt road passes under a locked gate (bikes can get through) just beyond Battery Spenser about half a mile up the hill. You can drive there or ride your bike there, then follow the road down and back.

Profile: It starts at around 400 feet, then smoothly drops along a wide dirt road 0.9 miles to sea level. The return trip may look unpleasant, especially at the end of a summer day, but I dropped into a low gear and was back to Conzelman before I knew it.

Comment [6]: This is a scenic ride down the southern face of the Headlands. The shady respite makes it worthwhile. Back to top.

I heard on NPR that the Marin Headlands is the best place in the Bay Area, actually the entire country, to see raptors on their winter migration south. Apparently birds of prey do this as well. Relying on sight, not having the homing capabilities of some other birds, they instinctively follow the coast. That means they are all funneled narrowly through the Marin Headlands. It all happens at the end of October, and I hear, true to its name, Hawk Lookout is a good place to see them. Falcons are becoming an increasingly frequent sight over in San Francisco as well.

Coastal Trail (Conzelman to Bunker Road)

"Cutting across the hillsides along steep green valleys lined with mustard flowers and scrub, I rounded a bend to get my first view of the meadows in Rodeo Valley far below, and the lagoon and beach beyond. Scattered throughout the valley were little white houses with red roofs, once military structures, now hostels and schools and visitors centers. In a scenic preamble of the ride to come, Wolf ridge stretched across the rich blue of the morning sky rising to Hill 88." (b. June 11, 2001)

Directions: The Coastal trail begins at the Golden Gate Bridge passing through the Headlands and up the slopes of Mount Tam, but only disconnected sections are legal to bikes. This section of the Coastal Trail begins halfway up Conzelman and drops to the old firing range in Rodeo Valley, just east of the Visitors Center. Look for the white gate blocking it off to cars, immediately after the McCollough Road intersection.

Profile: Heading up, it's about a 500 foot elevation gain in 1.6 miles from the firing range to the junction of Conzelman. The grade is smooth and the quality of the road is good, especially after filling in the erosions and cutting back the bushes along the old firing range in summer, 2002. Although it looks nearly flat along the firing range, strangely this always seems to be the most difficult portion of the ride. I'm not sure if soil quality, air currents, or what, but things always seem easier once I hit the grade. It's a quick ride along a gradual slope, generally manageable even at the end of a long day.

Comment [5]: This is a pleasant but otherwise non-descript trail that serves more as a way in and out of the Headlands than a destination of its own. Going into the Headlands, you get a first glimpse of the trails that await. Leaving, you get one final view of where you've been. For mountain bikers, it is the only southern route into the Headlands that goes off-road. Back to top.

Detour: Slacker Hill

"A pause between relentless storms this holiday week left Conzelman jammed with traffic half way to Hawk Hill, as visitors crowded the coastal views during a brief moment of patchy sun. Gazing down down at all this from the summit of Slacker Hill, it felt strange-- but good-- to be alone the entire time I was here. This little known peak offered different perspectives of the bridge, the bay, Hawk Hill, and the Headlands, where photographers rarely dare to tread." (b. December 29, 2002)

Directions: This section is part of the Coastal Trail, from the junction of Conzelman and McCullough to the summit of Slacker Hill. The trailhead begins about 100 feet down McCullough to the right.

Profile: It begins at around 500 feet, give or take, and climbs to the peak (elev. 840) in 0.4 miles. That's about 16% on average and a few stretches get steeper. Even worse, if you end up being a "slacker," you do so in full view of people riding up the Coastal Trail from Rodeo Valley, and those heading down Conzelman from Hawk Lookout.

Comment [6]: It's little more than 0.4 miles of misery-- but on a clear sunny day it's worth it for the unique views. Back to top.

Running between Rodeo Valley and Tennessee Valley, Wolf Ridge is at the heart of the Headlands. The route to Hill 88 begins at Rodeo Beach and climbs to an interesting piece of Cold War history at the western apex that overlooks the Pacific. But the main biking route, the Wolf Ridge Loop crosses over the ridge from the old firing range in Rodeo Valley to the Tennessee Valley parking lot, climbing up the Miwok and descending to Tennessee Valley along Old Springs. It takes the inland route back, climbing the Marincello Road and desending to the starting point along the Bobcat. It is customarily done in a clockwise direction, although with the recent renovations to the Old Springs trail, either way works fine.

Hill 88

"While Conzelman had briefly risen above the invading fog, Rodeo Beach was left dark and grey under the thick cover. This is where the cracked and decaying road began, leading to 'Hill 88,' casually written on the map almost as a cartographers afterthought. I was in for a surprise-- for it's name turned out to be a woefully inadequate, but beautifully understated, description of what I found. The paved road, half consumed by the chaparral, had collapsed in several places from landslides, and the broken pieces were connected with stairs and dirt trails. As I pressed higher up the hillside, the fog grew thicker until I could see only a few feet ahead. Through the mists at the summit I passed through an alley of fences lined with barbed wire, which seemed out of place on a nature hike such as this. Then outlines came into focus of empty guard house followed by the ghostly forms of two large platforms and other buildings scattered across the peak, all in ruin. The purpose of all this was a mystery, like a forgotten remnant of an unknown war. There are many anti-submarine bunkers and gun platforms scattered around the coastline, but nothing like this in style or magnitude. I imagine the views from Hill 88 must be incredible, but then I could not even see across the base. I decided then I would return on a clear day." (b. May 23, 2001)

Hill 88 abandoned base Directions: The trailhead up to Hill 88 begins at Rodeo Beach, which I ride to using either Conzelman to Hawk Lookout and down to Rodeo Beach, or halfway up Conzelman turn down the Coastal Trail, cross Bunker Road, then follow the Rodeo Valley Trail that runs alongside Bunker Road out to the Beach. But you can drive there taking 101 north to the Alexander offramp just past the Golden Gate, then right (east) at the first turn which is Sausalito Lateral (not Alexander), then take the next left on Bunker Road through the tunnel, then follow Bunker Road all the way out. Near the end of the parking lot is an old paved road beyond a locked gate (it's actually part of the Coastal Trail, a disconnected portion of the other two Coastal Trails mentioned here). Legally, you can go no further than the summit of Hill 88 so you'll have to retrace your steps back down. [For a slightly easier climb, instead of beginning at Rodeo Beach, you can turn right just before Fort Cronkite toward the Marine Mammal Center. Beyond that a dirt road ascends gradually to Battery Spenser. Continue up to Hill 88 from there. If you do it this way, be sure to take the steeper route along the coast when heading down.]

Profile: The trail is 882 feet of vertical climb over heavily washed out and overgrown blacktop mixed with brief moderate singletrack and a set of stairs. The route is 1.6 miles long, so by the numbers that averages 10%. Some of the grades get steeper.

Comment [8]: While the trail itself isn't much to speak of, I gave this ride a good score for the abandoned base which I think is pretty cool. Add a point if you go alone in a dense fog. It combines well with a Conzelman ride for a Pacific vista theme. Back to top.

Map Link (264K GIF) - - Photo Exhibit

Wolf Ridge Loop

"Wildflowers along the coast were pastel lavenders and yellows as I rode up Wolf Ridge along the broad Gerbode valley. Coming down the other side to Tennessee Valley was a rare view, with several little streams rolling down the deep green sunny hillsides, covered with abundant spring flowers and grasses. At the top I sat for awhile, admiring the scenery and catching the occasional scent of fragrances carried by the breeze. Continuing on I passed a series of old rickety wooden bridges after which the trail took a sudden dive. This was no fireroad, however, and ended up being quite steep, rocky, and narrow in places. Almost at the stables, along the final technical descent, I took a tumble over a steep erosion and, dusting myself and the bike off, found a broken spoke which threw the rear wheel out of alignment. Fortunately there was an alternative, less steep trail back." (b. May 1, 2001; Miwok & Old Springs Trail)

"The shadows blended in a uniform dim to which the eyes never fully adjust, and fear slowly gripped the unformed images lurking near the border of sight. Beyond the summit of Wolf Ridge, where the setting sun cast it's last illumination, a bobcat raced ahead of me for a short distance before leaping into the sage. In a race against nightfall, I drew my fingers away from the brakes and began a fast and free glide down the steady grade. Reaching the floor of Gerbode Valley, I saw in the distance a deer closely watching over another lying flat on the trail. Here I slowed, figuring it was a fawn, giving the two ample time to hide. They didn't, the deers gaze fixed on its companion who stood as I approached. I least expected to see another bobcat, who held in its jaws a rabbit and gazed briefly at me before scrambling into the brush. The deer followed right behind. Who can predict the strange unions the bedsheet of darkness brings?" (b. May 11, 2002; Marincello & Bobcat Trail)

Directions: This well-known route crosses over Wolf Ridge, right in the center of the Marin Headlands, and can be combined with any number of adjacent trails or loops. This trail starts at the old firing range in Rodeo Valley, near the visitors center, and heads out to the Tennessee Valley parking lot and back. Customarily it is done in a clockwise direction, but with renovations to the Old Springs Trail in 2001 it is a moderate ride either way. By car, take 101 North to the the Alexander offramp immediately after the Golden Gate Bridge. Take the first right on Sausalito Lateral, then a left turn on Bunker Road through the tunnel. On Bunker road, look for an unmarked parking lot across the street from the old firing range between the McCullough Road junction and Visitors Center. On bike, from Rodeo Valley, cross the bridge through the riparian grove to the Rodeo Valley Trail, and follow it toward the coast, past the Bobcat Trail, turning right at the Miwok trail Follow the Miwok trail up to Old Springs, then down into Tennessee Valley. There, bear right onto the Marincello Trail. On the way back, signs can be a little confusing on the crest where there are many intersections: just follow the large main trail straight through to the Bobcat Trail and back to the start. (The ride can also be started from the Tennessee Valley parking lot-- see directions to Tennessee Beach below)

Profile: Generally, Wolf Ridge rolls along the 800 foot contour from the coast to the city of Marin. The Miwok Trail takes you through a pass, rising about 600 feet in 1.4 miles. The profile follows an S-shaped curve-- flat at both ends and steep in the middle. Old Springs drops 400 feet in 1.1 mile to the Tennessee Valley parking lot (elev. 200). From there, Marincello rises 600 feet in 1.7 miles, and the Bobcat trail takes you back down 800 feet over 2 miles along the eastern side of Gerbode Valley. Fireroads are for the most part smooth and gradual, but feel steeper than they are perhaps because of all the loose gravel.

Comment [7]: This is a beautiful ride in either direction, although I feel the views on Old Springs as one descends into Tennessee Valley is what makes this trail truly enjoyable. The scenery of the Miwok as it rises along Gerbode Valley is likely to please as well, and Marincello & Bobcat offer pretty views to the east with a long and potentially fast descent to the start. Back to top.

Map Link (264K GIF) -

Detour: Hawk Camp

"High up near the top of Wolf Ridge, on the crumbling fireroad slowly reverting to nature, before me spread the most expansive view of the Gerbode Valley that could be legally seen from a bike. A low fog layer was drifting in from the sea, past Fort Cronkhite, and through Rodeo Valley. Under the midday sun, I welcomed the moist coolness against my face as I sped back down to Bunker Road." (b. October 12, 2002)

Directions: This branch is near the summit of the Bobcat trail, maybe a quarter mile before it connects to the Marincello trail. The turnoff is marked with a small sign. If coming up on the Bobcat trail, the isolated grove that makes up the backpacker's camp (or bikepackers) will be in view to your left most of the way.

Profile: It's 0.8 miles each way along one of the wilder fireroads in the area-- a gentle descent finishing with a sharp climb to the campground in the trees.

Comment [5]: This trail offers the best views of Gerbode Valley from a bike. This area always look best during the spring bloom. Back to top.

Photo Exhibit

Following the northern border of the Headlands, Coyote Ridge feels more remote than the rest, and is the most difficult both in terms of technicality and grade. The easiest way over the ridge and back is the Coyote Ridge Loop: after rolling down the Tennessee Valley Trail, the Coastal trail leads up over the ridge and down to Muir Beach. Middle Green Gulch returns to the summit, and the Miwok descends back to Tennessee Valley. For those who doubt the challenge of the Marin Headlands, there is a second loop, the Coyote Ridge Technical Loop. After climbing up the Miwok it extends northward to include the Diaz Ridge "Spur" which is overgrown, rocky, washed out singletrack that, when I was there, hasn't seen maintenance for years. Again, it returns up Middle Green Gulch, then flies down the Coastal Trail to Tennessee Valley. The Diaz Ridge Spur ends at the Pelican Inn, where you can stop for a beer. The Middle Green Gulch trail is uphill-only for bikes, so you can't legally reverse either of these.

Tennessee Valley Trail to Tennessee Beach

"Not a week before, a homeless man told me 'looks like that tire is about to go flat.' This was during a nice ride through Golden Gate Park, and my tire was fully inflated, and he looked a little drunk, so I nodded my head and passed by. Now, quietly sitting beneath the sun's intense glare on the busy trail through Tennessee valley, allowing time for my patch to set, I wondered why this guy wasn't making billions on wall street. I mean, that's not the kind of thing somebody tells me everyday. Onlookers strolling by pitifully gazed at my limp inner tube hanging from the rim, and a couple bikers asked if I had everything. One young girl, probably around six, coasting by on her little pink bicycle, approached me cautiously and sympathetically asked what was wrong. I explained to her my predicament, and reassured her all would be well. I was far less confident than I expressed, however, in the stick-on tire patches I bought at Sport-Mart. The plastic tire irons that came with the kit had both already broken, and San Francisco was a long way to push a bike." (b. June 16, 2001)

Directions: This is a quick paved, and later dirt, road from the Tennessee Valley parking lot to the beach. By car, from 101 North exit onto the Stinson Beach turnoff a few miles past the bridge. Within a few blocks, a sign will direct you to Tennessee Valley Road. Turn left there, and continue until you reach the parking lot. Of course, riding from San Francisco through the Headlands is a great way of getting here as well. By bike, head down to Tennessee Beach and back, or use it as a warmup for other trails in the area.

Profile: The parking lot is at 200 feet, and the trail descends to the coast in 1.9 miles. The first half is paved, the rest is broad fire road. While the road is smooth, the fire road has steep ups and downs for a couple brief stretches. Overall it is still an easy ride and often used as a warm up for other rides in the area.

Comment [5]: Both a nice warm-up ride and a nice hike, it is too brief to be a satisfying bike ride by itself. But if you are in Tennessee Valley anyway then check it out. Back to top.

Map Link (264K GIF)

Coyote Ridge Loop

"Few things can survive in the dew of the salty fog, only twisted shrubs and stiff grasses that rustle and crackle in the cold winds from the sea. Having made it down the first coastal trail and over Wolf Ridge without an equipment failure this time, perhaps in part due to the renovations on Old Springs, I pressed into the northern aspects of the Headlands where I've rarely been before. Here it was mostly wind swept, shrubby plateaus over high cliffs along the Pacific. While the fog cast a haunting gloom over the ragged meadows, just over the ridge in green gulch valley was a pleasant and sunny day." (b. July 28, 2001; Coyote Ridge Trail)

"Spinning, rubber on gravel, each rotation of the wheel goes back to the beginning, only a little higher. Green Gulch valley inspired me with beauty, but in the end left me tired, and searching for the contemplative bliss of a technical descent. Looking beyond that, deeper still, from the mild ache with each turn of the crank came abstractions of a warm shower, lying on my couch in front of the TV, but then only to be thinking about the next ride in a frantic effort to outperform the last. An endless struggle. But am I moving, or is it only the hills which pass by? The days drip from a leaf at the end of a spring rain. I can't see where this is going. Do I ride the singletrack to emotional true, or the slickrock lips of the laughing Buddha?" (b. May 11, 2002; Middle Green Gulch)

Directions: This is the easiest biking route that connects Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach and back, crossing over Coyote Ridge. Still, it is considerably harder than what you'll find along Conzelman or Wolf Ridge. From the Tennessee Valley parking lot (see driving directions above), take the Tennessee Valley Trail toward the beach and turn right onto the Coastal Trail, which occurs just after coming in sight of the ocean. It rises sharply, following the Pacific, to a grassy promontory where it becomes the Coyote Ridge Trail heading eastward. Just after the Fox Trail turnoff, you'll reach a fork. The easier way is to turn right and follow the ridgeline to the Miwok trail and take that back to the start. Otherwise turn left and descend to Muir Beach. From Muir Beach, find the Zen Center by heading toward the exit. Just before highway 1, at the Pelican Inn, turn right on the flat fireroad and ride a quarter mile. You'll find a wire fence, and a gate with a picture of a deer on it. Pass through this gate, continuing through rows of crops, and watch for signs to the Middle Green Gulch trailhead. Take that up to the crest of Coyote Ridge and turn left on the fireroad toward the Miwok trail (bring a map, I don't remember this part being well marked). Turn right on the Miwok Trail and soon you'll descend the twisty trail down the south side of the valley.

Profile: From Tennessee Valley, it is about 2 miles to the apex of coyote ridge at 1000 feet. The steepest part is the initial climb along the Coastal Trail and smoothes out somewhat along the crest. It's a fast and rough descent to Muir Beach, heavily eroded with drainage mounds. Once on Middle Green Gulch, don't freak out on the switchbacks just past the Zen Center, where the trail is so thin and worn the pedals hit the ground as you crank up the steep turns. This part only lasts for a little bit, probably less than a quarter mile, and just as you get used to it the trail flattens out into long sweeping cuts across the hillside. There is one more steep stretch near the top, maybe 200 feet long, but by then you are almost done. The trail map says it's 2.0 miles from Pelican Inn to the summit, but I think it is really somewhat longer.

Comment [7]: On a sunny day, the climb out of Tennessee Valley stretch has some of the best views of the Pacific coastline, and even in the heavy fog it is a mystical and remote ride. The local ecology has a tough, isolated, and cool highlands feel. Heading back from Muir Beach, it is nice to see some singletrack south of China Camp, and the finish along the Miwok trail can be a technical and scenic ride. Back to top.

Map Link (264K GIF) - - Photo Exhibit (Coyote Ridge & Muir Beach) - Photo Exhibit (Middle Green Gulch)

I saw two bobcats once on the bobcat trail (5/11/02), a pair of coyotes on Coyote Ridge (1/23/03). I'm pretty sure I'd have seen a hawk at Hawk Camp if I waited around long enough. But I'm not holding my breath when it comes to Wolf Ridge. And good thing there are no names like "Cougar Alley" or "Great White Beach."

Coyote Ridge Technical Loop

"Serendipity is a 'bike route' sign pointing down technical singletrack. A descent from the top of Diaz Ridge to Muir Beach hadn't been part of the plan, but this I could not resist. The focus today had been an attack on the Miwok Trail north of Tennessee Valley, and relaxed pacing along Conzelman and the Bobcat maintained aerobic balance while a coastal breeze kept body heat down. But the hydrocarbon craving wasn't satified by my only Powerbar, which now seemed disproportionate to the full Camelbak resting heavily on my shoulders. As electrolyte potential faded across glucose-starved membranes, I slowly struggled up the Miwok between erosions weaving down the path. Reaching Diaz Ridge, my only intent was to quickly admire the views and backtrack, but passing through the iron gate I committed myself to the long climb out of Muir Beach. Only when the endorphin kick wore off did I feel the consequence of this lapse." (b. July 24, 2002)

Directions: This is a second loop from Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach and back, which I think most will find reasonably difficult by any standard. This time you'll proceed in a counterclockwise direction, beginning in Tennessee Valley. Driving directions are as above, or you can bike there from SF taking the Coastal Trail and Wolf Ridge Loop. On bike, the Miwok Trail starts at the entrance to the Tennessee Valley parking lot, climbs over Coyote Ridge, and coasts to Highway 1. It resumes about a hundred feet down Highway 1 (toward Muir Beach) and continues north to Diaz Ridge Road. A left turn follows the ridge to a fork, and to the left is an iron gate opening to the Diaz Ridge "Spur" going down to Muir Beach. Near the bottom is an unmarked fork where I blindly chose to go right, which then lead down impassably steep and twisty singletrack straight to the Pelican Inn. While returning up Middle Green Gulch, I noticed the left fork looked like a more sensible route. From Muir Beach, take Middle Green Gulch up to Coyote Ridge, then turn right for the final descent along the Coastal Trail back to Tennessee Valley. At the bottom, turn left on the Tennessee Valley trail and return to the parking lot.

Profile: The Tennessee Valley parking lot is at 200 feet, and the Miwok trail peaks close to 900 feet over 1.1 miles (averaging 12%). Three technical climbs account for the worst of it: (1) a short burst of singletrack right at the beginning, (2) from the second set of strairs to the top of the wooden fence, and (3) that part through the eucalyptus trees which isn't so technical as it is steep. The rest of the trail is better, similar to other grades throughout the Headlands. The Miwok Trail is mostly doubletrack or fireroad on the climb, then descends gradually on fireroad to Highway 1 (losing around 300 feet in 1.7 miles). After Highway 1 it becomes thin singletrack of fairly good quality and smooth grade until connecting with Diaz Ridge. For being called a fireroad, Diaz Ridge is more between double and singletrack with ups and downs along the 800-foot countour for 1.7 miles. The Diaz Ridge Spur leading to Muir Beach is a mile of steep, overgrown, rocky, skidded, and very eroded singletrack that doesn't appear to have seen any maintenance for years. After returning up Middle Green Gulch, the rest of the ride is downhill on fun and scenic fireroads.

Comment [7]: This is a picturesque and technical route crossing the eastern aspect of Coyote Ridge, with a challenging beginning climb and descent to Muir Beach. It ends with a beautiful finish over the rugged Pacific coast. Add a point to the score if your bike handling skills are good. Back to top.

Map Link (264K GIF)

Barry-Baker Tunnel (aka "The Tunnel")

"The toasty vanilla scent of waffle cones floated along Bridgeway Boulevard as I passed through downtown Sausalito this hot and sunny day. After stopping by the Point Bonita lighthouse I had planned to climb Hill 88, but with my water nearly gone after clearing Conzelman and the rays of sunlight reaching their peak incidence I reconsidered. So instead I sat in the shade of the little park, near the ferry docks, cooling down as icy bites of mango sherbert melted down my throat. The city was packed with visitors today, crowding the sidewalks along waterfront boutiques." (b. June 30, 2002)

Noooooo... please... not... The Tunnel!! Oh, I'm such a wuss! Uh, I was going to Sausalito, yeah, that's it... no really, I was just taking a picture for this website. Yeah, that's all I was doing here... Directions: "The tunnel" is the least strenuous route to get from the Golden Gate Bridge to Rodeo Valley, minimizing elevation change in either direction. Be forwarned: the term is usually used in the context of bowing your head in shame and saying "yes, I took the tunnel." Excuses include discovering it by accident or perhaps using it as a more direct route to Sausalito afterwards for ice cream or something. The more challenging (but scenic) route is the Coastal Trail to Conzelman, or McCullough if you have a road bike. That being said, to get there by bike from the Golden Gate, take the temporary underpass to the other side of the freeway. On the Bay side of the bridge, a bike path continues down Sausalito lateral, and the tunnel is in view on your first left turn. Usually it's used on the way back, and for that just follow Bunker Road east to the entrance. FYI, at Lambert's waffle cones and one scoop cost $4.10.

Profile: The tunnel is at about the same elevation as the Golden Gate Bridge, somewhere around 200 feet. Fear not, weary bikers, for Bunker Road will take you up that grade about as smooth and easily as possible, and there is usually a wind at your back.

Comment [9]: Nine?!? For the tunnel? Yep. The tunnel is all about biking ease and convenience, and for that you couldn't ask for much more. Wide bike lanes travel in both directions, and there is a button you can press to flash a light alerting motorists to your presence (which is on almost all the time). It is even an interesting ride in it's own right, and in any case offers a half-mile of cool respite from the sun. But don't rate it now, rate it when you are limping back from Old Springs trail with a broken spoke, or those three little 800-foot climbs turned out harder than you expected. Back to top.

The Marin Headlands Death March

"Slowly did I fall under the spell of crashing waves, singing white-noise lullabies over my sculpted mattress of sand. The sun was at a comforting incidence, gentle to the skin and dancing in the water, but in no danger of setting anytime soon as light wisps of high clouds softly diffused the elysian light. Resting beside my bike on the warm sands of Muir Beach, I began to fear this was not a good idea since the ride back home still lay ahead. I cracked one eye to look at my watch, which said it was time to go but my hand fell back to my side. In the temperate breeze I could almost hear forgotten rhythms of slow Flamenco, lingering in the scent of dried kelp." (b. March 31, 2003)

The Conzelman, Wolf Ridge, and Coyote Ridge loops cover almost all the legal trails in the Marin Headlands, ranging from the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Beach and back. This ride combines these three loops. Riding across the Golden Gate Bridge serves as a nice warmup before climbing Conzelman road to Hawk lookout and descending quickly to Point Bonita. Coasting down to Rodeo Beach, pick up a free map at the visitors center if you don't have one already. The Rodeo Valley trail quickly takes you to the Miwok Trail, which is the most common way to cross Wolf Ridge since it allows you to enjoy the drop along Old Springs. Down in Tennessee Valley, Tennessee Beach is worth checking out before climbing over Coyote Ridge on the Coastal Trail, which is pretty steep but better than the alternatives. It becomes the Coyote Ridge Trail, and eventually the Coastal Trail again heading down to Muir Beach. The Middle Green Gulch Trail is probably the easiest way back to the top of Coyote Ridge, despite a couple steep parts, and the Miwok trail offers a steep, fairly technical descent down to Tennessee Valley. The Marincello and Bobcat Trails provide an alternative, but less scenic route back across Wolf Ridge to Rodeo Valley. Finally the Coastal Trail leads from the old shooting range to Conzelman, which offers a very scenic and satisfying return back to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Most criticisms of the Marin Headlands come from the lack of (legal) technical downhills, which is fair. But this ride involves 4200+ feet of climbing over roughly 35 miles on steady grades from 5-12%, and includes one portion that is clear singletrack (Middle Green Gulch), and two others that approach it (Old Springs and parts of the Miwok north of Tennessee Valley). But the main draw to this ride is the scenic beauty as you cross the grassy ridges overlooking the rugged northern Pacific Coast, with cityscapes of San Francisco, Marin and the East Bay in the distance. Each portion is rated above, but taken together it's a great ride I can keep coming back to.

Web Page - Map Link (264K GIF) - #1 and #2

The Superbowl Meltdown

...fat meltdown, that is. This is an easier and better version of the Death March, and is basically my favorite route to take through the Headlands. Each year, before that antithesis of athleticism called watching the Superbowl, which is the only sporting event I watch except for excerpts from the Tour de France, I've gotten in the habit of riding to Muir Beach and back. From the Golden Gate Bridge, I head up Conzelman, down the Coastal Trail, cross Wolf Ridge via the Miwok Trail and down Old Springs, then take either the Coyote Ridge Loop or Technical Loop to Muir Beach and back to Tennessee Valley. From there I just backtrack home. More and more I skip the Marincello/Bobcat route over Wolf Ridge because it is just tedious. At the time of the Superbowl the hills have just turned green and wildflowers are starting to bloom, and the whole ride is amazing. If you have only one ride in the Headlands, this is what I say you gotta do. Given that me + the bike + what I'm carrying must weigh nearly 250 pounds, this ride over all those hills has gotta burn at least a bag of Doritos.

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Two views from the southern side of the Marin Headlands. From Conzelman, it's a quick ride down a smooth dirt road into the forested shade around Battery Kirby. The beach nearby I hear is clothing optional, but nobody there was brave enough. The other shot is looking down at the bridge from Slacker Hill. The hills have just turned green, and a storm is about to blow in.

This is looking west from the batteries behind Hawk Hill at the highest point along Conzelman, down toward Point Bonita where the lighthouse can barely been seen at the tip. North of Point Bonita lies Rodeo Beach, Rodeo Lagoon, and Rodeo Valley leading down to them. Beyond that begins Wolf Ridge, rising to the structures of Hill 88 at the highest point visible in the photo. This picture was taken in late summer when hills are at their driest.

On the far side of Wolf Ridge, the Old Springs trail crosses a series of seven densely grown gulches, each covered by a little bridge. Although they smoothed out Old Springs July 2001, it still retains some of its singletrack character. From the Old Springs trail is Tennessee Valley looking fresh from the recent rains. In the distance Coyote Ridge rises abruptly from the sea.

Moving on north to Coyote Ridge, the first shot is looking northward from the grassy promontory at the top of the Coastal Trail climbing Coyote Ridge from Tennessee Valley, Muir Beach is shrouded in a light mist. Farther east along the ridge, the Miwok trail drops back into Tennessee Valley falling sharply just after this fence.

Not an uncommon sight as I return home from a ride in the Marin Headlands. His is starting the ascent up the Coastal Trail toward Conzelman Road, overlooking the old firing range in Rodeo Valley. An evening foglayer is moving in to scatter the light from the sun setting behind Hill 88 in the background. (July 4, 2003)

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Check out the Golden Gate National Recreation Area site, which oversees the Headlands and a number of other areas around the inlet to San Francisco Bay. Map links have been provided above, or you can get a free hardcopy at the Visitors Center off Bunker Road in Rodeo Valley.

There is a Youth Hostel in the Marin Headlands. I've never stayed there but it got good reviews from someone who did. The location is prime, in the middle of the southern part of the Headlands, near the visitors center, and at $13 per night that can't be beat. Especially considering it's a few minutes from San Francisco where everything else is well over $100.

Okay, most of the Hill 88 enigma is solved. Click on SF88-C for pictures of how it once looked while operational. Nike's were surface-to-air missiles invented in 1951 for protection against bombers carrying nuclear payloads and became obsolete in the 60s with the development of ICBMs. The only Nike missile site that has ever been preserved is in the Headlands.

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