Mountain biking on
- Old Railroad Grade
- Blithedale Ridge -
- Warner Canyon
- Old Stage Road
- Muir Woods Loop
- Willow Camp
- North Face Loop -
- Zig Zag
- Home -
This is the mountain where "mountain biking" comes from.
Once called the sleeping lady for
it's profile from the south,
it was along these trails that balloon tire
bikes were developed and refined, and where their popularity ignited three decades ago.
Before that, old steam engines and stage coaches crossed its slopes
transporting timber and later sightseers between inns, lookouts, and restaurants that lined
the ridges in the early 1900s. Disbanded in obscurity after the development of
paved roads, these fireroads formed a network of routes throughout the preserves of
western Marin that suited themselves perfectly to long rides ranging from the Headlands northward to Point Reyes.
With early mountain bikes weighing fifty pounds or more, even the 5% grades
would have been a good workout to most riders, and today you will still need to be
in reasonable shape to crank up 1200-2400 feet. But those who have come to find extreme mountain
biking perfection may come away disappointed. It's here, just not legal.
Still, impressive views of the bay, mystical redwoods over the Pacific, and blue lakes amongst
grassy meadows can all be found in a very tight space.
I've organized Mount Tam rides into three main loops,
which can stand alone or connect
to form a grander loop of your choosing. Connecting trails are also described.
The Old Railroad Grade & Eldridge Loop climbs the dry southeast portions of the ridge dominated by chaparral,
the Muir Woods Loop covers the grassy hillsides and coastal views of the southwest ridge, and the North Face
Loop spans the ridgeline and the remote northern side extending out the lakes of the watershed.
All of these routes briefly travel through the redwood forests found mostly near the base.
South Face -
The Old Railroad Grade & Eldridge Loop
"The darkest nadir of the winter solstice brought icy winds that chilled dripping sweat,
between the endless onslaught of arctic fronts blowing inland from the sea.
The blue skies shining down this rare day, after so many of clouds and rain,
filled blood, muscle, and bone with an inspired strength the Old Railroad Grade oh-so-rarely offers.
Shocks relaxed and rebound slow, gripping moist shale and packed mud,
wheels rolled with determined traction along twists, bends, and lengthy switchbacks
on the relentless grind to the summit.
Cranks spun under the power of steaming pistons, and lips exhaled fiery fumes, and
I knew each storm meant snow-laden mountains, and promises soon of a glorious spring."
(b. December 27, 2003)
Directions: The Old Railroad Grade is the main bike route to the summit
from the south, and can be started midway up at Mountain Home, or from down in Mill Valley. The Eldrige Grade is a bumpy
ride down along the northeast face.
Mountain Home Route: by car, from the Golden Gate Bridge, follow 101N a couple
miles to the Stinson Beach exit and continue to Highway 1 going west.
Near the top of the grade, turn right onto Panoramic Highway.
Continue straight through the three-way fork to the parking lot at Mountain Home.
On bike, follow the Gravity Car
Grade until it turns left on the Old Railroad Grade, and follow that to Ridgecrest Boulevard and turn right for a short
climb to the East Peak.
To return, you can backtrack, or take the Eldridge Grade
down. It begins where the Old Railroad Grade connects with Ridgecrest Blvd.
After a rocky descent, turn right on Indian Road, the next right on the unmarked Blithedale Ridge Road,
right on Hoo-Koo-E-Koo, left on Old Railroad, then right on Gravity Car to the parking lot.
Mill Valley Route:
By car, take 101 north to the East Blithedale/Tiburon offramp.
Follow East Blithedale to Mill Valley, which inconspicuously becomes West Blithedale as it passes downtown.
Pass though residential neighborhoods, and
as you ride along the creek watch for a gated bridge to the right.
The sign on the gate refers only to Blithedale Ridge, but it's the Old Railroad Grade, which you can follow to the peak.
On bike, keep left at the first two major branches or you'll be climbing steeply to Blithedale Ridge.
A third of the way up you'll ride along Summit Avenue. After that, the route to the
East Peak is pretty well-marked.
If you take the Eldridge Grade down, turn right on the
Indian fireroad, then take the next unmarked right on Blithedale Ridge Road. Turn left at the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo junction, and
at the bottom of the steep descent the first right turn continues down to the Old Railroad Grade.
Or continue on, and the second right turn does as well.
Profile: A train once went daily to the peak along the
Old Railroad Grade. Old trains apparently were limited to a grades of 7%, so that is
as steep as it ever gets. From Mountain Home Inn it's a relentless 1300 foot climb in 5 miles.
While never very steep in any one place, over time you may start to feel it. From Mill Valley,
the trailhead is at about 200 feet, and the highest bikes can go is 2350 (the peak
is 2571 feet). There are plenty of ways to the top, but the Old Railroad grade is the most gradual
route there in 9 miles, averaging just under 5%.
It's a bumpy ride, and downhill it begs for speed
but can be rough on a hardtail. The speed limit is 15 mph, and on an interesting note
this is where radar guns were first used against bikes in 1989.
One guy I saw booking down slowed considerably near Summit Avenue.
The Eldridge Grade is a rocky but shallow descent. Blithedale Ridge gets very steep on jagged shale.
It's a fun ride down on a full suspension rig, not so much on a hardtail.
The Old Railroad Grade is a brain dead spin up the southern face of the mountain,
and riding down it isn't much better except it's over with faster.
But if riding there from San Francisco it's the most expedient route to the East Peak.
From the summit, better trails to the north can be found, and scenic trails to the west.
Riding down the Eldridge Grade will remove any loose fillings, but Blithedale Ridge on
full suspension is a blast that never gets old.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (1000K PDF - Old Railroad is cut off at the trailhead) -
You can drive to Mount Tam from San Francisco, or take a stand against mismanagement of the bridge which
resulted in the last toll increase to $5. Once over the Golden Gate it's a painless bike ride down Alexander
Avenue and through Sausalito, along Bridgeway until it ends in an onramp to 101,
then north along the Richardson Bay multi-use path which ends at East Blithedale.
Turning left, East Blithedale will gently climb past downtown Mill Valley to West Blithedale and
the start of the Old Railroad Grade.
Another, better route, is this: shortly after you cross under 101, while heading north along the Richardson Bay marshes,
look for the first left turn off the multi-use route, where Miller Road begins, which takes you straight to
downtown Mill Valley. From there, turn right on Throckmorton at the Depot Cafe, then left on West Blithedale.
The Old Railroad Grade begins at a bridge crossing to a large fire road, marked only with a sign to Blithedale Ridge.
"Sometimes trail names are about location.
Othertimes they are named after someone famous. Trail names
can have a historic reference, or conjure the natural beauty of the region.
Or bikers give them nicknames which inspire humor or fear.
But sometimes, once in awhile, they just sound like something Beavis would say with his shirt pulled over his head."
(b. March 30, 2002)
Directions: Actually, it is a historic reference to a tribe that once lived here.
The Hoo-Koo-E-Koo fireroad is the first main branch of the Old Railroad Grade, after Gravity Car,
connecting to the North Face Loop via the Indian Fireroad.
It branches right shortly after the junction of the Gravity Car Grade, and connects to
the junction of the Indian Fireroad and Blithedale Ridge Road about a half mile away from the Eldridge
Grade. A truncated, fun variant of the Old Railroad Grade/Eldridge Loop would be to take the Railroad
Grade to Hoo-Koo-E-Koo, ride over to Blithedale Ridge Road, turn right,
then as you descend Blithedale Ridge both the first and second right
turns take you back to the lower portions of Old Railroad Grade.
There's also the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo trail
nearby, which branches left from the Gravity Car grade just before Old Railroad and is off limits to bikes.
I mention only for history since it was once a famous mountain biking trail...
Profile: This is a flat, wide fireroad twisting around the Eastern face of Mount Tam looking over
the cities of Marin and the bay.
From Old Railroad it begins at 1200 feet and ends around 1000, gently descending a couple miles with one
final climb at the end to Blithedale Ridge Road. From here, if you turn left, then left again,
climbing up to the Eldridge grade along the Indian Fireroad gets very
steep. Drop to a low gear so you don't tank.
It's not a ride in itself, but a means to get to the more remote and uninterupted systems of trails to the north.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (1000K PDF) -
Blithedale Ridge OSP
"Seeking escape from smooth grades that dominate much of Mount Tam, the initial downhill run was a steep
drop on jagged rock beds with random indentations that made it easy to fly over the handlebars for braking too hard.
Climbing to Blithedale summit was a steep grind though shady redwood forests, followed by
a pretty rollercoaster ride alongside manzanitas groves that overlooked Mill Valley in the mist
and Mount Tam rising above." (b. May 10, 2002)
Directions: There are multiple fireroads you can take through Blithedale ridge, just
east of Mount Tam. They all start at the intersetion of Hoo-Koo-E-Koo and the Indian Fireroad, and
eventually descend into Mill Valley. Pick any trail, as long as you maintain a southerly direction you'll
eventually hit East or West Blithedale Boulevard, so it's hard to get too lost.
Fireroads here have more spice than those on Mount Tam,
and many are too steep to be climbed by most of us.
On bike, take the Old Railroad Grade from Mill Valley to Hoo-Koo-E-Koo,
which ends on the Blithedale Ridge Fireoad. You can also get to the trailhead by the Eldridge Grade, turning off on the
Indian Fireroad and about a half mile later Blithedale Ridge (unmarked) branches to the right. You can follow the main
fireroad to the end of the ridge where you'll run into a sign saying you are about to enter private property. Take any
left or right turn on the way to get to Mill Valley.
Profile: The trail starts about halfway up Mount Tam, around 1200 feet, and drops to Mill Valley around 200 feet.
The steepest technical downhill comes at the beginning, and then you're climbing right back up again to Blithedale
summit on grades well into the teens (around 200 feet of elevation gain). From Blithedale summit the
remainder is gentler downhill than the beginning, with rollercoastering along the way to the southeastern
projection of the ridge. Full suspension is nice, otherwise you're rattling all the way down.
Blithedale Ridge to Mill Valley is a good way to end your Mount Tam biking day.
It's a nice alternative route that offers some technical challenge.
Despite being a wide fireroad, it is steep and rocky enough to keep me on my toes,
with some of the prettier scenery in the area.
Back to top.
Detour: Warner Canyon
"New growth forest can be nice, if you've never seen old growth.
As I coasted along the road which cut flat across the side of the valley, gazing eastward over this hidden part
of Mill Valley, the monotonous trunk size and minimal undergrowth revealed the history of the region.
It was only logical for the Sierra Club to be heaquartered here since coastal redwood growth
throughout almost all of western Marin had once been reduced to stumps.
Better than any other form of transportation, the mountain bike allows me to appreciate large expanses of wildnerness on
any ordinary day.
It made me wonder why conservatancy organizations discourage it."
(b. July 31, 2002)
Directions: Warner Canyon is a secluded section of Mill Valley bordered between Blithedale
Ridge and Corte Madera ridge. It's basically part of the network of fireroads that you can travel down
Blithedale Ridge into Mill Valley. These, however, are mellow enough to be ridden uphill, so you can get to the top
of the ridge this way. On bike, heading south along the Blithedale Ridge fireroad above,
take the second left fireroad turn.
You'll descend to a saddle, where continuing upward would lead to Corte Madera peak. To ride along
Warner Canyon, turn right and coast down to a fork near the top of the valley. You can go either way-- turning
right leads through new growth forests, and a left turn takes you more along chaparal. Either route takes you to
surface streets in Mill Valley where you can coast down to East Blithedale.
Profile: Blithedale Ridge, the starting point, rolls along at an average elevation around 1000 feet.
Heading down this route there are a couple moderate descents, but riding along the rim of Warner Canyon is basically
flat. As usual, it's all fireroad. Climbing it gets moderately steep in parts, maybe 8-10% on
smooth steady grade.
This is another scenic alternative back from Mount Tam.
Back to top.
Old Stage Road
"In a rare event on the trail, I was getting mad.
It was the grinding monotony of the Old Railroad Grade that twisted and climbed,
on and on, past each ravine that looked like the last.
Ever-so-slowly I progressed westward toward
the Coastal Trail, awaiting a fast and fun ride down a barren and scenic ridge.
Old Stage Road was little more than a connection between the two
but, on forking left past West Point Inn, all bad feelings lapsed.
Muir Woods opened below sloping down the broad valley westward to the sea, and
as the trail levelled I shifted up cranking in smooth and steady strokes.
Reaching the thick leafy woodlands, building speed,
inert regions of the mind were called to action as feverish perception crunched
the twisted branches from which dry moss hung, and where autumn leaves lay quiet on shady ground.
As the trail tunneled through old forest, the awakened ganglia wove into
being thier strange and forgotten thoughts."
(b. January 4, 2003)
Directions: Old Stage Road cuts across the southern face of Mount Tam, running in parallel
to Ridgecrest Boulevard and connecting the
Pantoll Ranger Station to West Point Inn.
By car, to get to the Pantoll Ranger station, follow the directions under Old Railroad Grade to Mountain
Home, and then just continue along the Panoramic Highway to the junction with Pan Toll road. Old Stage
Road starts immediately to the right of Pan Toll Road. On bike, from Pan Toll,
it's pretty well marked and other branches and turns are off limits to bikes. If starting at the West Point Inn,
kick it into high gear and enjoy.
Profile: It's a very mild incline connecting Pantoll (elev. 1500) to the West Point Inn (elev. 1800),
almost flat much of the way, and never getting worse than the Old Railroad Grade.
The route is approximately 1½ miles.
From Pantoll it starts out as pavement, then becomes fireroad in a half mile or so.
Comment : As a connecting route between different trails, this is
a nice route through the deciduous forests above the redwoods, up to the southward vistas near West Point Inn.
Also, for an easier ride to the summit you can start here and possibly loop back along Ridgecrest and Pan Toll Road.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (1000K PDF)
The Pan Toll Ranger Station, along Panoramic Highway,
lies amid the forests that characterize the western half of the ridge, and is a hub for many shady trails
throughout the park. Of those legal to bikes, Old Stage road is perhaps the most convienient way to the east peak,
connecting to the West Point Inn from which the Old Railroad Grade continues to the Summit.
The Coastal Trail heads down to Muir Beach, and Deer Park Fireroad branches right (just past the Dipsea Trail)
through Muir Woods down to Frank Valley.
Pan Toll Road connects to Ridgecrest Boulevard, where trailheads for Rock Springs Road, Laurel Dell Road,
and Willow Camp Fire Trail access the northern portions of Mount Tam.
Muir Woods Loop: Deer Park and Coastal Trails
"Sparse beams of sunlight revitalized the body as they filtered through the
old-growth forest reaching toward the sky.
In warmer eras this ancient species, a living fossil, thrived across the continent
where its shady canopy towered over the heads of the tallest plant-eating dinosaur.
Now redwoods were limited to the wet North Pacific and Sierras and most of these had been logged in our rapid expansion west.
In protected in areas such as this, some of the old ones were saved.
Ever since riding up Conzelman I had long planned to reach Muir Beach,
and having made it there, riding on to Mount Tam was the next logical step.
Still cranking the old hardtail-- waiting for the Turner which by now was a month overdue--
the Marin kept true to character and my chain broke halfway up Coyote Ridge.
While the necessary removal two links raised concerns of an effect on shifting performance and strength,
the sun breaking through the clouds as I coasted down to Muir Beach was reward enough for not turning around.
The relentless ascent up the Deer Park trail passed through riparian woodlands then across the open
sage before winding to the border of the thick redwood growth.
Perhaps I was lighter from drinking most of the water,
or feeling the caffeine hit of the Snapple Rain,
but here the Headlands became a faded memory, like a different ride, and my legs relaxed and started to spin."
(August 24, 2002)
"The ongoing moment of truth-- that awareness
between memory and anticipation, which becomes more and more inaccurate travelling either
direction in time-- became uniquely intense behind the handlebars slipping down the steep and muddy slope
criscrossed with deep and wet erosions.
Surrounding me was the welcome freshness of newly green hills rolling beneath the patchy cloud layer
that marked a break between storms coming in from the west.
The ridgetop on which I rode dropped quickly to placid gray seas that followed ragged coves from the Headlands
to Stinson Beach.
The fine particulate mud beneath me-- that would, in time, bake into hard clay during the spring months--
now caked on the wheels and threw an even smattering of dirty droplets over my gear and up my back.
The knobs on the tires disappeared beneath this layer into the slick traction of the wet trail,
but the disk brakes stayed clean down the steep grades."
(b. January 4, 2003)
Although this route only passes briefly on the outskirts of the Muir Woods redwoods, it is a fairly well-known loop
covering the southwestern portion of the ridge is probably the prettiest ride on Mount Tam.
By car, from the Golden Gate, take 101 north to the Stinson Beach Exit, follow Highway 1 up to
the Panoramic Highway, then at the three-way fork turn left down Muir Woods Road.
After passing Muir Woods, look for a small trailhead on the right which is unmarked and inconspicuous so good luck.
If you reach Highway 1 then turn around-- you've passed it.
On bike, follow the Deer Park Fireroad the ridge (which, by the way, parallels the Dipsea Trail).
At the top, just beyond where the redwoods end, is the Coastal Trail. You can turn right and quickly climb up
to the Pan Toll ranger station just to check it out, but there's nothing special about it so that is entirely optional.
Otherwise, turn left, and enjoy the wild, fast and scenic ride down to Highway 1.
Follow the highway south to Muir Beach and be sure stop at the coastal overlook on the way.
Muir Woods Road will branch left just before you reach Muir Beach and will return you back to the car.
If either of these trails are used separately as part of a larger Mount Tam Loop, then Deer park is the better one
to climb. Either make good descents, but the Coastal Trail is the better of the two (just stop by redwoods
really quick before heading down).
Profile: The Deer Park Fire Road is a 1300 foot ascent in 2.4 miles, averaging a pretty steady 10%.
If the climb is too much then hit in the granny and you'll either get used to it or bonk.
Either way it's a good ride.
Pan Toll, FYI, is at 1500 feet, but hardly felt like a 200 foot climb to get there.
The Coastal fireroad takes you down 800 feet in 2 miles, with a better average grade than Deer Park,
but this is a trail too fun to be ridden down to bother with going up it.
Especially with the coastal views and a handful of very steep grades.
Watch out for mud after it rains.
Highway 1 takes you down the remaining 500 feet in 1.5 miles.
The ride back along Muir Woods Road is a mild climb with minimal traffic.
Comment [8½]: This may be a bit stingy for a stretch of old growth that John Muir called
"...the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world."
But bikes can only ride through a small patch of it near the outer perimeter,
and a number of trees have still been sawed down there.
Heading back down the Coastal Trail, this ride offers satisfying bits and pieces of
the best scenery Marin has to offer.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (289K PDF) -
Deer Park &
Willow Camp Fire Trail
"Just when I think I don't suck anymore, along
comes Willow Camp. I had been hearing about the great ride it is from Stinson Beach to
Mount Tam. Given the Matt Davis Trail was off limits to bikes this was the only way
we could find. Willow Camp took us
straight to the ridge in a couple miles-- literally straight
there-- none of that wimpy switchback stuff except maybe in the beginning.
We quickly climbed through coastal scrub, briefly through a coniferous
grove, and then along grassy hills near the ridge that stretches eastward
to Mount Tam.
By the time we had mostly pushed our way to the top, we'd about concluded
it was unrideable. But sure enough, just as we thought that, along came someone
cranking up the trail. Up steep and slippery grades his tires stuck like glue, his
legs kicking away hardly working up a sweat or being out of breath.
It was an impressive sight to behold." (b. August 11, 2001)
Directions: Drive to Stinson Beach (101 North
to the Muir Beach/Stinson Beach exit, then follow Highway 1 until you get there.
Midway through town turn left into the beach parking lot). On bike, ride to the
Willow Camp Trail head (From 1, head inland on Calle del Mar at the little grocery
store near the beach turn,
go right on Buena Vista, left on Laurel, left on Belvedere, and right on Avenida
Farallones to the Willow Camp trail). Follow Willow Camp to Ridgecrest Boulevard.
Want to go all the way to Mount Tam? Well, the good news is, elevation-wise, you
are most of the way there at Ridgecrest, which will take you to the east and west peaks
in 3 or 4 miles, and there didn't seem to be much traffic.
Profile: The Willow Camp trailhead (elev. 300)
takes you quickly up to Ridgecrest Boulevard (elev. 2000) in a cool 1.9 miles. That's a
17% average grade, and keep in mind it's not an even one.
Let's just say it is very steep in most places. Do yourself a favor and start at
the trailhead rather than the beach like we did. The trail quality doesn't help
either, being loose and slippery. Let some air out of those tires before
Comment : Unless you're some cyborg sent from the future to make me and Kenny feel inadequate,
you'll be doing a lot of pushing, so
it's hard to recommend. Downhill is insane, and I had a lot of over-the-handlebars phobia
going on. Uphill can be fun, though, if your idea of fun is building
pyramids in service to the great Sunefaru. Views along the steep hillsides
overlooking Stinson Beach are excellent, so if you have what it takes then go for it.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (1000K PDF) -
North Face Loop: Laurel Dell, Rocky Ridge and Eldridge Grade
"'The majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation,' wrote Henry David on the shores of Walden Pond.
Maybe, but what about those who lead lives of quiet satisfaction?
He certainly never referred to those who lead lives of loud, rock 'n' roll satisfaction,
which is how I felt having descended from Portero Meadows, passing by the shady shores
of Lake Lagunitas on the long road back to the city.
But Thoreau came before Freud, and the chemical isolation of cocaine, which combined with
nicotine he used to manage his own desperation, and soon thereafter the concept of 'projection'
entered our cultural vocabulary. This Thoreau missed out on completely, as well as the medications that can
for some odd reason I found hilariously funny on the far side of Mount Tam.
Legs aching and nearly drained from the long grind up the southern face, I
hurried to cross Blithedale Ridge before the sun set too low, or hypoglycemia plus endorphin madness
totally destabilized the limits of coherency.
After long rides the quiet desperation becomes a necessary period of restoration and growth,
and I wanted to whisper to Thoreau through time that this attitude would never make it with the babes."
(b. June 14, 2003)
These three fireroads, linked by Ridgecrest Boulevard, cross the length of the northern slope and pass
through some of the more scenic areas of the park.
While this loop can be done in either direction, if you descend on Eldridge you'll be faced with
some much steeper climbs back to the top. It's easier and more fun to do it clockwise unless you really like to climb.
Nowadays I ride out from the city, but by car we once drove to the Laurel Dell trailhead. Take 101 north to the
Stinson Beach exit and continue to highway 1 going west.
Turn right onto Panoramic Highway, then continue straight, following signs to the Pan Toll Ranger Station.
Turn right on Pan Toll road, then left on West Ridgecrest.
About a mile on your right is the Laurel Dell trailhead, and parking is free but a gate closes at 9:00 pm.
On bike, follow Laurel Dell out to Portrero Meadows. Continue left on Lagunitas-Rock Springs
toward the lakes, and in 0.8 miles Rocky Ridge branches sharply left travelling north to the Bon Tempe Dam. Cross the dam
then take the dirt road back to Sky Oaks Road. Turn right, ride up to Lake Lagunitas, follow the lake counterclockwise
(it's longer, but nicer that way), and eventually continue right on Lakeview to the Eldridge Grade, and follow that
to the East Peak. Return to the Laurel Dell trailhead along Ridgecrest.
Profile: From the Laurel Dell trailhead (elev. 1900) the trail
is downhill to Laurel Dell (elev. 1600), then back uphill, then up and down to
Portrero Meadows (elev. 2000). From there, the Rock Springs-Lagunitas and Rocky Ridge fireroads involve some
steep descents. The Rocky Ridge trail follows the 1250-foot contour for awhile, up and down,
before dropping to Bon Tempe Lake (elev. 700).
At Lake Lagunitas (elev. 800), head south on Lakeview to the Eldridge grade
and return back up to Ridgecrest (elev. 2200).
The Eldridge grade hardly deviates from 7% (1200 feet in 3½ miles), and starts out smooth,
but becomes progressively washed out and rocky toward the summit.
Once at Ridgecrest it's butt-friendly pavement thereafter, but still some
climbing as you head west rising close to 2400 feet before cruising back to the start.
Comment [7½]: This ride combines the more scenic areas along the north side of Mount Tam,
and Rocky Ridge put me right in the middle of Marin mountain biking with it's Pine Mountain flavor and clear
views of mountain biking landmarks in all directions.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link -
mbtREVIEW.com (Laurel Dell) -
mtbREVIEW.com (Rock Springs) -
The city of Mill Valley lies at the southeastern base of Mount Tamalpais.
It's where logged redwood trees were once transported by gravity car to sawmills, where they were processed and
sent to docks along San Francisco Bay.
Now it's an upscale community, with frequent redwoods groves and little streams flowing between houses.
Many tracks of land within city limits remain undeveloped and climb 800 vertical feet up the slopes of Mount Tam.
The trails are usually singletrack, and bikes appear to be allowed. Specifically, horses and golf are forbidden,
without mention of bikes. Golf?
Most of the parks are dense forest with mulchy undergrowth, but it's still a nice sentiment nonetheless.
"Grabbing the undergrowth to pull myself up,
dirt fell from my shoulders, face, and folds in my clothing and gear.
Sunlight filtered over the top of the ridge, down through the quiet forest,
and dimly lit the thin shelf of singletrack twenty feet above where I sat.
The Tenderfoot trail climbed out of Mill Valley through redwood
groves, along steep and shady ravines, and past rolling erosions of open sandstone formations.
The mellow pitch cut across precipitous slopes, to
where exposed roots on the washed out parts blocked what little pathway was left.
Unable to find a good line, a slip of the rear tire off to the side twisted momentum laterally.
Beyond the point of recovery I braced for a lateral endo, and
in that moment of intense clarity wondered how far down I would slide.
But the soft mulch of the redwood growth was a joy to land in, and the
steep incline soothed the impact.
My cleats had stayed clipped to the pedals holding to spokes that got caught in loose branches, so
with hardly and ache or bruise I found my way back to the trail."
(b. August 30, 2002)
Directions: This trail connects Mill
Valley to Mountain Home, keeping within city property.
Mill Valley seems pretty lenient on mountain bikers,
and in a rare but sensible turnabout it even excludes horses from their trails.
By car, from the 101 offramp (or on bike from the north end of Bothin Marsh-- see directions
under Tiburon Peninsula)
take East Blithedale west to downtown Mill Valley.
There, turn left on Throckmorton and then another left on Cascade Road.
Soon after "Three Falls," the trailhead is clearly marked on your left.
On bike, ride up the trail to where it exits on Edgewood, then turn right and
follow Edgewood a half mile to Mountain Home. Starting at the top, the Tenderfoot trail is unmarked.
To find it, turn down Edgewood just south of Mountain Home Inn
and follow it to the 550 and 580 street markers.
The trail is just before that to your left, and looks like it might go into somebody's back yard.
Profile: Generally the grade is okay,
climbing 700 feet to Mountain Home in about 1½ miles.
The majority of the ride is wide singletrack, probably more techical than China Camp,
but not too hairy on the lower parts.
The top quarter does get very technical, mainly in three or four 50-foot stretches of trail.
There are steep climbs, tight turns, rocky drops, and latices of exposed roots--
all the while squeezing through trees on a thin shelf cut into a very steep canyon.
Either up or down, I find it a better alternative to the Old Railroad Grade.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Detour: Zig Zag
"The trail exhibited the features of any steep singletrack that goes without maintenance
for a few seasons.
The water drainage system it effectively created exposed roots that formed large stepwise drops down the steep hillside.
Deep erosions ran
down the center, until it became unclear what was trail and what was washout."
(b. August 30, 2002)
Directions: From Mountain Home, Zig Zag twists down to Cascade Drive in Mill
Valley, exiting just above the Tenderfoot trailhead.
This trail is unmarked either at the top or bottom, and clearly unmaintained,
so I'm not sure if it is a recognized trail and if so whether bikes are allowed.
Zig Zag sounds like a nickname from bikers, but the consensus on mtbREVIEW.com is that it is legal.
If it is illegal, fines in the hundreds of dollars and bike seizures are not unheard of in Marin.
From Mountain Home Inn, heading north, make the first right turn on paved road (there is reference to a fire station
painted on it)
which quickly becomes a fireroad. Follow that down a couple hundred feet to where it veers to the right.
The overgrown singletrack begins around that turn.
Profile: It drops 700 feet from Mountain Home to Mill Valley in about a mile.
Don't even think about going uphill.
There may be sicker stuff up the East Peak, but this qualifies as extreme.
There is a rusty barbwire fence beyond the final chute that skirts the trail along the tin house,
which I think was inappropriately placed there by the owner.
Wooden maybe, but barbwire?
It's not life threatening, but may necessitate a Tetanus booster if you don't know what your doing.
Personally I don't think this trail should be ridden at all,
or at least should not be attempted without some serious suspension, disk brakes, body protection, and experience.
Comment [NA]: Zig Zag is a freeride trail.
Mainly I went out of curiosity, and I include it for those who bag on Mount Tam for not being technical enough.
Back to top.
Tour of Mount Tamalpais
From any number of starting points this loop circumvents Mount Tam and follows along the Ridge, giving
you most of the Mount Tam experience in a single ride.
It starts with the Old Railroad Grade, left on Ridgecrest Boulevard, right on Laurel Dell fireroad, then Lagunitas Fireroad
down to the lake.
There, turn right on Lakeview Fireroad, branch right on the Eldridge Grade, left on the Indian Fireroad,
right on Blithedale (unmarked), and right on Hoo-Koo-E-Koo back to the Old Railroad Grade.
The main climbs are pretty manageable along the Old Railroad and Eldridge Grade if
you take this loop in a clockwise direction.
Begin in Mill Valley at the Old Railroad Grade trailhead, or the Eldridge Grade from Phoenix Lake in Fairfax.
Even Willow Camp plugs into the Loop from Stinson Beach,
or you can park along Ridgecrest at the East Peak or Laurel Dell trailhead and begin there.
Starting in Mill Valley, it begins with a
ride to the summit the Old Railroad Grade, a ride along Ridgecrest westward to excellent views of the coast,
then a descent down to Lake Lagunitas in the Watershed, finishing with a return back along the better parts of the
If you started in Mill Valley,
another option is to take Blithedale Ridge back down to the start (rather than turning right on Hoo-Koo-E-Koo).
It's steep and rocky, but fun, particularly with full suspension.
The first right turn at the bottom of the steep descent (just before where the climbing starts)
returns you to final stretch of the Old Railroad Grade.
The trails described (except for the beginning portions of the Old Railroad Grade and Eldrige Grade)
can be found in the scanned park brochure
Map Link (1000K PDF).
Tour of Mount Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands
The ride described here takes you from the Golden Gate Bridge to the East Peak, across the ridge of Mount Tam,
and down to Muir Beach returning by way of the Marin Headlands.
From the Golden Gate Bridge follow the directions under the
Old Railroad Grade to the West Point Inn.
Optionally detour up to the East Peak, where you can gaze southward over the remainder of your ride.
From West Point Inn, continue down Old Stage Road to the Pantoll Station, and from there to the
branch that descends either the Deer Park Fire Trail or the Coastal Trail.
Both lead down to Muir Beach so take your pick. If your new here and can't decide, follow Deer Park down into
the Redwood grove, enjoy, then backtrack and take the Coastal Trail down. You'll take Highway 1 south for a couple
miles to Muir Beach, and stop at the Muir Beach overlook along the way.
From the Pelican Inn take the Middle Green Gulch trail up Coyote
Ridge, then head down the Coyote and Coastal trail. Turn right on the Tennessee Valley trail to check out
the Beach, then head back to the Tennessee Valley parking lot.
Go past the stables to the Old Springs Trailhead, climb up Wolf Ridge, then coast down to Rodeo Valley along the Miwok.
Finish the ride climbing up the Coastal Trail then cruising down Conzelman like winged victory
back to the bridge.
This profile is a conservative 4600 feet of elevation gain (2500 for Mount Tam, 1000 for Coyote Ridge,
600 to cross Wolf Ridge, and 500 to get to Conzelman) over 50 miles starting at the southern end of the bridge.
The AAA Sausalito/Mill Valley map which details all the streets and fireroads you'll be taking.
Taking the loop in this direction is sensible because the uphill grades are generally around 5% and smooth
(except brief steep parts along Middle Green Gulch and Old Springs) and most of the street riding is flat or downhill.
...if you take his loop in the reverse direction it expands the possible routes through Mount
Tam-- specifically you can ride along the more remote northern face.
From Muir Beach climb Deer Park to the Pantoll Ranger station then climb Pantoll Road toward the Mount Tam summit.
But instead of turning right on Ridgecrest toward the East Peak, turn left to the Laurel Dell trailhead and descend
down to Lake Lagunitas. Return up the Eldridge Grade to the Indian Fireroad, then check out any of the
possibilities along Blithedale Ridge and Warner Canyon. You'll need the San Rafael AAA map for fireroads north of
Ridgecrest Boulevard, which unfortunately doesn't show the fireroads travelling through Blithedale Ridge.
Web Page -
Map Link (1000K PDF)
Click to expand
The Old Railroad Grade, rising along the southern face of Mount Tam, not too far from West Point Inn.
What do you think of this picture? Do you like it?
Would you like to look at it for an hour while doing jumping jacks and getting kneed in the groin?
That's about what riding the Old Railroad Grade is like. (June 14, 2003)
The second shot is what you see at the start of Summit Road, about a third of the way from Mill Valley to the peak.
That's 101N crossing Richardson Bay, the San Francisco and the Bay Bridge in the background.(11/28/04)
Portrero Meadows, a small plateau high along the northern side of Mount Tam, not far at all from the
West Peak (although you can't see it from here).
It lies at the at the convergence of Laurel Dell and Rock Springs,
just before the Lagunita-Rock Springs fireroad descends to the lakes. (February 8, 2003)
Two shot climbing the Deer Park Fireroad, at the Southwestern part of Mount Tam. The trail begins between
the Muir Woods Ranger Station and Muir Beach, and climbs up almost toward the Pan Toll Ranger Station
near the western-most edge of the ridge. The first is through a riparian grove on the lower third
of the trail, then it opens into grasslands for the middle part, and then the last third travels up and down
through the redwood forest in the second shot. (July 4, 2003)
Here is at the end of the Deer Park Fireroad, where it connects with the Coastal Trail that heads back down
to Muir Beach. This is looking eastward, across the slopes of Mount Tam, across the Tiburon Peninsula and
Angel Island, to the hills of Tilden, and Redwood Regional preserves in the East Bay, with Mount Diablo the peak
in the very back. (July 4, 2003)
Back to top.
Mount Tam is a patchwork of management by city, county, state, and federal governments.
Mount Tamalpais State Park
operates the western portions and a strip along Ridgecrest Boulevard leading to the East Peak.
Most of the eastern portion is run by the Marin Municipal Water District.
The federal government handles Muir Woods National Monument
nestled within the state park on the southern face. Blithedale Ridge is operated by the
Marin County Open Space District,
and the lower southeastern portion of the ridge is run by Mill Valley.
Mill Valley, 94941? That's their official page.
Give me a break. While Marin County has a well-deserved bad reputation for bike access, it's the
federally run parks that are actually the worst of it. Mill Valley allows bikes on its singletrack
with little restriction.
Here's something from SF Gate about the
history of Mount Tam, particularly the
rail roads and gravity cars. Unfortunately, the railroad was made obsolete by the
Panoramic Highway. Gravity cars were made obsolete by mountain bikes, which can go a lot faster
than a measly 12 mph. But we NEVER go faster than 15 mph, just like the sign says.
Strangely, maps of Mount Tamalpais are very hard to find online. Here's an earlier one I found, which is a
of the area. You'll need to download and install Cosmo, a 3D viewer, to be able to see it.
However, what does offers great directions and details the bike-legal fireroads on Mount Tam are the AAA street maps
for Sausalito/Mill Valley (southern trails) and San Rafael (northern trails).
Back to top.