Mountain biking in
and Samuel P. Taylor State Park
- Bear Valley
- Olema Valley
- Wildcat Beach
- Glen Camp -
- Bolinas Ridge
- Mount Vision Loop
- Drakes Head
- Marshall Beach
- Samuel Taylor -
- Shafter Bridge
- Mount Barnabe
- Home -
As the San Andreas fault extends northward out to sea, two ridges lie side-by-side,
formed by the titanic upheaval of the Pacific plate's collision with the continental shelf.
Subtle variations in geology and climate has
formed them differently over the eons, today leaving each with suprisingly little in common.
This contrast results in the varied and interesting mountain biking found at the Point Reyes National Seashore, about
an hours drive north from the San Francisco metropolis.
Steep and rugged, Inverness to the west is the Pacific plate's contribution to this geological mayhem.
Her crest, rising close to 1500 feet, cools the wet oceanic air whose precipitation allows thick rainforests to grow
along the jagged slopes. To the east, the soft and rounded hills of Bolinas Ridge are left
dry by its sisters thirsty condensation. Scattered about the arid pastures
are a few small groves of firs, or the occasional lonely oak so distant from it nearest kind one wonders
how a little acorn ever made it so far.
famous for a pattern of West Coast destruction,
forms Olema Valley that runs between the two. Deceptively quiet, it slides beneath
fertile meadows and streams, heading north into tidal marshland and mudflats, and finally
descending into the Pacific along the length of Tomales Bay.
Mountain biking in Point Reyes is a highly restricted affair.
In fairness to park management, much of this area is designated wilderness that prohibits bikes due to
the unfortunate interpretation, by the NPS, of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which includes bikes as "mechanical transport."
Almost all trails in the non-wilderness parts are legal, but they are mainly short, there-and-back affairs.
Still, described below are a few satisfying loops that offer a good sense of the area.
Travelling through the cultural heart of mountain biking in Marin, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard heads west
from 101 and links such landmarks as the Eldridge Grade, Five Corners, Pine Mountain, Camp Tamarancho, Shafter Bridge,
Bolinas Ridge, and Point Reyes.
It passes through the cities of Larkspur, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Ross, San Anselmo, Fairfax,
San Geronimo, Lagunitas and Olema before reaching the Bear Valley visitor's center. But strangely,
heading north on 101, all you have to find the right exit is a couple signs that say "San Anselmo."
They could be a little more clear.
"Here was a pleasant and cozy trail that followed a shady,
densely thicketed stream between
two coniferous hillsides toward the coast. Here the valley walls form a quick and easy pass through
Inverness Ridge. The bike trail ended at the forest edge, so we locked our bikes,
changed into hiking shoes, and followed
the shortest route down to the shoreline since dusk was fast approaching.
Where the forest dwindled to coastal scrub, the Pacific Ocean opened before us,
and we hiked the final half mile to Arch Rock. It was a wind
swept rocky platform pushing into the sea, bordered on all sides by a vertical drop leading
to a little cove on the left side, and a front-row sunset to the right.
Hiking back into the forest, we were watched by a two-pointed buck a stone's throw off the
trail. Back on the bikes, night had fallen and the trail was dark and empty.
We went easy on the brakes
and coasted down to the visitors center in good time." (b. May 28, 2001)
Directions: The Bear Valley trial is a short and easy ride smack in the center of Point Reyes.
It begins at the visitor center near Olema,
and takes a direct route through the pleasant and not-very-steep Bear Valley most of the way out to the coast.
By car, head north on 101 to the "San Anselmo" offramp, just south of San
Rafael. Take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to Olema, then turn right on Highway 1. Take the next left turn to
Bear Valley Road and follow
the signs a short distance to the visitors center. On bike, the trailhead starts at the
parking lot. Follow it out as far as you can legally go, then secure your bike to the rack they have there.
Explore the scenic trails out to the coast on foot.
Bring your U-lock, hiking shoes, and a cheap bike.
Profile: A smooth, gradual 300-foot ascent for the first couple miles is the
worst of it. No full suspension need here, in fact a rigid, or even a road bike, would probably do the job.
It's a total of 4 miles to the coast, the first three you are allowed to ride
and the final mile is on foot. Although the ride is short it's probably best to
plan several hours out there, giving you time to hike
the other trails as well.
Comment : Bear Valley is like a get out of jail free card.
It has the beauty, splendor, and even adventure of crossing Inverness Ridge, with hardly
any of the climb. The dense and varied ecology and coastal scenery well justified our time.
Being shady and near the coast makes this a good ride for summer.
Back to top.
Map Link (2.7 Mb PDF)
Olema Valley Trail
"The early part of this ride skirted the foothills of Inverness,
and soon rose up a steep rutted burn to the high point of the trail.
Narrowing to singletrack, it twisted through wooded meadows before coming upon a clearing.
Before me opened the gentle grasslands extending between the two ridges out to Bolinas lagoon.
My gaze followed the twisty trail, carving across small hills, alongside old farmsteads, and through the shady groves.
In patches of forest, between sunlight shafts cast by the leaves, we crossed a few times the trickling stream
that rolled through the fertile valley.
I'd never have guessed this dairy land paradise sat right on the rift zone."
(b. July 14, 2002)
Directions: This lively singletrack follows the eastern edge of Inverness Ridge, on sandy singletrack through
connecting the Five Brooks trailhead, not far from the Point Reyes Visitor's Center, to Dogtown, which is pretty close to Bolinas.
By car take 101N to the "San Anselmo" exit, follow Sir Francis Drake west to Olema, turn left
on highway 1, and after a few miles turn right at the sign directing you to the Five Brooks Trailhead (not stables,
it's just past that). On bike, follow the Olema Valley Trail to Dogtown and back. For a longer ride
continue to Bolinas-Fairfax Drive and do the Upper Bolinas Loop (see below).
Or turn right at the junction and check out the city of Bolinas along the coast.
Profile: From Five Brooks (elev. 200), the ride begins with a gentle coast the first half mile
before some stiff climbing begins. You'll quickly gain a couple hundred feet. Therafter,
the trail becomes a gradual descent southward to sea level and scenery is great.
Beginning as double track which narrows just after the climb,
the rest is moderately technical singletrack with many sand traps along the way.
We encountered two horses and no hikers.
It's 5.2 miles from Five Brooks to Dogtown.
Comment : Like Saratoga Gap, the Olema Valley trail follows the main
road, maintaining a generally level elevation and taking you to other rides in the area.
Unlike Saratoga Gap it is longer with more scenic with varried terrain.
It's not hard core but just techical enough to be really fun. Sand was the only downside.
Although we took it as a detour on the way up to Bolinas Ridge, I felt this trail stole the show.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (208K JPG)
Stewart Trail to Wildcat Beach
"Rain had finally fallen, and the hills were coming alive.
Here was a trail that would do justice to the rugged Inverness Ridge, and the coastal rainforests which crowded
Just south of the Bear Valley Trail, the Stewart trail climbed over the top rather slithering through
a confluence of valleys. As the trail left Olema Valley, with fresh green pastures, rolling hills, and grazing
cattle, it passed through deciduous growth at the base of the range taking on the colors of fall.
Climbing the eastern face, firs and pines grew
ever dense with ferns and mosses hidden in the shadows. Through occasional clearings I gazed upon the
smooth and grassy Bolinas Ridge, slowly turning green with the recent rains, but still lagging behind the areas to the
west. The entry fee for this dripping wet paradise
was the mud, and the fallen trees, which for the most part were occasional nuisances.
Crossing the ridge beyond firtop, the trail quickly took me down to Wildcat Beach
passing steep and misty valleys where coastal cypress towered over gnarled scub. The
campground at the base rested on a grassy promontory allowing splendid views of the coastline.
To the south, Alamere falls was flowing over the bluffs onto the beach, now robust with the latest storms."
(b. November 17, 2001)
Directions: The Stewart Trail is an out-and-back fireroad that starts at the Five Brooks Trailhead,
a few miles south of Olema, and climbs over Inverness Ridge to the remote and beautiful Wildcat Beach.
By car, Take 101 North from the Golden Gate to the "San Anselmo" exit. It's poorly
named because there is no San Anselmo Street (it's Sir Francis Drake Boulevard), and techically you have to
drive through Ross before getting to San Anselmo, which is just one of many towns the road passes through.
Commentary aside, follow it west to Olema, turn south (left) on Highway 1, and follow that a couple miles
to the Five Brooks trailhead turnoff just beyond the stables, which is clearly marked with a sign.
A dirt road on the right will take you up to the parking lot.
On bike, follow the Stewart trail to Wildcat Beach. It's a very wide fireroad
all the way, and all turnoffs (except the one below) are off limits to bikes.
Profile: From the Five Brooks trailhead (elev. 200), it is a manageable four-mile grind to the summit at Firtop
It's a very even 5% grade on good dirt road, and if you've ridden the fireroads on Mount Tam this will
feel very familiar. The trip along the western face is a different story. It takes you down to Wildcat Beach in 2.8
miles, which averages 9%, but it's uneven and quite steep along three stretches.
All fun and good going down, problem is, the Stewart trail is the only way back.
Comment [7½]: The Stewart Trail suffered on three
counts: mud, horses, and civilization. The mud wasn't so bad and was only a problem on the steep climbs out, and
won't be a problem at all most of the time. But the place was crawling with horses which
get spooked at just about anything, which threatens their riders so you'll have to be
extra careful. Cows, by comparison, will stare you down without blinking until the last few feet before moving off the trail.
Once I got to the Wildcat Beach I found restrooms, garbage cans, picnic tables, and barbeques, which didn't make it
feel as remote as I was hoping for. But overall it is a very beautiful ride offering a good Inverness Ridge experience.
Detour: Glen Camp
"Nearing twilight, wisps of mist hung motionless
in the flat upper bog that I passed heading northward, deeper into the forest.
Beyond that was a fast descent into Glen Camp, basically a grassy meadow
within a lost valley, hidden smack in the middle of Inverness Ridge. Surrounded on all sides by steep ridges and
with the sun long gone, this was as remote and isolated as the ride would take me." (b. November 17, 2001)
Directions: Glen Camp is a clearly marked branch of the Stewart trail about midway down the western
Profile: It's a there-and-back loop, 1.3 miles each way. After climbing over the initial hill it's
pretty flat for the first half, then for the second half it descends I would guess 200-300 feet down a steady
incline that seemed a little steep in places but not unmanageable. Wide fireroad the whole way.
Comment : If you think San Andreas geology is as cool as I do then check it out.
It does add some total elevation to your ride and takes some time so do so it only if you feel well and have
plenty of sunlight left. It's kinda cool, but not something you have to do. Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (208K JPG) -
Upper Bolinas Loop: Bolinas-Fairfax Road to the Randall Trail
"A microsecond of terror brought the harsh epiphany that each bounce
off a root threw my balance into the slippery theories of chaos.
While the vast majority of times I would safely continue riding, I no longer felt assured.
That evening, as we watched Reign of Fire, I couldn't help
notice how well the dragon crashing on the ground compared to my fall at Ring Mountain.
It was the same loose conditions today except for thick growth obscurring the light on vertical twists through the woods.
As the chest wall pain subsided, so returned the gravity sprints to make it up the next climb.
Rational recollection intervened, usually, and I softly squeezed the brakes.
The bike may be ruled by Newtonian law, but who can tell the quantum effect on critical
molecules at synapses of thought." (b. July 14, 2002)
Directions: Bolinas Ridge begins as west end of the Mount Tamalpais crest, and
follows the east side of the San Andreas Faultline northward up the coast.
The route along the upper ridge forms a natural loop with the Olema Valley Trail,
Bolinas-Fairfax road, and any one of three routes leading back down to Highway 1.
New growth redwoods dominate the terrain.
By car: drive to the Five Brooks trailhead a couple miles south of Olema.
To get there, take 101N to the "San Anselmo" exit, then take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard out to Olema and turn south on Highway 1.
Follow signs to the Five Brooks parking lot, up a dirt road to the right.
On bike, take the Olema Valley trail (a fine ride in itself, see above) south to Bolinas-Fairfax
road. Climb to the Bolinas Ridge trailhead, and head north along the ridge. Take the McCurdy or Randall Trail back
to Highway 1, or go all the way to the end of the Bolinas Ridge Trail.
The last option is preferable if you don't mind the annoying ride back along Sir Francis Drake and
Highway 1, with lots of speeding cars and hardly any shoulder. Otherwise, taking the Randall Trail back down to the Olema
Valley Trail works just fine.
Profile: The Olema Valley trail has its ups and downs, then Bolinas-Fairfax climbs 1600 feet from Highway 1
over five miles of smooth pavement. It's not evil but it's long and tedious.
Peaking around 1700 feet, the Bolinas Ridge fireroad does gradually descend, but that can be difficult to notice
with ongoing steep uphills and downhills for the next few miles. It's all wide, rocky, rooty, leafy fireroad.
The Randall Trail junction (5 miles from the trailhead, approx. 1400 feet) branches left to Highway 1,
and it's a fun and fairly steep 1.7 miles to the bottom.
Comment [4½]: The dense forest suffered the monotony of new growth, and otherwise
obscurred the scenery whose bits and pieces we could see were quite nice. The fireroad had an annoying pattern
where just when I got used to a good cadence on a downhill run I found myself in the wrong gear
on a climb. It felt anticlimactic given the climb from Dogtown to get there.
It's a different story as you proceed north, shortly past the Randall junction, once you get to the clearing...
Map Link (494K PDF)
Lower Bolinas Ridge: Sir Francis Drake to Shafter Bridge
"We followed this gentle foxtail savanna along an upwelling of earth where
the North American mantle collided
with the Pacific Plate.
Protected from marine fog by it's steeper sister ridge to the west,
the ecology of Bolinas Ridge was arid, sustaining only grasslands and the occasional oak
or pine. The loss of dense forests was well compensated by expansive views of Tomales
Bay, and the pleasant Olema Valley below. The ridge itself was a gradual one, slowly falling as it extended
from the western edge of Mount Tam to Sonoma County. But it was far from flat, with many hills and valleys
along it's course. Cattle grazed along the fire road and watched us as we
rode by. Some were actually in the road watching us as we approached, but fortunately a territorial showdown
was not to occur and at the last moment they would yield the way." (b. May 28, 2001)
Directions: This is the northern section of Bolinas ridge,
running in Parallel with Inverness Ridge up the Point Reyes Coast.
The lower portion of the Bolinas Ridge Trail is much more scenic with grassy savannas,
and is probably best ridden as part of the Shafter Bridge
Loop (see below).
But it can also be a fine out-and-back ride on its own.
By car: Take 101 north to the "San Anselmo" exit, head West on Sir Francis Drake, and the trailhead is
on the left just as you cross over Bolinas Ridge between S.P. Taylor Park and Olema.
On bike, just start riding and turn around when you please, or you can loop through S.P. Taylor
using the Shafter Bridge Trail and the "Riding and Hiking Trail."
Profile: From Sir Francis Drake (elev. 300), it's about 5½ miles to the Shafter Bridge trailhead at 1400 feet.
That's a pretty mild overall grade (around 4%), but it rolls up and down over the hills and gets pretty steep and eroded
for significant stretches. Downhill is much more fun, and it's tempting to go pretty fast, but watch out for
sudden deep erosions that pop up out of nowhere. Since it's easy to be distracted by the scenery,
they can slam you hard onto the trail if your front wheel falls into one.
Kenny found out the hard way-- but he was fine with several hundred mg's of ibuprofen.
Keep the old rusty gates closed so the cows don't wander off.
Comment : The open grasslands makes it more like an inland ride, yet the Pacific
breeze funneling through Olema Valley keeps it cool.
Bolinas Ridge has the rustic feel of the great plains with ocean vistas in the distance.
Rid'em cowboy! Happy Trails! Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (494K PDF) -
Where Inverness Ridge dwindles northward into grassland, the North District is a Y-shaped stretch of gentle hills,
sand spits and little bays along coastal palisades that extend from the lighthouse to the Tule Elk Preserve.
This may sound okay for a ride, but bike trails here better be good to justify the 90 minute drive from San Francisco
on winding country roads. Many legal trails are too short to ride and should just be hiked.
But L Ranch Road to Marshall Beach, and Drakes Head, are both 8-9 miles round trip with charming coastal vistas.
The Mount Vision Loop rises above it all, climbing the northernmost tip of Inverness ridge.
If the view of Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero are not enough, the climb is reward by a brief but enjoyable
mostly downhill ride on wild and hardly used singletrack rolling along the crest of the ridge.
The Mount Vision Loop
"How long could the night last?
Would the rain and darkness ever end?
Scarcely could I remember a time there had not been a wet weekend, or winter storms not drenching the trails
in the days before.
Only in remote memory were times when colds and flus had not passed in endless waves of enfeeblement,
or when blue skies were not dampended by clouds and frosty wind.
Finally, in a rare opportune moment, the winding switchbacks up
Mount Vision Road provided a welcome breath of life, where occasional openings in the cloudlayer lit
pastoral hills and remote bays far below. Skies would darken again this chilly afternoon, as the thin strip
of asphalt passed
through the cypress forest, quiet in their mysterious and foreboding ways of ancient wisdom.
Beyond the barren sage atop Mount Vision, amid the rusty lavender scent,
a vertically undulating singletrack would traverse the
crest of Inverness Ridge rolling between the charred white skeletons of old bishop pines.
Thousand of acres of standing dead trunks, burnt after the dry season of '95,
offered a picturesque reminder of the needed chaos that varies about the mean,
year after year keeping natural systems untamed."
(b. February 28, 2004)
This loop is a variant of a prior ride (8/26/01), except back then we climbed
UP the Inverness Ridge Trail, which made no sense whatsoever.
This loop takes you down that trail, beginning with a scenic grind up Mount Vision Road.
It spans the northeastern portion of Inverness Ridge, offering fine views to the west.
Although most of it is paved, the part that is on dirt is moderatly technical singletrack.
By car take 101N to the "San Anselmo" exit, follow Sir Francis Drake to Olema, then turn right
on highway 1, then left on Bear Valley Road.
Follow Bear Valley Road past the park headquarter, past the Limantour junction, to where it ends on Sir Francis Drake.
Turn right, then in a couple blocks turn left into the "White House Pool" parking lot.
On bike, follow Sir Francis Drake north (a right turn out of the parking lot),
past Inverness, over the first hill, and down to the Mount Vision Road turnoff.
Grind up to the end of the road, up Point Reyes Hill, then at the radio tower continue down the Inverness Ridge Trail.
Follow the signs carefully back to Limantour road. Turn left and ride back down to Bear Valley Road.
Turn left and return to the start.
Profile: From White House Pool to the city of Inverness, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard remains
at sea level along the western shore of Tomales Bay. Then the road turns inland and crosses over
Inverness Ridge (elev. 500) before descending the remote western side. Consider the first
little hump the warmup. From the turnoff (elev. 100), Mount Vision Road climbs rather sharply
to a vista point near the crest of the ridge (elev. 1000). From there it becomes a more gentle
climb past Mount Vision to the summit of Point Reyes Hill (elev. 1336), marked by the radio tower.
From here, the Inverness Ridge Trail is moderately technical downhill, with a few memorable
uphill sections, out to Limantour Road (elev. 800). From Sky Camp, the road descends quickly
to Bear Valley Road and the car. I wasn't paying much attention to the bike computer, but distances
are approximately 6 miles on Sir Francis Drake, 4 miles up Mount Vision Road, 3 miles down the Inverness Ridge
Trail, and 4 miles down Limantour and back to the car, for a total of 17 miles.
Comment : This scenic loop offers fine views of the northern Point Reyes
geography and coastline. It would do better if more of the ride were on trails. Still,
it may be just the thing to bring winter legs back into working order,
particularly if trails are still a little damp.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (2.74 Mb PDF) -
Estero Trail to Drakes Head
"Redwood shadows flowed over the hood, past my windshield, on the winding road north to the coast.
My pupils pulsed in the rhythm of flickering sunlight as the dull roar of the engine faded to distant hums.
Leaving the dry heat of urban Marin, crossing Bolinas Ridge,
cool coastal winds passed through Olema as fog crept over Inverness Ridge.
By the time I parked, the hills were chilly and gray under a dark cloud layer that spread out to sea.
Coasting down to Home Bay, now home only to rodents and birds,
an owl flew silently through the forgotten Christmas tree farm that had grown into a small forest.
After the bridge, the trail grew worn, rough, and muddy climbing over waterfront cliffs.
Beyond Sunset Beach it was lost in the grasses,
and only small blue arrows on rotting fenceposts pointed the general way.
On dry hills past the watering pond a lonely cattle corral stood at the final turn to Drakes Head,
where I gazed from the promontory over a maze of tidal channels that flowed around the sandspit,
past rocky beaches, and deep into virgin fields.
Fog blew in as I rested, hiding the blue arrows back." (b. July 7, 2002)
Directions: The Estero Trail to Drakes Head follows the ragged and rolling Pacific side of Point Reyes,
amongst sand spits and muddy bays, near the northern end of the peninsula.
Even if you don't see cows, evidence of grazing is everywhere.
By car, from the Point Reyes visitors center, follow Bear Valley Road
to Sir Francis Drake and turn left heading northward along the western shore of Tomales Bay.
After it turns inland, watch for the "Estero Trail" sign, turn left, and drive to the parking area.
On bike, basically follow the Estero Trail and Drakes Head signs as best you can.
The Estero Trail is pretty straightfoward until the Sunset Beach junction (2.4 miles),
and then it becomes random and scattered disappearing in some spots and showing up as three trails in others.
Watch for the little blue signs, but they are too infrequent, not always clear,
and become useless in fog.
It's open grassland so you can dead reckon your way around by land markers if you lose the arrows.
It's 4.4 miles to Drakes Head, but felt longer, and I mean that in the best way.
Profile: While never getting higher than 300 feet, there is a lot of climbing and descending.
It's mostly singletrack, and gets pretty technical in limited sections.
The ride begins with a gentle coast down to a bridge crossing the mudflats.
After climbing and descending three quick hills to the Sunset Trail fork, the grades get gentler but not the trail
and you'll appreciate full suspension if you have it.
I found myself wondering whether the trails were made more by humans or cattle.
Use caution when approaching the top of Drakes Head-- the 100 foot vertical drop on the other
side is unfenced, unmarked, and you'll barely see it coming.
Comment : Rarely has a ride given me such a feeling of solitude.
While there are plenty of old markers of cattle farming such as fences and corrals, they seem to be lost in time.
Vistas across the coastal grasslands look straight out of a California History textbook.
For a longer ride you can check out the Sunset Beach and Glen Brook branches as well.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (157K JPG) -
"Frigid water seeped inside my bike shoes as I sank in the cool silt
picking through shells of sand-dwelling bivalves washed upon the shore. It was peaceful here,
silent except for
gentle ripples rising from the bay. The tide was at a low ebb,
revealing barnacle crusted rocks, eel grass, and beached jelly fish along the waterfront.
As I gazed across the bay at quaint farmland communities to the east,
the glassy seawater reflected melancholic skies.
This was Marshall beach on the northwestern shore of Tomales Bay, beyond the marshes, and past the rows of empty docks--
memories of a once booming fishing economy.
Beyond the restaurants and inns, the road turned away from the coast, up into the rolling foothills which
were still a lively green despite the twilight overcast above.
As Inverness Ridge tapered in it's northwesterly projection out to sea, pleasant green hills replaced the rocky peaks.
L Ranch road twisted through some of the
most scenic farmland in the world with the bay to the east and the Pacific coastline to the west.
Dairy cattle grazed at the roadside as we pedalled northward which, while mostly flat, narrowed the
last half-mile into a steep fire trail dropping quickly to the beach.
I could have lost myself in introspection here, but
it was getting dark so we hurried back." (b. December 15, 2001)
Directions: Along the northern portion of the Point Reyes peninsula, this quaint and basic route connects the
main highway to the remote Marshall Beach on the shores of Tomales Bay.
By car, from the visitors center, follow Bear Valley road
to Sir Francis Drake heading northward along the western shore of Tomales Bay.
Shortly after it breaks from the shore and moves inland, Pierce Point Road will fork to the
right. Follow that, and park near the Marshall Beach turnoff.
On bike, follow the dirt road until it becomes a fireroad, where signs direct you to Marshall beach.
Technically, you are allowed to drive on L Ranch Road, but it's such a nice ride and without it this short
ride gets even shorter.
Profile: For the most part it has mild ups and downs, holding an average elevation around 300 feet,
for 3½ miles each way. The last half mile or so is a steep decent to the waterfront.
While the ride back up is a painful but brief experience, it is still a good beginner ride. Consider combining
it with another short ride such as Bear Valley.
Rating : If riding on fireroads isn't real mountain biking, if a smooth profile is
a waste of your time, then forget about Marshall Beach, and you have my pity.
But if you have any agrarian instincts lingering deep inside then this ride is sure to please.
Beyond the grazing lands, Marshall beach is a peaceful lagoon in the remote stretches of Tomales bay.
The only reason it didn't score higher is because it is over with before you know it.
Back to top.
Web Page -
Map Link (2.74 Mb PDF)
Samuel Penfield Taylor opened the first Papermill on the west coast, initially
powered by the little river passing through Lagunitas to Tomales Bay. A forty-niner,
he came from Boston during the Gold Rush and cashed in his stake to open a paper business in the park that
bears his name. A small town of workers grew up in the area, and eventually the railroads came rolling through.
He tried to expand into the gun powder business, but the powder mill blew up, and after his death in 1885 the paper
business dwindled and ultimately the land was sold during the depression of 1893.
Today he is burried on the slopes of Mount Barnabe and his grave can be visited.
Alas, he lies there alone, for when his wife died (who herself worked to protect Chinese
girls from being sold into prostitution) the new owners of the land did not permit
her to be burried with him. In 1916 the Papermill and buildings
were burnt down and the land reverted to nature, and by 1945 was acquired by the state of California for back taxes.
Samuel P. Taylor can be remebered for investing his gold rush earnings wisely into
land that he preserved, rather than logged, obtaining
rags and pulp to make his paper from San Francisco and elsewhere. Working with nature,
he also built the first fish ladder on
the west coast around the dam he used for power, and to this day the park remains a refuge for steelhead trout
and silver salmon.
S.P. Taylor Park: The Shafter Bridge Loop
"Dropping quickly to the lowest gear,
the switchbacks meandered onward like an infinite sine wave
rising from hell. With every labored turn of the pedal, my chain resisted in open revolt,
like a tug-of-war of straining axles against cranks crushing downward with every turn.
Twisting our cranksets and grinding our rings, each blind corner offered the hope of relief but
delivered ongoing disappointment as we desperately pressed
higher and higher toward the ridge. The dense redwoods thinned to dusty oak, before the final expansion
into the pastoral clearing that looked over Olema Valley, and Inverness Ridge out to the west." (b. May 28, 2001)
"It was hardly perfect weather, or even good, but this year's seemingly endless
rainy season must have thwarted one-too-many biking days, and in any case the expansion of my waistline
with each passing cold snap now called for an assertive response. Up the soggy grade, the soft mulch
gripped tires like muddy tar, along the same painful climb to the ridgeline we had taken so long ago.
In the mossy forest, dripping with fresh rainwater, the musty smell among subdued grayish hues
choked the road with a suffocating claustrophobia, and welcomed sinful thoughts of a soft, warm couch by the fire."
(b. February 15, 2004)
The Shafter Bridge trail is an awful but necessary climb that connects a pleasant creekside ride through the redwoods
with the a scenic descent along the lower portion of Bolinas Ridge.
This is the first ride
we wrote up for the web page, and Shafter Bridge remains to this day our gold standard by which all other brutal
grades are compared.
By car, take 101N to the "San Anselmo" exit, then follow Sir Francis Drake past Lagunitas, over Shafter
Bridge, past the S.P. Taylor Park entrance, until you
rise to the crest of a ridge, where there will be a broad shoulder to the left where you can park your car.
This is the end of the Bolinas Ridge Trail where you'll finish the ride.
On bike, backtrack down Sir Francis Drake to the bike path, and follow the "Riding and Hiking" trail
past the campgrounds to the bridge that crosses over Sir Francis Drake.
From there, in wet months you'll need to take Sir Francis Drake back to Shafter Bridge.
In drier months you can try staying on the "Riding and Hiking" trail until it ends,
then cross Papermill Creek under Shafter Bridge, which avoids the traffic.
Either way, turn right on the small service road at Shafter Bridge.
At the first right turn you see and hope that really isn't your turn... it is.
Drop into the granny, cowboy, and get cranking because there is plenty more of that to come.
Ride up a little ways to a small clearing, where there is a sign directing you up to Bolinas Ridge.
At the Bolinas Ridge Trail, turn right and return to the car.
Profile: The "Riding and Hiking" trail along Papermill Creek is flat and paved,
after which the Shafter Bridge fire road climbs 1150 feet in 1.4 miles.
The grade averages 15%, significantly worse in the first half then easing up a little as you get to the top.
The quality of the road is generally good, although can be slippery in the steeper parts.
Most of it was manageable with several planned rest brakes-- plus an impromtu one when we caught a garter snake.
Once at the crest, the rest of the way is mostly downhill along the spine of Bolinas Ridge.
Despite the painful grind it's worth going in this direction:
while the average grade up Bolinas ridge is a mere 4%, it is highly
uneven and ain't no picnic either. But riding down Bolinas Ridge is beautiful and fun.
You can really get moving, so beware of deep erosions that come up out of nowhere.
Comment : The first time up the Shafter Brigde trail, catching the garter snake was probably the highlight of the climb.
It does have a beautiful gray Tolkienesque quality during the rainy season, but then you're dealing with mud in
addition to the slope.
But between the amazing views of Point Reyes from the top of Bolinas Ridge, and the
lush redwoods along Papermill Creek, this ride is classic Point Reyes mountain biking about as good as it gets in these parts.
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Web Page -
Map Link (753K PDF)
S.P. Taylor Park: Mount Barnabe Loop
"In the warm dusky twilight, brought
on early under thick redwoods and steep ridges around me, I tossed my keys in the air over and over,
as high as they would go, for no other reason then the pure mirth of the activity.
Mount Barnabe had put me in a happy mood, and Kenny agreed.
The initial grade up the Mount Barnabe trail was a sudden change from the flat fireroad
winding through the redwood forests along Papermill Creek. As we cranked up the ongoing twists the trees thinned
until they disappeared altogether, replaced by grassy slopes under sunny blue skies.
Here were remote views of Bolinas Ridge, Inverness Ridge,
Tomales Bay, Mount Tam, Pine Mountain, and a sea of green rolling hills extending northward into Sonoma County.
At that point the trail became more relaxed and, in any case, the anaerobic burn in my legs was distracted
by the vistas surrounding me in every direction.
As we reached the peak an eagle soaring overhead floated on air currents searching for prey.
It was a quick ride down the northern face ending in the Devils Gulch where an overflowing stream wound
through shady fern covered slopes.
After the long rainy season and the cold snap, today the flowing rivers, green hillsides,
and balmy weather left little doubt that springtime was at hand. " (b. February 9, 2002)
Directions: What a time to find out now, just when Kenny is moving over to the East Bay,
that Red Hill Boulevard through San Rafael (using the "Central San Rafeal" exit off 101) takes you quickly
to San Anselmo, without the busy weekend traffic on Sir Francis Drake.
We'll need to test it a couple times to see if this is really better,
but it makes it easy to stop at Performance Bikes on the way.
From San Anselmo go northwest on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard past Lagunitas and turn
left into the SP Taylor Parking lot.
There is a day use fee of $2 unless the ranger station is closed, then it's free,
and it was closed at 3:00 pm when we arrived.
On bike, take the Papermill Creek Trail upstream a couple miles crossing the bridge over Sir Francis Drake
to the Barnabe Trailhead on your left which abruptly branches vertically toward the peak.
Just before the fire lookout at 1466 feet the Barnabe Trail heads back into the valley. Branch right
at the fork toward the Devil's Gulch Trail. Turn left just past Devil's Gulch,
and when you reach Sir Francis Drake turn right and follow it a half mile to the next bridge you see over
Papermill Creek. Return to the parking lot heading upstream along the Hiking and Biking Trail.
The whole ride is around seven miles.
Profile: It's a 1250 foot climb from Papermill Creek to the peak. The sign says it's 1.5 miles,
other sources say it's closer to two.
As far as I'm concerned, rangers never lie so that's an average 16% grade.
The first half is a relentless grind, comparable to Shafter
Bridge, but did ease up once we hit the ridge which is marked by the
first downhill. Along the ridge there
were still a number of very steep grades, but they were limited and broken up by flat or downhill sections.
Heading back down is steep but not extreme, except for a part between the headstone
and Deadman's Gulch, which was muddy with large erosions spanning most of the trail and maybe a couple
feet deep. Otherwise fireroads are good the whole way, with solid traction except for some flat parts that
got a little muddy.
Comment [8½]: The ride along the ridge is as close to flying over Marin as
I'm ever going to get without a plane ticket.
I forgot all about the painful climb and simply enjoyed the incredible range of views.
Although brief, the climb offered a sense of accomplishment.
If pressed for time, this ride has it all except for singletrack (except for the little trail
to Taylor's grave). The trail described is short enough
to make a fine hike as well.
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Web Page -
Map Link (753K PDF) -
Click to expand
Cranking up Mount Barnabe, the first shot is looking westward at Bolinas Ridge and Inverness ridge beyond that.
The second shot is looking toward the rolling hills of the north
while heading back down from the peak.
Bolinas Ridge is at the center of it all. Here, to the right, the forest of Samuel P. Taylor Park nearly
reach up to the ridgeline, eventually covering the entire ridge as Bolinas extends southward and joins Mount Tam
In the middle is the southern edge of Tomales Bay, which combines with Olema Valley down to the left to form
the pathway of the San Andreas Fault. The hillside to the far left is Inverness Ridge moving slowly northward
relative to the North American continental shelf at just over a foot per year. Along this broad ridgetop runs
the Bolinas Ridge trail, which isn't as flat as it looks in the picture, especially when you're climbing it.
This shot here is where the forest opens up about a mile south of the Shafter Bridge junction.
A large brushfire burned many acres of the northern parts of Inverness Ridge back in October '95,
leaving many bare white trunks of dead bishop pines scattered across the hillside.
All around them though are dense saplings making a comeback.
Here is a section midway along the Inverness Ridge trail in 2001. By 2004 the saplings had grown much larger
and were squeezing off the trail!
Wildcat Beach, part of the remote Pacific coastline on the western face of Inverness.
This is what Point Reyes is all about.
Marshall Beach, along the isolated Northwest shore of Tomales Bay. It was very low tide, and conditions were
exceptionally calm. Aside from lots of mollusc shells, I happened across a couple of beached jellyfish.
This is around Whitehouse Pool at the tip of Tomales Bay along the tidal marsh, facing Bolinas
Ridge. What was that they said about the Holy Roman Empire? It wasn't Holy, it wasn't Roman, and it wasn't an
Empire. Whitehouse pool isn't white, isn't a house, isn't the Whitehouse,
and it sure doesn't have a pool. It's a parking lot.
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Check out the Point Reyes National Seashore
homepage for more general information about what to see. Most
importantly they have a PDF
trail map (524k) which is basically the same thing as the map you can pick up at the ranger station. Zoom
in with the magnifying glass-- the red dotted lines are the trails you can ride.
Here is the Samuel P. Taylor State Park page.
From here you can download the brochure
(scanned, not in the original
PDF format unfortunately) which has a good contour map and some history.
If it didn't come installed on your system, you'll need Acrobat Reader to view these docoments.
From the sticker, it looks like you can buy it for 50 cents at the ranger station which probably isn't a bad investment.
Read more about Samuel P. Taylor
from the Marin Historical Society.
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