When I worked briefly as a Backroads Trip Leader, I was based in Berkley, CA. Berkeley may sound like an ideal place to live – especially when you don’t have to pay rent – but as someone who thrives on mountains and open spaces, the concrete jungle of the city was far from ideal (one of the many reasons I did not excel as a trip leader). So when I was not leading trips in Wine Country or in Yosemite, I was out exploring the Bay Area mountain biking scene.
Surprisingly, though, despite the fact that Marin County is considered the birthplace of mountain biking in the United States, there really isn’t a whole lot of singletrack around the Bay Area. Both the NIMBY movement (Not In My Backyard) and urban sprawl have done a great job to curtail mountain biking singletrack around San Francisco. That being said, there are a few fun places to ride that offer great views and good flow if you’re willing to seek them out. I’m still exploring the networks around the Bay Area, but here are the best places I’ve found to ride to date.
When it comes to Bay Area mountain biking, you have to dig a little deep to find the best singletrack. In this post, I share the best mountain bike trails and networks around San Francisco so you can escape the hustle and bustle of city life
North Bay Area Mountain Biking
1. China Camp
China Camp is a super fun and casual loop located north of San Francisco just outside of San Rafael. In the late 1880’s/early 1990s the area was settled by Chinese-American’s who made their living as shrimp fishermen, but today, China Camp is a popular State Park open to hikers and mountain bikers.
There is one big 9-mile loop around China Camp that is made up of three trails: Shoreline Trail, Bayview Trail, and Oak Ridge. The riding is not overly technical so it’s great for families and cross-country enthusiasts.
Like every natural area around San Francisco, though, China Camp does get busy – especially on the weekends, so stay patient and be courteous.
Need To Know:
- There is a $3 Trail Use fee to use the trails at China Camp. This money goes back into the park, so please pay it. There is a Kiosk at the main trailhead
- You can park outside of the park (free) or in one of the parking areas ($5 for both parking and trail use)
- The trails are bidirectional, but I prefer to ride the loop counterclockwise
- China Camp can get super busy, especially on weekends!
Ride China Camp:
- China Camp Loop
Beginner/Intermediate | 9 Miles | 934 ft +/-There are several places can start this ride with plenty of parking along North San Pedro Road. You can ride the loop in either direction, but I personally recommend clockwise for the best flow. The loop is 9-miles long with just under 1,000ft of climbing and there aren’t many places to bail, so be sure to bring lots of water, snacks, and sunscreen.
2. Camp Tamarancho
Camp Tamarancho is another great Bay Area mountain biking loop north of San Francisco. The land is owned by the Boy Scouts of America, but they generously offer up their trails to mountain bikers when the rest of Marin is mostly off-limits.
The whole Camp Tamarancho loop is about 7 miles with 1,550 ft of climbing, or more if you start from Sir Francis Boulevard (see route below). It’s definitely a step up from China Camp, so a good choice if you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge. The loop links up the trails Broken Dam, Goldman, Serpentine, Wagon Wheel, and B-17 and is a mix of cross-country, flow trail, and techy rock gardens so be prepared for a lot of different terrain (and amazing views!).
Things to Know:
- The Boy Scouts of America request that you purchase a $5 day pass or annual pass before riding their trails. This can be done online here. It’s an honor system because no one’s really going to check to see if you’ve bought a pass, but do you really want to stiff the Boy Scouts?
- There are several places you can park, but I like parking off of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and pedaling in via Porcupine Trail. You can also start at the bottom of Alchemist Trail.
- The loop is best ridden clockwise (during COVID, the trails must be ridden clockwise to help with social distancing)
- Endor is a super fun flow trail. Lap it a few times before you pedal out!
Ride Camp Tamarancho:
- Camp Tamarancho Loop
Intermediate | 10 Miles | 3,871 ft +/-This route starts on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and follows Porcupine Trail into Camp Tamarancho. It does add quite a bit more climbing to the loop, so if you prefer a shorter version with slightly less climbing, park at the bottom of Alchemist Trail. The Camp Tamarancho Loop is mostly cross-country pedaling, but there are a few technical rocky features to navigate. Endor is a super fun flow trail that you’ll start the loop on and you can lap it at the end if you still have juice in your legs.
3. Annadel State Park
Annadel State Park is a bit of a trek from San Francisco (about 1.5 hours one way) but it’s definitely worth the extra effort. Annadel is one of the largest and most well-known Bay Area mountain biking networks and even though it suffered some damage from the 2017 Santa Rosa fire, the trails are back in action.
There are over 40 miles of singletrack ranging from rocky and rooty technical tracks to fast and smooth flow trails. Two of the most popular downhill trails are North Burma and South Burma, which are featured in the loop below.
Things to Know:
- Trails are multi-use. Share them with hikers and equestrians
- Annadel State Park is known for its rocks and roots, so bring your full-suspension bike
Ride Annadel State Park:
- Tour of the Burmas Loop
Intermediate/Expert | 17 miles | 1,868 ft +/-This loop hits the two most popular descents in Annadel State Park: South Burma and North Burma. The trails are a mix of fast flow and techy rock gardens with a few features like jumps and drops thrown in. If you’re looking for a shorter route, skip the upper Ridge Trail and Marsh Trail loop and just drop into South Burma.
4. Rockville Hills State Park
Rockville Hills is one of the best-kept secrets in the Bay. It has 18 miles of singletrack, some tech (yes, rocks), and a little lake in the middle. There’s not a whole of ascent or descent to be had throughout the park, but if you’re willing to pedal it can be a great time.
Things to Know:
- There is a $3 per-person day fee that can be paid at the main parking area. This money goes back into the trails, so please respect it and pay up
Ride Rockville Hills:
- Rockville Chill Loop
Intermediate | 4 miles | 531 ft +/-Since Rockville is so condensed and the trails loop back on one another, you don’t really need to follow a route. If you want a chill loop before tackling the more challenging stuff or you’re just interested in the mellower trails, this 4-mile Chill Loop is a great ride.
South Bay Area Mountain Biking
5. Soquel Demonstration Forest
Located outside of the seaside town of Santa Cruz, the Soquel Demonstration Forest is definitely worth a visit if you have time while you’re in the Bay Area. There are two main trails in Demo Forest: The Flow Trail and Braille. The Flow Trail is 3.5 miles of pure machine-built singletrack that is smooth, fast, and fun while Braille is its opposite: rough, raw, and steep. They’re both awesome, but both very different.
I like to do two laps when I head to Soquel Forest, but be prepared to do A LOT of climbing to get the reward.
Things to Know:
- Santa Cruz is 1.5-2 hours south of San Francisco
- There is A LOT of climbing involved at Soquel Demonstration Forest. Be prepared with water, snacks, and sunscreen
- The Flow Trail and Braille are very different trails. The Flow Trail is beginner-friendly while Braille is for intermediate/expert riders
- The road into Soquel Demonstration forest is long and a little sketchy
Ride Soquel Demonstration Forest:
- Flow/Braille Double Lap
Intermediate/Expert | 18 miles | 3,242 ft +/-The Flow Trail is one of the most popular trails in California and for good reason. It’s pure flow for 3.5 miles with huge berms and small tabletops. Next to the Flow Trail is Braille DH, which is rough, raw, and old-school. It is about 4 miles and 1,500 ft of climbing to get to the top of each descent, so if you’re doing two laps, be prepared for some hoofing. If you only want to do one lap, Flow Trail is a must.
6. El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve
I haven’t (yet) ridden El Corte de Madera Creek but it looks and sounds like a legit zone with plenty of rugged and flowy singletrack through beautiful Redwood forests. There are steep climbs, technical descents, buffed trails, and lots of beautiful scenery.
I’ve read reports that it gets super muddy with rain, so hold off if the weather looks soggy.
Ride El Corte Madera:
- Skeggs Loop
Intermediate | 14 miles | 2,482 ft +/-This 14 miles loop covers some of the best trails in El Corte Madera Creek and links them up in the least punishing way (there are some steep climbs in this network!). There’s an optional out-and-back climb up Manzanita if you want a little extra fun.
East Bay Area Mountain Biking
***April 2021 update: There have been several armed bike robberies in East Bay mountain biking areas, particularly Wildcat Canyon. Please do not ride alone. Ride with a group and have a phone with you.
7. Joaquin Miller Park
Joaquin Miller is a gem within the confines of SF chaos. It’s located in Oakland and has about 14 miles of singletrack with two pretty legit descents: Chaparral and Cinderella. Big Tree is super fun, too. Joaquin Miller is the kind of zone that you can do a few laps in and not get tired of the same trails. The trails are multi-use, so be prepared to share them with hikers, dog walkers, horses, and joggers.
Things to Know:
- This is a very popular park. Watch out for pedestrians and other traffic on the trails
- Do not leave any valuables in your car. This area is known for being a little sketchy
Ride Joaquin Miller Park:
- Big Trees and Cinderella Loop
Beginner/Intermediate | 8 Miles | 1,204 ft +/-This covers a wide range of trails in Joaquin Miller Park from mellow and meandering doubletrack to a rowdy descent down Cinderella. Since the network is packed in tightly, you can modify this loop however you want. If you want a shorter ride or minimize the climbing then skip Dunn and West Ridge. There is also more trail to the south which I haven’t ridden yet.
9. Shell Ridge
If you’re looking for a mellow pedal through the East Bay’s stunning hills, Shell Ridge is a great place to explore. There’s not singletrack here, but the doubletrack roads are still fun to pedal along and the views are beautiful. Try to ride this area in the spring when the hills are lush and green and dotted with wildflowers.
Things to know:
- There is no singletrack here, it’s all doubletrack
- There’s a 15 mile per hour speed limit (?)
- Share the trails with hikers and equestrians
- There are a lot of gates to go through. Please close them behind you.
Ride Shell Ridge:
- Shell Ridge Loop
Beginner/Intermediate | 11 miles | 1,410 ft +/-This route starts with a climb up to the foothills of Mt. Diablo. You’ll definitely feel like you’re pedaling uphill, but it does roll well with some fun descents along the way. At the top, there’s a slightly technical descent down into a beautiful wooded area and then it’s more rolling singletrack to finish the loop. The descent back to the car is fast and winding. Watch your speed and look out for hikers. I really enjoyed this loop even though it’s not singletrack mountain biking. It would be a great ride with the family or a mellow weekend pedal with friends.
10. Mt. Diablo
Mt. Diablo is a 3,849-foot peak that stands tall above the East Bay of San Francisco. The drive up to the top is worth doing even if you aren’t planning on mountain biking. It’s a stunning road and the views from the top are spectacular (although the smog is a bit of a drag…) As far as mountain biking goes on Mt. Diablo, it’s quite underwhelming. There is definitely more potential than actual trail (remember, people in the Bay Area aren’t stoked about mountain bikers). Most ‘trails’ open to mountain bikers are on fire roads that either climb straight up the mountain or descend straight down.
There is one legal 2-mile stretch of singletrack that is fun while it lasts. The Summit Trail is a moderately technical descent with awesome views and some tight switchbacks. It’s also quite eroded in places, which gives it an extra level of excitement. But the main bummer is that there’s nothing really to connect the Summit Trail into unless you’re willing to beat yourself up on steep fire roads.
Maybe someone here can chime in on a good way to link up a fun route on Mt. Diablo?
Have you explored any Bay Area mountain biking? What are your favorite places or trails to ride? Let us know in the comments below!