Annadel (Suggestion 2)
75% SINGLETRACK14% FIRE ROAD11% ROAD
If the Peninsula has Skeggs Point and the South Bay has Henry Coe and Demo Forest, then the North Bay has Annadel State Park. In fact, there may be many who claim that Annadel is superior to all of those. Personal preferences aside, at least purely in terms of the technical nature of its trail network, I think I would have to agree. For advanced riders, this must be as close to riding heaven as it gets in the Bay Area.
There are no killer climbs at Annadel. Most of the slopes are of the kind that riders in good shape (who are still sporting triple chainrings) would consider middle-chainring climbs. That doesn't necessarily imply that all of them can be cleared in the middle chainring in practice (at least by me), but that usually has more to do with the technical nature of the climbs than their slope.
Make no mistake: The trails at Annadel are technical. In many places, very technical. The name of the game is "rocky". There are rock gardens galore, boulders to negotiate, and plenty of opportunities to go over the bars or damage your rear derailleur, if you're not careful. What's also true, however, is that, at least on this particular route, the trails are hardly "dangerous". Since there are few if any steep trails and hillsides, what awaits you past each technical obstacle is usually more or less level ground (where you can reasonably get your momentum under control), if not yet another set of rocks jutting out of the ground. For the same reason, none of the narrow stretches of hillside singletrack are particularly treacherous, because there is never a steep drop-off on the downhill side of the trail.
According to what I've read, there was a time when this park was an out-of-control mess of haphazard unsanctioned trails, some of which were good, but many badly built and deteriorating. Friction among advocates of hiking, biking, and equestrian interests was progressing along lines that are so familiar from other locations around the Bay Area today. Then, some sort of a turning point was reached through diplomacy and, rather than fighting trail users, the Park Service decided to accommodate mixed trail use and an effort was started to adapt the better examples of the existing trails to official use, close the ones that are beyond redemption, and start on a path of enlightened trail construction and use that embraced all types of trail users. The result is the current network at Annadel adding up to about 35 miles of trails, most of which is singletrack—gorgeous, technical, juicy singletrack—, and almost all of which is open to biking. As far as I understand, the trail network here is still evolving. In time, you might find that some trails are closed, re-routed, or sanitized. But there should be little to worry about; given the current policy of the Park Service, it's equally expected that new and perhaps even better trails will keep being built in their place.
Trail intersections at Annadel are marked well. There are still some illegitimate trails. A reliable rule of thumb is, "if a trail here is unsigned, it is illegal." And considering the history of trail use in this park and the inclusive, forward-looking trail use policy currently being followed, if you ride any of the illegal trails, you'd be doing a disservice not only to yourself but to all mountain bikers in this area, because you'd be sabotaging such a wonderful and promising experiment in bike-legal trail use.
Parking is subject to a fee at Annadel State Park if you park somewhere past the main entrance booth of the park on Channel Drive. This ride happens to start at a trailhead on the southeastern boundary of the park that has free parking.
This loop includes almost all of the noteworthy trails in the "eastern" half of Annadel. (The only one left out would be Two Quarry Trail.) This includes the entire length of both Ridge Trail and Lawndale Trail; both of them excellent singletracks. Of the ride's total length, about 1.3 miles is on paved public roads, a half mile or so is on a fire road, and the rest is all on beautiful singletrack trails.
It's debatable whether this loop would be better when done clockwise or counterclockwise. The initial climb up Lawndale Trail would be noticeably steeper than the initial climb up Schultz and Ridge Trails. On the other hand, doing the ride clockwise, as with the GPS track on this page, also means that you are, on average, climbing (albeit gently) for a longer while and descending for a shorter amount of time. It's a toss-up, in my opinion. It might be best to try it both ways. (... Multiple times!)
This ride starts from the small parking lot at the trailhead for Lawndale Trail, quite simply because there's no other parking available anywhere else on Lawndale Road or Schultz Road. Therefore, the ride begins with a paved "approach" portion that takes you to the trailhead of Schultz Trail.
Schultz Trail is mainly a forested singletrack climb at a reasonable grade, at least initially. It also includes a (fairly sharply dipping) creek crossing in this portion that looks like it might have water year round. (I did this ride in early spring; it's hard to be sure.) It later turns into a rocky and more exposed singletrack; effectively like most of Ridge Trail.
The very beginning of Ridge Trail is a foot-wide singletrack through grass. It doesn't stay that way for very long, though. It quickly becomes a moderately wide rocky singletrack with frequent rock gardens and remains that way for most of its length. Parts of it look more like a doubletrack, actually. Perhaps I should say "unfortunately", because this seems to arise from riders navigating over the grass to avoid the muddy or overly rutty parts of the trail. But riding Ridge Trail is a lot of fun, although arguably a little more so when done in the other direction.
Most of the western reaches of this loop have the most tree cover and possibly a little fewer rock gardens. Once you're past the fire road portion of the ride on Marsh Trail, you pretty much repeat everything in the beginning part of the ride in reverse order; rocky technical singletrack, leading to more of a forest singletrack that's comparatively smoother. Lawndale Trail starts out as a fire road. Almost immediately after the point where the trail turns into a singletrack, it greets you with a section that looks more like a creek bed than a trail. And there are a few more of those on your way down. But the second half of this descent is under pretty dense forest cover. When I did this ride in early spring, there were numerous large fallen trees and mini slides blocking the trail. Some of these were difficult even to scramble over. I'm not sure how common this is during this part of the year, but given the density of the trees in this part of the ride, I'd be surprised if there weren't at least one or two of these every year.
© Ergin Guney
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