Annadel (Suggestion 3)
58% SINGLETRACK42% FIRE 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.
The parking lot that I've used and suggest for this ride is the paid parking lot near the very end of Channel Drive. Frankly, this is not a parking lot that's heavily used by the mountain bikers who frequent this park. Most riders park in the free roadside parking area earlier on Channel Drive, before the visitor center. The reason for my selection was that this paid lot worked a bit better for this ride while allowing me to try a portion of Channel Trail I hadn't ridden before, coupled with my usual inclination to use paid lots as much as possible as a way of supporting our local parks. The fee for this lot is $7 at the time I write this, and you have to stop at the visitor center on Channel Drive in order to self pay by putting cash in an envelope. (Don't neglect to bring exact change and have a pen.) Honestly, it's just as easy to park in the free area and bike your way in to do this loop, although the paid parking lot would work as a good overflow option if the free area has no spaces left. I would understand that riders who do this ride frequently may find the $7 fee a bit too much to pay every single time. However, such park users should keep in mind that they can still support the park while keeping their expenses limited by purchasing an annual pass. As far as I can see, the cost of an annual pass is $75 right now.
I had a few goals in mind when trying this particular ride route at Annadel. The foremost was to try out Two Quarry Trail, which I hadn't ridden before this. The second was to try descending the western portion of Marsh Trail. Ever since I had tried that trail in the uphill direction, as a climb that is gentle enough to be entertaining without killing you, I thought that it should be a lot of fun to descend and have been itching to try this. On top of these, the fact that I could include in the route a few more Annadel trails I hadn't yet tried like Louis, North Burma, and Channel, was a bonus. In the end, I was pretty satisfied with this route selection and I would recommend it, subject to the couple of caveats I mention below.
The ride starts with a climb up Warren Richardson Trail, which is a fire road. The slope of this climb is the steepest near the beginning and it gets milder the higher up you go. The grade initially hovers around 10%, but doesn't go above 7% very much later on. There really isn't too much fulfillment to be taken from Warren Richardson, other than a reasonable warm-up and its use as a connector to the rest of the ride.
Two Quarry Trail starts from a hairpin turn on Warren Richardson. Considered by most as one of the singletrack trails of the park, Two Quarry Trail initially has a few fire-road segments connected via short singletracks that seem to bypass old washouts at stream beds. The trail shortly narrows to a more realistic width for a singletrack but this is also where it turns fairly rocky and quite steep. I had to walk up parts of this stretch. The grade typically ranged between 9 and 14 percent around these parts, but the rugged trail surface made it worse than how that might sound. My conclusion was that Two Quarry really shouldn't be done uphill like this; you should use this as a cautionary tale and craft your own variation of this route that will allow you to descend this trail, instead of following a route identical to this one. This trail would be a very fun technical descent.
Two Quarry Trail reverts to a full-blown fire road (around the spot marked as "Frey Canyon Overlook") before connecting to Marsh Trail. This ride route includes two separate portions of Marsh Trail. The first one traversed on this ride is a fire road that takes you around Ledson Marsh to reach Ridge Trail.
Ridge Trail is the second singletrack on the ride and is one of my favorite trails at Annadel. The trail initially follows a more or less flat area where it occasionally breaks out into patches of large, rounded rocks jutting out of the ground that will have you scanning for the best possible line. It will also provide one of the few scenic stretches of the ride as it climbs up the side of a small hill in a straight line, where long views across Ledson Marsh open up and you find yourself passing through a cluster of picturesque, tall, dead trees sticking out of the surrounding vegetation. In the first half of the portion of Ridge Trail included in this ride, you'll be pedaling more than you coast, and it's vice versa in the second half, though these are too gentle to be called a "climb" and a "descent", with the possible exception of the very last stretch of Ridge Trail before connecting back to Marsh Trail, where the descent becomes a bit more pronounced. These latter parts of Ridge Trail on this route also happen to be the part where this trail attains a more persistent tree cover and starts feeling like what I call a "hillside singletrack".
Your second stint on Marsh Trail on this ride is a descent all the way, and it's this ride's longest one when put together with the second half of the portion on Ridge Trail. Similar to what I mentioned for the part on Ridge Trail, the descent on Marsh Trail gets steeper in its second half. While you might still need plenty of pedaling to make progress in its early parts, its later parts maintain a -8% grade for extended periods, allowing you to sustain higher speeds more easily. Marsh Trail is actually a devolved fire road instead of a singletrack built from scratch, and the width of the trail makes this obvious in some stretches. But it's a pretty chunky trail for much of its length and it is, in fact, narrowed down considerably in parts. So, like I've mentioned above how I've suspected it, the descent of this trail is pretty entertaining.
Canyon Trail is little more than a fire road that takes you to Lake Trail, though even this wide and fairly smooth fire road has a handful of mildy rocky patches that keep you from falling asleep completely. When you turn onto Lake Trail, it initially takes you over the dam of Lake Ilsanjo, but its only noteworthy stretch comes immediately after its junction with Rough Go Trail, where Lake Trail turns into a flat field of small boulders for a few hundred feet, and where it's quite fun to slalom through these. Further up, Lake Trail also affords one or two views of the lake before handing you off to Louis Trail.
My expectations of the short Louis Trail weren't very high before trying it. This trail includes the last bit of elevation gain that you will experience on this particular route. But, more than that, it's actually a fun, narrow singletrack that has its own fair share of challenging trail features. This trail starts out following the very edge of a large, empty meadow as it begins to climb. By the time you've completed the elevation gain on this trail, it will be continuing under relatively consistent oak cover and riders like me will have gained some new respect for the trail. Louis Trail would be clearly more fun in the opposite direction where there'll be little to no climbing and you can carry momentum through the technical trail features in its first half. I made a mental note to try that on another ride.
Your transition from Louis Trail to North Burma Trail happens at a tiny junction under some claustrophobic cover of low trees, though you couldn't miss this junction even if you tried to, because it's a T-junction. North Burma Trail is a blast! Other than some pedaling up a couple of short stretches soon after you get on it, it's exclusively a descent all the way down to Channel Trail. North Burma seems determined never to continue straight; it constantly twists left and right around boulders or in and out of ruts. Much of the trail feels like a "boulder slalom". If the last part of Marsh Trail you covered on this ride was a descent, then the way North Burma Trail ends can only be described as a "plunge". After its junction with Live Oak Trail, North Burma gets serious about losing elevation as it starts following a narrow creek bed. My GPS recorded multiple spots steeper than -15% grade in this stretch and at least one place where the grade is about -20%. That's not exactly record-book territory, but it's enough for some adrenaline when it comes during a rocky descent where you frequently swing back and forth across a rutted singletrack.
You "reach the flats" when you finish your descent on North Burma, which is where you pick up Channel Trail. This trail was originally merely "the return to the car" on my mental map of this ride, but it turns out that this would be shortchanging it. This is actually a very playful and occasionally surprisingly technical hillside singletrack. It's the kind of trail that could be one of the highlights of the trail systems of lesser ride locales than Annadel. It has a couple of trail features that forced me off my bike, including one final short but rocky climb that arrives mere seconds before you make it back to the parking lot.
© Ergin Guney
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