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79% SINGLETRACK20% FIRE ROAD1% ROAD
Crockett Hills Regional Park has a somewhat surprising story as a mountain biking destination. This used to be a park with no more than local appeal, at least in my mind, due to having few meaningful loop opportunities because of its narrow slice of land, involving plenty of steep fire-road climbs, and with precious little singletrack. As of early 2015, however, this place seems to have exploded into the consciousness of Bay Area riders as the best place to ride in the East Bay.
The change has come about because of new singletrack whose construction was completed in late 2014. The big deal about this is that these trails were built specifically for mountain biking, which is a first in East Bay Regional Parks lands, as far as I know. Not only that, but the new trails are actually flow trails. While Endor Trail in Camp Tamarancho had become the first flow trail built in the Bay Area and the (still not formally named) flow trail about to be finished in Demo Forest followed quickly as the second example, Crockett Hills acquired three flow trails in 2014! I'm having difficulty finding words to describe my amazement at this.
One important thing is worth emphasis at this point: The East Bay Regional Park District has treated the mountain biking community with an unprecedented amount of goodwill and cooperation by allowing these great trails to be built in their current forms. How these new trails and this park are treated by mountain bikers effectively serves as a test whose outcome will impact their willingness to allow more such wonderful mountain biking trails in East Bay parklands. Therefore, we need to behave ourselves and treat these trails with the care they deserve. I'm sure most of us already know what that means: no violating closures or adjacent private property; no guerilla trail-blazing or modifications; no shortcuts across turns; no terrorizing other trail users; no skidding at turns; etc. If we demonstrate that we can be responsible park users and good stewards of these trails, there will be a lot more such prime, bike-legal singletrack to come in the East Bay, and even beyond.
Speaking of flow trails, one thing needs to be made clear for those of us familiar with the flow trail in Demo Forest or with Endor Trail in Camp Tamarancho: the three flow trails at Crockett Hills (Sugar City Trail, (the new routing of) Tree Frog Loop, and Goldfinch Trail) are not exactly the same type of flow trail as those two. These are not the kind of flow trails where one would have any hope of making it all the way to the bottom with little pedaling. For lack of a better term, these are "light" flow trails. They lose elevation much more slowly and even gain elevation in a few places. There are fewer tight turns, less ambitious berms, and occasionally sizable stretches of just plain narrow singletrack. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing; these are wonderful, narrow, fun, biking-specific trails of the highest quality. It's just that those who are seeking exactly the experience they find in Demo Forest or on Endor might end up with unmet expectations. These are more like a cross between a normal cross-country trail and a pedal-to-the-metal flow trail.
A few more notes on the nature of the trails, while we're on the topic. The trails in this park, both singletrack and fire roads, are quite smooth. At the time I write this, there's not a single rock garden, nor even many tree roots that I remember rolling over. During my ride, there were a couple of spots in the lower stretches of Sugar City Trail where round rocks that rolled onto the trail surface from the hill cut during the trail construction made a few turns a bit slippery, and those are the only trail features I can remember that could be considered "technical" in a classical sense. The technical difficulty of the ride is low. I would have rated it even lower in technical difficulty than I already have if it weren't for the possibility that some of the higher and sharper berms on the flow trails and one or two larger ones of the fun dips might seem intimidating to someone who's started riding trails only a few weeks ago. Beginners should not let their guards down completely, in other words. Otherwise, though, there won't be too many pain points for novice riders on this route except for a couple of steep fire-road climbs.
I've seen and heard that riding the flow trails in Crockett Hills in the uphill direction is not a rare practice. Currently, there is no rule that prohibits this. Being used to the downhill-only nature of the flow trails at Demo and Tamarancho, this surprised me a little. Perhaps this is not that crazy, given the milder descent rates and the semi-XC nature of these flow trails. I think some people do this in order to avoid the steep fire-road climb that would otherwise be necessary to get to the beginning of some of these trails (which doesn't sound to me like a good enough excuse, actually). The fact is that these are trails that most will ride primarily in the downhill direction and where quite a few folk may tend to ride faster than usual. So, downhill riders of these trails need to be cautious about the fact that they can encounter an uphill rider around any curve, and uphill riders should keep in mind that they have not made a very smart choice.
By the way, sticklers for detail among you may like to know that the names of the trails in this park (especially the new ones) is in a bit of an unsettled state at the moment. The park's official trail map available on its website does not show the newest trails at the time I write this, and neither do other online maps. Even the detailed map I make available here as the "newer" park map shows some names that might still be subject to change. What I'll do for now is to assume that all the trail names shown on this newer map are the most up-to-date ones, but I'll also mention the supposed "even newer" name for each trail that I've heard, where applicable.
It's worth keeping in mind that Crockett Hills may be subject to seasonal trail closures due to the existence of some golden eagle nests. Their nesting season is said to be between February and August, which is when we may expect the closures. The understanding seems to be that the closure decision in any given year will be based on the actual existence of any nests. These closures were in effect at the time of the ride you see on this page and included Goldfinch Trail (one of the three flow trails), part of Back Ranch Loop, and Chorus Frog Connector.
Crockett Hills has a decent-sized parking lot, but not a huge one. Given the skyrocketing levels of interest this park is seeing around the time I write this, it won't be easy to find space available there. Let me put it this way: the parking lot opens at 8:00 AM, which is when I entered it for this ride, and it was more than half-full by 8:30. The good news is that the Crockett town center is only half a mile down the road from this lot and street parking is easy to come by there.
One final general note I'll make before getting into the specifics of the trails is about ticks. On my ride, I've found one tick on my leg and an accompanying friend of mine found two on himself. That seems to me too a high a number for one ride to be considered random chance. Ticks are found in many ride locales in the Bay Area. There are some places where you won't find many, even during their peak season (late spring and early summer). I think my experience on this ride shows that Crockett Hills is not one of them. So, make sure you check yourself against ticks once in a while during your ride at Crockett and perform a more thorough scan at the end of your ride.
The route you see on this page includes two of the flow trails in the park, both in the downhill direction as mountain biking gods intended, and tries to maximize the singletrack mileage on the way there from the parking lot and on the way back. What I consider a nearly ideal ride route at Crockett Hills would also include the third flow trail, Goldfinch (also referred to as "Turkey Vulture"), which I had to leave out due to its seasonal closure, as I mentioned. To include that trail when it's not closed, simply continue further uphill on Back Ranch Loop and descend back on Goldfinch before continuing onto Tree Frog Loop as this route shows. This route as well as the GPS data that helped me navigate during my ride is a version—with a couple of tweaks—of one that was posted online by an MTBR user. (Thanks for posting, Dave Le.)
The ride starts out from the parking lot on one of the few fire roads on the route: Edwards Loop Trail. Actually, most of this trail is in the form of doubletrack, and even includes a portion where only one half of the doubletrack is in common use, effectively making it singletrack. Still, I've qualified this conservatively as a "fire road" when coming up with the stats you see above.
Just as a serious climb begins on Edwards Loop Trail, you turn onto the singletrack portion of this trail and perform most of the elevation gain toward Cummings Skyway on this switchbacking singletrack climb. This is a significant climb with grades ranging between 10% and 15%, but nothing over the top. And the best part of it is that this tree-covered singletrack segment turns out to be a lot of fun to descend on the way back and, therefore, a very nice way to end your ride.
You cross under Cummings Skyway via a tunnel at the end of that first climb and start out on Soaring Eagle Trail immediately after that. This trail is essentially the singletrack alternate to Sky Trail (a fire road) for getting to the trails in the southeastern half of the park. It meanders along, following the edge of the flattish area atop this ridge. Your traversal in the first half of the ride will be in the "climbing" direction of this trail, but it's not much of a climb and the trail alternates between long, flat sections and brief, moderate climbs (with the grade never exceeding 10%). The trail has virtually zero tree cover and the views to the west, south, and east along the way are top notch, and they're even better during your return over it. Along with Two Peaks Trail, Soaring Eagle is actually one of the singletrack trails in the park that predates the flow trails and it's been around for years. To be honest, if these older trails were still the only available singletrack here, a 13-mile ride here that included these to result in a singletrack percentage for the ride of something like 30% would have qualified as "not too shabby for an East Bay park" anyway.
Soaring Eagle Trail ends by bringing you very conveniently to the top of the first flow trail on this ride, which is Sugar City Trail (also referred to as "Northern Harrier"). This is a narrow singletrack that descends a bare hillside by very economical use of elevation loss via very wide switchbacks, and sometimes even incurring a little elevation gain. It features numerous berms along its 1.5-mile length, some flat-topped and some rounded, some spread apart widely and some arriving in quick succession. One thing I noticed on Sugar City Trail is that its hairpin turns could use banks that are a bit higher, and I'm not even a fast rider. This is something that may have already been remedied by the time you read this. By the way, Sugar City Trail seems to have been named as a link to local history, given the fact that the town of Crockett owes its existence to a sugar refinery.
Sugar City Trail ends by connecting you to Big Valley Trail near the bottom of the valley. You then use Big Valley Trail as a connector that gets you to the beginning of your fire-road climb to the top of the second flow trail on the ride. This stretch of Big Valley descending gently along the bottom of this valley was in the form of a very well defined doubletrack at the time of my ride, and traversed quite pretty scenery especially in the green conditions of spring.
Beyond Big Valley Trail, a brief stint on Back Ranch Loop takes you to the second climb on the ride, and the first really serious one. Your 0.3-mile fire-road climb on Tree Frog Loop will involve about 250 feet of elevation gain, implying a painful overall average grade of over 16%, and there are several spots on the climb where the grade temporarily exceeds 20%. In the end, though, this is still a short climb that can just as easily be walked. At the top, the singletrack portion of Tree Frog Loop branching off to the left signifies your arrival at the second flow trail on the ride (which I've also seen named separately as "Peregrin Trail"). You actually need to pedal for nearly the first quarter mile of this stretch, but then the fun descent begins and doesn't end for 2.5 miles as you connect to Rumsen Trail along the way and continue on that to its end. There are a couple more stretches along the way where you need to pedal, but no real climbs. This descent is very similar to Sugar City Trail in terms of speed and character, but it's longer, goes through significant tree cover in a number of places, and features better banked hairpin turns, as far as I'm concerned. There was one thing about this descent that bothered me, though: the trail was off camber at a number of places and sloped downhill on many flat sections. I fear that this doesn't bode well for its sustainability, especially in those places where it takes a quick dip followed by a sharp rise, where the speed gained during the dipping part makes it harder for the rider to follow the curve on the off-camber rising part, tending to force one off the downhill edge of the trail and resulting in a trail that will slide downward in the long run. A couple of turns were already showing signs of this during my ride, only a few months after the construction of the trail.
Rumsen Trail ends in a cute stretch that's sandwiched between the foot of a hillside and an old fence, flatly following along a creek bed before returning you to Big Valley Trail. You then take this doubletrack back the same way you came, but this time stay on it to continue onto the third major climb on the ride. This fire-road climb on Big Valley Trail has a pretty serious overall average grade of 15%, but if the climb on Tree Frog Loop didn't faze you, then this one definitely shouldn't, because it's only a quarter mile long.
The end of that last steep fire-road climb is where Two Peaks Trail begins, which is the second singletrack in the park that is older than the flow trails, to the best of my knowledge. On average, you traverse Two Peaks in the uphill direction on this ride. In fact, the first half of the 0.6-mile length of this trail is fairly strenuous, with grades averaging around 10 or 11 percent, but occasionally reaching 13% or so. At the time of my ride, this trail was clearly the most underused portion of this ride route, with its width reduced to about six inches for much of its length by the growth of the surrounding grass. As it sits higher on average than Sugar City Trail or Tree Frog Loop, this trail also marks a stage in the ride where you start encountering fairly wide views of the surrounding scenery once again. When this trail connects you back to Soaring Eagle, what lays ahead is a very fun and scenic return trip over that trail back to Edwards Loop and to the parking lot.
Crockett appears to be an old-fashioned, working-class small town that is neither "suburbanized" with generic strip malls nor gentrified into a trendy weekend destination. So, when it comes to finding a place for a post-ride meal, you won't find a long list of options here but there are still a couple of decent ones available. The eatery advice you see here comes directly from a viewer of this site who is a local and was one of the two people who contacted me with the recommendation to try a ride at Crockett Hills. (Thank you, Andy Majewski.) Valona Deli and Cafe comes recommended for good sandwiches, drinks (including alcohol), and some convenience-store fare, and features some indoor seating. I'm told they have a good selection and generous portion sizes. Another one is a seafood restaurant called The Nantucket, which is the only one I tried. This one is an old-fashioned, funky example, the likes of which they don't build anymore. It's by the water, almost under the shadow of the Carquinez Bridge and features plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. If you look at its online reviews, you'll encounter mixed feedback. My experience there in terms of food and service were quite positive, though; easily exceeding the expectations set by its funky setting and appearance. Meanwhile, those who can tolerate a few more minutes of driving shouldn't forget about the nearby Port Costa, especially if you're interested in an even more quaint setting.
© Ergin Guney
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