Garin and Dry Creek
4% SINGLETRACK91% FIRE ROAD2% PAVED3% ROAD
This is an East Bay ride that is fairly characteristic and that features few surprises. This means that almost all trails are uninteresting fire roads, and the climbs are frequently very steep (a lot of times for no good reason) but, while the scenery doesn't look impressive with its straw-colored grass cover over much of the year, it should turn into a gorgeous landscape during the few months of spring and late winter when the grass is green. I can't really say that the existence of this ride on this site represents a recommendation necessarily. Like some other listings I also include, it's mostly aimed at answering the question "what's the riding like in this particular place?"
Garin Regional Park and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park together make up a good-sized chunk of unbroken parkland saddled over the first row of hills overlooking the East Bay towns around Union City. Despite being aware of this trail network for many years, I tried riding here for the first time much more recently. This was because trying out a ride here had never ranked highly on my to-do list since I, frankly, never expected these parks to be a particularly enticing location for mountain biking. What finally prompted me to try this place out was suggestion emails I received from multiple unrelated viewers. I wish I could say the ride turned out to exceed my expectations, but it didn't. That doesn't mean that these parks have no appeal at all to bikers, though. To any strong riders from the nearby areas who are okay with steep climbs, this trail network is a decent local option for a workout. These are also some of the most scenic trails you'll find anywhere overlooking the bay. But I can safely claim that the kind of riding available here isn't enough to make this place a worthy destination for riders who'll be coming from other parts of the Bay Area.
These combined parks feature a good amount of trail mileage, the vast majority of which are fire roads. Much of this trail network is on the side of this row of hills that overlook the Bay and the tree cover in these parks is almost completely restricted to the lowest parts of the ravines and creek beds. As I mentioned already, these facts combine to ensure that there are great views available on much of this ride. Downtown San Francisco is visible from many vantage points, with Mount Tam almost serving as its backdrop. The available scenery ranges far into the South Bay from there. To take advantage of these views, park management was apparently fairly generous with the benches sprinkled at suitable spots to sit down and take it all in. These make for decent rest stops at the end of steep climbs in some cases.
Parking in the lot I've used for this ride is subject to a five dollar fee as of 2016, which is collected only if the entrance booth is attended (which it wasn't when I showed up for this ride some time between 8:30 and 9:00 AM on a Saturday). I did not see any possible method for paying by yourself. You can also think about street parking somewhere just outside the park from which you can pedal your way in. That would extend your round trip by only about 2 miles but, unfortunately, it would also add nearly 300 more feet of steep climbing to a ride that already has no shortage of tough climbs.
I've put together this particular route mainly with the aim of doing a ride in the parts of these parks closest to the bay that mostly follows loops, without getting into awkward out-and-back extensions too much and without turning it into an epic, while giving heed to what I saw most other riders doing here based on online GPS data. An aspect of this particular ride route that I like is that it doesn't tackle any sustained elevation gain for the first couple of miles, though it does include a couple of short and punchy climbs in that portion. This provides you the opportunity of a nice warm up. This could count for a lot, because the extended climbs do get very tough when they do begin.
Trail junctions in the park are well signed. At the time of my ride, the signs were fairly old wooden posts on which the trail names are carved. There were one or two examples of these that were weathered to such an extent that the trail name was unreadable. But, for the most part, as long as you know the name of the trail(s) you should be on, you can expect to be able to find your way around in this park based solely on the signage. Speaking of finding your way around, the trail network in the part of these parks covered by this ride is fairly dense. So, you'll need either a willingness to get lost and improvize, or at least printed a copy of the park map on your first ride here.
Nearly all trails in the park are very smooth fire roads. The only time they get a little bumpy is on the lesser used trails due to the pockmarking due to cows and the cracking of the earth. I was a bit suprised to see this at the time of my October ride, which was long after the latest rains.
One unexpected perk of this ride is that Newt Pond Trail is an honest-to-goodness narrow singletrack, even if it's less than half a mile in length. Sadly, at the time of my ride, it was a badly pockmarked, cracked, off-camber mess, but it was still a pleasant surprise where I wasn't expecting any bike-legal singletrack. The trail does involve a few hairpin turns (one of which was tight and steep enough to intimidate me) and is an unbroken descent in the direction it's traveled during the course of this ride. It ends without visiting it's nearby namesake pond, shortly after crossing a creek at a marginally ridable spot, which had water even in October. In the conditions of my ride, sticking to the left looked like the best bet for being able to pedal through the water. Meanwhile, the plunge of the trail toward the creek bed gets almost treacherously steep for the last few seconds, so don't let it catch you by surprise.
The "Vista Peak" subloop serves partially to add a bit more mileage to this ride, but it also allows you some scenery you don't get to see from other spots along this route. Near the route's northeastern tip, you will catch a view of downtown Oakland, which is not visible from the rest of the ride. But, in the end, you wouldn't miss too much if you leave this subloop out when the steep climbs have exhausted you. Another such optional side trip is the visit to Gossip Rock. The rock itself is nothing to shout about. It's a fairly non-descript cluster of rocks topped with a few trees. Unless you have fond childhood memories of visiting this place, it wouldn't hold much attraction to you, making the side trip entirely expendable. On the other hand, it's such a short one with relatively little elevation change, too, so it wouldn't cost you much to pass by the place to add a bit of extra mileage to your ride.
One thing to keep in mind is that, as I've alluded to above, cows are plentiful in most parts of the park and, naturally, so are cowpies on the trails. At numerous places, I had the opporunity to play cowpie slalom during my ride. Things weren't bad enough to be of concern in the dry conditions of my ride, but I'm not sure how it all looks when the trails are wet.
Interestingly, the park map shows a stretch of trail that connects Garin Regional Park all the way to Castro Valley. This is a single stretch of trail and it doesn't allow any long, trail-based loop opportunities. But, while I haven't tried it myself, one possibility this opens up is a mixed ride consisting of taking this long connection all the way, followed by a return by road (assuming you wouldn't rather do the entire length of this Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail as an out-and-back ride). This ride would end up being just over 16 miles in length with 8 miles of it taking place on the return to Garin via roads. That's not the only possibility opened by this trail extension either. When measured from the beginning of Whipsnake Trail, the first 3.5 miles or so of this extension takes place without much significant elevation change or any steep slopes, as far as I can see from the map. So, this portion of Whipsnake Trail and Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail can be done as an out-and-back spur from a route like the one shown on this page in order boost the overall mileage without expending too much effort, if this short ride otherwise leaves you wanting.
© Ergin Guney
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