76% FIRE ROAD24% PAVED
Lake Chabot is one of the more well-known destinations in the East Bay for mountain biking. That's probably not because it has any sweet singletrack or adrenaline-pumping technical trails, but more because it provides a decent-enough selection of trails and sufficiently long loops for riders living in its vicinity. Don't expect any significant amount of singletrack here. Almost all bike-legal trails at Lake Chabot are fire roads, if not paved ones. There is one core bike-legal loop in this park, which is highlighted under the name "Lake Chabot Bicycle Loop" on the park map, and the ride you see on this page is a minor variation of that core loop with an extension further into Grass Valley added on. There are other bike-legal side trails connecting to this loop that allow a limited amount of variation, but—at least in my opinion—few of those are convenient and even fewer are meaningful.
I should point out that parking in the lot shown at the Suggested Parking link on your left is subject to a fee. As of the last time I've done this ride, this fee is $5 and is collected by an attendant at a booth on the driveway into the lot. I do see people routinely parking along Lake Chabot Road just outside the entrance as a free alternative to this paid lot, though I often find most of those spots already filled up even when I arrive here fairly early on a weekend morning. So, if you plan to rely on free parking options, be prepared to have to range farther into the side streets of the nearby neighborhoods in order to find a spot.
This ride starts out on the paved trail along the lake shore. (Expect kids, roller skaters, picnickers, etc.) While this part of the ride is pretty easy as you'd imagine, it's actually not pancake-flat like you might think a lake-side paved trail would be. There are plenty of brief ups and downs that will take a little effort. Keep that in mind in case you intend to bring any tricycle riders or octogenarian parents along for this part of the ride.
Once West Shore Trail passes over the dam, the fire-road segment of the ride starts. This coincides with the beginning of the first extended climb on the ride, about a mile long, which is the only climb on the ride that will feel like significant work to experienced riders. This is also where green riders will need to take plenty of rest stops. The slope of this climb is not uniform enough to quote a meaningful average grade, but the parts of it that will stick out in your mind hover around a grade of roughly 10%, and one of those episodes lasts for a quarter mile.
When that first climb ends and it starts feeling like you're at the beginning of a descent, you'll reach a junction of trails at the trailhead labeled as the "Clyde Woolridge Staging Area" on the park map. If the user comments on this page are any indication, this intersection is a confusing one. The fact that two separate junctions follow each other in quick succession here (if you turn right on the first one) doesn't make things any easier. You can take a look at the photo to which I've just linked (and the image that follows that one) for some guidance. My photo captions reflect route directions. But, quickly, the rule of thumb for following this particular ride route successfully through these particular junctions is "always stay to the right".
Following those junctions, when the short descent on Jackson Grade drops you to the bottom of Grass Valley near the stone bridge marked on the park map, you have the option of shortening your ride by about three miles (corresponding to only about 300 feet of elevation gain, though) by taking that bridge to the other side of the creek and continuing uphill from there. This "panhandle" at the northern end of the route plot does little more than go up and down along the same stretch of Grass Valley, but it also happens to be a very pretty segment of the ride, mostly under cozy tree cover on the way out and with views of oak-dotted hillsides on the way back, which will be especially idyllic during the season of green grass. I would recommend it.
After you come back out of Grass Valley and return to Brandon Trail, it's not long before the other unbroken climb of the ride begins: about a mile long, where you gain roughly 300 feet. Riders in good shape won't even break a sweat while doing this one; the grade is mostly around a comfortable six or seven percent. Beginner riders could probably still find this climb worthy of some complaint, though. This second climb is also the part of the ride where you'll be passing pretty close to a shooting range. Gunshots can always be heard clearly in this part of the ride. Most of the time, they are not alarming as long as you're aware of the existence of the range. On one particular ride, though, I've witnessed them sounding so loud and so close that it felt like a group of people were doing a Civil War reenactment right up the hillside beside the trail. So, just keep in mind that the noise can sometimes be intense on your way through this section and that there's still no cause for concern.
When you find yourself crossing Marciel Road and reach a trailhead with parking, you will be at the highest elevation of the route and all the real climbing on the ride will be behind you. It's worth pointing out that, on your way down from here, portions of Live Oak Trail get a little steep as it descends back toward the lake shore level. At least one of these steep stretches reaches a grade around -24%. The trail is still a wide fire road, though, and even inexperienced riders shouldn't have much trouble here as long as they are a bit extra careful about controlling their speed and their braking.
Toward the end of ride, the route traverses a flat marshy area near the lake shore where it also crosses a fairly long and very narrow pedestrian and bike bridge. Trying to ride on that bridge without scraping the handlebars against the railings is a nice and unusual bit of fun. After that, you'll be on the paved East Shore Trail, which takes you back to the parking lot.
© Ergin Guney
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