Marin Headlands (Marincello, Bobcat, Miwok Trails)
12% SINGLETRACK73% FIRE ROAD15% ROAD
This is a short and easy route in the Marin Headlands that allows you to ride on two notable trails; Marincello and Old Springs. On top of that, you get to catch nice views from the bare hillsides of the headlands as well as finding an excuse to visit Rodeo Beach. Overall, the ride is not very strenuous. Although there are two extended climbs along the route, only the second one of these is really noteworthy and it only lasts a hair over one mile. The ride is quite a suitable option for riders who are short on time or stamina or both. Since the trails aren't very technical either (especially if you don't count the low steps on Old Springs Trail—more on that below), it's actually quite suitable for beginners who are okay with some climbing but aren't yet comfortable on technical trails.
It's worth pointing out that the parking lot indicated as the suggested parking spot for this ride is a very popular one. It's not huge either, so it's very common to find people also parking all along Tennessee Valley Road, on both sides. So, especially if you plan to do this ride on a weekend with good weather, unless you show up really early, be prepared to have to park on the side of the road a quarter mile from the parking lot itself.
The first of the notable trails that this ride passes through is the one on which it begins. Marincello Trail takes its name from the residential development project that was to take place here several decades ago. Apparently, they started building the main access boulevard before the project really got off the ground. When the project stalled, they left it unfinished and whatever part that was already built has become this trail. Therefore, this trail has the odd distinction of being the only trail (that I know of) in this region that has started its life as a boulevard that, I believe, was four lanes wide! It's noticeable, too. For the same reason, the grade of this climb is relatively reasonable, at 9.5%.
After reaching the top of the ridge, the ride follows Bobcat Trail, which skirts around Gerbode Valley (which was to be the core of the Marincello project). On this particular ride, most of Bobcat Trail constitutes a fast descent on a very smooth fire road. Don't let the suitability of the trail to high speeds encourage you to throw caution to the wind completely, though: Marin County is notorious for the frequency of radar speed traps against speeding mountain bikers. The park's speed limit for bikes is 15 MPH.
At the southern tip of the loop, closest to Rodeo Beach, the route shown on this page includes a short trip to that beach and back. This is entirely optional, of course. You can make the ride even shorter by omitting this diversion. You'll also notice that, on the extension of the ride onto Rodeo Beach, there is a little loop near the turn-around point. This is merely to visit an outdoor blue whale skeleton that can be seen lying in a tiny park on Kirkpatrick Street in Fort Cronkhite. Feel free to skip that part and return straight back instead, in case that doesn't speak to you.
After that, a moderately strenuous fire-road climb on Miwok Trail (just under 12% average grade) awaits you. The very first stretch of this climb is, discouragingly, its steepest part and averages at or a little above 14% grade. The next segment allows you to rest a little by dialing the grade back to around 8% for a short distance. Then you finish the remainder of this climb on a slope that (with brief exceptions) stays fairly constant around 12% grade.
That climb on Miwok Trail brings you to the start of the second notable trail on this ride, which is Old Springs Trail. The reason I consider this trail special is that it's a rarity: a bike-legal singletrack in the Marin Headlands. It's actually a pretty nice singletrack, too, albeit a short one. It starts out with a cozy meander along a couple of lush nooks on the hillside (presumably the springs that give the trail its name) before starting to descend in earnest. Much of the descent near the end of the trail is punctuated with low wooden steps, in addition to a number of stone-paved "dips" in the trail for drainage, which is why the best way to ride this trail is downhill, in my opinion. After a couple of switchbacks near the end, the trail terminates at the Miwok Stables (where you should respect the signs and walk your bike through, rather than riding).
If your thoughts, like mine, turn to having a sunny lunch at a nice spot after a Marin ride like this one, you could try a couple of nearby options that I usually use. The option closest at hand will be Dipsea Cafe. This popular eatery has more of a "brunchy" slant, but their menu is big enough that anyone could find something to their liking. Finding a spot in their parking lot (as well as getting in and out) can be a bit challenging on nice weekends, though, and you need to be prepared to have to wait for a table. Your next closest backup options are most likely to be along Miller Avenue, on the way to the heart of Mill Valley, but it would be worth your while to try "downtown" Mill Valley. In addition to bringing together a couple of good options for coffee, the center of this town also features one of my habitual post-ride eateries: The Depot Bookstore & Cafe. It's pretty much what its name implies; a bookstore combined with a cafe that used to be the train depot at which the Mount Tamalpais Railway began. More importantly, it features a sizable menu of good lunch items in addition to a variety of edible and drinkable temptations, and it has numerous outdoor tables looking out at the "town square" and affording a resort-like, laid-back lunch atmosphere.
© Ergin Guney
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