Nicasio Reservoir Loop
If you've read the descriptions of the other nearby road rides that are listed on this site, you already know that I'm very fond of this corner of Marin County for road riding. Traffic is light as long as you stay away from a few major arteries; the landscape is sparse, never-boring, and especially in the spring it's model-railroad-set pretty. As on this particular ride, you can usually include nice lake and sea views in the scenery of your ride. This ride is just one more such example, this one being even less ambitious in terms of total mileage and elevation gain. So, if you'd like to find out for yourself what makes these parts one of my favorite areas for a road ride and to do it with the least possible investment in time and effort, this particular route might be just the ticket.
I've chosen to start the route from Point Reyes Station. Since this is the largest settlement along the ride route, it will provide you the widest possible selection of post-ride treats. However, the potentially odd part of starting the ride here is that, unless you happen to live in this town, you would need to drive through a good chunk of the ride route in order to get here and start your ride, regardless of which direction you'll be coming from. So, for many cyclists, it could be more convenient to start the ride from Nicasio (if you'll be driving in via Lucas Valley Road), San Geronimo (if you'll be heading in via Sir Francis Drake Boulevard), or Olema (if you'll be taking Highway 1 north), or to pedal their way here from outside of the loop. You can take your own pick based on your own preference for convenience versus plans to gorge after the ride.
The ride begins with a two-mile segment on Highway 1 that takes you to Olema. Don't expect any view of the sea, though, because this is an inland portion of Highway 1 that sees no water. It's a gently winding, flat stretch of Highway 1 and it features a paved shoulder of adequate width, meaning usually no narrower than two feet wide. Upon reaching Olema, the time comes to put in some effort as you turn onto Sir Francis Drake and start heading uphill. I could say that this is the first of the two climbs on the ride. It's a significant one with the grade changing from an initial 7% to 5% as you get higher (and even a little lower for a brief distance). It's not exceptionally challenging, but out-of-shape riders will be a little unhappy.
Just after cresting that first climb and starting to head downhill, you pass by the trailhead of Bolinas Ridge Trail. Francis Drake starts a fast but short descent here that ends when the road curves to the right along Lagunitas Creek and becomes mostly flat. While the available shoulder space on Francis Drake over your climb and descent is roughly equivalent to what you saw on Highway 1 so far, just before you finish your second mile after reaching the flat part of Francis Drake, the shoulder width is diminished to a foot or less. This also marks the beginning of the ride segment where you'll encounter the lushest tree cover. You will occasionally catch glimpses of the rugged creek bed and pedal through varying densities of tall trees, with at least one stretch under particularly shady redwoods. So, this is the part of the route that's the best approximation of an idyllic forest ride. On the other hand, this is also my least favorite stretch of road along this route, because the traffic can be moderately busy and because of the lack of shoulder space. Things get better when the road straightens out and widens as soon as you emerge from the narrowest part of this valley around Lagunitas. You will then have a sizable paved shoulder on which to ride, all the way to the junction with Nicasio Valley Road.
Soon after you turn left onto Nicasio Valley Road, the second one of what I've called the two climbs on the ride will begin. Nicasio Valley Road feels a bit safer overall than the narrower part of Sir Francis Drake, though its paved shoulder space isn't much wider (only a foot to two feet wide, if not less). In terms of scale and slope, this climb is fairly similar to the first one, though you do catch a flattish break for a quarter mile on your way up. You'll be riding through patchy tree cover and catching views of a golf course a couple of times as you climb. You might expect to start diving down toward Nicasio as soon as you complete this climb, but that doesn't happen so quickly. You have about another mile to go with some additional pedaling effort required before the descent toward Nicasio begins in earnest. When it does start, any tree cover that has been accompanying you vanishes along this descent and you seem to be surrounded by nothing but rolling grassy hills as you enter tiny Nicasio. The route drops you right into the "square" formed by a few roads that constitutes the focal point of this town. This is a great place for a rest stop. You should be able to find any type of refreshment that you fancy at Rancho Nicasio. While you're in Nicasio, their cutesy "fire department" could be worth a look and their Druids Hall might elicit a chuckle or two.
As soon as you head out of Nicasio, you'll return to typical grassy Marin countryside scenery sprinkled with oaks here and there. Keep and eye out to the left side of the road, though, or you could miss the cute and historic Nicasio School. Later on, you'll also start catching glimpses of the Nicasio Reservoir lake. Before long, you'll find yourself at a T-shaped junction with Point Reyes - Petaluma Road, which you couldn't miss if you tried to. This junction is effectively the beginning of the part of the ride where the best reservoir views start arriving. This segment of the ride (up to the junction with Platform Bridge Road) also is the safest where an extra-wide paved shoulder is available. When you start heading into a narrow valley and leaving the lake behind, you start a descent as soon as you pass by the dam. This short descent ends at the junction with Platform Bridge Road.
The part of the route after that intersection is the last leg of the ride. While almost flat on average, it's not as flat as the stint along the reservoir lake. You'll have partial tree cover once again on this road, and before you know it, a very short and punchy uphill effort will drop you back onto Highway 1, right at the doorstep of Point Reyes Station.
If you did start the ride at this town and are now looking for places for food or drinks, my favorite spot for espresso-based drinks here is Toby's Coffee Bar (a tiny stand tucked into Toby's Feed Barn). For a meal, the Station House Cafe is hard to fault, and they have plenty of outdoor seating. Another option I like is the Cowgirl Creamery deli in the Tomales Bay Foods building on 4th Street just off the main drag. It might be useful to know that Point Reyes Station also hosts at least one cool bike shop and frame builder: Black Mountain Cycles.
© Ergin Guney
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