Pleasanton Ridge (Suggestion 1)
7% SINGLETRACK93% FIRE ROAD
Pleasanton Ridge is a popular mountain biking location. I suspect this has more to do with the lack of other ride options in this vicinity than with any superiority of the trails here. In general, what Pleasanton Ridge offers mountain bikers isn't much different from most East Bay parks, in both its negative (almost exclusively fire roads; steep climbs; cowpies; high temperatures in the summer) as well as its positive aspects (beautiful landscapes during the green-grass season; great views from some spots; thrillingly fast fire-road descents).
There are a few rewards of this ride that go beyond what you'd get from just any old East Bay ride, though. First of all, there are one or two legal singletrack trails to sample, although their lengths don't add up to a whole lot. Secondly, the portion of Sinbad Creek Trail that follows the bottom of Kilkare Canyon is as idyllic and pretty as any creek-side ride can be. And, finally, the views from numerous spots along Ridgeline Trail are in fact quite expansive, as long as you're okay with having nothing more than some suburban neighborhoods and golf courses in your view (not counting the other ridges and peaks in the distance).
The trail network of Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park is actually a bit awkwardly situated. The entire park stretches along a single ridge, and partially along the bottom of Kilkare Canyon behind this ridge. There are some alternate trails available along most of this elongated park land, but the trail network is not very suitable for loops in general. On top of that, looping back to the beginning of the ride by following the bottom of Kilkare Canyon back out to the I-680 corridor is prevented by some private property that's blocking the way.
There is hope, however. In earlier years, even Sinbad Creek Trail along the bottom of Kilkare Canyon was interrupted in one spot. (This might explain the existence of the Bay Leaf Trail singletrack, which bypasses where Sinbad Creek Trail used to be interrupted.) Also, the northern tip of Sinbad Creek Trail used to dead-end at the park boundary before connecting to the ridgetop trails that are at the northern extremes of the park today, limiting loop possibilities even further back then. Even the connection of Ridgeline Trail to North Ridge Trail via half a mile of singletrack is a recent addition (2013) that materialized after I had posted this first Pleasanton Ridge ride on this website. Seeing these changes, we might hope that even an easement arrangement can be reached with property owners to allow trail users to exit the park by following Kilkare Road out of Kilkare Canyon at some point. (Until then, keep in mind that mountain bikers trespassing through this private property to take that route anyway aren't likely to make these property owners any more willing to agree to such an easement, but could very well have the opposite effect.)
Note that the park opens at 8:00 AM and the gate to the main part of the parking lot will be locked before that. However, at the time of this particular ride, the gate was still not unlocked as we were beginning our ride as late as 8:20 AM. So, if the timing of your ride here is sensitive and will rely on the parking lot being unlocked, you might want to keep that in mind. On the other hand, parking along Foothill Road outside the park entrance is allowed.
It's also worth noting that there are actually more singletrack trails available at Pleasanton Ridge. You'll notice a number of these acting as brief bypasses to some segments of Ridgeline Trail. However, none of these are shown on the official park map and none are signed. So, you can decide for yourself whether they're legal or not, and whether you'd like to be contributing to the negative image of mountain bikers as unruly trail users by riding these, or helping to eradicate it by avoiding them.
The idea behind this ride route was to have a substantial ride at Pleasanton Ridge while trying as much trail variation as possible, including riding up along Sinbad Creek Trail far enough to allow a sampling of the singletrack portion of Bay Leaf Trail. The ride starts out with the tough climb on Oak Tree Trail straight out of the parking lot to the top of the ridge. This is a serious climb, with a grade that frequently ranges between 15% and 18% especially during its steeper lower parts, but thankfully there are a few flattish segments along it that present short reprieves. Once the initial climb is over, the ride follows Thermalito Trail toward the northern reaches of the park. This trail is on the southwestern slopes of the ridge, so it features no scenery other than views of the northeastern slopes of Sunol Ridge across Kilkare Canyon. (You catch the good views on the return portion of this particular ride.) The climb continues on Thermalito Trail. While, on average, this is an easier climb than the one that starts from the parking lot, there are still some ups and downs along this trail where the "ups" can get pretty ridiculously steep, though they're short.
The point where Thermalito Trail reconnects to Ridgeline Trail is actually not formally within the Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park but in the small intervening lands of Augustin Bernal Park. As soon as you step back into Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park at a gate, Ridgeline Trail splits into two. The two options don't diverge by much before reconnecting in a little under half a mile, but the right-hand option (as you're heading up) is the flatter and nicer choice, and the one I recommend.
After that, you take Sinbad Creek Trail to the bottom of Kilkare Canyon. At this point, you'll notice that the route represented on this page includes a spur to the south where the trail dead-ends at the private property marking the park boundary. That spur is not an essential part of the ride. It's pretty short overall, is quite pretty and nicely wooded, and features a fun creek crossing (at least during the wetter months of the year), but you can save yourself a little time if you skip it.
The ride then takes Sinbad Creek Trail north toward the head of the canyon. This is a very gentle climb and is very picturesque. Initially, the trail features considerable tree cover. As you go further, this thins out and meadows start to appear on the left and right, and eventually Sinbad Creek Trail ends up traversing some bare rolling slopes. These upper stretches of the trail even start to provide some mountain biking fun, with some more ruts here and there, as well as brief portions where the trail is converted into a pseudo-singletrack by encroaching grass.
On this particular ride, my riding buddies and I happened to turn back from the gate marked as "32" on the park map. (This happens to be where the park boundary used to be, by the way.) We did that only because we were running out of time. Once you're this far along Sinbad Creek Trail, what would ordinarily make more sense is to simply follow it until it connects to Cowing Trail. That's not just because it would give you the opportunity to loop over some other ridgetop trails before returning to the bottom of the canyon, but also because Sinbad Creek Trail approximates a singletrack for a brief distance in its last half-mile stretch, though only because the fire road has been narrowed down by grass.
On the way back, this ride splits from the bottom of the canyon to take Bay Leaf Trail first up and then down along the slope of the ridge. I'm a bit divided about the singletrack portion of Bay Leaf Trail. On one hand, it was the only stretch of singletrack on this ride and is quite juicy and challenging. On the other hand, it's a bit too challenging. Both the climb and the descent (regardless of your direction) are a bit too steep to be a really fun singletrack and, in the end, it does bring to mind the question "what was that for?" a little bit. This is probably further evidence that this trail was built not for the fun of mountain bikers, but as a way of bypassing the spot where Sinbad Creek Trail used to have a disconnect, thereby allowing the only access to the northern reaches of the park back then.
This ride then returns to the ridgetop by following the uphill-fire-road section of Bay Leaf Trail and then takes Ridgeline Trail all the way back to the start. This is the part of the ride where the grand views open up. It's easy to be distracted by the views from this trail and kill some time taking them in. Some stretches of this trail reach runway-like widths. There are one or two small uphill stretches while it's a constant descent on average. The trail is smooth enough to make for some fast and fun bombing downhill. However, keep in mind that the trails here are well used and not just by mountain bikers. So, keep your speed under control around blind curves or crests, and be prepared to encounter hikers with kids or dogs at any moment.
For a park where cows are present, the trails were quite free of any pockmarking that these "park users" typically cause, even though I did this particular ride as early in the season as May. Perhaps it's the character of the soil, or it might be simply that the trails are used so much that they are smoothed out fairly quickly after the rains stop. However, cowpies (of both the fresh and the dried variety) are ubiquitous throughout the park due to the presence of these bovine lawn ornaments.
© Ergin Guney
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