Saratoga Gap and Long Ridge
72% SINGLETRACK28% FIRE ROAD
Due to some trail work performed here in November 2016, virtually all of the technical spots on Saratoga Gap Trail itself have been reduced to a beginner difficulty level. (I don't believe the other trails traversed on this ride were affected by this.) I've already downgraded the technical difficulty rating of this ride from a six to a five, in response to this. However, the description you see below and the photos linked from this page still relate to the older state of this trail, when it included several noteworthy technical trail features. So, please interpret it accordingly and apply the appropriate mental adjustment as you use the information available here.
This is among the best-known mountain bike rides in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's a route that provides an out-of-proportion amount of singletrack fun for its short length. The majority of the route is singletrack and the remainder is on fire roads.
The ride starts out on Saratoga Gap Trail, which has enough technical features to entertain any mountain biker. I wouldn't bring a beginner rider to this ride, mostly due to this section of the route. It's not that riding the trail is a struggle from beginning to end. The difficulty arises from a handful of notable trail features that pose significant challenges to any green riders. The majority of the trail outside those specific trail features is smooth and fairly tame singletrak. (Note that Saratoga Gap Trail has undergone a significant amount of work in November 2016, which has altered its character a lot. After the trail was "sanitized" by this work, most of the tough trail features I'm describing in this paragraph have effectively disappeared. The changes to this trail mean that this ride currently deserves a technical difficulty rating of 5 out of 10 or maybe even a 4. I yet haven't reduced the rating shown here, but I will do it unless the newly fixed spots age into significant trail features again in another season or two.)
After crossing Skyline Boulevard to get to the Long Ridge side, the route follows some fire roads for a little while before diving into another sweet singletrack. This brings some mild climbing and descending, followed by a steep descent that's enough to get the adrenaline pumping of less experienced riders. After that, you follow Peters Creek for a little while. You'll then find the trail turning away from the creek bed sharply, right near a cute pond (which you might miss when the bushes are overgrown, if you don't look for it) adjacent to an entrance of Jikoji Zen Center. Following that, a short and easy set of switchbacks raises you back up to the fire road from which you came, after which you set out on your return by tracing the rest of the route back.
While much of the ride is under tree cover (with the part along Peters Creek being particularly dense and lush) there is a short part on Long Ridge where views to neighboring ridges and the ocean open up briefly. Especially a short singletrack side trail near the junction with Skyline Boulevard is pretty scenic and should not be missed. (It's visible as a small "blister" on the route plot.)
There are no extended climbs or descents along this route. The difference between the highest and lowest elevation points on the route is only 500 feet. In fact, three quarters of the ride's mileage is constrained to within a 200-foot band of elevation. But, the lesser undulations along the way do add up, and I wouldn't classify this as a physically easy ride, though it wouldn't pose a serious challenge to any experienced rider either.
One of the perks of this route is the set of possibilities it provides for side trips. One common extension many people add to this ride is by taking the short connecting trail to Skyline Boulevard after reaching Peters Creek, taking Grizzly Flat Trail on the other side down to Stevens Canyon, and then returning to Saratoga Gap Trail by way of Table Mountain Trail and Charcoal Grade (i.e., this other ride). It's an all-fire-roadside trip (except for the brief, challenging, and uphill-only Table Mountain Trail) but it's still worth a try. I should warn you, though, that Charcoal Grade is a notoriously steep climb. Another option is to extend the ride further north by taking Chestnut Trail at the very northern tip of the route toward Skyline Ridge Open Space. (Some trail signs still refer to this segment by its former name: "Ridge Trail".) That one is a singletrack that follows a very pretty little valley. You could even take Grizzly Flat Trail but continue on Canyon Trail all the way to Stevens Canyon Road and then return by way of Redwood Gulch Road and Route 9 back to the trailhead. But, you'd be exchanging the returning singletrack portion of the ride with plenty of road riding, if you do that.
© Ergin Guney
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