Sierra Vista (Suggestion 2)
53% SINGLETRACK47% FIRE ROAD
The trail that gives this ride its name was a rare, welcome, and possibly (to me anyway) surprising addition to the list of ride options available to Bay Area mountain bikers a few years ago, being a newly built bike-legal singletrack east of San Jose. Sierra Vista Trail was opened to public use mere months before the date I added the first ride suggestion listed on this site that uses that trail. Things have been getting even better since then at this modest-sized open space preserve of Santa Clara County. There is even more newly built bike-legal singletrack here now (though still only a modest amount). Plus, a new trailhead and parking lot on Sierra Road make access to all of these nice trails much easier. Initially, the only way of reaching Sierra Vista Trail legitimately was to start from Alum Rock Park, as represented by the other Sierra Vista Trail ride listed on this site. The ride option you see on this page is one possible way of enjoying this nice singletrack mileage by conveniently accessing them from the newer trailhead instead, with the addition of one or two more sub-loops to end up with reasonably substantial ride mileage. Incidentally, parking at this new lot on Sierra Road is currently free of charge.
Scenery is most definitely one of the strong suits of this ride. This begins as soon as you show up: even the parking lot at the trailhead has views of the kind that should make many scenic overlooks jealous. With the possible exception of Aquila Loop and the deepest stretches of the loop in the eastern end of this route, views of the South Bay or at least of the steep and picturesque Alum Rock Canyon are almost always available to you during the ride.
The newest addition to the trail network of Sierra Vista Open Space and the first trail traversed on this ride route is Aquila Loop. This is a quick loop through the grassy slopes north of Sierra Road adjacent to the newer trailhead I've mentioned above. The loop is barely longer than one mile and around three quarters of it is singletrack. There is little difficulty of any kind on this short and sweet loop; the trail is not technical at all and its grade doesn't even reach 10% with the exception of a single spot at the very beginning of the loop (when done clockwise). But its scenery is quite pretty, as you may see in the photo set for this ride.
Next, the route uses Kestrel Trail to reach Sierra Vista Trail. Kestrel is a short and fresh singletrack (as of 2014) that's quite steep at its topmost part but becomes more reasonable before it connects to Sierra Vista. After arriving somewhere near the midpoint of Sierra Vista via Kestrel, this particular route makes two trips into the two halves of this trail. The first of these is to Boccardo Loop. A quick visit of the hilltop within the loop is recommended to check out the expansive views at least on your first time here. This is followed by a full traversal of Boccardo Loop Trail. When done counter-clockwise, this loop initially takes a steep plunge with open views of the South Bay in front of you. The slope of this descent reaches -20% at several spots and my preference for doing the loop counter-clockwise was to avoid climbing those stretches. There could be two approaches to enjoying this part of the ride: bomb down at speed for the thrill of it (while slowing down for other trail users, though this shouldn't be a problem since visibility is good here), or descend slowly while taking in and savoring the grand vistas that fill your field of view. At the bottom of the loop, you turn to head back into Alum Rock Canyon and soon the payback begins in the climbing portion of the loop. Most of this climb is on a singletrack with widely sweeping switchbacks. This is the biggest climb of the ride and it's no joke. From near the bottom of Boccardo Loop to a little past the beginning of Sierra Vista Trail, you gain over 700 feet in a mile and a quarter. End to end, this amounts to a grade of 11% on average, but there is no shortage of spots where the slope exceeds 14% and it saves the worst for last where the grade hovers around 20% just before returning to Sierra Vista Trail.
What follows then is a full traversal of the singletrack portion of Sierra Vista Trail from west to east. It wouldn't be exaggeration to call Sierra Vista Trail the highlight of this ride. This trail follows a path roughly parallel to Sierra Road along a completely bare and steep hillside. It is relatively flat, with no more than 200 feet of net elevation change over its 1.2-mile length, and most of that is through a brief descent on the way eastward, which you'll know by the couple of switchbacks the trail takes through a tiny patch of trees. Some of the trail appears to be an example of the standard four-foot-wide "multi-use trail" that seems to be the narrowest kind of recreational trail that some local park agencies can conceive of. In this particular case, however, that might be just as well. The very steep drop-off on the downhill side of the trail gets somewhat scary in the eastern half of the trail. There are some spots in that section that I might not have had the guts to ride if this were a two-foot-wide singletrack. For the same reason, beginners should really think twice before trying this trail, assuming they're not already discouraged by the amount of climbing involved in this ride.
Near its eastern end, Sierra Vista connects to Upper Calaveras Fault Trail, which this particular ride route uses for a third sub-loop. This is a pure fire-road loop and, frankly, it doesn't have too much going for it other than providing some nice, inland-facing views and augmenting the ride's overall mileage. The length of this sub-loop could be tailored to your preference by using the Cutoff Trail that bisects it. This sub-loop also includes a couple of steep segments when done clockwise, as shown here. The first of these is roughly a quarter-mile section near the beginning of the sub-loop where the grade ranges between 16 and 20 percent. The second is a half-mile climb just before its completion and its slope hovers around 15% grade for quite some time and exceeds 20% for a moment just before it ends.
It couldn't hurt to emphasize that this area is likely to be among the hottest parts of the bay during the summer. Coupled with the lack of tree cover, this calls for prudence in picking a day to ride here in the summer and in the amount of water you carry with you.
To those interested in adding more mileage to this ride, my advice would be to check out my other Sierra Vista ride suggestion and incorporate some of the trails included on that ride but left out of this one. I have to add a caveat, though, that this recommendation is really only meant for those who don't mind plenty of tough climbs. In comparison with the route you see on this page, adding more of the lower trails included in the other ride suggestion or the out-and-back trip to the vista point across the canyon will seriously boost the average elevation gain per mile metric of your ride. If you'd rather avoid that, the best you can do may be to keep repeating Sierra Vista Trail instead.
© Ergin Guney
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