Skeggs Point (Suggestion 3)
52% SINGLETRACK43% FIRE ROAD3% PAVED2% ROAD
Skeggs Point (El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve) is one of the top candidates for the "best mountain biking location" award in the Bay Area, and might just be my personal number one. The park covers a decent-sized area and features lots of trails, many of them first-class singletrack. These trails also range over a decent spectrum of skill levels.
The terrain of the entire park is rugged, hilly, and under forest cover (with the exception of a couple of small patches of chaparral). The park used to be utilized as a motocross playground for some time before the 1990s. (This thread on MTBR is possibly the single best resource on the Internet regarding the history of this land.) Even before (and during) that, it was a logging area. You'll notice this in the names of numerous trails here. Many fire roads in the park are old logging roads. For the same reason, all of the redwood trees you see in the park are second-growth trees (with at least one notable old-growth exception, marked on the park map).
One issue with Skeggs Point is that it's accessible to the public only via Skyline Boulevard. The park boundary along Skyline is the highest part of the park and the rest of it extends mostly downhill toward the ocean. For this reason, almost all rides at Skeggs are of the "have your fun first while descending, then pay the price while climbing" kind. Not my favorite... But the quality of the trails in the park more than makes up for it, believe me.
It might be worth pointing out that this park has two major parking lots along Skyline Boulevard (in addition to a couple more roadside pockets of parking). The one I'm still in the habit of using is the one at Skeggs Point, which is the one pointed out by the Suggested Parking link on this page. In fact, this lot is not even associated with the park, technically; it's a parking lot of Skyline Boulevard for the Skeggs Point "vista point" (though its "vista" was probably much better before the surrounding vegetation got higher). The common use of this lot for rides here is also the reason El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space is nicknamed "Skeggs Point" among mountain bikers. If you find this parking lot filled up, as it typically will be before midday on most weekends with nice weather, you can try the park's newer parking lot at the gate labeled as "CM00" on the park map, which opened in February 2014. This one is a bit less obvious because it's off the road and entered via a driveway, but you'll see a sign saying "El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space" at the entrance of the driveway, which you can find 0.4 miles north of the intersection with Bear Gulch Road South.
The sheer amount of trails here and the lack of long-distance visibility due to the terrain and tree cover mean that it's easy to get lost in this park. Thankfully, virtually all trail intersections are marked, though I'm sure there may be exceptions, and I know of at least one trail junction sign that seems confusing if not downright incorrect. So, if you have a GPS receiver, you might want to use it, at least in cases when your ride here includes trails on which you'll be riding for the first time. Be warned.
This ride starts out by turning onto Sierra Morena trail shortly after entering the park. This is the only trail in the park where you can ride essentially flatly for any significant distance. The trail is a not-too-technical singletrack that mainly follows Skyline Boulevard closely. While it's more or less flat on average, it doesn't mean that there aren't short climbs you'll have to clear here and there.
Your time on Sierra Morena Trail ends at the junction with Gordon Mill Trail, which is the second junction with a wide fire road that you will encounter. You pick up Oljon Trail from here (pronounced "ol-hon", by at least one park ranger), which is the newest addition to the park's trail network at the time of this writing, having opened in July 2014. While this trail initially starts out like a fire road, don't be fooled; it quickly turns into singletrack and playfully descends via multiple wooden bridges and numerous switchbacks to meet Steam Donkey Trail roughly at its mid-point. What Oljon Trail allows you to do is avoid the half mile you would otherwise have to ride in traffic on Skyline Boulevard to get to the beginning of Steam Donkey Trail. While you miss almost half of Steam Donkey Trail when you use this shortcut, I think the trade-off is worthwhile: that part of Steam Donkey is arguably its less interesting half and, this way, you also get to avoid one of the two steep bursts of climbing on that trail. For those who might be curious to do the entire length of Steam Donkey Trail or would like to see what the rest of it looks like, I've retained an older version of this ride route that traverses the entire trail as an alternate option that you can refer to.
Steam Donkey Trail starts out as a narrow hillside singletrack on this ride. Not counting a short but super-steep climb, it remains fairly tame until its junction with Gordon Mill Trail. Once past that junction, the trail starts a steep and technical descent. This trail gets its name from the steam-powered winches used by loggers, one of which must have been operating here to pull logs up (presumably) along the path of this trail. (My assumption is that this must have been along the stretch of this trail west of its junction with Gordon Mill Trail, because that seems to be the steeper part.) This always makes me think that the trail was, therefore, opened more as a "log slide" over which cut trees were pulled up (not even a "road"), along with the implications of this for the trail's steepness. But, I dont know that for a fact. During its quick descent that gets gradually steeper the further down you go, the slope of the trail frequently ranges between -25% and -30%, if not exceeding this range at one particular spot near the end.
This route then connects to a climb on Timberview Trail (which is a fire road) following a series of turns in quick succession through Spring Board, Gordon Mill, Crossover, and Crosscut trails. This is to be able to start Manzanita Trail from its upper end, in order to traverse it downhill, which, most people would say, is the "correct" way of doing it. This ride is made up of two loops. At the beginning of Manzanita Trail, you can simply bypass the second loop and head straight back to the parking lot instead, if you feel like the second loop might be too much for you. If not, head down Manzanita Trail for the second "sub-loop".
Manzanita Trail is another one of the prime singletrack trails of this park. It will throw at you some switchbacks, some sunshine, deeply rutted trail sections, flowy singletrack, rocky sandstone, nearly impossible rocky trail obstacles that might qualify as double black diamond, and portions of trail that look more like a creek bed; though not necessarily in that order. This trail is one of the reasons I keep returning to this park! (Manzanita was another trail that was somewhat sanitized in 2011. The creek-bed-like sections are still there, as well as some of the exposed sandstone features. But the second most technical spot of this trail has now been reduced to a much less dramatic trail feature.)
The ride then continues as a steep fire road descent once Manzanita Trail dumps you back onto the lower reaches of Timberview Trail. Make sure you don't miss the turn onto Giant Salamander Trail, which is among the highlights of this ride.
Giant Salamander is one of the crown-jewel singletrack trails of the park. Like, I'm sure, many people, I believe that riding Giant Salamander downhill (as in this case) is the better way of experiencing it. It starts with a playful section of tight twists around the trees in an almost-flat wooded area. Then begins a steep and almost straight descent punctuated with berms. Then the slope eases into a nice hillside meander and you even end up having to pedal for a few seconds before you make it to the junction at the end of Giant Salamander.
You are then on Methuselah Trail and all that's left is to climb this fire road most of the way back out of the park. Methuselah Trail is the gentlest way to climb back out of the lowest reaches of this park. That doesn't mean that it's an easy climb, though. Let's just call it "moderate". It makes itself felt.
Be aware that the lower portion of Methuselah (partially traversed on this ride) and Giant Salamander Trail are subject to seasonal closures. Make sure you check the park's website (whose link is available on your left) for the trail conditions before you plan your ride.
One unfailing tradition I have for rides at Skeggs is a post-ride lunch at Alice's Restaurant. If you're from the nearby area, you're probably already more than familiar with this place. If you're not, you shouldn't miss it. It's at the intersection of Skyline Boulevard and Route 84, about four miles further southeast on Skyline Boulevard from the Skeggs Point parking lot. The food is good, and the setting is even better. The place is almost always overflowing with motorcycle riders who stop here on their pleasure rides along Skyline Boulevard. Some cool and fast cars can also be frequently found there for the same reason.
© Ergin Guney
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