Skeggs Point (Suggestion 5)
48% SINGLETRACK42% FIRE ROAD1% PAVED9% 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 is my version of a "perimeter loop" or a "grand loop" of the park's trail system, tracing the trails closest to the boundaries of the park. It starts by descending on El Corte de Madera Creek Trail immediately after entering the park. This starts out as a steep fire-road descent. The trail then narrows, and once it crosses to the other side of the creek bed, it becomes a gentle hillside singletrack climb.
At the junction with Resolution Trail, you turn to continue downhill on El Corte de Madera Creek Trail. While the part of this trail immediately following this junction is a tight and relatively steep descent through a narrow corridor of bushes, the trail widens to a fire road very soon (though a quite weathered and frequently rocky one) and stays that way.
After a point where El Corte de Madera Creek Trail crosses its namesake creek for the second time, a small amount of climbing is followed by North Leaf Trail. This is another great singletrack trail and is followed by South Leaf Trail, which is its sibling in my mind (at least in terms of naming). Both of these trails follow a descending trend on average, when traversed in this direction (though there's no shortage of short segments where you'll be forced to pedal), and both seem to be designed for no purpose other than entertaining singletrack-loving mountain bikers. South Leaf Trail is the more advanced of the two in terms of technical difficulty, and is the only trail in this park that's marked with a double black diamond on the Bikemap Dude trail maps. It's not like you'll constantly be struggling to make progress on this trail, though. Its difficulty comes mainly from a number of treacherous trail features and partially from its narrowness in a few places. A handful of its technical trail features are guaranteed to force all but expert-level riders to dismount and walk, but the difficulty is not bad enough to prevent the rest of us from enjoying most of the trail.
You'll be returning to fire roads when you reach Virginia Mill Trail. This is a biker-worthy fire road for the most part; nicely twisty with some ruts and minor rocky features here and there. Still, as it keeps descending, you can't help but wish that this descent were happening on singletrack instead.
The descent on Virginia Mill Trail continues all the way down to the big steel bridge at its crossing of El Corte de Madera Creek, which also marks the lowest elevation of the trail network of this park (700 feet). I shouldn't have to tell you that this also implies that what follows will be the largest net elevation gain of any climb you can do in the park (about 1600 feet). It's not too bad, though. Compared to climbing back up Methuselah Trail, the portion of this climb that's on Virginia Mill Trail is a bit less even and a bit easier. When you continue onto Lawrence Creek Trail, things stay the same in terms of the character of the trail (a partially narrowed fire road that's partially fun), but the grade becomes much more even. This portion of the climb continues for just under 900 vertical feet with an average grade of around 9.5% (compared to Methuselah's fairly stable average of 9%).
The ride then follows pavement for a little more than a mile, over Bear Gulch Road and Skyline Boulevard, before re-entering the park via gate CM04. This is a compromise to avoid making the ride too long and adding too much elevation gain, because attempting to make this a perimeter loop purely via the park's trails after the Lawrence Creek Trail climb would require diving too far back into the park and descending too far back down, only to take a meaninglessly painful climb up Steam Donkey Trail and/or a boring climb up Gordon Mill Trail. Using this one-mile paved connection instead allows you to continue onto the fun and easy singletrack of Sierra Morena Trail. Note that, as of June 2013, the brief stretch of Gordon Mill Trail traversed on this ride before Sierra Morena Trail—the 0.3-mile fire-road segment between gates CM03 and CM04—is permanently closed. You'll, therefore, need to reach Sierra Morena Trail by re-entering at gate CM03 instead. Or, even better, you can turn onto Steam Donkey Trail from Skyline, follow it up to its junction with Oljon Trail, and take Oljon uphill to Sierra Morena. (For more information and some photos of Oljon Trail, you can refer to the Suggestion 3 ride at Skeggs.)
Be aware that North Leaf Trail, the lower portion of Methuselah Trail, 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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