Stevens Creek Trail
Stevens Creek Trail
This is a flat and easy casual ride that's a mix of following a creek bed through urban areas and riding on more airy and open stretches by the bay shore. While the paved Stevens Creek Trail can be incorporated into many out-the-door rides by Mountain View residents, it actually goes considerably beyond that in what it can provide. Since the trail takes you all the way to the bay, it can be made into an easy ride that ends at Shoreline Park for some relaxation or a picnic at this very popular park for the locals, as well as a much longer (though still flat) ride by connecting it to numerous "levee-top" dirt trails along the coast that extend at least from Palo Alto to Sunnyvale. That's probably as versatile as any casual paved trail in an urban setting can be expected to get.
There are numerous trailheads from which Stevens Creek Trail can be accessed and any one of them would constitute a reasonable starting point for this ride. I've picked the one that is in the small neighborhood park named Creekside Park on Easy Street in Mountain View. The main reason for this is that this is a quiet neighborhood with wide streets, no "through traffic", and no parking time limits, making it a relatively easy place to find parking. However, that's really only relevant if you'll be driving here to do the ride, which I was willing to do only for the sake of recording this ride for my website. In practice, this ride will be a realistic option only for those people for whom it could be an out-the-door option anyway. Other than that, one other starting point that would naturally make good sense as a starting point would be Shoreline Park, as long as you're okay with not saving it to be the "reward at the end of the ride". A ride along Stevens Creek Trail would lend itself well to being an addition to the plan of a weekend family outing at Shoreline Park. Be careful, though: the parking lot at Shoreline fills up quickly on days with good weather.
If you don't count the access ramps of a few overpasses on the trail, there is no climbing whatsoever on this ride. Stevens Creek Trail is well-signed, though it's not like you'll need the signs in order to follow the ride route. The signs do help in knowing which trailhead is which, however. The trail is also completely free from street crossings. In fact, you will not have to interact with car traffic on this ride except for a single case where the trail crosses North Shoreline Boulevard near the entrance to Shoreline Park. But, despite being called a "boulevard", this is merely the access driveway of the park and it features very slow and usually light traffic. Moreover, Stevens Creek Trail might just be the "tidiest" paved trail that I know of. I don't remember seeing signs saying "Caution: No Shoulder" on any trail other than this one...
There are a few spots on Stevens Creek Trail where it's not immediately obvious at a split in the trail which way the main trail continues and which is just an access path to a nearby trailhead. In such situations, you'll have one cue: The yellow line painted along the center of the trail typically follows the main trail.
Stevens Creek Trail also happens to be the only trail on this ride with a name. The trails in Shoreline Park have no names. In that part of the ride, you may, therefore, need to rely on a decent sense of direction. Then again, the area we're talking about is not large enough to get lost in, unless you use one of the options to extend the ride.
One thing you'll want to know before doing this ride is that it's not uncommon to have to ride through small, hovering swarms of gnats on this route. This typically happens on the parts of the ride that's closest to water, mostly to the north of Highway 101. This is an excellent reason to keep your mouth closed during the ride. If you're the kind of person who'd be irked by some of these tiny insects landing in your hair through the openings of your helmet or sticking to your moist skin, you might have something to think about, because it does happen, though not to an extent that would bother someone who isn't overly sensitive. I'm not sure if the phenomenon is seasonal, but I've encountered it fairly consistently in the morning hours during the warmer parts of the year.
Of the "roadside attractions" on this ride, I've already mentioned Shoreline Park. This popular park provides plenty of open grassy areas suitable for all sorts of outdoor fun, a playground that makes it attractive to parents with small kids, a small lake allowing boating and wind surfing, an area dedicated to kite flying, a nice little cafe with outdoor tables overlooking the lake, and even a golf course. Also in Shoreline Park is Rengstorff House, which is open to visitors. This is Mountain View's oldest house, and it was moved to this location and restored in relatively recent times. I often find that the everpresent Canada geese turn any walk or ride through Shoreline trails into an exercise in "bird dropping slalom", so, for the same reason, I would strongly recommend bringing some ground covering with you if your outdoor fun plans at Shoreline will involve sitting on the grass...
Another unusual opportunity that this ride provides is a very up-close look at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, near the bay. One of the points of interest at Ames is "Hangar One"; an ex-airship-hangar that qualifies as one of the largest buildings in the world. Another one that will immediately grab your attention is the enormous intake of one of NASA's wind tunnels at Ames—the largest in the world. You'll catch a good look especially at this large wind tunnel, because it's very close to Stevens Creek Trail.
The ride route is accompanied by fairly extensive possibilities for prolonging your riding fun. Once you're at Shoreline Park, trails on the coast and on levees following along sloughs extend northwest to Palo Alto Baylands, and southeast to Sunnyvale and beyond. What's even better from the point of view of the typical rider who would be interested in this particular ride is the fact that all of these extension options continue to be flat. You can extend this ride by hours without having to add any climbing to it. Those who would do this ride on a bike with skinny tires do need to take into account, though, that all of these extension options involve riding on dirt and gravel. As soon as you leave Shoreline Park, all other riding along the bay shore is on dirt trails.
© Ergin Guney
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