Tilden Park (southern trails)
6% SINGLETRACK72% FIRE ROAD4% PAVED18% ROAD
Tilden is a decent-sized park on the Berkeley Hills providing quite a wide variety of recreational possibilities. This includes many trails open to bikes, as well, though you shouldn't be looking for much first-class singletrack here. Most bike-legal trails here are fire roads and "family-grade" paved paths.
This ride follows a route that explores close to all of the bike-legal trails in the southern portion of Tilden. It's essentially a fire-road and paved mixed ride (where the paved portions are close to 40% of the total length) with an almost negligible singletrack amount of less than half a mile also included.
The route of the ride isn't intuitively sensible in any way. It's mainly meant as a meandering sampling of as much of the southern trails in the park as possible, while adding up to a total ride length that's not too short for satisfaction. From that point of view, it might make less sense to try replicating this ride route turn by turn, than to use the route merely as a guideline to improvize your own route through these trails.
The parking spot from which this particular route starts was picked only due to the large size of this particular parking lot, as a way of making the availability of parking spaces less of a concern. There are plenty of other spots around the park where parking is available, though most of those accommodate fewer cars.
The first trail sampled on this ride, after a brief and gentle warm-up climb along Golf Course Road, is Redwood Trail. This is a sweet fire road under tree cover that alternates between nearly flat and a gentle descent for close to one mile. This is markedly different from Tower Trail, which follows. Tower Trail starts with an almost rudely steep (more than 25% grade) climbing stretch, and the uphill attitude of the trail does not end (though it constantly diminishes) until you reach South Park Road. Parts of Tower Trail are narrower than a typical fire road, but you may not get to notice it much as you struggle through the climb. If given the choice, it would probably be more fun to ride these two trails chained together in the opposite direction of how they're traversed on this particular route. However, given the choice between descending Tower Trail and descending Vollmer Peak Trail, I would happily pick descending Vollmer Peak Trail, as this route does.
Vollmer Peak Trail is arguably the one portion of this route that holds some true riding interest for an experienced mountain biker. The personality of this trail ranges from fire road to narrow singletrack, and it also constitutes the only portion of the ride where you get to sample anything like the latter. The trail steadily descends when done in the direction represented on this ride route, occasionally fairly steeply. It also throws at you some tree roots, a set of berms for erosion control, and a rock garden or two. For these reasons, novice riders might not enjoy this trail as much as the other trails on this route, but advanced riders will.
After Vollmer Peak Trail dumps you back onto South Park Road, it doesn't take long before you reach the trailhead where you take Quarry Trail uphill. At around 11% average grade, this is a significant climb, but not a seriously grueling one. Admittedly, the sole purpose of this sub-loop is to experience the larger part of Lower Big Springs Trail in the descending direction. Subsequently, you'll also be traversing this portion of Quarry Trail in the opposite direction, making it the only trail segment repeated during this ride. Quarry Trail is more open to the sky, allowing you views of the valley along Wildcat Creek, and partially to the bay in the west.
Riding down Lower Big Springs Trail is not particularly memorable other than being a decent fire road descent. Following this ride route, what you do next is to climb up Upper Big Springs Trail, which is memorable for at least one reason: It's a fairly serious climb that hardly deviates from its average of 13% grade for over half a mile. This trail is wider and, for the first half of it on your way up, somewhat rockier, too. It appeared to me that this trail, too, would be worth trying downhill on a different ride.
At the end of that climb, this ride route presents you with the option of continuing uphill on Seaview Trail all the way to Vollmer Peak. The best views from Vollmer Peak are toward Orinda. You also get some views toward San Francisco and the Golden Gate framed by nearby trees, but those are no better than the same views that you'll get from Seaview Trail later during this ride. Meanwhile, skipping this spur would save you 1.75 miles of riding distance and 450 feet of elevation gain.
What awaits you after this is the most scenic portion of the ride, as you follow Seaview Trail along the spine of San Pablo Ridge through a brief initial climb followed by a much longer and gradual descent. The best views to both the east and the west come right at the highest point along Seaview Trail, where you'll notice a bench on the left. Other than a couple of descending turns that are comparatively tight (where beginners may need to pay attention) just after that highest spot, Seaview Trail is an easy fire road that presents no riding challenges (or excitement).
The last stretch of trail on the ride (following a brief connection over paved Wildcat Canyon Road) is a traversal of Quarry Trail again. Done in this direction, Quarry Trail is a brief and moderate climb followed by a brief and moderate descent on a fire road that allows you to enjoy the views around you. Once you're out of Quarry Trail, you follow the paved park roads to return to the parking spot.
Since you'll find yourself right at the doorstep of Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto after your ride, picking a great place for a drink or some food should be a piece of cake. You can keep it as casual as a beer at Triple Rock (claiming to be the country's earliest brewpub) or a slice of pizza at Cheeseboard (be prepared to wait in line), or take it as upscale as a meal at the comparatively more casual upstairs cafe at Chez Panisse (which has almost single-handedly originated "California cuisine" and launched the trend toward fresh, local, organic, and sustainably sourced ingredients that has now become commonplace in the foodie world), assuming you can get in without a reservation.
© Ergin Guney
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