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Length 15 miles
Time 3.5 hours
Total Climb 2400 feet
Fun Rating
Scenic Rating
Aerobic Difficulty
Technical Difficulty 

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Fifield-Cahill Ridge (Older version)

This is an older version of the Fifield-Cahill Ridge ride that is kept here as an alternate mainly for archival purposes. For more up-to-date and more detailed information on what you could expect if you were to try the ride yourself, please refer to the newer version of the ride instead.

This version of the ride starts from the Sneath Lane entrance of Sweeney Ridge. The initial part of Sneath Lane climbs as a paved road closed to motor vehicle traffic. The grade is around 7% and there are nice views of San Andreas Reservoir and down the rest of the Peninsula. After a wide 180-degree curve, a steep segment of the climb begins. For just over a quarter mile, the grade averages something like 13%. Then it eases back again and you shortly find yourself at the ridgetop.

Almost immediately after you make it to the ridgetop, you'll find a a short connecting trail to a small clearance on the bay side of the trail. This is the Portola Discovery Site; the spot from which participants of the Portola Expedition saw the San Francisco Bay for the very first time. It's essentially the spot at which the existence of the bay was first realized by any European. It's a neat little historic nugget that even many locals may not know about. You'll find an understated monument here memorializing that event.

From here, you take the Sweeney Ridge Trail fire road to the gate where Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail starts (called "Portola Gate"). Immediately after the gate, the trail makes a sharp turn toward the ocean, and first descends and then climbs steeply. This first mile or so after the gate is the steepest part of the ride, with grades frequently reaching around 15%. The rest of the ride mellows out for the most part, except for a brief steep stretch right before the spot where we turned around to return on this particular ride.

We reached our turn-around point just when Lake Pilarcitos came into view in the distance, a short distance before the Five Points junction, which is where the trail would have entered any appreciable amount of tree cover. From there, it was a matter of retracing our steps back to Sweeney Ridge.

The fire road takes you meandering around completely open hilltops. So, you get to take in wide views of Pacifica and of the Peninsula from vantage points from which you are not accustomed to seeing them. That is pretty much the only attraction of this ride: Getting to see a few parts of the Peninsula that the public normally doesn't get to see.

You'll notice that the route plot also visits the northern end of Sweeney Ridge to see the Nike missile site. (See the photos.) That part of Sweeney Ridge Trail is paved. This ex-military site was one of several around the bay where batteries of guided anti-aircraft missiles were placed during the Cold War years, many of which have now become part of park lands and are reachable on hikes or bike rides. It's not a bad side attraction before you return to your parking spot.

© Ergin Guney


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