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Length 13.5 miles
Time 3.5 hours
Total Climb 2200 feet
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Garin and Dry Creek

This is an East Bay ride that is fairly characteristic and that features few surprises. This means that almost all trails are uninteresting fire roads, and the climbs are frequently very steep (a lot of times for no good reason) but, while the scenery doesn't look impressive with its straw-colored grass cover over much of the year, it should turn into a gorgeous landscape during the few months of spring and late winter when the grass is green. I can't really say that the existence of this ride on this site represents a recommendation necessarily. Like some other listings I also include, it's mostly aimed at answering the question "what's the riding like in this particular place?"

Garin Regional Park and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park together make up a good-sized chunk of unbroken parkland saddled over the first row of hills overlooking the East Bay towns around Union City. Despite being aware of this trail network for many years, I tried riding here for the first time much more recently. This was because trying out a ride here had never ranked highly on my to-do list since I, frankly, never expected these parks to be a particularly enticing location for mountain biking. What finally prompted me to try this place out was suggestion emails I received from multiple unrelated viewers. I wish I could say the ride turned out to exceed my expectations, but it didn't. That doesn't mean that these parks have no appeal at all to bikers, though. To any strong riders from the nearby areas who are okay with steep climbs, this trail network is a decent local option for a workout. These are also some of the most scenic trails you'll find anywhere overlooking the bay. But I can safely claim that the kind of riding available here isn't enough to make this place a worthy destination for riders who'll be coming from other parts of the Bay Area.

These combined parks feature a good amount of trail mileage, the vast majority of which are fire roads. Much of this trail network is on the side of this row of hills that overlook the Bay and the tree cover in these parks is almost completely restricted to the lowest parts of the ravines and creek beds. As I mentioned already, these facts combine to ensure that there are great views available on much of this ride. Downtown San Francisco is visible from many vantage points, with Mount Tam almost serving as its backdrop. The available scenery ranges far into the South Bay from there. To take advantage of these views, park management was apparently fairly generous with the benches sprinkled at suitable spots to sit down and take it all in. These make for decent rest stops at the end of steep climbs in some cases.

Parking in the lot I've used for this ride is subject to a five dollar fee as of 2016, which is collected only if the entrance booth is attended (which it wasn't when I showed up for this ride some time between 8:30 and 9:00 AM on a Saturday). I did not see any possible method for paying by yourself. You can also think about street parking somewhere just outside the park from which you can pedal your way in. That would extend your round trip by only about 2 miles but, unfortunately, it would also add nearly 300 more feet of steep climbing to a ride that already has no shortage of tough climbs.

I've put together this particular route mainly with the aim of doing a ride in the parts of these parks closest to the bay that mostly follows loops, without getting into awkward out-and-back extensions too much and without turning it into an epic, while giving heed to what I saw most other riders doing here based on online GPS data. An aspect of this particular ride route that I like is that it doesn't tackle any sustained elevation gain for the first couple of miles, though it does include a couple of short and punchy climbs in that portion. This provides you the opportunity of a nice warm up. This could count for a lot, because the extended climbs do get very tough when they do begin.

Trail junctions in the park are well signed. At the time of my ride, the signs were fairly old wooden posts on which the trail names are carved. There were one or two examples of these that were weathered to such an extent that the trail name was unreadable. But, for the most part, as long as you know the name of the trail(s) you should be on, you can expect to be able to find your way around in this park based solely on the signage. Speaking of finding your way around, the trail network in the part of these parks covered by this ride is fairly dense. So, you'll need either a willingness to get lost and improvize, or at least printed a copy of the park map on your first ride here.

Nearly all trails in the park are very smooth fire roads. The only time they get a little bumpy is on the lesser used trails because of pockmarking due to cows and the cracking of the earth. I was a bit suprised to see this at the time of my first ride in October, which was long after the latest rains. During another ride in May, I did find most trails in worse shape in terms of cow damage and cracks.

This route includes an optional out-and-back spur on Whipsnake Trail. Though this is not really not-to-be-missed, this trail traverses an even prettier version of the parks' general landscape. Picturesque rocks are gathered in clusters here and there as if by the hand of a landscape designer. Other trails in the higher elevations of some parks also have these, but there seems to be more of these than usual along Whipsnake Trail. You can also expect this extension to be the most secluded part of the park. Thankfully, the four miles you cover on this spur is one part of the ride that is devoid of painful climbs. Overall, you gain elevation as you head out and lose it as you return, but this is very gradual and hard to notice and the total doesn't come out to much more than 100 extra feet. There are one or two stretches on this spur that take serious pedaling (most being on the way out), but they are all quite short. From this spur, I've chosen to turn back at the spot where pavement begins on Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail, which arrives shortly after you spot a pair of large water reservoirs and almost immediately past a gate that sits at the park boundary that sits right by them. You can continue quite a bit past this spot, but that would get you into an area dominated by a golf course and residential neighborhoods and, the farther you go, the farther you would need to pedal back, because I can't see any trail-based loop opportunities there, but notice the viewer comment below that suggests you can catch great views of Mount Diablo from that extension.

One unexpected perk of this ride is that Newt Pond Trail is an honest-to-goodness narrow singletrack, even if it's less than half a mile in length. Sadly, the couple of times I've ridden it, it was a badly pockmarked, cracked, off-camber mess, but it's still a bit of a surprise where one might not expect any bike-legal singletrack. The trail does involve a few hairpin turns (one of which was tight and steep enough to intimidate me) and is an unbroken descent in the direction it's traveled during the course of this ride. It ends without visiting it's nearby namesake pond, shortly after crossing a creek at a marginally ridable spot, which had water even in October. In the conditions of my ride, sticking to the left looked like the best bet for being able to pedal through the water. Meanwhile, the plunge of the trail toward the creek bed gets almost treacherously steep (more than -30%) for the last few seconds, so don't let it catch you by surprise.

The "Vista Peak" subloop serves partially to add a bit more mileage to this ride, but it also allows you some scenery you don't get to see from other spots along this route. Near the route's northeastern tip, you will catch a view of downtown Oakland, which is not visible from the rest of the ride. But, in the end, you wouldn't miss too much if you leave this subloop out when the steep climbs have exhausted you. Another such optional side trip is the visit to Gossip Rock. The rock itself is nothing to shout about. It's a fairly non-descript cluster of rocks topped with a few trees. Unless you have fond childhood memories of visiting this place, it wouldn't hold much attraction to you, making the side trip entirely expendable. On the other hand, it's such a short one with relatively little elevation change, too, so it wouldn't cost you much to pass by the place to add a bit of extra mileage to your ride.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as I've alluded to above, cows are plentiful in most parts of the park and, naturally, so are cowpies on the trails. At numerous places, I had the opporunity to play cowpie slalom during my first ride here. Things weren't bad enough to be of concern in the dry conditions of that ride, but I'm not sure how it all looks when the trails are wet.

© Ergin Guney


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