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Length 10.5 miles
Time 3 hours
Total Climb 2600 feet
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Rancho Cañada del Oro

Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve is a relatively small county preserve near Morgan Hill. If you add up all the trail segment lengths shown on its official trail map, you get only 8.3 miles of total trail length (not counting a tiny paved loop). This ride covers all of those trails. While the trails here are also connected at multiple points to the trail network of the adjoining Calero County Park, the trails in that neighboring park are unfortunately not legal for mountain bikes at the moment.

This park is one of the lesser-known options for mountain bikers in this area, especially compared to nearby destinations such as Almaden Quicksilver, Santa Teresa, and Henry Coe. The park's website explains that the trails here were opened to mountain biking only in 2007. While it's not a ride location that presents a lot of room for variation and it doesn't provide any sampling of first-class singletrack like some of its neighbors, it's still a bit of a hidden treasure. While no one could make a believable claim that the park should be a draw for bikers from distant parts of the Bay Area, it's still a shoo in for inclusion on the "usual list" of ride locations for local riders, in my opinion.

The trails at Rancho Cañada del Oro range from fire roads to what I would describe as a cross between a wide singletrack and a "half fire road". That latter type of trail appears to be what constitutes a regulation "multi-use trail" according to the standards of the Santa Clara County parks department (as well as other South Bay park agencies). It seems like what trail builders shoot for is four or five feet in trail width when building these types of trails. These types of trails would age to become a narrower, more technical, and more fun approximation of a true singletrack if given the time and opportunity. They're certainly not there yet, as of this writing, and it remains to be seen if the park's management will allow that kind of a progression to take place. Even in their current state, however, these twisty multi-use trails are still reasonably fun to ride on. About 75% of this ride is on such multi-use trails, but even those trails get fairly wide in some places, as well as narrower than usual in a few other spots.

The ride takes place around the cute small valley of Baldy Ryan Creek nestled in the foothills of the coastal range, and atop the ridges on either side of it. The setting ranges from bare hilltops that afford panoramic views of the southern reaches of the South Bay, to beautiful oak-sprinkled hillsides that will be doubly pretty during the green-grass months of the year, to the dense cover of bay trees near the creek bed.

This ride starts, as all substantial rides at Rancho Cañada del Oro are forced to, by following Mayfair Ranch Trail as it climbs up a ridge, follows along its spine for a while, and then descends by some switchbacks toward the creek on the other side. This is one of those "medium-width" multi-use trails I've mentioned above, and the park's website states that it was built in 2007. On this particular ride, I've also returned over this same trail on my way back, so this ascent and descent along Mayfair Ranch Trail, along with the "main climb" on Catamount Trail, made this a ride with three substantial climbs. The initial climb on Mayfair Ranch Trail is a significant climb, though (never exceeding an average of 10% grade) it's not one about which you'd be composing stories of bravery. The return climb on Mayfair Ranch Trail is possibly a bit gentler still (it's at least shorter), or feels that way on the way back. Note that you are no longer forced to return over Mayfair Ranch Trail on your way back. While this was not the case at the time of my ride, as of April 2014, the portion of Serpentine Trail in the neighboring Calero County Park between Longwall Canyon Trail and Casa Loma Road allows bicycle use. This means that, once you've done the descent on Longwall Canyon Trail on the route represented on this page, you can simply keep descending on Longwall Canyon Trail all the way to Serpentine Trail and follow it to Casa Loma Road to return to the beginning, instead of doing the third climb of this particular ride.

As you cross Baldy Ryan Creek over a bridge (along with an option to ford the water, if you feel like it) and reach the junction of Mayfair Ranch and Longwall Canyon trails, you're effectively faced with the only real routing choice that the park's trails give you: You can either do a full loop of the trails north of the creek, or climb to and descend from Bald Peaks over Longwall Canyon Trail and make it into an out-and-back ride. What should drive your decision is whether you'll be willing to brave the crazy climb up Catamount Trail.

This particular route follows the loop option. If, like me, you prefer to use wider and steeper trails for climbs while you save narrower and more playful trails for descents, then the only meaningful direction in which to do the loop portion of this ride for you will be counter-clockwise. The climb from the creek bed all the way to the highest elevation of the ride (a net change of a little over 1000 feet) lasts a bit over two miles. However, the crucial part of the climb starts around the four-mile mark from the very beginning of the ride, where a 0.15-mile stretch of the trail maintains an average grade of about 24%. After a negligible break, another 0.2-mile section averages nearly 19%. The rest of the climb continues to be a seriously challenging one, but it's never again as prone to make you question your route choice as those two worst segments. Catamount Trail is in the form of a wide and smooth fire road, which is a bit surprising since the website states that it, too, was built in 2007. I suppose even some newly built trails can be in the form of fire roads these days, when they are meant for access by park ranger vehicles.

Bald Peaks Trail is another wide and smooth fire road. However, this is one of the most enjoyable portions of the ride due to the scenic nature of this bare trail. Before too long, you take Longwall Canyon Trail from its upper end and this marks the start of the twistier part of your descent—nothing but 1.5 miles of gentle descent through pretty oak woodlands all the way back to the creek bed. While you still have the return climb along Mayfair Ranch Trail ahead of you at this point of the ride, that last climb feels downright merciful compared to what you've left behind on Catamount Trail.

© Ergin Guney


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