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Length 17 miles
Time 5 hours
Total Climb 4200 feet
Fun Rating
Scenic Rating
Aerobic Difficulty
Technical Difficulty 

GPS Track

Suggested Parking

Park Maps:

Alum Rock
Sierra Vista

Alum Rock (PDF)
Sierra Vista (PDF)

Topographic Map

Park Websites:
Alum Rock
Sierra Vista


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Sierra Vista (Suggestion 1)

When I first added this ride to my site, parts of this ride were as new as they come. On the date of my first ride here in January 2012, the stretch of Sierra Vista Trail between Boccardo Loop and Calaveras Fault Trail was less than three months old. What felt more important was that this new trail segment is singletrack. Considering the shortage of bike-legal singletrack trails in this part of the Bay Area, this was a very welcome addition. Along with a couple of other trails on this ride that could qualify as wide singletrack (Penitencia Creek Trail and Todd Quick Trail), the percentage of singletrack on this ride is 38%. Not bad at all for what's essentially an East Bay ride. In fact, if you omit the frankly superfluous fire-road extension of the ride along the southern stretch of Calaveras Fault Trail to the point marked as "Vista Point" on the park map, that percentage would come to just over 60%.

Sierra Vista Trail is part of a Santa Clara County open space preserve. The first time I did this ride, Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve did not have any formal trailhead of its own and could be accessed legitimately only through Alum Rock Park, as this ride does. This is no longer the case. The trail can now be reached very easily via a short connector named "Kestrel Trail" from a free parking lot on Sierra Vista Road as you can see on the PDF park map linked from this page. For more information on these newer possibilities, refer to my second ride suggestion for Sierra Vista Trail. The ride route you see on this page is, therefore, only useful for those who are looking for a variation, a bigger physical challenge, or a route that will continue onto the "vista point" south of Alum Rock Falls Road.

The parking location pointed out at the link on your left is a parking lot of Alum Rock Park. Note that this is a gated parking lot, and the hours that it will be open are 8:00 AM to half an hour after sunset. However, the park is also completely closed on Mondays, as of this writing. If your instinct, like mine, is to initially interpret this as mainly a parking issue and consider biking your way in from farther away, you'd be wrong. A reader has commented below that you may be ticketed for being in the park on Mondays.

There's a mention of a $6 parking fee for Alum Rock Park. (The website says this is for weekends and holidays.) However, the parking lot indicated at the parking link on this page showed no signs of requiring this. The fee is posted at an entrance kiosk that is a little further up Penitencia Creek Road from this lot, leaving the impression that it's for drivers who'll be using one of the lots further inside the park. I'm not absolutely sure of this, though, so don't hold me responsible if you park here without paying and end up getting ticketed. Verify this for yourself.

"Climbing" is the name of the game on this ride. That might sound like stating the obvious for a ride whose total climb is stated as 4200 feet, but it's worth emphasizing for those who may neglect to pay attention. At the beginning of the ride, the shady and flat Penitencia Creek Trail flows gently along its namesake creek for a little while, but serious climbs start right after you cross Penitencia Creek Road, and don't let up until you reach Sierra Vista Trail. Even the cute and somewhat playful Todd Quick Trail maintains an overall average grade of 9.5%. Boccardo Loop Trail, on the other hand, maintains a fairly steady overall average grade of 11%. Of course, this means that there is no shortage of brief stretches where you struggle up a 15% grade and at least a couple where the slope reaches 20%. By the time you reach the summit of the hill atop Boccardo Loop, you will have already completed a total (not net) climb of 1700 feet in a hair under 4 miles. And that's only the first of the three major climbs on this ride.

Scenery is most definitely one of the strong suits of this ride. Once you leave the shady Penitencia Creek Trail behind at the beginning of the ride, you have almost no tree cover until the climb up lower Calaveras Fault Trail toward the "Vista Point". That, combined with the quick elevation gain, means that wide vistas open up fairly quickly and accompany you for much of the ride. You can enjoy some of these views as you ride Boccardo Loop Trail and from the hill summit that falls within that loop (which this route visits).

It wouldn't be exaggeration to call Sierra Vista Trail the highlight of this ride. This trail follows a path roughly parallel to Sierra Road along a completely bare and steep hillside. It is relatively flat, with no more than 200 feet of net elevation change over its 1.2-mile length, and most of that is through a brief descent on the way eastward, which you'll know by the couple of switchbacks the trail takes through a tiny patch of trees. The trail appears to be an example of the standard four-foot-wide "multi-use trail" that seems to be the narrowest kind of recreational trail that some local park agencies can conceive of. In this particular case, however, that might be just as well. The very steep drop-off on the downhill side of the trail gets somewhat scary in the eastern half of the trail. There are some spots in that section that I might not have had the guts to ride if this were a two-foot-wide singletrack. For the same reason, beginners should really think twice before trying this trail, assuming they're not already discouraged by the amount of climbing involved in this ride.

When you reach the junction of Sierra Vista Trail and Calaveras Fault Trail, you're faced with at least two options: You can do the short loop made up of the eastern fire-road stretches of Sierra Vista Trail and upper Calaveras Fault Trail and then return to Alum Rock Park over the same way you came, or you can continue south along Calaveras Fault Trail to include the climb up to a "Vista Point" (as the park map labels it) in your ride, as this route does. If you choose the latter, as shown on this page, you will be dropped onto the paved Alum Rock Falls Road for a brief stretch, before picking up Calaveras Fault Trail again at a trailhead a short distance down that road. (The park's trail map doesn't show this road, and represents this section as a simple continuation of Calaveras Fault Trail.) You should know, however, that this trail to the "Vista Point" is a brutal climb, gaining more than 800 feet over its worst one-mile stretch, representing an overall average of 15% grade. The grade routinely exceeds 20% along this climb, and two bursts exceed even 30%. More importantly, you don't get much in return for this other than having done the climb and a quick fire road descent over the same trail, because the views you get from the "Vista Point" at the top of this trail are not much distinguished from what you get at, say, Boccardo Loop earlier on the ride. Skipping this part of the ride would save you about 1100 feet of climbing and roughly 3.5 miles of riding distance. I recommend it.

There is one important thing to be aware of regarding the option of including the southern extension of Calaveras Fault Trail in your ride: If you examine the map, you may notice that paved Alum Rock Falls Road would constitute a good shortcut to take after doing this climb, allowing you to avoid the third major climb of this ride and to return to the beginning without any additional climbing after you descend from the Calaveras Fault Trail "Vista Point". That is not a valid option, however, because the portion of Alum Rock Falls Road west of Calaveras Fault Trail is a private road that's illegal for bikes (and even for pedestrians!). One park ranger mentioned that this is being worked on, implying that it might become legal in the future. But, as of this writing, the only valid way of returning after riding the full extent of Calaveras Fault Trail is to climb back up the same way you came and to take Sierra Vista Trail back. Sadly, this is not particularly emphasized on the park map (or website) in any way. It would be nice if it were. Not knowing this in advance and coming face to face with the "No Trespassing" sign there after having planned your time, stamina, and water supply based on a return over Alum Rock Falls Road would be an unpleasant surprise indeed.

It couldn't hurt to emphasize that this area is likely to be among the hottest parts of the bay during the summer. Coupled with the lack of tree cover, the lack of water sources, the high amount of climbing, and the potential for a planning snafu presented by the inability to use Alum Rock Falls Road as a bail-out option calls for prudence in picking a day to ride here in the summer and in the amount of water you carry with you.

© Ergin Guney


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