Welcome to San Francisco!
Whether you are visiting, recently moved here, or just looking for new trails to ride, the San Francisco Bay Area is a great place to mountain bike. Even better, the temperate climate makes good riding available year round.
As a professional mountain bike guide and skills coach, I love exploring and showing off the great trails around San Francisco. Getting to share them with visitors reminds me how lucky I am to live here!
One of the best features of San Francisco is it's proximity to great outdoor activities. From great trails to great beaches, nearby mountains and parks, the bay area has unparalleled access to the good things in life.
While San Francisco is a great city, I'm going to break it to you that there are no good mountain bike trails available within the city itself.
Contrary to what the tourist bike rental shops will tell you (to rent you a bike), or my hipster singlespeeding friends will argue 'til the end of time, there isn't really any good riding in the city to really recommend to a visitor.
The best riding is a short distance outside the city limits. Only if you could ride after work only, or were here for a longer time period would I suggest trying to mountain bike in the city.
You are far better off riding (or walking) around SF to see the city itself, than trying to find it's small pockets of decent dirt.
Whether are an experienced singletrack rider, want to become one, or just want a fun and scenic outdoor activity, getting outside the city is a must, and Marin is the best place to do it! Don't have a bike? Car rental? Don't like constantly checking maps? We can help!
Marin- The Birthplace of the Mountain Bike
Marin County is the birthplace of the Mountain Bike. Back in the early 1970s a group of you Marinites (it's really a word) started riding their Klunker paperboy bikes up and down the fire protection roads in the county. While some would argue they weren't the only (or even first ones) to start taking bikes up and down mountains, it was their modification of their cruiser bikes, adding of handbrakes and eventually derailleur and multiple gears that get them credit with the birth of the sport.
Later, they began making frames, components, starting companies and running races that lead to the creation of the sport we know and love today.
Marin Mountain Bike trails
There are 3 main mountain bike trail areas in Marin County (pronounced mah-rinn). If you already knew that you are one step ahead of the game:
China Camp State Park- San Rafael, CA
China Camp is a fun ride for both a beginner mountain biker and and advanced riders. It offers fun, flowy singletrack and great views of San Pablo Bay, and is a great ride year round. After a heavy winter storm, China Camp's sandy soil drains the fastest, and is bone dry long before others (like Tamarancho).
China Camp Suggested trail routes
The China Camp State Park entrance on San Pedro road is the most popular trailhead.There is a $3 per rider entrance fee, and you can get a map here. I recommend you bring a printed map if you go.
China Camp Main Loop
From the Campground entrance, climb Bayview trail, to Old Ridge trail to Shoreline trail. This a a fun scenic singletrack ride that is about 8.8 miles and 820 ft of climbing (14km/250m). for a short addition, you can do an out and back on Echo trail to the paved road, at the top of the Bayview climb which adds 1.4 miles and 200 ft of climbing. A fun ride with young kids is to just ride Shoreline out and back, if the climb up Bayview would be too much.
1. Ride the loop in reverse as a 2nd lap.
2. From the paved road at the top of Echo go left and climb to the top. If you survive the steep grade, you'll be rewarded with great views and a good break spot at the picnic table on top of the Nike Missile site (that's another story).
3. From the top of #2, you can look for some social trails to ride on San Rafael city site. They are significantly narrower and a bit more technical than the State Park side.
Trail Access: Plug in 101 Peacock Gap Trail, San Rafael, CA 94901 to your GPS or phone and park around the entrance gate or pay to park inside the campground parking lot.
Directions to China Camp
Exit Highway 101 at North San Pedro Rd. and stay to the right towards the civic center (from Northbound 101). Merge onto N. San Pedro Rd. and continue through the residential area until you wind around the point and can see the bay. Soon you'll see the China Camp sign and the Campground entrance gate and booth on your right. You can pay to park in the campground parking lot, or park outside and pay your trail use fee.
Post Ride Food and Drink
Camp Tamarancho- Fairfax, CA
Tamarancho, "Tamo, or sometimes the ranch" to locals is an intermediate level private trail system and sanctuary for local Marin and SF singletrack riders (myself included). Owned by the boy scouts of Marin, and volunteer built and maintained, it also happens to be the best legal singletrack loop in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tamo is one of the slower drying trails around, so after multi-day rains in the winter it's best left to dry out for 4-7 days- ride China Camp instead.
Tamarancho is a great 2-3+ hour ride for an intermediate or advanced rider. The main loop from the start of Iron Springs Rd is about a 9 mile loop with 1700 ft of climbing (14.5km/520m). It's recommended that you ride it clockwise the first time and on weekends. An opposite direction loop is a great addition for fitter riders. It's moderately rocky, has 30+ switchbacks and sidehill (drop off on one side), so it's not a great beginner ride.
The Endor Flow Trail at Tamarancho- Tamarancho volunteers (our team put in over 15 days on the trail building) also built the San Francisco Bay Area's first downhill-only flow trail in the winter of 2011. Endor, named for the forested moon from Star Wars is a cross between a roller coaster and luge course, with rollers, berms and optional jumps that will have you hooting and hollering every time you ride it:
While only a bit more than 1/2 a mile long, the flow trail packs in the fun and is best ridden multiple times, usually by climbing Broken Dam back up to B17 extension. The trail is equally fun for kids as it is for experts, and also includes a skills area with ladder style bridges to practice on. Endor is home to an annual chainless downhill race and was designed and built by a crew of volunteers, led by Davey Simon and Jim Jacobsen.
Trail Access: Exit Highway 101 at Central San Rafael and head west on 3rd st. Continue for 2 miles and bear right when the road intersects Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Park in downtown Fairfax and purchase a $5 day pass online here or at one of the local bike shops. Ride to Iron Springs road and start the climb up to the trail. At the signboard grab a map (if avail) and begin climbing Alchemist to the loop proper. I'd bring a printed map if it were my first time, as some of the intersections can confuse, but there are also trail maps/markers at most of the main junctions now.
Post Ride Food and Drink
Recommendations: Gestalt Haus (Bikes, beers and Brats), Hummingbird (Southern/Cajun), or Iron Springs Brewery, all in Fairfax.
Mt. Tamalpais (Mt. Tam)- Marin County, CA
Mt. Tam State Park, and it's the associated Open Space and water district lands, which I'll simply call Mt. Tam from here on, is a large collection of parks and preserves that along with federal parks protect roughly 80% of Marin county from development. While this sounds like a recreationalist's dream come true, very little is open to bikes.
While often considered the birthplace of mountain biking, Mt. Tam's early use got the area's singletrack closed to mountain bikers back in the early 1990s. The park, and surrounding areas do have some beautiful views and lakes, but the riding is restricted to fire roads only.
This is a sad, and fairly unique situation and local trail advocacy groups have been working towards resolving the lack of narrow trails for cyclists for decades. You can check out and support their work here.
Post Ride Food and Drink
Depends where you start from, too many to list.
Got something to add? Have a suggestion? A trail you like better? Let us know in the comments!