The verdant valleys of Golden Gate National Recreation Area are a fantastic destination for a bike ride. The trails are gravel and can be conquered by anyone with basic bike skills and a sense of adventure.
Rolling out from the Twin Cities to Mill Valley is always easier than I expect. The climb over Horse Hill on Meadowsweet Drive has a mellow grade and traffic is minimal. From downtown Larkspur it takes me about 15 minutes before I am coasting into Mill Valley. If the Alto Tunnel is built it would reconnect our bike path to the Mill Valley/Sausalito Bike Path. The passage south would be family friendly, flat, short, and car-free!
As you spin down the Mill Valley Bike Path look for another path on your right up Coyote Creek, just before the HWY 101 underpass. There are plans for the broken concrete to be renovated and lifted above the high tide level, which occasionally floods the path. Squeezing underneath the bridge you will shortly find yourself on Tennessee Valley Road. Keep pushing the pedals up the gradual 200 foot climb to the trail head near Miwok Stables.
The Tennessee Valley trail-head offers many options. Parking is available for cars. If you continue down the valley, Tennessee Cove makes a great destination for a shorter ride. Left of the stables our scenic loop begins with a 680 foot climb up Marincello Road. Remind yourself that this is the major climb of the ride and power up the consistant grade.
From the top the views of the Gerbode Valley and Pacific Ocean below are inspiring. These lush little valleys with an abundance of life are truly magnificent. Descibing this area as special is an understatement.
As the dirt road rolls up and down, look for a signed right down Bobcat Trail. The descent down to Rodeo Cove is a hoot. Anyone comfortable on a bike will enjoy losing altitude on this wide and well maintained gravel road.
At the valley floor the trail levels out. Stay right to avoid the pavement and note Miwok Trail spurring off a moment later. If you continue ocean bound you will soon find yourself at Cronkhite Beach.
To complete the loop we continue up Miwok Trail, regaining that 600 feet you just dropped. This climb is a little bit of a grunt, but shorter than the Marincello climb. Now the views are from the opposite side of the Gerbode Valley. This is the last significant climb so put the pedal down!
Soon you pass back into Tennessee Valley and the painfully short and exquisitely fun Old Springs Trail pops back down to Miwok Stables. This meandering trail is what mountain biking is all about and I am pleasantly surprised that it is open to cyclists.
On this most recent ride I coasted back to the Tennesse Valley trail-head to see the Trips for Kids van. They had just finished a ride with a large group of kids. When I started following bicycle advocacy a decade ago Trips for Kids and Marin Safe Routes to Schools were big inspirations. These Marin based organizations are nationally famous for getting kids on bikes.
Back in the Twin Cities the coastal trails seem far away once again. Although the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is out of sight, don't keep it out of mind as a biking destination.
The Marin County Bicycle Coalition offers a map detailing all the paths and trails mentioned above.