I have watched people make riding look easy; floating over the rocky surface like water in a creek. For those of us who do not have exquisite bike handling talent or a nice full-suspension bike, the going is often tough.
Right from the start, Camp Tamarancho quickly sifts out mountain bikers not accustomed to narrow and rugged trails. The numerous tight switchbacks and seemingly relentless rocks win many of the battles against those pedaling. The views are nothing spectacular and you will probably be sharing the trails with other riders. Did I mention you must pay the Boy Scouts to access the trail and that there is no nearby parking? So why do I and so many others choose to keep coming back?
Despite the challenging nature of this trail, there is a distinct feature that mountain bikers love: single-track. Tamarancho is entirely single-track and that fact alone draws riders from far and wide, since there are few other comparable trails in the Bay Area.
Single-track is better for three reasons. First, the narrow size is a more appropriate fit for a bike than a 10-foot wide dirt road. On the skinny trail, nature fills your periphery instead of gravel and the escape from civilization feels complete. Second, when single-track is properly built it resists erosion (no ruts) and is easier to maintain than dirt roads. Third, single-track is often built for mountain biking, so that fun twists and dips are included and the steep climbs have switchbacks. While turning your wheels uphill, switchbacks are very nice. Not surprisingly, trails built for bikes are usually better to ride than roads built for 4x4 trucks.
While the majority of the loop is rocky, one portion of Tamarancho is uncharacteristically smooth. The section named B-17 is my favorite part and can be ridden by itself when connected to trails outside of Tamarancho. From the breathtaking top of White's Hill you can drop onto B-17 and then exit via the B-17 extension to open space that descends into Fairfax near .
Tamarancho is not all whee's and woo-hoo's. There are often grunts and sometimes it feels like you are earning every foot. At the end of the day you got a full-body workout, your bike handling skills are improved, and you have ridden one of the only modern mountain bike trails in the Bay Area. Even if Tamarancho does not put a smile on your face during the ride, you will probably catch yourself smiling afterwards!
The 411: The whole loop is under 10 miles, but prepare to spend well over an hour if you are unaccustomed to single-track. Traffic tends to flow clockwise, but there is no set direction. Parking is available in downtown Fairfax and the trail-head is up Iron Springs Road. The trail is well-marked from the beginning and easy to follow. Weekday traffic is usually light. Since the trail is popular, detailed descriptions are easy to find online. Passes are available from the Marin Boy Scouts Council and at in Fairfax.