The Marin Headlands is located just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It features mostly fire road and a few sections of single track, but come prepared to climb because you're either going up or down. The area is also great for a quick road ride with some descent amount of vertical gain and epic views of the Pacific Ocean and the city.
Some of my favorite photographs were taken in the Marin Headlands. Getting up super early in the morning can be rewarding. By climbing up a mountain and snapping a picture of it doesn't get any better than that, especially when you share those moments with great friends.
I remember watching a clip of a guy's GoPro ride down the Coastal View Trail on the backside of Mt. Tam. He was following a small group of friends along a skinny and flowing section of dirt, winding around hills and inescapable views of the ocean to one side and lush hillsides on the other. "What is this, and why don't we live there?" I thought to myself. I was enthralled with the beauty of the Marin Headlands and needed to experience it myself. We packed up and moved west.
My wife and I moved here from Brooklyn almost three years ago. I didn't know too many people out here to begin with, let alone know who to ride with, so I went by myself, trying to crush it everywhere I could. Through Strava I found a guy named David Belden. He seemed to know where to ride, as his name popped up consistently at the top of a lot of Strava leader boards. He invited me to join his weekly Dawn Patrol ride through the Marin Headlands, and from there I met the rest of my tribe.
Top of the mornin' y'all.
We'd meet at the Golden Gate bridge at 6:15am sharp every Tuesday and sometimes Thursdays. The rollout was steady with conversation and would gently pick up in pace as we neared the Marin side of the bridge. As soon as we hit Hawk Hill it was game on to the first roundabout where the trailhead would pick up. We'd regroup before ripping down Coastal Trail, a tame section of single track that brings you down into the Marin Headlands. It's still quite amazing to me how someplace so remote and beautiful is so near to a major city. The trails aren't the most challenging, but they certainly make up with epic nature.
Our usual route goes up the Miwok Trail over to to Old Springs Trail and down to the stables before climbing back up the backside via Marincello Trail and onto Bobcat Trail to complete the loop. If we're pressed for time we'd hammer out the top section of Miwok up to the most amazing viewpoint of all the Marin Headlands. This is where I got the expression Top of the mornin' y'all from. You're literally on top of everything and it's so damn early in the morning who can't help but greet the world with an amazing sunrise photo?
There are plenty of diversions in the Headlands to keep things interesting, most of which are illegal to mountain bikers. Sometimes we'd chance getting caught on the foggiest of days and go down SCA, which has some nice technical sections of rock and tight switchbacks.
The Marin Headlands provide perfect training grounds for ultra-enduranace events like the Leadville Trail 100. The sustained climbs and amount of recovery between each hill segment are great for long uninterrupted intervals. The other skill sharpening opportunity is fire road bombing, especially on Bobcat where there a few long sweeping turns followed by a couple tighter ones. When the weather turns to crap the trails drain pretty well so they can be ridden year round, granted it's in the Bay Area, where the rain seldom pours days on end.
If you're looking for a more balanced cross-country trail experience I'd suggest heading a little further North and ride Tamarancho or China Camp. You can also go further south into the Peninsula for Skeggs, all of which will sharpen your handling skills in no time. Like I mentioned previously, the Marin Headlands has very few sections of legal single track. The area is massive and one can string together some really epic routes if that's your thing.