Mountain biking was invented in Marin County and there are numerous trails you can ride as you get deeper into Marin County. However, if you live in San Francisco, don’t have a car, or just don’t want to drive your bike to the trail, then there are a few trails just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge that you can ride to from the City. The first of these is the Bobcat Trail. This is a beautiful, but steep route which takes you up and down the Marin Headlands and then winds its way to Tennessee Valley.
Distance: 6.3 miles (10.1 km)
Elevation Gain: 943 feet (287 m)
Difficulty: The loose terrain and ruts in the single track portion of the ride is a bit difficult, but the remainder, while steep, is wide and smooth. This is a good ride for intermediate cyclists.
Starting at the roundabout on Conzelman Road, about halfway up the Marin Headlands route, head past the restroom and to the dirt trail. Follow the trail as it winds down the back of the headlands to Bunker Road.
Make a left at Bunker Road and follow it a few hundred feet to the next dirt trail which heads toward a parking lot on along Bunker Road.
Continue following the trail and make a right to cross over the bridge.
After the bridge, make a left at the intersection to continue on the trial.
The trail merges with the Bobcat Trail at a tight intersection, watch for oncoming bikers and hikers as you turn right onto the Bobcat Trail.
Follow the Bobcat Trail as it winds its way up and over the hills for the next two miles to the next trail intersection.
Continue along Bobcat Trail to the left down the deep descent.
Continue climbing until the Bobcat Trail turns into the Marincello Trial and continue toward the right as the trail crests.
After the crest of the hill, check your brakes, take the fork to the right and get ready to descend then next 1.5 miles to the Tennessee Valley trailhead parking lot.
Where this route ends, your next choice begins. You can either head back to Sausalito via Tennessee Valley Road and the Marin Crossroads. Option 2 is to ride the Tennessee Valley trail to Tennessee Beach or the Coastal Trail. The final option is to ride back to the Marin Headlands via the Miwock Trail after walking your bike past the stables. Stay tuned to for future installments and trails.
NOT OPEN YET! One more month before the descent down Hawk Hill is open to bicycles again.
On September 15, 2011 the US Park Service reopened Lower and Upper Conzelman Road to vehicles and pedestrians.
Bicycles are allowed up Lower Conzelman Road to Hawk Hill. But bicycles are still prohibited beyond Hawk Hill due to the repaving of Field Road. The paving of Field Road is expected to be completed between mid- to late- October 2011.
Another option for descending from Hawk Hill is to turn at the roundabout and head down McCullough Road to Bunker Road and back through the tunnel. For more information, see our Marin Headlands route here.
To relive a descent down the backside of Hawk Hill, check out the video below!
One of the most recognizable landmarks of San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge, especially the perspective from the Marin Headlands. The Marin Headlands themselves are beautiful sea cliffs with sweeping views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. The initial climb is a challenge and great training while the descent is extremely steep with sharp turns. It has the perfect mix of beauty and challenge. All of this excitement is accessible with a short ride just across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Three time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador riding the Marin Headlands PHOTO courtesy of Velodramatic.com and IamSpecialized.com
FOR A MORE DETAILED LOOK click here for the full Geoped Map provided by g-map-pedometer.com
Elevation Map for the Route provided by MapMyRide.com
This route starts in the parking lot on the northwest side of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is at the end of the bike side of the Bridge.
The beginning of this path just under 8 miles from the start of the Golden Gateway. The climbing starts immediately out of the parking lot.
At the top of the stop sign, make a left and head up the hill.
The first part of this climb is he steepest and the toughest. Just keep going and if you need a break, take it to admire the view at the first rest area.
Us taking in the view at the first rest stop
Though less steep, the climbing continues up to the round about.
If you take the first exit of the round about, you will go down McCullough Road toward Bunker Road and back to Alexander Avenue towards US 101 through the tunnel.
Keep going around the round about, and take the second exit to continue up the Marin Headlands.
Keep climbing to get to the top, you have just under one mile to the top.
Take in the scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco as you are now higher than the bridge’s towers.
The tunnels signal Hawk Hill, the top of the Headlands, where you can take a break and take in the views, wait for or catch up with the rest of your group before turning around, or prepare for the hair-raising descent down the back of the Headlands.
Miko and Jon take in the views from the top of the Marin Headlands
The narrow, one way road is just the beginning of the challenges that face you on the descent down the backside of the Headlands.
The backside of Marin Headlands is not for the faint of heart, cause it’s all downhill from here!
“Hill” is an understatement, but the 18% grade is dead on! You build up speed quickly and two of the first three turns are 90+ degrees! Keep your descending class rules in mind: stay in the drops; just touch your brakes to regulate your speed, don’t hold them; inside knee up to pull your body into the turn; and always keep your eyes up and looking where you want to go because that’s where the bike is going to take you!
After that second right hand turn, the grade reduces but the speed stays high, so make sure to stay on your game.
Though the remaining turns are not as sharp and the grade not as steep, the rest of the way down is still wicked fast!
The descending turns to a short climb as you pass by the lookout point near the Upper Fisherman’s Parking Lot.
The Point Bonita Lighthouse is just up the road past the bunkers.
It is just a short climb before you reach the bunkers and Lower Fisherman’s Parking Lot.
And a couple of more twisties before the main part of your descent is complete.
Turn right at the next intersection to head back to US-101 along Fort Barry Road. If you want to visit the Point Bonita Lighthouse, keep going straight, the road is two-way traffic again past the intersection.
Then another right at the stop sign.
Follow Fort Barry Road down the hill and around the corner, notice the tidal pool and Sausalito Beach to your left.
You will then pass Simmond’s Road and the Marin Headlands Hostel on your right. Keep following Fort Barry Road as it becomes Field Road here.
Follow Field Road through the next intersection as it merges with Bunker Road toward San Francisco.
You are now on the Marin Headlands return route. It’s a slight climb back out to Alexander Avenue towards US-101 from here.
At McCullough Road you can climb back up the Headlands and descend the front side towards the Golden Gate Bridge, or you can keep along Field Road towards Alexander Avenue.
A bit farther down the road is the Bunker Road Tunnel. The tunnel is signal controlled by a stop light.
When the light turns green, head on through.
At the beginning of the tunnel there is a button to signal to the on-coming cars a biker is in the tunnel.
The tunnel is pretty dark, but the main obstacles are the water, mud and slime covering the bike lane. It’s all downhill, but your tires are never totally planted on the road, so be careful going through here.
Once you exit the tunnel, you are just about to the intersection with Alexander Avenue.
If you haven’t gotten your fill of the climbing or descending yet, you can always head back up Alexander Avenue to the Golden Gate Bridge and the beginning of the Marin Headlands to do it all over again by taking the fork to the right.
Or if you are ready to head on to other adventures, take the fork to the left and rejoin the Golden Gateway Trail for the descent to Sausalito.
The Marin Headlands is a challenging ascent and with an absolutely spectacular and breathtaking descent. This is a great route to work on both your ascending and descending skills when you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, or don’t want to travel too far from the city. Keep hydrated on the way up and your head up on the way down!