MTB Trail: Old Railroad Grade – Mill Valley to West Point Inn, Mt. Tam, Part 1


GOPR0254-33

Mount Tamalpias (aka Mt. Tam) is the highest peak in Marin County and can be seen from all around San Francisco Bay. Making it to the top on your road bike is a feet as you conquer stage after stage of steep, leg-busting climbs.

However, on a mountain bike the climb to the top is a bit more gentle. It still includes a significant and lengthy climb, but the trail was carved by using the old railroad bed from “The Crookedest Railroad in the World” which took passengers and timber to and from the top of Mt. Tam from 1896 to 1930.

GOPR0254-47

This first part of the trail takes you to the West Point Inn, a stop that has been open since 1904.

The total route is 8.25 miles long with gradients ranging from 4%-7%, and an average grade of 5%. While the significant uphill section is long and winding, the downhill is also steep and fast as the original trail was meant for a gravity train.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 9.24.42 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 9.25.15 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 5.57.47 PM
Length: 6.51 miles (11 km)

Elevation Gain: 1,704 feet (519 m)

Difficulty: The major challenge to this route is the constant climbing along with some rocky ground. While the pitch doesn’t go above 7%, breaks may be necessary just to keep you moving. This trail is not for beginners, but it can be conquered by mountain bikers with some pretty minimal experience.

Route

This route starts in downtown Mill Valley at the intersection of Throckmorton and Miller Avenue.

GOPR0252

You’ll recognize this intersection from our route, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. This time, make a right on to Throckmorton and then another right onto Corte Madera Avenue.

GOPR0252-1

Next, make a left on to West Blithedale Ave.

GOPR0252-2

Follow West Blithedale for the next mile to Old Railroad Grade.

GOPR0252-3

Make sure to make a left to follow West Blithedale at the intersection with Woodline Road.

GOPR0252-6

Continue along West Blithedale for another half mile.

GOPR0252-9

You’ll see the path entrance on your right through a gate.

GOPR0252-10 GOPR0252-12

Cross over the bridge just past the gate.

GOPR0252-13

The climbing starts now.  If you’re lucky, you’ll have the opportunity to see mountain biking pioneer and legend Gary Fisher as he swoops past you.

GOPR0253

Gary Fisher 1 Zoom

Continue climbing through the wooded fire road as it climbs higher and higher.

GOPR0253

GOPR0253-9

The tree cover will open as you continue climbing.  Watch for the sweeping views.

GOPR0253-1

GOPR0253-19

You’ll then encounter a gate with a bench and then Fern Canyon Road, which is a public road open to cars.  Keep right and continue climbing.

GOPR0253-22

GOPR0254-1

Another mile or so along Fern Canyon Road and you’ll be back on the trail after going through the gate.

GOPR0254-4 GOPR0254-7

GOPR0254-13

A short way down the path you will wind around a couple of 180 degree turns and pass Gravity Car Road.  These are the start the next twisting climbs.

GOPR0254-14 GOPR0254-16

The Gravity Car Road leads back to Panoramic Highway right at the Mountain Home Inn.  If you’re done climbing for the day, this is a good bail out option.

GOPR0254-17

If you are ready to continue climbing, make a right where the trail intersects with the Gravity Car Road to continue climbing as Old Railroad Grade twists and winds around the mountain. 

GOPR0254-20 GOPR0254-30

GOPR0254-34

The climbing will continue for another mile or two until you reach the West Point Inn.

GOPR0254-41 GOPR0254-43

This is a great place to stop, use the “facilities” and take a well-deserved break.  

GOPR0254-45 GOPR0254-46

We’ll pick up from here to take you the rest of the way to the top of Mt. Tam in the next installment.  Stay tuned and have a great ride! 

 

Advertisements

Trail: WELCOME TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD – Mount Tamalpais Summit


After Paying the Toll, the summit of Mount Tamalpais is almost within reach.  The last stage of the Mt. Tam assent is grueling and sometimes just plain cruel! The steepness of the first mile will push you to your limits before you reach the first of three peaks.  At the summit, take a breath, enjoy the view and brace yourself for a tough climb back to the first peak before you make the descent back to the Bay.

Distance from San Francisco Ferry Building (see Golden Gateway Trail) 27.42 miles; from the Marin Crossroads 12.99 miles; from Somewhere Over the Rainbow 8.91 miles; from A Panoramic View 4.42 miles; from Paying the Toll 2.99 miles

Difficulty: If you’re not prepared for a tough slog back from the summit as well, you might be spending the night on the mountain!

Climbing on Route: 630 feet (192 meters)

Total Elevation Gain from Marin Crossroads: 2641 feet (805 meters)

Download your route sheet here: Directions – Welcome to the Top of the World

Download your route sheet for the entire Mount Tamalpais Route here: Directions – There and Back Again

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

From the top of Paying the Toll, make a right onto East Ridgecrest Boulevard and follow it all the way to the third peak which is the summit of Mount Tamalpais.

Make a right onto East Ridgecrest Boulevard to Summit Mt. Tam

The first peak is the hardest to reach.  This peak is next to the Doppler Radar station at the top of a 1.25 mile climb.  Though less steep than the climbs on Pan Toll Road, this first climb is lengthy and difficult. By the time you finish the first climb, your legs will be Jello!

View from the top of the first peak

Make sure to pause at this first peak and take in the views of Mill Valley below.  Get some energy back as you take the first descent and start making the climb toward the next peak.

Stand and push up the second climb and take another break at the top of the second peak.

The view from the second peak gives you better views of Tiburon and Sausalito

From the top of the second peak, the views of Tiburon and Sausalito get closer.  One last peak to climb before heading back.

Another short descent and the last peak is all that stands between you and the summit.  The last climb is steep.  Once you make it to the summit, take in the views and know you’ve climbed over 2,500 feet on your way to this point!

View of Tiburon, Belvedere, Strawberry, Mill Valley and Sausaltio from the summit of Mount Tamalpais

On a clear day, you can see San Francisco, East Bay and all over Marin County from the summit of Mount Tamalpais.  At over 2,500 feet in altitude, you can see above the fog as it rolls over San Francisco Bay.

The historic Mt. Tam Fire Lookout and Ranger Station

At the summit, you can lock up your bikes and take a stroll up the stairs to the Fire Lookout and Ranger Station.  On a clear day, you can see not only San Francisco and East Bay, but also out to the Farallon Islands (to the west and 25 miles off-shore in the Pacific Ocean) and it’s even been reported that you can see the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada range 150 miles to the east.  At the parking lot, there are bathrooms and a water fountain at the top so you can relieve and refill.  Enjoy your time at the summit, because once you are ready to go, you have more hill climbing awaiting.

Elevation Map for the Route provided by MapMyRide.com

Another 300 feet of climbing over two more hills looms once you leave the summit of the third peak.  The return to the second peak is a breeze compared to the climb back to the first peak.  The climb to the west peak is almost a half-mile long and is very steep.  Push through this tough climb and then it’s all down hill from there.

Once you’ve gone there and back again, the summit of Mt. Tam allows you have options of where to go next.  You can continue on Ridgecrest Boulevard and head towards Fairfax-Bolinas Road, or you can turn back down Pan Toll Road and go to Mill Valley or Sausalito. If you’re feeling particularly adventerous that day, you can even head to Stinson Beach from where A Panoramic View and Paying the Toll meet. No matter which way you decide to go, after reaching the summit of Mount Tamalpais, you have entered a club with others who have pushed themselves to conquer this beast! Enjoy the journey, but make sure to stop and enjoy the view as well.

Trail: PAYING THE TOLL — Mount Tamalpais Stage 3


Pan Toll Road the shortest stage of the climb to the summit of Mount Tamalpais, but it’s also the toughest. The route is full of relentless double-digit grade assents.  If you are looking to test your grit and stamina, this is the place to do it.  Once you pass the first mile, you can stop and break for some pictures of the sweeping views around you and then press on through the last half-mile of the stage.  At the end of the trail you feel as major sense of accomplishment because you know you’ve made it through one bad ass climb!

Distance from San Francisco Ferry Building (see Golden Gateway Trail) 24.43 miles; from the Marin Crossroads 10.00 miles; from Somewhere Over the Rainbow 5.92 miles; from A Panoramic View 1.43

Difficulty: HC (hors catégorie) aka this would be a steep climb on the Tour de France! 

Climbing on Route: 531 feet (171 meters)

Total Elevation Gain from Marin Crossroads: 2011 feet (649 meters)

Download your route sheet here: Directions – Paying the Toll

Download your route sheet for the entire Mount Tamalpais Route here: Directions – There and Back Again

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

At the crest of Panoramic Highway and the end of A Panoramic View, the summit of Mount Tamalpias still lies four miles away.  Before reaching the top of Mt. Tam, you will have to conquer Pan Toll Road.

To begin the next stage of ascending Mt. Tam, turn right from Panoramic Highway onto Pan Toll Road.

Pan Toll Road is the entrance to Mount Tamalpais State Park.

The first section of climbing is step with very little shoulder room, so watch out for the passing by.

Gradient looking toward Panoramic Highway at the turn onto Pan Toll  Road

You will get a slight reprieve from the constant climbing and the road will level off for a short stint before the steep grade returns.  The road turns around corners as the grade changes from gradual to steep to moderate.  Theses series of turns will take you to the one mile marker of the route where you are presented with your first opportunity to break.

Steep climbs and sweeping turns typify the climb along Pan Toll Road

The first rest area is a great place to take pictures of your adventure and to rehydrate.

A vista with a view of the climbing you have just completed and the Pacific Ocean

The road to come is the steepest and toughest climbing of the stage

The last part of the climb is short, but extremely steep all the way to Ridgecrest Boulevard.

There is one more rest area along the last section of the climb.  This is a good place to stop if you need a short break. At the end of the climb along Pan Toll Road you will reach Rock Spring.

Rock Spring is at an elevation of 1940 feet above sea level.  The slight descent along Panoramic Highway increases the total elevation gain from Marin Crossroad to over 2000 feet! Once you reach this point, you can either turn left onto West Ridgecrest Boulevard and  take in the spectacular views of Stinson Beach and Bolinas below, or turn right onto East Ridgecrest Boulevard and begin the final stage of ascending Mount Tamalpais.

Reaching the top of Pan Toll road is no small feet, with over 2000 feet of climbing, conquering this advanced route is what many Bay Area bikers do when they are up for a challenge and want a spectacular descent as their reward.  The steep climbing turns into steep descending with technical twists and turns as you make your way back to Mill Valley or Sausalito.

Trail: SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW – The Gateway to Mount Tamalpais, Muir Woods and Stinson Beach – Mount Tamalpais, Part 1


When biking in the Bay Area hill climbing is inevitable, but there’s hill climbing and then there’s mountain climbing. The mountain looming the background most everywhere in Marin County is Mount Tamalpais: the pinnacle of mountain climbing not only in Marin County, but the Bay Area.  There are multiple routes to reach the top of Mt. Tam, as it’s affectionately known to locals, but a favorite is to approach it from Mill Valley.  This route allows you to climb Mt. Tam in four separate stages.  From the finish of each stage, you have the ability to turn back and descend into Mill Valley or Sausalito depending on how far you are prepared to climb.  The first step in climbing Mt. Tam is arriving at Panoramic Highway, the gateway to Muir Woods and Stinson Beach.  The first stage of this challenging assent includes 712 feet of climbing over the last two miles with spectacular views from Panoramic Highway.  Whether you set your sights on conquering Mt. Tam or developing some serious hill climbing skills towards this goal, the vistas along this route will distract from the pain.

Distance: from San Francisco Ferry Building (see Golden Gateway Trail18.51 miles; from the Marin Crossroads 4.08 miles

Difficulty: No pain, no gain.

Climbing on Route: 712 feet (230 meters)

Total Elevation Gain from Marin Crossroads: 712 feet (230 meters)

Download your route sheet here: Directions – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Download your route sheet for the entire Mount Tamalpais Route here: Directions – There and Back Again

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 has a lot of twists and turns to it, so we’ve broken down the map into parts in order to make it easier to follow.

Marin Crossroads to Miller Avenue

Starting from midway through Marin Crosroads, look for the traffic circle where Route 8 turns to the right towards Tiburon.

 

Make a left at the traffic circle, the opposite direction of Tiburon and follow Route 10 towards Mill Valley.  This is Sycamore Avenue.

Heading down Sycamore Avenue

Go through the light and stop signs until you get to the intersection of La Goma.  This is a five way stop and you will make an immediate left.  You’ll see the orange house on the right, keep following La Goma until you get to Miller Avenue.

Left on La Goma

Follow La Goma

Miller Avenue to Presidio Avenue

At the first stop sign on La Goma, make a right on to Miller Avenue.  As you head down Miller Avenue you’ll see Mt. Tam in the foreground.

Right on Miller Avenue

Heading down Miller Avenue towards Mt. Tam

You’ll know you’re on the right path when you pass the “village”, seemingly lost in time…Riding down Miller Avenue, you’ll see palm trees and redwoods growing side-by-side, perhaps an oddity unique to Northern California.

Presidio Avenue to Old Mill Park

Follow Miller Avenue until you approach the Mill Valley Cabinet Shop on your left.  Here, you’ll make a quick right onto Millwood Street and then an immediate left onto Presidio Avenue.

Mill Valley Cabinet Shop on left, signals a right onto Millwood and left onto Presidio (the red car is on Presidio)

Follow Presidio Avenue and Route 10 where you’ll ride by Mill Valley’s namesake…the mill.

Mill Valley Lumber Company

After passing the mill, you’ll come to a bend in the road where you follow the Route 10 signs through a bend to the right.  Follow the directions of the “little green man” around the bend.

The little green man signals the route

and then a quick left onto Laurelwood…

Follow Laurelwood until it ends at Sunnyside Avenue.  Then make a left onto Sunnyside Avenue.

Follow Sunnyside Avenue through the center of Mill Valley.  Look at the map above and just remember to follow the Route 10 signs if the turns in this part of the route get a bit confusing.  The twists and turns in this section are to keep you off Miller Avenue where it has high-speed traffic and no shoulder.  Once you arrive at the stop sign with Miller Avenue, this signals the end of Route 10.  The rest of journey to Panoramic Highway you’ll have to watch for the street names as this next part of the journey is not part of a marked bike route.

The stop sign at Miller is the end of Route 10

The green sign (pictured above), below the stop sign at Miller Avenue, indicates “Mt Tamalpais, Muir Woods and Stinson Beach” to the left, these are directions for cars, not cyclists.  Instead, you will make a right on to Miller Avenue.

Another look at the map from Presidio Avenue to Old Mill Park

A look down the last section of Miller

At the next stop sign, you will encounter another five-way intersection (pictured below).  Make an immediate left down Throckmorton Avenue.  You will pass the Throckmoroton Theatre on your right.

The intersection at Throckmorton

Making a left onto Throckmorton

Follow Throckmorton until you reach Old Mill Park.

Old Mill Park to Edgewood Avenue

Make a left at the intersection onto Cascade Way/Old Mill Street and into Old Mill Park.

Intersection of Old Mill Street/Cascade Way and Throckmorton

 

There is a little slope you can glide down trough Old Mill Park

Old Mill Park has a little stream that runs through it that you will be passing as you travel along Cascade Drive.  At the end of Old Mill Park, make a right onto Cascade Drive.

Traveling through Old Mill Park

Make a right at the intersection with Cascade Drive

Follow narrow Cascade Drive through the redwoods.  Stop to enjoy the views of the redwoods and the stream on your right through the last relatively flat section of this route.

A narrow road takes you through the woods

At the intersection of Cascade Drive and Marion, make a left at Marion Avenue.  This is beginning of the hill climbing.

Make a left at Marion and…

…let the hill climbing begin

Keep left on Marion Avenue at the intersection of Marion and Monte Vista.

Make a left to follow Marion when you get to this intersection with Monte Vista

Follow Marion’s winding path up the mountain.


After following Marion for a bit, you will arrive at the intersection with Millside Lane, which looks like this…

Y-Intersection with Millside Lane

Keep to the right and keep on climbing.  We made the mistake of going to the left the first time we did the climb.  The road dead ends at a home about a quarter of a mile down the way, which means more climbing to get back to this intersection.

Keep on going up

Marion Avenue will keep climbing until just before you reach the intersection with Edgewood Avenue.

Edgewood Avenue to Panoramic Highway

Once you reach the intersection with Edgewood Drive, make a right for more hills.

 

Though your route along Edgewood is only a little over a quarter mile, it is steep.

After a quarter mile along Edgewood Drive, you’ll come to the intersection with Sequoia Valley Road.  Follow the natural curve of the road to the left and onto Sequoia Valley Road.  This intersection has a wide shoulder under the green sign (pictured below) which is a good place to take a break from the climbing and get some pictures.

Keep left on Sequoia Valley Road

Follow Sequoia Valley as it climbs through the homes.  Be careful at this point as the car traffic begins to increase.  This is one of the paths that cars take to Mt. Tam, Muir Woods and Stinson Beach as well.

Starting with Edgewood Drive and Sequoia Valley Road, this is a main path for cars to Mt. Tam, Muir Woods and Stinson Beach

There are many picturesque views as you climb Sequoia Valley Road.  Just remember to pull over to a safe place to take them, as the road can be narrow and cars are more frequent on this part of the journey.

View along Sequoia Valley Road

Sequoia Valley winds up the mountain

The route along Sequoia Valley is about 0.75 miles long and mostly climbing.  There are mile markers along the way to let you know how far you’ve going.  You known you’re getting close to the end when you see the gap in the trees and the mirror on the telephone pole on the left hand side of the road.

Bikers take this route both to and from Mt. Tam, notice the break in the trees, you

The 0.66 mile marker and the mirror on the left let you know you

Once you follow the bend to the right, you can see the intersection with Panoramic Drive just ahead.

The stop sign signifies the end of this route.  You are now at the crossroads of a great descent back to Sausalito along the Panoramic Highway, a trip to Muir Woods, or continuing to climb up Panoramic Highway on your way up Mount Tamalpais and beyond.

Whether this is your first trip up the mountain, or you are seeing how far you can go up the mountain in stages, this is one of the most rewarding climbs you’ll have in the Bay Area.  Very few views can compete with those you see from Panoramic Highway.

The further you travel along Panoramic Highway, the more it lives up to its name.  As you approach the Pacific Ocean, there are switchbacks reminiscent of the Alpine car chase scenes in James Bond films with views to match.  The route to Panoramic Highway isn’t only for those seeking to climb Mt. Tam, it’s for everyone who wants a challenge with a fitting reward.  The reward for climbing in the Bay Area is both in spectacular views and amazing descents.  The higher your go, the better the views and the longer the descent back to Earth.

Here are the Route Directions, print them to take them along with you