Connecting to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal is one of the easiest ways to return to San Francisco from a ride in Marin County. The route takes you from the end of the Marin Crossroads, through one of our favorite short descents we call “The Chase Scene,” through the town of Larkspur and back along another multi-use path to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.
On September 10, 2011 the West Side of the Golden Gate Bridge reopened to bicyclists. The West Side of the bridge will now be open 24/7 until seismic renovations are completed on the East Side of the Bridge. However, there are some restrictions on bikers during the week in the construction zone where the repainting is occuring. See the release for full details.
As of September 12, 2011 pedestrians are unable to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Presently, pedestrians entering from Vista Point in Marin County are limited to the area immediately surrounding Vista Point and a 700 foot section of the Bridge. The renovations will be at the north anchor-housing and will last through mid-January 2012. Visitors from the San Francisco side of the Bridge are able to walk past the second tower, but must turn around at that point.
This effectively means that pedestrians, joggers, skateboarders and everyone else, EXCEPT bicyclists WILL NOT be able to cross the Bridge until it reopens in mid-January 2012. If you are a jogger and feel you should be able to run on the bike side of the bridge, DON’T! Bridge Police will be out and cite pedestrians trying to cross on the West Side of the Bridge. So if you want to walk to Sausalito, you will have to park in Marin County to do so.
Bicyclists, you can now rejoice in the fact we can once again ride across the bridge without dealing with pedestrians. So don’t be bike douches, just slow down around the towers and in the construction zone because we all paused for pictures on the Golden Gate Bridge at one point in time and may do so once again.
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.
This route is fully open again. For more information regarding the recent improvements see Marin Headlands Closure Information for more details.
Distance: from San Francisco Ferry Building 15.18 miles
–Trail Starts at mile 7.7 of The Golden Gateway
–Trail Ends at mile 8.13 of The Golden Gateway — East Side Wee Fast Fun Route
Difficulty: The climbing is long and steep, but the initial descent is even steeper!
Climbing on Route: 925 feet (282 meters)
Descent on Route: 896 feet (273 meters)
Download your route sheet here: Directions – I’m Sky High
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.
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.
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!
Descents are the reward after climbing to the top of Sequoia Valley Road or Panoramic Highway. The former takes you on a beautiful journey through Muir Woods, the latter takes you on a magnificent 4 mile descent to Stinson Beach. While Stinson Beach requires a series of climbs to make your way along the Pacific Coast Highway to Muir Beach, the second half of the route from Muir Woods is relatively flat. These two routes intersect at the Pelican Inn along CA-1. The pattern of a tough climb being rewarded by a great descent is remains unbroken in The Three Amigos. The return begins with a tough narrow climb along CA-1 with traffic nipping at your heals. If you can time the cars just right, you will experience a fantastic, high-speed return back to the Marin Crossroads. Each path that leads to this return is its own unique adventure. That adventure continues on in The Three Amigos’ journey to Sausalito.
Download your Ride to Muir Woods and Return to Sausalito Route Sheet here: Directions – Bay to Muir Woods to Ferry
Distance from San Francisco 42.24 miles; from the Marin Crossroads 27.81 miles; from Somewhere Over the Rainbow 25.73 miles; from A Panoramic View 19.24 miles; from Roller Coaster Ride 15.09 miles; from Dog Days Are Over 8.49 miles
Download your Ride to Stinson Beach and Return to Sausalito Route Sheet here: Directions – Bay to Beach to Ferry
Difficulty: A tough climb on a narrow road with no shoulder followed by a fast and fun descent that can be interrupted by “Sunday Drivers”
Elevation Gain on Route: 623 feet (190 meters)
Descent on Route: 676 feet (206 meters)
Download your route sheet solely for Three Amigos here: Directions – Three Amigos
From the Pelican Inn, there is one last hill to conquer before the exciting descent and return to the Marin Crossroads and Sausalito.
Continue heading south on CA-1 from the intersection with Pacific Way.
The beginning of the climb is hidden around the first corner.
Round the first bend and you get a preview of you life for the next 2.2 miles: switchback, blind corner, switchback, blind corner…
Often the cars pass you closely on this shoulderless, narrow road.
Other times, you get a brief distraction from the climbing.
With steep gradients, the standing climb is your friend on this hill.
Though only sometimes necessary, passing other bikers on the narrow road requires, speed, control and a bit of luck to get a long enough break in the traffic.
The standing climb can also be used to work different muscles to not tire your legs too quickly.
Although the scenery doesn’t change much as you continue around the next corner, make sure to enjoy the views around you.
A small shoulder is present in some areas of the climb.
As you keep climbing you can eventually see the top of the climb.
As the distance to the top gets shorter, a good standing climb helps Kelton keep pushing his way to the top.
The base of the pine trees (center) signifies the top of the climb is getting near.
Just a few more stints of out of the saddle climbing and you’re almost there.
Turn the corner and you can almost see the definition of the trees.
Then you realize you still have a few more turns to go.
The road starts to reduce in gradient as you get closer to the top, keep up the RPMs and you will start to gain speed.
As the top nears, these two road signs indicate the last two switchbacks before the top.
At the sight of the last corner the blood rushes back to your legs.
Rounding the last turn, a spot to rest is just a few hundred feet away.
Once at the top, you realize the amount of traffic passing you was not just your imagination.
The top is a great spot to rest for the other members of the party still climbing.
Timing is everything in this next portion of the ride. The relatively flat section between the resting area and the intersection with Panoramic Highway gives you a bit of a chance to get ready for the downhill portion of the journey. If timed well, the journey is fast and exciting. If timed poorly, you’ll catch a car quickly and be on your breaks the rest of the way to the bottom.
Watch the cars rounding the visible corners, when no other cars are in sight, that’s your queue to go!
After leaving the rest area, you have a quick jaunt through the woods on a slight decline.
Which leads you past the intersection of Panoramic Highway and CA-1 and to…
Watch the video of our descent to Stinson Beach, California.
Making the journey to Stinson Beach is one of the most satisfying trails in Marin County. There are no tourists out this way because of the difficulty involved in both the climb and descent. The climb to reach the crest of Panoramic Highway is a long, arduous path, not for the faint of heart or legs. The descent to Stinson Beach is mentally challenging, very fast and highly technical. The switchbacks toward the end are a series of 180 degree turns over rough road which are entered at high speed and long, steep straightaways leading to the next switchback. The work is worth the reward as this descent is one of the most thrilling in the Bay Area!
Difficulty: Fast and Highly Technical
Descent: 1476 feet of Elevation Loss Over the 4.15 mile Descent
Download your route sheet here: Directions – Roller Coaster Ride
Download your Ride to Stinson Beach and Return to Sausalito Route Sheet here: Directions – Bay to Beach to Ferry
At the end of A Panoramic View you have the choice of continuing your assent up Mt. Tam along Paying the Toll, descending back to Sausalito, or taking the plunge and descending to Stinson Beach. If you choose Stinson Beach, you are in for a thrilling, high-speed descent to the Pacific Ocean.
The descent takes about 10 to 20 minutes, be ready to be in the drops almost that entire time. Cars are a constant factor in slowing you down, but being passed on your way down is pretty unlikely.
The descent starts in the woods and has some high speed straights that lead to sweeping corners.
The corners along this part of the ride are where you will start to catch up with cars.
Though if necessary, you can take a break at the next corner to allow the car more time to get ahead of you, so as to not ruin your ride or overheat your breaks.
The air is always cool on this part of the descent with the canopy of trees.
After spending the first two mile in the woods, you’ll come to an opening and the beginning of the Alpinesque switchbacks.
The panoramic views from the bike here are just picturesque.
It’s worth taking a break to admire the views and take some pictures at this point.
But get ready, the rest of the descent is very tricky. The straights are steep, very fast with smooth roads, but…
The corners at the switchbacks in this area are the roughest part of the road, so pay attention to your entry speed, or you might end up sliding or crashing.
The nature of these turns allow you to tip the bike to extreme angle on this part of the descent, keeping up your speed through the corners.
The last few switchbacks have long straight aways in between where you have to start peddling for the first time since reaching the crest of Panoramic Highway.
A few of the corners toward the end of the descent are a little less technical than those at the top.
Don’t fall asleep though, there are still technical corners lingering at the end of the run. Watch your entry speeds going into these last few corners, the rough roads through the corners make these turns very difficult.
After the last series of swithbacks, the road will level out and end at the Pacific Coast Highway, CA-1.
Make a right to head into Stinson Beach.
When you arrive in Stinson Beach, make sure to stop at the Sand Dollar Restaurant and grab a bite to eat.
Making the journey to Stinson Bach is one of the major achievements for bikers in the Bay Area. It is a ride that can challenge you both mentally and physically. Once you’ve made it, you realize the climb and mentally challenging descent were all worth it. So enjoy a bite to eat before you head back.
Once you are ready to head back to Sausalito, you have two options. The first is to return on Panoramic Highway the way you came. The second option is to return along the Pacific Coast Highway, CA-1 through Muir Beach and make the climb back to Sausalito. Look forward to this article coming soon!
Until then, you can watch video the of return along Highway One in “The Dog Day Are Over” below. Enjoy!
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
The first rest area is a great place to take pictures of your adventure and to rehydrate.
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.