Great Fat Tire Trails for Families
For a fun and different Bay Area adventure, families need only to hop on their bikes and head off road. The idea of mountain biking with the kids may scare some parents ‒ who wants to see their child tumble down a rocky hill? ‒ but the activity is safe if you use reliable bikes and start on beginner trails.
Here are our recommendations for great family rides. Note that helmets are required for riders under 18 and that all routes have significant dirt sections, so fat tires are recommended. Check the park websites for trail maps, parking fees and possible trail closures.
For a short, pleasant mountain bike ride, check out Shoreline Trail in China Camp State Park. On this one-way, single-track trail, not only will you meander through forests of oak, madrone and buckeye, but you’ll be treated to extensive bay views. There is a well-traveled, 1.5-mile trail section near the visitor’s center, and if your family is raring for more, you can continue the trail a few more miles north and south. Include a stop at the museum to learn about the Chinese shrimp-fishing village of 500 residents that thrived here in the 1880s. Open 8 a.m. to sunset. From Highway 101 north of San Rafael, take North San Pedro Road east five miles to the park entrance. 415-456-0766.
Another Marin County option is to ride through Golden Gate National Park’s Marin Headlands on the gentle Tennessee Valley Trail, ending at a secluded cove on the beach. The mostly level, 1.7-mile, one-way trail travels through grassland harboring deer and coyote and, in spring time, abundant wildflowers including lupines and poppies. Plan your visit to the cove for low tide and seasonal sand alignments for a peek of the shipwrecked SS Tennessee. Open sunrise to sunset. From Highway 1 north of Marin City, take Tennessee Valley Road west to the Tennessee Valley parking lot. 415-331-1540.
Pedal around this loop trail on Angel Island State Park and not only will you experience this historic isle close up, but you’ll also enjoy 360-degree views of the bay. There are two loops, actually ‒ a partially paved, six-mile perimeter road and a three-mile, unpaved interior fire road. Whether to take one or both loops depends on your family’s skill level and gumption. The perimeter loop is suitable even for kids just off training wheels since there is very little car traffic (service vehicles only), while the interior loop is slightly more challenging and must be reached by a short, fairly steep dirt connector road. Open 8 a.m. to sunset. Take the ferry from Tiburon or San Francisco. 415-435-5390.. angelislandferry.com. www.blueandgoldfleet.com/ferry/angel-island.
Views of picturesque bluffs and sandy beaches await those who ride along the Coastside Trail, a mellow, three-mile, one-way ride along Half Moon Bay State Beach. If the kids are having a blast, the ride can be extended to 16 miles one-way by continuing the trail beyond the park to Pillar Point. Be sure to check the forecast if you want to bike on a day free from Half Moon Bay’s infamous fog and wind. Open 8 a.m. to sunset. Park at the Francis Beach lot at the end of Kelly Avenue in Half Moon Bay. 650-726-8819.
If you want to get away from it all without going very far, the 2.7-mile, one-way Abrigo Valley Trail in Briones Regional Park offers a great option for mountain-biking families. Tucked between Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Martinez, Briones is a secret wilderness of rolling grasslands and shady canyons. Most of Briones’ bike trails are rigorous, but the Abrigo Valley Trail is on a smooth fire road and is manageable for older children who can handle a few hills. From the Bear Creek staging point, pedal along Abrigo Valley Trail to Santos Trail and Wee Ta Chi group camp before returning along the same path. Open 8am. Closing time varies by season but is generally near sunset. Bear Creek Staging Area, 16 Bear Creek Road, Lafayette. 888-327-2757.
A beautiful trail that is also suitable for beginning mountain bikers is the Wildcat Creek Trail through the Tilden Nature Area and Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. Coasting along the creek and shaded by live oaks, laurels and maples, the trail offers more than four miles, one way, of smooth and scenic riding. Open 7:30am. Closing time varies by season but is generally near sunset. Reach the trail from the south through Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley. Take Canon Drive to Central Park Drive to Lone Oak Road until it ends. 888-327-2757.
For an easy trail through lush, riparian habitat, try the 2.5-mile, one-way Peters Creek trail in the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve, the area’s last cattle ranch when it closed in the 1980s. Open half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset. Park on the west side of Skyline Boulevard, 3.6 miles north of Highway 9 and 3.3 miles south of Page Mill Road, west of Saratoga. 650-691-1200.
Slightly tougher than Peters Creek Trail is the single-track Saratoga Gap Trail in the adjacent Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve. Lengthen the two-mile Saratoga Gap ride by connecting to the Long Ridge Trail fire road via the Hickory Oaks fire road for a roughly-five mile, one-way route through shady oaks and firs. Park at the intersection of Skyline and Highway 9, west of Saratoga. Open half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset. 650-691-1200.
Several gentle trails can be found at Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz among the park’s 35 miles of multi-use trails, along with intermediate and strenuous ones, too. Families can ride through the redwoods, see expansive beaches and sea caves, and stop for a tour of the circa-1897 Victorian home and dairy farm. For an easy ride with vast ocean views, take the two-mile, one-way fire road section of Wilder Ridge Loop or follow the 2.4-mile Old Cove Landing loop along the bluffs. Open 8am to Sunset. A free trail map and $5 topographic map are available in the visitor center. Visitor Center hours: Thurs.-Sun., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with shorter hours in winter. Enter the park on the westside of Highway 1, a mile northwest of Western Drive. 831-423-0505 or 831-423-9703.
Angela Geiser reports frequently for Bay Area Parent.