Whisking down scenic Mount Tamalpais on a mountain bike is a sweet reward for cyclists who take on the climb to the summit of Marin's iconic 2,571-foot peak. The classic route to the top is the eight-mile-long Old Railroad Grade fire road from Mill Valley to Tam's East Peak.
Suitable for intermediate riders (the road is rocky in places), the fire road never exceeds a 6% grade thanks to the Mill Valley & Mount Tamalpais Railway, a tourist train known as "the Crookedest Railroad in the World" that built the route and operated from 1896 to 1929.
This popular mountain bike ride starts just 11 miles north of San Francisco at the fire road's trailhead in Mill Valley's redwood-shaded Blithedale canyon. You can park in downtown Mill Valley or in pull-outs along West Blithedale before riding to the trail, which winds up to paved Summit Road before entering the park. The road slowly rises up the mountain's southern flank, following numerous twists and turns through wide-open stretches doused in full sun and shady forest of redwood, oak and bay trees.
About 3/4 of the way up the mountain you reach the historic West Point Inn hikers club, where you can refill water bottles or hydration packs, and take a breather on the inn's shady veranda before continuing the climb to Tam's East Peak. As you ascend the views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay and southern Marin lands become more and more panoramic--and stunning, especially on those days where a soft blanket of ocean fog covers the water as far as the eye can see.
After taking a hike on the Verna Dunshee trail, which circumnavigates the summit, the fun begins as the twisting and turning thrill ride spirits you back down to Mill Valley. It's a deliciously long descent, full of sensational turns and minor technical challenges, which sums up why the Old Railroad Grade is a classic half-day ride on Marin's enchanting Mount Tamalpais.
For complete Marin County visitor information, please see www.visitmarin.org.