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Saratoga Gap

This is one of our more frequent rides because there is a lot of variety and lots of different trail combinations. We have ridden here at least 17 times and no two rides are the same. Most of these trails are part of the Midpennisula Open Space District (Saratoga Gap, Long Ridge, Skyline Ridge, Russian Ridge, Monte Bello) and Santa Clara County's Upper Stevens Creek Park. Some trails are part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail system.

Park: Saratoga Gap
Date: Multiple
Distance: 8 - 21.5 miles
Ride Time: Various
Total Ascent: 2,500 - 4,100 feet
Maps: Detailed official Saratoga Gap trail map
Maps: Detailed official Skyline Ridge trail map
Overall Rating: 8

Most (but not all) rides start at the Saratoga Gap trailhead at the junction of Highway 9 and Highway 35 (Skyline Boulevard). This section is a nice single track that winds along a forested hillside running roughly parallel to Skyline. It seems like you hit a groove and can pick up a good bit of speed, when suddenly you hit a switchback that has about 4 feet beyond a root/rock drop to turn your bike completely around and continue to head down the hill. If you miss the turn, you hurl off the trail into oblivion (not recommended). If you fall just before this point, you land on rocks or slide down a hill and get cut up (often in front of an appreciative audience!). Unfortunately, I tried both of these options when I was first learning to use clipless pedals (benefit from my experience...learn this skill some place easier). The rest of the trail is not quite as bad, but there are still rocks, roots, and curves to make it interesting. It is all singletrack and can get busy with other bikes and hikers, so error on the side of caution and always be courteous.

We usually cross Charcoal Road and continue on to where the trail crosses Skyline. At this point, the trail opens up to the Hickory Oaks fire road, with occasional diversions to single tracks (always take these). There is a noticeable increase in the height and length of the hills in this section. There is usually a variety of wildlife in this section, including deer, coyotes, and wild turkeys. There are a couple of nice viewpoints along this trail if you stick with the singletrack.

The junction at Ward Road is the first major decision point. Turning left (this may be the only option in the rainy season) takes you down Ward Road. From here, you can ride (or try to) Ranch Spring Trail. We try to ride this in a clockwise direction, but there is a very steep section that I haven't been able to ride up yet. There is also a gate that seems to lead down to Portola State Park here, but we haven't explored this yet. I have heard that this section may not be open to bikes, but I have no idea why this would be the case. In the winter, you may have to return from here, so try the Ward Road/Hickory Oaks Trail combination. If it is dry, this path is just steep. If the ground is wet, this is like riding a steeply inclined soaking wet sponge. This is definitely a challenge.

You can also ride down School Road from Ward Road. In this case, the "road" name is a bit more of a comment about the trail width rather than the condition of the trail. School Road goes down to cross Slate Creek and then climbs back out to Dougherty Road (paved) at a 5-way junction. This is a nice ride that seems to be very seldom used. We took one of the unmarked roads at the 5-way junction and explored what used to be a road, then a trail, and is now becoming a former trail. This was pretty fun, but it seems to end (at least for us) in the middle of a poison oak patch. A good scrubbing with TecNu help prevent an outbreak.

Our usual route skips Ward Road on the left and Peters Creek on the right, continuing on Hickory Oaks as it changes into Long Ridge Road. Take this to the end were you will find a stone bench with a nice view over the wooded valley and toward the ocean. Just behind you is the gate to the other end of the Peters Creek singletrack. There is a gate that is closed in the rainy season (if the gate is closed, don't go around it...rangers are often waiting there with very expensive tickets and without a sense of humor or forgiveness, or so people tell me).

The real fun lies beyond the gate. At this point, the trail becomes a beautiful singletrack that winds through the forest as it makes its way down from the ridge to Peters Creek at the bottom (who would have guessed?). This is a very pretty section that ends in a rather steep descent to the creek. This section is so steep that you probably won't be able to get off your bike if you lose control for a moment, so don't do that (and don't skid either).

We usually head left (northwest) on Peters Creek. After bypassing the Grizzly Flat cutoff (see the Stevens Canyon description) on the right, we ride along the Ridge Trail. Starting at the Grizzly Flat junction, the singletrack moves out of the forest and into the open grass lands. The trail is relatively flat and fast (there are two road/driveways with horse gates that you have to cross). A bit further down, it returns to the forest for another pretty singletrack before you pop out above the Christmas Tree farm and the fireroad. If you have limited time, the Christmas Tree Farm is usually a good place to turn around. If you continue on, you will climb a few hills to arrive at Horseshoe Lake. This is a good place to stop (perhaps on the way back) to enjoy a snack and watch the birds and spot turtles. Another hill climb and descent will bring you to Alpine Pond at the junction of Alpine Road and Skyline.

Turning left (west) on Alpine Road will take you to Pescadero Creek via Portola State Park. On the other hand, turning right will take you to Alpine Road and the upper end of the Stevens Canyon Trail. Continuing straight on the Ridge Trail will take you into the  Russian Ridge open space and Borel Hill, where you can see in many directions. Beyond Borel Hill, you can go to Crazy Pete's Road and take the Valley View Trail back to the lower end of the old (unpaved now) Alpine Road.

Rewinding a bit, taking the Grizzly Flat Trail at the junction with Peter's Creek and Ridge trails takes you back across Skyline and then puts you on a 2 mile downhill to Steven's Creek. After riding or wading across the creek, there is a short trail with several switchbacks and lots of poison oak (Ken discovered this fact) that deposits you on the Stevens Canyon Trail. This is the shortcut return if you are riding back to the valley (when we didn't park at Saratoga Gap).

Going down (southwest) the Stevens Canyon Trail will bring you to the Table Mountain Trail at a small creek. You may have to look closely as it is not entirely obvious. If you do a short dip, bear to the right to get to Table Mountain. This is another nice trail that winds up the mountain, but it can seem steep and there may be flies at certain times of year (thanks to horses). There is also a bit of poison oak here. Once you reach what you think is the top, the real climbing on Charcoal Road begins. This is a fireroad that seems to have been imported from the moon because in the summer it is covered with several inches of dust. Charcoal Road seems to have very little shade and is very steep, to be prepared for this in the summer. This is supposed to be uphill only for bikes. Riding to the end will bring you back to the Saratoga Gap Trail.

If you do not cross Skyline at Grizzly Flat, return to the Ward Road junction via the Peter's Creek Trail. This is generally an easier trail than returning via Long Ridge. You still have to do as much climbing, but it does not seem to be as steep. The climb will start after you pass a small pond on your left.

If you are headed back at this point, you have usually done a fair bit of riding already. Hopefully, you still have some energy left to ride back along Saratoga Gap. The elevation gain is not that significant, but your legs may be pooped by this point. Be careful, because some of the baby heads and other hidden obstacles seem to attack tired riders. There is a fun root that normally would not be too much of an issue, but it always seems to come up after an uphill bend when you are tired. Give it a try. Oh, remember that switchback I started with? The end of the trail is a real gut past that switchback, but you can do it.

This set of trails has something for everyone. It may not have the most technical sections, but it has a great mix of easy and moderate trails, forests and grasslands, frequently and infrequently traveled trails, and lot of options. What is not to like? I would not recommend this trail for beginners, but this is a nice trail for intermediate riders with a bit of endurance.

This all sounds pretty confusing. It is, but that is because there are so many trails in this area that are all good rides. Take a look at the maps and try to follow along.

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