Friday, August 7, 2009

San Francisco to Big Basin mixed-terrain 3 day tour

Rivendell Romulus
Photo above is during the ride on Montara mountain. Click on the image to see more bike photos (but I don't have any more from this trip).

I look this Friday-Sunday trip over a weekend in July 2009 that might be of interest to those in the bay area. I reference lots of bay area specific roads that anyone around this area would know and I don’t give a super-detailed route but it’s easy enough to figure out with some good maps and feel free to post questions if you want to try a similar route. I took this route on my Rivendell Romulus decked out for light touring (tent, sleeping bag, extra clothes, but no cooking supplies as I just ate at places along the way).

Each summer I do a S24O from San Francisco, but have found there are really only a few obvious options. One summer I did an overnight to Bodega Bay, last summer I did an overnight to Butano state park down highway 1 and back to SF through the peninsula, but last weekend I think I did my favorite ride yet and by making it a S48O+ I was able to actually get some nice hikes in and take my time.

Friday - San Francisco to Butano State Park via Highway 1 (~55 miles)

The key to this part is you must reserve a walk-in campsite at Butano state park, a lovely park with lots of great hiking but no hiker/biker site. Doing this on a Friday also means less traffic down highway 1 than you’d find on a weekend. Heading from San Francisco via golden gate park and Ocean beach the part through Daly city and Pacifica was cold due to fog (always is in summer) and not so interesting but as soon as you get to Linda Mar it’s usually clear and then there are two ways to proceed south. The scary but direct way is via highway 1 over Devil’s slide and the calmer but much longer way is the “off-road” option via “Planet of the apes road” over Montara mountain which is how I always go. This abandoned “road” which used to the way over Montara before highway 1 is a mix of crumbly pavement and trail but a nice route even if you have to walk your bike through a few washed out sections.

Once over Montara, highway 1 has a wide shoulder and is easy riding through Half Moon Bay (don’t miss the nice bike trail along the beach) and then on towards Pescadero. Lots of nice lunch options in Half Moon Bay – I got food/water at the “New Leaf” market. Once in Pescadero I had a nice dinner at Duarte’s, got supplies for breakfast in the morning and headed towards Butano to get settled in my site. If you arrive early enough you still have plenty of time to get some hikes in, but since I left late I just setup camp and went to sleep early. Don’t forget ear plugs since the walk-in sites are nice but you still do have neighbors.

Saturday – Butano to Big Basin via Gazos Creek road fireroad (~20 miles)

I was up early in order to take a nice 2 hour hike in the morning. Lots of beautiful hikes from Butano ranging from an hour to several hours and info/maps available at the campground. I left the campground around 9am and headed to Big Basin via Gazos Creek road. The first part of this road is paved and lovely, running along a creek and absolutely no cars. Once you hit the end, however, the real mixed-terrain part of this ride begins. There is a long and often steep climb up Gazos fire road for several miles, and I found myself walking the bike for a good part of it but was alone the whole way except for bugs (bring bug spray, which I forgot, or keep moving).

Once you hit the top, there is an interesting area with some old train cars and a nice place to rest after the long climb. From here it’s a nice easy ride on the Gazos fire trail into Big Basin HQ. A few mild ups and downs but very enjoyable on the dirt fire road. Once I hit Big Basin, the crowds were a shock after several hours of solitude on the trail. This is a very, very popular camping destination and you normally need reservations months in advance for the weekends. There is a hiker/biker site, however, for just $3/night and it’s rarely used so I had it to myself despite the fact the rest of the campground was full. It’s not the perfect site as it’s close to road and you can still hear cars and other campers across the road but well placed near HQ and plenty of space/privacy.

By this time it was only noon so I had the whole day left to spend hiking. There are many hiking options but the ultimate is the berry creek falls 11 mile loop hike, which I’ve done before but only in real hiking boots and it can be a challenge if you’re not up for it. Even though I had walkable biking shoes (at must in order to enjoy the hikes) that would have been be too much for this trip so I went on a nice 3 hour loop hike and had plenty of time to relax, eat dinner at the snack bar and do a few additional short hikes (don’t miss the redwood loop).

Sunday – Big Basin to San Francisco (~75 miles)

I was glad I rested yesterday, because it’s long trip back to S.F. The climb out of big basin starts out lovely (hwy 236) but gets to be a long grind once you hit highway 9, being buzzed by motorcycles who love to go fast on these curvy roads. I made sure to start early (6am) so there was minimal traffic and it was cooler weather for the climb. Once you hit Skyline (hwy 35) it’s mostly downhill. I went down Skyline until I hit Page Mill road then descended towards Palo Alto and made my way over to Woodside via Alpine and Portola. I saw more bikes than cars! This really is biker central on the weekends, lots of spandex and high-end carbon fiber bikes, so I looked a little out of place.

From Woodside I headed north on Canada road, which is mostly exposed and was quite hot but one nice thing about doing this on Sunday is part of it is closed for “bicycle Sundays” and there is water available. From there I made my way to the lovely Sawyer Camp Trail at Crystal Springs Reservoir. The route continues on some multi-use trails until you’re forced to ride on Skyline (hwy 35). There’s no getting around the fact that this direct route back is on a freeway and not very pleasant. Fast cars, some dangerous intersections and usually freezing cold from the fog. There are nicer ways back if you descend back to Pacifica but that adds more miles/climbing and by this point I’m ready to get home. Once you get past this unpleasant part, Ocean beach is a welcome sight. From there I went through Golden Gate park and was home just about 9 hours later after leaving Big Basin.

A tiring but great trip!


  1. Sounds like a nice trip! Did you get anymore in last summer?

  2. hi bro, just noticed your post. how did you know this was me?