Alpine Dam Loop - Cycling

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Though pretty challenging, the 67-mile Alpine Dam Loop is one of the most beautiful rides in the Bay Area.

Written by

Blane Bachelor


55.0 miles

You can tweak your mileage depending on where you start the ride, but leaving from the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge, the loop is about 55 miles.

Destination Distance From Downtown

17.2 miles


4 of 5 diamonds

You can adjust the total distance of the loop depending on where you start from, but you can count on at least 55 miles and about 5,000 feet of climbing for an epic workout in the saddle. The climbs are brutal and descents are screaming fast, so the ride isn't recommended for novices.

Time To Complete

5 hours

If you're hitting it really hard, you can crank out Alpine Dam in less than five hours. But mere mortals will likely need more time for a breather at different spots along the route.


All Seasons

Though the route is doable year-round, spring and fall are ideal times for tackling it. During the summertime, hordes of tourists crowd the Golden Gate Bridge and filter up through the Marin headlands, and winter rains (though not so much during California's longstanding drought) make roads slick and descents more dangerous.

Dog Friendly




Make no mistake, this is world-class cycling: monster climbs and bombing descents, with the backdrop of the gorgeous NorCal coast creating a sublime riding experience. Make sure to stock up on plenty of water and fuel, as well as sunscreen, as the Seven Sisters section of the route offers very little shade.

What Makes It Great

Many local riders like to break the ride up into three sections. The first is a sort of warm-up, a relatively flat 20 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the funky little town of Fairfax. If you need a jolt of caffeine for the climbs ahead, the Coffee Roasters is a popular spot.

Get ready to tax those quads on the next section, which is mostly climbing. You’ll tackle a long, steady ascent (about nine miles) from Fairfax on the way to the dam. Take a break at the dam (and some photos—the views are spectacular) before hopping back on the saddle for one of the toughest sections: about 2.5 miles of beastly switchback climbing. Stop at Ridgecrest for another break if you need it (and to fuel up and reapply the sunscreen for the final stretch). Now, it’s time to tackle the Seven Sisters (also known among cycling circles as the Seven Bitches). Your legs will be screaming at you by the fifth one, but keep grinding it out—you’re well over halfway there.

The final haul kicks off with some much-needed respite from all that climbing with a long, fast descent down the slopes of Mount Tam into the tony little town of Mill Valley. Get ready right away for the speed, which starts right after you pass the observation center. Keep your speed under control, your fingers on the brakes, and your line steady down the right-hand side of the road, especially around the blind curves, as cars coming up Mount Tam frequently cross the center line while passing cyclists on the other side. Once in Mill Valley, you’ll hit the bike path that takes you back into Sausalito, with a few smallish climbs before you reach the bridge again.

Who is Going to Love It

This isn’t a climb for novice cyclists—i.e., you’ll definitely want to be clipped in for the brutal climbs. In addition, anyone who doesn’t like serious climbing—or the rip-roaring descents that come with it—should probably choose another option.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

If it’s your first time tackling Alpine Dam, it’s best to go with a friend who’s familiar with the route, as it can be tricky to navigate to the uninitiated. You can also grab a map by the Marin County Bicycle Coalition at Mike’s Bikes, right off the bike path in Sausalito. As far as parking goes, you'll find paid spots along the waterfront at Crissy Field (though some have a four-hour time limit). Close to Fort Mason along Bay Street, there is ample (and free!) parking, but you'll have a few extra miles to reach the Golden Gate Bridge. There are no fees or permits required for the route, which is along public roads.

Written by Blane Bachelor for RootsRated.

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Alpine Dam Loop

4 Bolinas Rd
Fairfax, CA, 94930
37.986952, -122.589087

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