Mountain biking was born in Marin County. It actually really was, in the late 70s, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, by a couple of bikers, Gary Fischer and Tom Ritchey. Mountain biking is more popular than ever up and down Marin County, and in the heart of mecca rests Mount Tamalpais. He’s a king standing tall—2,572 feet to be exact—offering a bounty of good trail rides (some illegal single tracks) and the Railroad Grade, a hearty fire road climb from sea level in downtown Mill Valley. Grab your hardtail or full suspension souped up steed and get ready to pedal to the top and ride all the way down.
What Makes It Great
Railroad grade begins just past the quaint downtown area in Mill Valley. It’s a wide, think 10-12 feet, fire road ascending to the top of the mountain. In the late 1800s it was the route for the Mt. Tam Scenic Railway. Today, mountain bikers and hikers rejoice in its legendary past. There are over 200 curves and turns, waterfalls, wide cracks, loose rocks and plenty of priceless scenery. Railroad grade is an overall mellow 4.5-mile climb. You’re definitely climbing, but steep terrain isn't in the picture.
The best part of the trail is two thirds of the way up. The West Point Inn is the only remaining relic of the old railroad days that now serves as a hike-in hostel. Bathrooms, water, picnic tables and even horseshoe are all found at the Inn, alongside picturesque views of the San Francisco Bay, the Headlands and Pacific Ocean. It’s a great trail to itch your mountain biking fix, or perfect for that weekly routine ride. If you’re new to the scene, carve out at least half a day, but for some pros it takes less than two hours up and down.
Who is Going to Love It
Railroad grade is perfect for the new mountain biker or the seasoned one. It lacks single tracks and the descent is still calm enough for younger kids to ride. Mellow and forgiving, this trail is a great way to start mountain biking without the danger the sport can sometimes offer. It’s still an enduring climb to the top with only the occasional flat area to recover. Experienced bikers might find it boring, but many still use the trail to train. Bring a friend since the path is wide enough, you can talk alongside fellow riders all the way to the top.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The hardcore riders start in downtown Mill Valley, where the old train departed. Follow Throckmorton Ave to Lovell Avenue. Turn right and turn another right on Summit Ave. From Summit, turn left on Tamalpais Ave. and turn left on Fern Canyon Road. The trailhead begins on Fern Canyon. Parking is also available and prevalent (except on weekends) at the trailhead.
Be careful of speedy descending cyclists as you climb to the top, and look out for dogs, hikers and runners when going down yourself. Signs post 15 mph max speed, but isn’t strictly enforced.