Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Union City BART to Soquel/Capitola via Alameda Creek, Coyote Creek, Guadalupe Creek and Los Gatos Creek Trails - crossing San Jose the bike friendly way

This trip took a southern route around the bay, using a variety of gravel, dirt and paved mixed use trails to cruise smoothly across the San Jose metropolis with only a relatively small handful of lights and stop signs for 50 miles between the end of Dixon Landing Road in Milpitas and Soquel (Santa Cruz). Ay-may-zing.

I rode on 23mm tires at 120 psi without any problems, but picked lines very carefully. Riding slower on mixed use trails is offset by the advantage of almost no stop signs or other impediments. It is a good option for connecting the Santa Cruz mountains and the East Bay while avoiding the nervy and perpetually wind-blasted Dumbarton Bridge bike path crossing.

Here's a map of the route.

The route starts out using the bike lane on Decoto down to the Alameda Creek Trail (west/south side of creek). After about 20 yards of gravel right by the gate the trail is 100% paved and quite smooth with few people using it mid-day on a Tuesday. I made pretty good time. Very relaxing being off the street. The name of the road is stenciled on most overpasses, but someone painted over the street names using light brown tan paint on the Ardenwood bridge so look for that paint job.

Paseo Padre Parkway is wide and smooth out by Coyote Hills open space as you approach the Dumbarton Bridge. Taking this westerly route to see how it connects to the northern leg of the route up to Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley, Albany etc. described in the Scotts Valley to El Cerrito BART post.

The road is fairly good all the way through Central, Cherry, Boyce, and Fremont. I crossed over the freeway to the East side on West Warren, then took the first right on Kato Road. It was an okay choice but not ideal, but I'm not sure there's many better options. I'll probably try Warm Springs next time, or maybe take Paseo Padre south instead of using the Alameda Creek Trail to get to the bay shore?

The short section after the right from Milmont onto Dixon Landing Road and over the freeway is ugly riding. It's a 3 lane segment with no shoulder and no room on the right, and cars are in a hurry. Try using the parking lot on the corner of Milmont and Dixon Landing to shorten the exposure. I did not see a Bay Trail segment from the southern end of Fremont to Dixon Landing, although the South Bay map does show a planned route for some future date. That will be nice.

After turning south on N. McCarthy road look for the north entrance to Coyote Creek Trail after a bridge. The gravel driveway with the locked gate before the bridge is for the old road, not for the trail. Cross the bridge on the south-side sidewalk with the yellow striped lines.

I took an old closed road much in need of maintenance from Coyote Creek Trail to Zanker Road. It's a good connector, but Highway 237 is just over the barrier to your left and I think next time I'll continue south on Coyote Creek a few blocks before crossing over to Guadalupe Creek Trail.

The trail on the West side of Guadalupe Creek dead ends at the highway just before the airport, make sure you use the trail on the East side. You can double back on the road if you are on the wrong side.

The bike path switches sides of the creek a couple of times through San Jose, just follow the arrows and striped lines. There are water fountains in Guadalupe Creek park, the ones by the tennis courts look like they get regular use.

Once you reach Willow Street you'll be on the road for a few miles with a decent bike lane. There's all sorts of food options as you cross town. At the end of Willow Street the Los Gatos Creek Trail entrance is on the right, up the curb. You'll go left and stay on this side of the creek for a  few under-crossings. The Los Gatos Creek trail is paved for about the next 6 miles through the town of Los Gatos.

There's water and bathrooms in several places along the way. Make sure you have water before you cross the LG-Saratoga Road undercrossing, I didn't see anything from there out. After you cross over to the south side one more time there's a museum at an old mill. The trail reverts to gravel for the rest of the ride to the base of the dam.

You ride up an incline above and alongside the creek for a couple of miles until a short, sharp hill just as the dam appears in view. I lost traction here and had to walk the bike. Next time I'll carry a bit more speed into it and try to stick it out a bit longer. It seems quite challenging to climb the whole thing with 23mm slicks and a 39x25.

Mercifully the surface is paved for the grind up the face of the dam. At the top Alma Bridge Road goes left and right. Left is a significantly longer and hillier route around the reservoir, the map says you can also go right and use another gravel section paralleling Highway 17 to reach the base of Old Santa Cruz Highway.

The steepest section of the climb is from Alma Bridge up to Old Santa Cruz Highway on Aldercroft Heights Road . Be sure you do not go left on Aldercroft after the bridge.  The rest of the climb on Old Santa Cruz is a piece of cake. Yummy triple-chocolate with mascarpone cake, it's that good. Smooth pavement with moderate grades, mostly shaded and following a creek lined with redwoods. Lot's to like in this climb.

I took a left on Summit Road and then a right down Soquel-San Jose road. Next time I would take the Morell cutoff from Summit to Soquel-San Jose Road even though it appears to do some extra climbing after crossing the creek. Or, if I had more time, I'd get to the north side of 17 and take Mountain Charlie or Bear Creek Road down to connect to Glen Canyon Road then cut across Capitola, or take Summit south through Eureka Canyon (absolutely stellar remote riding) to Corralitos and then loop back up the coast.

After a little uphill at the start of Soquel-San Jose Road there's a 2+ mile long downhill starting just before mile 8, followed by rolling hills. After crossing Soquel Boulevard the route winds through a neighborhood to a nice bike lane on Portola. The trip finishes a few minutes later at Cole's BBQ, between 30th and 26th on the south side of Portola, with a heaping plate of tri-tip. You can't miss the smell, it's irresistible at the end of a long ride.

I can't say enough about how easy it was to cross San Jose staying almost exclusively on bike trails. I'd highly recommended this route if you are willing to ride dirt and gravel on a road bike, although it may be slow during popular times like weekends during the day.

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