Jul 28, 2014

Ride the Four Lakes Mountain Bike Loop

Marin Municipal Water District has 73 miles of dirt roads open to cyclists. We visit Phoenix, Lagunitas, Bon Tempe and Alpine Lake in one loop packed with scenery.

Ride the Four Lakes Mountain Bike Loop Ride the Four Lakes Mountain Bike Loop Ride the Four Lakes Mountain Bike Loop Ride the Four Lakes Mountain Bike Loop

It is quickly approaching mid-day on a sunny Sunday and I need to decide on a ride. I want to soak in the sunny heat of summer and I also want to pedal to the trail-head. The lakes of the  Marin Municipal Water District offer easy access to sunny summer rides that deliver a great mountain biking experience.

This loop is a short spin from cities near Fairfax or Ross. From Fairfax you can join the loop at “Five Corners” via the Deer Park dirt road, but I'll describe the loop starting from Natalie Coffin Greene Park in Ross.

A short climb from Natalie Coffin Greene Park brings you to Bill Williams Road, which maintains a level pitch around Phoenix Lake. The lake is a great launching point for a number of hikes and rides. A water fountain on the right offers a chance to cool down before the biggest climb of the loop, ascending Fish Grade.

Fish Grade is a signed turn at the Eldridge/Shaver/Fish junction. Fish Grade is steep and unrelenting. I usually avoided climbing Fish Grade because of loose gravel but recently the surface has been scraped down to a nice, clean, hard-packed dirt. Now traction is easy and only your legs limit your ability to ascend. I recommend Fish Grade as the ascent. Even if you are forced to walk, the exertion will soon be over.  At paved Filter Plant Road hang right. A short final push gets you to Sky Oaks Road.

As you crest the hill onto Sky Oaks Road, make a right and then an immediate left onto the gravel road behind the gate. Coast down towards the shore of Bon Tempe Lake before taking the left. Soon you arrive in the vast wooded picnic area between Lagunitas Lake and Bon Tempe Lake. A short climb up the gravel road takes you onto the earthen dam creating tranquil Lagunitas Lake. Assuming that you want to walk your bike down stairs instead of up, continue around the lake counter-clockwise.

Lagunitas Lake is one of my favorite lakes. Be sure to stop at one of the many resting spots along the shore of the lake. When I stopped on this trip I saw frogs, fish, dragonflies, a cormorant eating a fish and other birds hunting as well.

After encircling Lake Lagunitas we double back onto Sky Oaks Road towards the final lake on the tour: Alpine Lake. The smooth pavement winds up and around another finger of Bon Tempe Lake. Even when sharing the road with occasional vehicular traffic, you still can't help feeling immersed in nature and removed from your daily grind.

As you start to descend down some ridiculously fun turns, watch for a gate marking Shaver Grade on your right. You will return to that trail-head later to complete the loop. For now, take the next left to Alpine Lake. At the end of this gravel road to Alpine Lake stay right and pass through another gate to continue along Bull Frog Road towards beautiful Bon Tempe Meadow.

The raised wooden path through the often marshy section of Bon Tempe Meadow is another highlight to this ride. The view is open and reminiscent of an African savanna scene. Places like Bon Tempe Meadow typify the wonderful diversity of scenery to be found when mountain biking in Marin.

When you tear yourself away from the meadow, continue on the first right back to Sky Oaks Road. A right on Sky Oaks Road heads back to the Shaver Grade trail-head in a jiffy (now on your left). Shaver Grade drops, climbs, and drops to “Five Corners” junction. Shaver Grade will put a smile on your face as it continues down to the original junction near Phoenix Lake. Stay left back to Bill Williams Road, Phoenix Lake and Natalie Coffin Greene Park.

This loop is a great go-to ride. The ease of access makes biking to this loop a breeze from nearby towns. The ride itself has a challenging climb early followed by scenic coasting through the wonderful summer air up in lake country.

As always a map is available from MCBC. See you on the trails!

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