Road bike trip on the Capitol Corridor

How to Plan a Road Bike Trip by Train in Northern California

October 20, 2016

Recreational road cyclists can find an impressive range of rides along the Capitol Corridor train route, which cuts through some of Northern California’s best cycling terrain between San Jose and Sacramento/Auburn. And since each Capitol Corridor train has two marked “bike cars” with large bicycle storage areas, as well as racks on the other cars, there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying some of the most beautiful bike rides in the state—even if you don’t have a car to drive there on your own.

The Capitol Corridor has 17 stations between downtown San Jose and Auburn in the Sierra foothills. For bikers who don’t live near a Capitol Corridor station, nearly all the major corridors in Northern California are served by connecting buses—most of which also offer bike storage or racks on a first-come, first-served basis. These connecting bus lines expand Capitol Corridor’s reach to places like San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe, Napa, and Santa Rosa.

If you are looking to get out and explore new territory on your bike without having to drive anywhere first, here are five great rides to get you started.

1. Mount Hamilton (San Jose Station)

Distance: 38 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 4,200 feet

Mount Hamilton
Mount Hamilton, in San Jose, is home to the University of California’s Lick Observatory. In the winters, snow can sometimes be found at the summit, as it’s the tallest peak in the Bay Area. Photo by Jitze Couperus.

Let’s start with the grand-daddy of them all: a butt-kicking climb up the Bay Area’s tallest peak, Mount Hamilton. This 38-mile round trip route will give you a fantastic workout as you pedal to gain 4,200 feet in elevation. The road to the summit winds past oaks and grasslands in Joseph D. Grant County Park, an open space just 15 miles from downtown San Jose. You’ll likely see some wild turkeys, and if you’re lucky, a wild boar.

As you ascend the dozens of switchbacks, the temperature cools, and your panoramic view of the Santa Clara Valley gets better. Once you reach the top, you’ll be blown away by the scenery and maybe even find a little bit of snow in the winter.

Details: From the San Jose Diridon Station, head east on West San Fernando St., and continue on East San Antonio St. toward the hills. Turn left on S. Capitol Ave., then right on Alum Rock Ave. By the country club, turn right on Mount Hamilton Rd. The fun starts here. Climb this road to the observatory. Water and snacks are available during visitor center hours. Turn around and enjoy the descent home.

2. Palomares Loop (Hayward Station)

Distance: 34.8 miles
Elevation gain: 1,400 feet

This 34.8-mile loop is a popular ride, and not overly challenging. If you head out clockwise you will only encounter one decent climb with a gentle downhill for the rest of the loop. Heading out counter-clockwise will give you more of an uphill workout. The highlight of this loop is the 10 miles along Palomares Rd., a forested, rolling country road with two wineries: Chouinard Winery and Westover Vineyards. Both offer drop-in tastings on weekends. The rest of the loop cuts through urban areas, with seven flat, scenic miles along the Alameda Creek Trail.

Details: From the Hayward Station, head east on A St., then right on Grove Way. Immediately after the 580 overpass, turn right on East Castro Valley Blvd. Cross under 580 again, and stay right onto Palomares Rd. for 10 miles. At the dead end, turn right on Niles Canyon Rd., left on Mission St. and then right on the Alameda Creek Trail. At Union City Blvd, exit the trail and head west over the bridge. The boulevard turns into Hesperian Blvd. Finally, turn right on A St., back to the station.

3. Skyline Loop (Berkeley Station)

Distance: 34 miles
Elevation gain: 3,000 feet

Skyline Loop
The Skyline Loop passes through several open spaces, including Berkeley’s Tilden Regional Park. Photo by David Abercrombie.

This hilly, 34-mile ride winds past redwoods, an extinct volcano, and panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay. It’s a challenging route—with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet; however, riders at an intermediate level and above will find this to be an exhilarating ride.

The route cuts through downtown Berkeley, then into the hills, and finally on to Tilden Regional Park’s Inspiration Point. It passes six other major open spaces along the way: the Siesta Valley Recreation Area, Redwood Regional Park, Chabot Regional Park, Joaquin Miller Park, the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, and the Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve.

Details: From the Berkeley Station, head north on 4th St. and turn right on Virginia St. Turn left on Spruce St., which turns into Wildcat Canyon Rd. Two miles after Inspiration Point, turn right on Camino Pablo, which becomes Moraga Way. At the dead end, turn right on Canyon Rd. In two miles, turn left on Pinehurst Rd., then veer right on Redwood Rd. Turn right on Skyline Blvd, and veer right to stay on Skyline at Joaquin Miller Rd. Stay on Skyline, veering left at Pinehurst Rd. Turn right at Grizzly Peak Rd. in the Sibley Preserve. In Tilden Park, turn right on South Park Rd., then left on Wildcat Canyon Rd., and descend to the train station.

4. Carquinez Strait Loop (Martinez Station)

Distance: 19.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1,700 feet

This 19.5-mile ride is not only fun, but it also offers some nice scenery. The route passes through three towns: Crockett, Port Costa, and Martinez. You’ll ride by small boats, large commercial ships, the Carquinez Bridge, and the Vallejo and Beniecia skylines. The ride also passes the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, a protected area of rolling hills, meadows, and wooded ravines. You’ll see plenty of finches, hawks, and eagles as you ride along, and if you stop for a brief rest, you just might get to see some newts and lizards. This ride’s highlight is the six-mile twisting, turning stretch down Carquinez Scenic Dr., along the Carquinez Strait shoreline.

Details: From the Martinez Station, take Marina Vista Ave. and turn left on Berrellessa St., which becomes Alhambra Ave. After the John Muir National Historic Site (the naturalist’s former house), turn right on Franklin Canyon Rd. and start your climb. After about four miles, turn right on Cummings Skyway. In two miles, turn right on Crockett Blvd and descend toward the water.

In downtown Crockett, turn right on Pomona St., which becomes Carquinez Scenic Dr. In about two miles, you’ll see the Bull Valley Staging Area. From here you could hike one mile to the Carquinez Overlook for views of the Carquinez Strait to the north and Suisun Bay to the south. Otherwise, continue six more miles and turn right on Talbart St. before turning left on Marina Vista Ave. to return to the station.

5. American River Parkway (Sacramento Station)

Distance: 64 miles (or shorter options)
Elevation gain: 450 feet

American River Trail
This famous 32-mile paved bike trail follows the American River between Sacramento and Folsom. Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

This 32-mile flat, paved multi-use path along the American River is one of the longest and most well-maintained bikeways in the country and is very popular for jogging and walking as well. It connects Sacramento’s Discovery Park with Folsom Lake, and passes several landmarks: The Guy West Bridge, a smaller replica of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge; Sacramento State; the Nimbus Fish Hatchery; and Lake Natoma.

This route is out-and-back, so you can turn around sooner if you like. There are also various options on either side of the American River to add some variety to your ride. The trail’s most scenic parts are toward Folsom Lake, where you’ll find a huge dam, public art near the Folsom State Prison, Nimbus Dam, and Lake Natoma. Downtown Folsom has several popular lunch spots if you are looking to refuel, and a well-equipped bike retail store in case you need to pick up some bicycle accessories. The best option may be to stay in the saddle, make a full day of it, and ride the entire length of the trail.

Details: From the Sacramento Station, take I St. west six blocks to the Sacramento River Bike Trail and turn right. In a mile, cross the Jibboom St. Bridge, then turn right on Natomas Park Dr. After that, turn right into Discovery Park to find the trailhead to the American River Parkway (also called the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail).

Originally written by RootsRated for Capitol Corridor.
Featured image provided by Noah Berger.