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Skeggs: The Bay Area’s MTB Secret - Local’s Guide

Finding airtime only a stone's throw from Facebook HQ. Johnny Melack photo.

These woods once rumbled. Whirring chainsaws. Men shouting. 350 foot old-growth Sequoia giants crashing to the forest floor. Sadly, noise pollution was the least detrimental byproduct of fueling the California gold rush with lumber.

The woods rumbled again on October 29th, 1953 when The Resolution, a commercial airliner on the last leg of its journey from Sydney, Australia, lost sight of the tree line in the dense Bay Area fog and slammed into these mountains. All 19 people on board perished.

They rumbled as Hell’s Angels and their throaty Harleys cruised in a caravan down twisty Skyline Boulevard, en route to one of Ken Kesey’s infamous acid parties in nearby La Honda.

Skeggs isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for those without an adventurous spirit. It isn’t for anyone who’ll break down when they find themselves lost in the middle of nowhere.

The same road rumbled amidst the roar of red-lined supercars, pushed to their limits by sudden Silicon Valley tech millionaires living life on the very edge of the dot-com bubble.

Today, logging is a memory, plane crashes are rare, acid parties are less publicized, and supercars are much quieter (and more electric); but this second-growth Redwood forest still rumbles. These days, it’s the crumble of rubber on dirt that permeates the crisp mountain air.

Known formally as El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve, but referred to colloquially as Skeggs by San Francisco Bay Area residents, the park is a 2,906 acre biking playground in the Redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Located above Redwood City, halfway between San Francisco and San Jose and smack dab in the heart of the Silicon Valley, Skeggs is the primo destination for visitors and residents fiending for a quick MTB score.

Tall trees and isolated rides-Skeggs brings both. Johnny Melack photo.

With the birthplace of mountain biking to the north in Marin, and Santa Cruz and its world class biking in Demonstration Forest to the south, there’s no shortage of trails in and around the Bay Area. But both destinations require considerable travel times, and odds are you’ll have to make a day of it.

Skeggs, however, is only an hour drive from either San Francisco or San Jose, and has ample parking in several different locations, allowing for a swath of ride options. It’s also one of the few parks in the Midpenninsula Regional Open Space District whose users are predominately mountain bikers.

I’d heard a lot about Skeggs before my first visit. People spoke lovingly of the park, but an ominous warning followed each glowing review. Sprinkled amongst the singletrack are steep fire roads, remnants of the logging era. A mountain biker caught in the wrong direction can find himself hike-a-biking long stretches of thirty-degree grades that are almost sure to end his day.

When you're not lost here, you're smiling. Johnny Melack photo.

Tales of poor signage, people getting lost in the woods, and the Resolution plane crash further connected the dots into a Bermuda-like triangular shape. I wasn’t going on Skegg’s list of directionally challenged victims. I studied ride reports, planned a route, marked it on the map and kept it in my pocket. There was no way I was getting lost.

My initial impression was one of awe. I craned my neck to see Redwood canopies scraping the azure sky. Western Meadowlarks sang in the distance. An unseen creek babbled away like a tipsy mother-in-law. Not another human being for miles.

Skeggs was more a Thoreau-like meditation than a logging road labyrinth, but the beauty blurred as I hit my first stretch of downhill singletrack. Tears flooded my eyes. A stupid grin was transfixed on my face. At the bottom, I coasted to a stop to enjoy the reverie. These logging roads were incredible. I hadn‘t had that much fun on a bike in years.

Today, logging is a memory, plane crashes are rare, acid parties are less publicized, and supercars are much quieter; but this second-growth Redwood forest still rumbles

It may have been the ethereal scenery that had distracted me. It could have been the high speeds and watery eyes. Maybe it was the camouflaged signs that are confusing when you find them. Whatever the reason, I’d missed a turn or three. I had no idea where I was. Utterly lost. The whole thing felt like a setup.

Fate brought some super steep hike-a-biking. I learned that, for whatever reason, 19th century loggers never considered the needs of mountain bikers. The schlep nearly broke me.

At Skeggs, the end of each demonic climb gives way to a heavenly descent; a timely reminder of what it’s all for. It didn’t take long to fall in love with the place, lost as I was. I ran into two people the entire ride. Both wore stupid grins, and both stopped to ask me for directions.

I wandered the woods for months, getting lost each visit. I chose different angles of attack, explored different sections of the park. It didn’t take long to realize that Skeggs has a little something for everyone—from flat beginner dirt to precarious downhill runs, and everything in between.

Poppin' bottles... I mean airs. Johnny Melack photo.

Months became years. I got to know and love the trails more personally. I still got lost on occasion, but it was usually intentional.

The Best Of Skeggs

Sierra Morena is a meandering, whimsical singletrack that flows downhill along Skyline Boulevard. Gentle berms transition into light jumps creating a curvaceous, playful downhill jam.

Blue Blossom has all the fast moving twisty singletrack and heart-pumping technical features an intermediate mountain biker could want.

Manzanita is a techie lover’s wet dream. Rare beams of golden sunlight break the thick canopy to shine on a steep rock garden. A blast going down and a gruel going up, it’s a proper challenge for most riders.

Lawrence Creek Trail, Virginia Mill Trail, and North Leaf Trail provide a more backcountry experience. Circle the outer edge of the park on and over fast paced fire roads, narrow singletrack, stream crossings, and technical climbs.

Climbing for another lost run through the forest at Skeggs. Johnny Melack photo.

Parts of Fir Trail are a white knuckle ride that’ll make you wish for a few more inches of travel. That is unless you go the wrong direction, in which case you’ll end up cursing every last gram of your damned suspension.

Resolution Trail is named after the plane crash and was used as an avenue for the rescuers. It’s said that debris is still visible today, but you won’t see much as you fly over enormous jutting roots and weave through jagged rocks at great speed.

My favorite might be Giant Salamander Trail, a flowing front-leg-cramping roller coaster ride that’ll take you up, shoot you down, propel you into sharp bermed corners, bring you back up, and launch you down again as you bound through the forest like a little kid. The ride’s over too soon and the only thing left to say is, “Can I go again?”

My favorite might be Giant Salamander Trail, a flowing front-leg-cramping roller coaster ride that’ll take you up, shoot you down, propel you into sharp bermed corners, bring you back up, and launch you down again as you bound through the forest like a little kid.

One beauty of Skeggs is the nearly year-round riding. The thick redwood canopy keeps the trails dry during the wet winter months and daily coastal fogs keep the forest cool and tacky in the warm summers. On a weekday, you’ll have the place to yourself. On weekends, the quiet parking lots can turn into mountain bike block parties as the sun gets close to setting and groups return from the trails for rest and their cooler of beer.

Skeggs is for ladies, too. Johnny Melack photo.

Skeggs isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for those without an adventurous spirit. It isn’t for anyone who’ll break down when they find themselves lost in the middle of nowhere.

Skeggs is for people like me, people who charge into the unknown, people willing to lose themselves in the beauty, people who want nothing more than to make these woods rumble once again.

From The Column: Local’s Guide

Demolition Forest huh?  Sounds dangerous.

With enough will power, all of the fire roads in Skeggs are climbable.  The challenge comes when you start doing multiple loops and accumulating elevation gains of 1500 feet in each loop.

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