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3 Fun Mountain Bike Rides Near the South Bay

When it comes to enjoying a fun mountain bike ride, some cyclists may prefer a smooth, relaxing ride on flat, even surfaces, while others may desire fast speeds on twisty, bumpy roads.

If your idea of a fun mountain bike ride is the latter, and your optimal trail includes interesting terrain with exciting twists and turns, then these three trails near the South Bay will be right up your alley.

Some of these trails require a little extra effort, but they’re all worth the exertion. These three mountain bike trails will remind you why you picked up this hobby in the first place: simply put, mountain biking is just fun.

1. Soquel Demonstration State Forest Flow Trail

At the top of the list is the flow trail at Soquel Demonstration State Forest (SDSF for short, or more often colloquially known as Demo). Flow trails make for some of the most fun mountain biking experiences out there, which makes it a shoo-in for inclusion on any list of the most fun mountain bike rides near the South Bay. Flow trails, if you’re not familiar with the concept, are like roller coasters for your mountain bike. On a flow trail, pedaling and braking give way to a more gravity-driven experience as you hang on and steer through banked turns, pop over jumps, and generally keep your stomach from jumping into your throat over rolling terrain.

Again, fun is subjective. Some riders may balk at the overly designed engineering of a flow trail and prefer the technical challenges and problem solving of more natural terrain. The predictability of obstacles and consistency of terrain that keep a flow trail flowing are pros to some and cons to others. But even the naysayers will have trouble finding fault with the natural beauty of the Redwood forests that make up the backdrop to Demo’s mountain biking trails. And the Flow Trail makes up four miles of a fourteen and a half mile loop, so there are plenty of opportunities for the purists to ride more traditional paths.

Unfortunately for e-bike riders, the Demo Flow Trail is not open to e-bikes. And you’ll need a car to access Soquel Demonstration State Forest. There’s only one road in and it has been known to be blocked by rock slides and fires on rare occasions. That’s the price you pay for mountain biking this fun near the South Bay.

There’s tons of information out there on the SDSF Flow Trail. The State Forest is managed by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as CalFire. Their Facebook page has the most up to date information on trail conditions and possible closures. A great next stop is Bay Area Mountain Bike Rides, a well-curated index of Bay Area mountain bike trails put together by Ergin Guney for a good sense of the fun you’re in store for. Also check out the Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship site’s SDSF page for information on the forest and a link to a downloadable map.

2. Henry Coe State Park

Henry Coe State Park has 87,000 acres of wilderness with nearly three hundred miles of trails open to mountain bikes. Many of these rides are “lollipop” routes, where you ride out from a parking area on a road, connect with a single track trail loop, and then ride back along the original road. The good news is that the roads are scenic and without a lot of cars. Trails that are open to bikes are often shared with hikers and, in some cases, horses. So stay alert! While it isn’t the free-wheeling roller coaster of a flow trail, the fun factor at Henry Coe State Park comes from the truly remote wilderness location, the challenges of the topography, the stunning scenery, and the mental stimulation of navigating a complex network of trails. More potential fun can be found in a tent, since bikepacking is allowed in the park. Bikepackers need only follow the same rules as other campers.

One route with a particularly high fun factor according to Ergin Guney at Bay Area Mountain Bike Rides is a 13 mile ride following the Dexter/Jackson Trail that starts at the Hunting Hollow parking area. This lollipop trail briefly follows the Coyote Creek until breaking off on a steep and scenic ascent and descent on the Dexter and Jackson trails. Other routes to check out are Grizzly Gulch and Middle Ridge Loop.

As of August 27, 2021, e-bikes are allowed on all trails that are open to traditional bicycles in Henry Coe State Park. But do check out the park’s website before making your trip for all park specific rules and a PDF brochure/map. All trails (as opposed to roads) are closed to bikes of any kind for 48 hours after rainfall of half an inch or more. Day use fees are $6 or $8 depending on the entrance you use and $1 less for seniors. The fees are roughly the same for backpacking/bikepacking style camping per person per night.

3. Saratoga Gap and Long Ridge Preserves

Saratoga Gap Preserve and Long Ridge Preserve, both part of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, are connected by a 10 mile lollipop of extremely fun mountain biking near the South Bay. Midpen Open Space does a wonderful job caring for these lands and the trails definitely reflect that. Expert trail maintenance has ironed out the trickiest impediments and nature’s speed traps, while leaving a trail that’s purely fun to ride. There are some great vistas to be seen from the ridge, but the real fun on this ride comes from the constant peaks and dips that won’t ever have you on autopilot. It’s the shortest of the three trails, but you’ll spend a disproportionate amount of it on singletrack. Think of it as fun-sized. It packs a lot of satisfaction into a roughly two hour ride time.

Parking is free, but can fill up on weekends and particularly beautiful days with people seeking some mountain biking fun near the South Bay. So be sure to get to the 31 space lot early to snag a spot. And as with any mountain biking trail, check before you go if the weather has been bad recently. Better to know about trail closures before you leave than after you arrive. Bay Area Mountain Bike Rides has all the nitty gritty details you want to know before heading to the preserve.

So get out there and have some fun mountain biking these three excellent trails near the South Bay!