Now Playing

Four Fall Bike Rides to Get in Before El Niño Ruins Everything

Hit the trail. Winter is coming.

American River 


Fall is the Bay Area's most glorious time of year, and there's no better way to enjoy it than grabbing your ride and hitting up the local bike trails. Take a quick trip across the Bay, or head north to enjoy some autumnal foliage along with your ride. Here are our four picks for fall's weekend road warriors, as well recommedations to help you refuel nearby. Just make sure to get out there soon, before it gets dark at 5:00, and El Nino comes and screws up everything.

Lake Merritt, East Bay
Distance: 3.5 miles
Thigh burn: Negligible
If a cityscape sounds like your speed, get off at the Lake Merritt BART station for a pedal around the lake. You’ll find plenty of places to hop off for a stretch by the water, or take a gander at the nearly 70 bird species that call the place home. If you don’t have your own wheels, Bay Area Bike Rentals can supply you with a pair starting at $10 an hour, or $25 daily (you can also tack on an $8 burley trailer for the little ones). When it's time to refuel, head to Bicycle Coffee near Jack London Square for a quick pick-me-up, and try to stick around for one of fall's perfect sunsets over the lake.

Marsh Creek Regional Trail, Contra Costa
Distance: 14 miles
Thigh burn: Occasionally tingly
This relatively flat, paved trail was made for first-timers, but its length will keep your calves working like a pro. Plan ahead by snagging some picnic supplies at the Safeway in Brentwood, then drive a half-mile to Creekside Park to hop on the trail. The 6.5 mile path winds along Marsh Creek and ends up at the Delta shores of Big Break Regional Shoreline (cue picnic). Enjoy the views of wildlife, farm fields, and the bordering delta wetlands. Be sure to stop by the Big Break visitor center, fully-equipped with new hands-on learning exhibits about the Delta—and more importantly—restrooms and a water fountain.

American River Bike Trail, Sacramento
Distance: 32 miles
Thigh burn: Medium heat
Also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, this path takes riders up and down the American River through pristine riparian habitat and, if you time it right, some great fall foliage. There are several places to hop on, but many riders choose to begin at Discovery Park in Old Sacramento and continue to Folsom Lake at Beal's Point. Though the mile count is high, you’ll find trail markers, maps, places to fill up on water, and restrooms along the way, as well as plenty of shady spaces to stop and rest (or if you’re really looking to cool down—Sacramento's temps have been hovering in the 90s—dip your toes in the water). Since the path is paved, a hybrid bike will do. When you're ready for a pit stop, swing by Skip’s Kitchen for some fried mac-n-cheese balls or a Western Burger topped with cherrywood smoked bacon.

Pope Valley Loop, Napa
Distance: 51 miles
Thigh burn: On fire
There’s only one place where wine and heart-pumping cycling go hand in hand: Napa. This expert-level track begins at Napa Valley Bike Tours, where you can rent a ride for $45 a day (you’ll want a high-performance road bike). The route heads north on Silverado Trail, winding through vineyards and valley views. Turn onto Sage Canyon Road and ride along Lake Hennessey for a warm-up ascent through Pope Canyon. At mile 30, the steepest climb peaks around 2,000 feet in elevation on Howell Mountain, but things are all downhill from there. Now that the harvest season crowds are dying down as it comes to a close, reward yourself on the return with some wine tasting on the elevated terraces at Ladera Vineyards—just be sure to make an appointment in advance. If planning ahead isn't your thing, pop into nearby Mumm Napa after for some sparkling wine at sunset. After that ride, you've earned it. 

Have feedback? Email us at
Email Sydney Johnson at
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Sydney Johnson on Twitter @sydneyfjohnson