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Home to lush, rolling hills; forested pathways; and year-round moderate temperatures—without the ominous gloom and fog of San Francisco—the East Bay Area is an ideal destination for outdoor recreation. While there are tons of roads to follow and trails to choose from in the region, we have rounded up our favorite bike pathways that allow riders to sit back and enjoy the journey (and avoid the hazard of vehicles). Whether you are looking for your toughest biking excursion yet, are trying to get into a new fitness regimen, or are seeking a wholesome activity for the entire family, there is a bike trail for you in the East Bay.
The Iron Horse Regional Trail winds through urban, rural, and residential areas to create a 32-mile-long network of paved pathways connecting the towns of Concord, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore. Eventually, the trail will span a total of 55 miles and link 12 cities throughout the East Bay.
The trail is almost entirely flat, making it suitable for the whole family. Take in the area as you ride over bridges and traverse the various towns, setting aside time to admire the creeks, museums, and parks along the way. For a shorter ride, get on the trail in San Ramon’s Central Park or Walnut Creek’s Civic Park, and then hop off near the Danville Railroad Museum.
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Much like the Iron Horse Regional Trail, the paved, relatively flat Contra Costa Canal Trail runs for several miles and connects the cities of Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, and Concord. But at 13.5 miles, it is shorter than the Iron Horse Regional Trail and follows the Contra Costa Canal the entire way, passing by multiple city parks between its trailhead at Muir Road in Martinez and its culmination at Willow Pass Road in Concord. The pathway also serves as a great starting point for other bike rides, as it intersects several other local trails such as the Briones to Mount Diablo Regional Trail.
The Lafayette Reservoir is an ideal spot for families seeking a leisurely ride. Jump on the paved Lakeside Nature Trail and experience 2.7 miles of stunning views of the sparkling water. The pathway is shared with joggers, hikers, and skaters but feels like an exclusive experience, especially since wheels are only allowed on the trail from noon to close on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from opening to 11 a.m. on Sundays. After riding around the entire loop, take the kids to the playground, set up a picnic, rent a paddleboat, and wave to the fishermen before heading out on your next adventure.
Running 7.65 miles alongside St. Mary’s Road, the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail was one of the first rail trails ever built in California and has had many roles throughout its history, initially serving as a way for mule trains to carry redwood from Oakland to Sacramento. When steam trains gained in popularity, lumber was transported along this corridor on the Oakland-Antioch-Eastern Railway, the San Francisco–Sacramento Railroad, and the Sacramento Northern Railway. Eventually, the rail trail was paved over and now acts as a primarily flat pathway for pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians.
Jump on the route in Lafayette; you’ll see the trailhead at the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Pleasant Hill Road, just south of Highway 24. Ride until you reach the outskirts of Moraga, where the town borders the scenic Redwood Regional Park and San Leandro Reservoir.
Note: Due to landslides caused by heavy rains, portions of the trail near the Moraga end may be closed during the winter and spring.
One of the most famous—and most difficult—biking trails in the East Bay is the Mount Diablo Summit Trail. The iconic mountain rises 3,848 feet high, providing a serious workout worthy of bragging rights.
Beginning at The Athenian School in Danville, the trail stretches about 11 miles and gains over 3,249 feet in elevation by the end, testing a rider’s endurance during the last 800 feet of the 17 percent–grade hillside. The views, however, are undoubtedly worth the effort—particularly after winter storms, when the sky clears up to show off the entire Bay Area (and beyond).
Make sure to bring lots of water and to prepare for a tough ride up, not to mention a nail-biting descent with hairpin turns and steep terrain. Indeed, the trails leading into Mount Diablo State Park are intended for more experienced riders, so start with other trails in the area and work up to this one.
The Pinole Valley Multi-Use Trail is one of the two EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Utility District) pathways that allow bicyclists and require permits. The trail begins at the intersection of Alhambra Valley and Pereira Roads in Martinez, bordering Pinole Creek for 6.7 miles through undulating hills, past open meadows, and around large oak trees. The trail ends at the edge of Pinole where Alhambra Valley Road meets Pinole Valley Road.
To obtain a permit, visit the EBMUD website and apply for a day-use pass, single-year pass, or multi-year pass. A single permit allows you to take immediate family members and up to three guests—just keep in mind that the permit holder is held responsible for the actions of everyone accompanying them.
The shorter of the two EBMUD pathways, Eagle’s Nest Multi-Use Trail extends only 0.8 miles and provides a leisurely downhill ride. Start at Nimitz Way in Richmond’s Wildcat Canyon Regional Park and wind your way down through the forested areas of the park. The route ends at San Pablo Dam Road, where you can look out onto the San Pablo Reservoir.
No matter what trail you choose or when you go, these bike paths make it easy to explore the East Bay’s pockets of untamed beauty. Whether you are conquering 2 miles or 25 miles, discovery arrives one pedal at a time.
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…
Great list. Looking forward to trying the Mount Diablo trail.
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