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Biking up Mount Tam on the old railroad grade; a steady but scenic 4-mile climb, with no automobiles.

The winding road to the top of Marin County's Mount Tamalpais is a formidable challenge for cars, let alone bicycles. So you may be surprised to learn of a good, traffic-free bicycle route that follows a historic railroad's former grade, letting you ride to a ridgetop inn and the mountain's summit.

From 1896 to 1930, tourists rode the Muir Woods-Mount Tamalpais Railroad from Mill Valley to the summit. The trains and tracks have disappeared, but the old grade, now a dirt "protection" or fire road, is still used by bikers, hikers, equestrians, and emergency vehicles.

Best suited to low-geared, knobby-tired mountain bikes (see the March 1984 Sunset) or 10-speeds with sturdy tires, the grade starts in Mill Valley's Blithedale canyon and winds over the mountian's brushy ridges 9 miles to the summit, gaining 2,000 feet in elevation. It's open the entire length, but the best place to join it is halfway up the mountain at the public parking lot (28 cars) on the Panoramic Highway across from the well-known restaurant at Mountain Home Inn.

From the parking lot, head north just past the inn to a paved road leading to a fire lookout. A signed protection road takes up on the right, just a few yards after the start of the paved road. After skirting a locked gate intended to keep cars out, you breeze along the sunny southern face of the mountain.

When the road forks, follow the left-hand fork (marked by a yellow-tipped post) and head up past an old concrete railroad platform. Here the grade makes a "double-bow knot" and gains elevation by paralleling itself four times.

The steady but scenic climb along the brushy mountain folds and ridges brings you past small creeks and stands of redwoods to the rustic West Point Inn, built on a ridgetop by the railroad in 1904. Here, 2.6 miles from Mountain Home Inn and 1.5 miles from the summit, you can rest at a picnic table or on the shady veranda and take in wide views of the ocean, southern Marin, and the Bay.

West Point Inn is open to hike-in traffic Tuesdays through Sundays; it serves lemonade, coffee, tea, and granola bars, and--Tuesdays through Fridays only--it offers private rooms and cabins overnight ($12 per person; call 415/388-9955).

From here you can ride 5.3 miles down to Mountain Home via Old Stage Road and Pantoll Ranger Station (where there's bike-in camping for $1 per person on a first-come basis). Or go 1.5 miles up the mountain to the parking lot of the state park at East Peak, where rest rooms and, on weekends, snacks are available.

Your return ride can be a thrilling 4.1-mile descent back down the grade--or an only slightly less hair-raising 6.9-mile ride via paved Ridgecrest Road and Panoramic Highway, both of which have narrow or no shoulders, many sharp turns, and nearly continuous weekend traffic.

The route is mostly unsigned; we advise using the detailed trail map ($3) of the Mount Tamalpais region published by Erickson Maps, Suite 211, 337 17th St., Oakland 94612; (415) 893-3685. It's also available at the Pantoll Ranger Station and many outdoor supply stores. A helmet, water bottle, and snack are also recommended. Speed limit for bikers is 15 miles per hour. When passing hikers, you must slow to walking speed; when passing horses, you must get off and walk. The densely packed road shrugs off water and should be rideable soon after rain.

Nearest Places to rent mountain bikes Ken's Bike and sport, 94 Main Street, Tiburon; (415) 435-1683. Day rate: $20. Hours: 9:30 to 6 Wednesdays through Sundays. Point Reyes Bikes, 11431 State Highway 1, Point Reyes Station; (415) 663-1768. Day rate: $16 weekdays, $20 weekends. Hours: 10 to 6 Wesnesdays through Mondays.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Marin County's Mount Tamalpais, California
Date:Nov 1, 1985
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