Grizzly Peak Boulevard to Redwood Road

Distance: c. 44 miles 
Elevation gain: 4510 ft

There’s a line of hills and ridges that make up the spine of the East Bay from Tilden Park in Berkeley to Fremont.  Along that line is a series of four nearly-contiguous rides, all outstanding: this ride, Palomares Road, Calaveras Road, and Sierra Road.  The Best of the Bay Century (see the regional introduction) strings them all together, with filler.  As always, I’m going to give you just the good stuff, working north to south.

This ride is really four different roads.  The first, Grizzly Peak Blvd., is, along with the Golden Gate Bridge Loop, the only riding on our list that’s city riding on purpose (i.e. not as filler).  In the beginning it’s densely populated residential, and the traffic is dangerous.  It’s not relaxing.  But there’s a magic to the Berkeley Hills that leads hundreds of cyclists to brave the dangers every day, and every time I go to the East Bay I can’t wait to jump on my bike and get up there.  The views of the Bay are unbelievable.    The second road, Skyline Blvd., is less built up, and the views are even better.  The third road, Redwood Rd. is the antithesis of Grizzly Peak Blvd.—a sublime, solitary, and thoroughly unexpected ride through the bowels of a primaeval forest (hence the name).  You’ll expect to see Ents.  And finally the fourth road, Claremont Ave., is a classic plummet, short, steep, and just curvy enough to keep you on your toes.



(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)

Navigation on this route is moderately complicated—you’ll want a map the first time.  Begin where Spruce St. and Grizzly Peak Blvd. intersect and ride south up GPB.  The road is almost entirely up for a long time.  Take the time to enjoy the architecture and horticulture you’re passing.  Each house and yard is a unique work of art.  As you gain elevation, the views of the Bay to your right get better and better and the land becomes less built up.  The best view of the Bay is from a small turn-out on the first curve after you pass Claremont Ave.  The pavement from Centennial Drive (see Adding Miles) to Claremont is brand-new pavement as of 12/2013 and it’s dreamy.

When Grizzly Peak Blvd. T’s loosely into Skyline Blvd., take Skyline to the L.  At the next (very noticeable) four-way intersection, you’ll see Pinehurst dropping down and out of sight at about 10 o-clock while Skyline angles to the right and continues on.  You can take Skyline or Pinehurst.  Whichever road you take, you’ll come back to this point on the other.  Take Pinehurst if you want a short, steep, very curvy descent and, later, a mild ascent up Redwood Ave.   Continue on Skyline if you want a mild descent down Redwood and, later, a short, steep ascent up Pinehurst.

Oakland and San Francisco from Skyline

Oakland, San Francisco, and the Bay Bridge between them, from Grizzly Peak Blvd

We’re going down Pinehurst.  Exercise caution on the descent—the corners are sharp and often gravelly (I once met a crew sweeping the road here and a guy hollered at me, “We’re making it nice for you!” as I rode by—very thoughtful.)   At the bottom of the descent you enter a silent fairy-tale forest of redwoods.  This is the East Bay?  Impossible.  Ride past the Canyon School, which will make you wonder why you had to go to that institutional place you called elementary school instead of here.

When Pinehurst dead-ends on Redwood Ave., take Redwood to the L and continue on the way you’ve been going.  The scenery gets steadily less idyllic, because perfection can’t last, and you climb gently into the outskirts of Castro Valley.  Turn around when you no longer love what you’re riding through (the map goes to the edge of Castro Valley) and return to the intersection of Redwood and Pinehurst.  Go back whichever way you didn’t come out.   Since we came down Pinehurst, continue up Redwood, a straight and unvaried but beautiful climb through lovely woods, to Skyline and follow Skyline (don’t miss the almost-immediate R at the Y and go straight onto Joaquin Miller by mistake) back to Grizzly Peak Blvd.

Retrace your steps along GPB to the prominent intersection with Claremont Ave. and go L onto Claremont, a 2-mile curvy, blisteringly fast, hang-on-to-your-hat-exhilarating 10% plummet.  Keep your speed under control—you’re in a city, there’s a likelihood of traffic, cross-traffic, and pedestrians, the curves can get tight, and the road surface, while sometimes excellent, will deliver the occasional hard jolt, for which you must be ready.

At the bottom of Claremont, our route ends, because the great riding ends.  You’ll need to find your way back to your car via Berkeley surface streets, and there is no one right way to do this.  Unless you know Berkeley, you’ll want to have a map to consult repeatedly.  You’ll end up riding up Spruce to Grizzly Peak Blvd, whatever you do.  Berkeley has a network of “bike boulevards,” where cars are discouraged and you can ride with confidence—try to map out a route that uses them.  Riding through or above (east of) the UC campus is a bit more work but rewarding.  If riding through a busy city isn’t your bag, below in adding miles I’ll show you a lovely climb that takes you from the bottom of Claremont back up to Grizzly Peak Blvd.  And of course if you aren’t up for more riding you can skip Claremont altogether and just continue on Grizzly Peak back to your car.

Adding miles: The East Bay is a warren of good cycling roads, so you’re close to good riding in all directions on this route.  At the turn-around point in this ride, you’re a short, urban ride through Castro Valley from the Palomares Road ride.  At the start of the ride you’re looking at Wildcat Canyon Rd. disappearing into Tilden Park, a ride so good it almost made the list.  You can take WCR through Tilden Park, past Inspiration Point (stop for the view), and down a splendid, Bestrides-worthy descent to a stop sign at San Pablo Dam Rd., where you’re looking at the start of the Three Bears ride, an East Bay cyclists’ staple around San Pablo Reservoir I can’t say I love (think: hot, monotonous, straight climbs), and off that loop are the roads around Briones Regional Park and Happy Valley Rd., a short, very pretty climb and descent I love and could easily have included in Bestrides.

If you do pass Inspiration Point, I encourage you to take a half hour and ride down a rec path (horrors!) called Nimitz Way that takes off to the north from the parking lot—look for the stone bathroom.  You’ll have to dodge walkers, so you can’t ride fast, but it’s a rollicking little roller coaster with a breath-taking view of the Bay, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate about ½ mile in—total fun if you take it in the spirit in which it was intended.

What you would never think to do, but what I strongly encourage you to do, is putter around the twisty, quirky streets just below where you started the ride, at Spruce St. and Grizzly Peak Blvd.  This isn’t so much about riding as it is about experiencing the Berkeley Hills.  This is a place as beautiful and as culturally rich as Venice or Montmartre.  Each house is a faery cottage, each tiny front yard is a horticultural jewel, and they’re all different.  If it wasn’t “just a Berkeley neighborhood,” it would be a world-class tourist destination with hourly bus tours full of people speaking foreign languages and snapping photos.  It helps to have a good map for this exploration.  The north/south streets are fairly level, the east/west streets can be quite steep.  Stay off Marin Ave., unless, as they say in Rambo 2, “you wish to test yourself”—it’s one of the steepest city streets in America.  Any street that wriggles and that lies west of Grizzly Peak, north of Cedar, and east of Martin Luther King Jr. Way/The Alemeda/Colusa Ave. is fair game.  The shorter and crookeder the better.  I particularly like Yosemite St. and Mendocino St., and be sure to make a stop at Indian Rock Park to climb on the eponymous rock.

If you want to add a sweet 3.4-mile climb to our route, or just don’t want to ride through Berkeley to get to your car, at the obvious bottom of Claremont go L on Russell for one second, R on Domingo for a tiny block (passing the unmissable Claremont Hotel on your L), then L on Tunnel Rd.  Ride a mile on trafficky but shouldered Tunnel Rd. and go L across the now-wide-and-hectic Tunnel Rd. to Old Tunnel Rd.  (This step is hairy and hard to explain—best to look hard at the map here.)  Ride up Old Tunnel Rd, which becomes Skyline Blvd, for 3.4 miles. It’s a mellow, meandering climb—in 3.4 miles it climbs only 900 ft—and, while it’s not quite closed to cars, it’s so car-free it might as well be.   Halfway up, just past the sign that says, “Bicycle route—Grizzly Peak Blvd 1.4 miles,” at the right angle where the road changes from Old Tunnel to Skyline (no sign), a very lone tree stands by the left edge of the road.  Stop and read the historical plaque under the tree.  You’re standing at the mouth of the eponymous Old Tunnel that used to go through the mountain, dug by hand and now fallen into decay and replaced by the gargantuan multi-lane freeway tunnel running a few hundred feet below you.

Skyline, which is a degree steeper than Old Tunnel, returns you to Grizzly Peak Blvd.   Go L on GPB and retrace your steps down GPB to our car.

I like this loop so much I’ve mapped it out:



(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)

Don’t ride this loop in the reverse direction—Old Tunnel Rd is an unpleasant descent, with much broken road surface and several turns that are so tight and so awkwardly shaped you must scrub all your speed to negotiate them.  None of this is a problem going up.

Added thoughts: At the bottom of Claremont Ave. is one of the most charming neighborhoods in the East Bay.  It’s a perfect area to get off your bike and poke around.  On Domingo Ave. there’s a great bakery, La Fournee.

There are bathrooms and water at Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, on Skyline 100 feet south of the Skyline/Grizzly Peak Blvd intersection.

4 thoughts on “Grizzly Peak Boulevard to Redwood Road

  1. admin

    Another option is to continue a bit further south on Redwood Road to the Castro Valley BART station, from which you can get an easy ride back to Berkeley / Oakland.

    Reply
  2. admin

    If you’re pedaling up Old Tunnel Road and have time to look around, check out the site of the Old Tunnel (built in 1904) at the point where Old Tunnel Road becomes Skyline Blvd.

    Reply
  3. Jack Rawlins Post author

    I love that spot. It’s marked with a stone cairn with a plaque and a rusty flagpole sticking out of a concrete block. It’s almost in the middle of the road. Imagine the effort such a project must have taken back in the day.

    Reply
  4. Lee

    This is a great ride if you are coming from San Francisco and don’t have a car. BART to downtown Berkeley and then take the 65 bus (equipped with bike rack) to grizzly peak boulevard. Take the ride south to Castro valley BART and head home from there.

    On the south end of the ride, there is a road closure for about a mile and a half as of July 2017 (looks like it won’t be fixed anytime soon). I just hopped the divider and rode on through. Saw a few other cyclists doing the same.

    Reply

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