Morgan Territory Road

Distance: 15 miles one way
Elevation gain: 1460 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

This is one of my favorite rides, in part because it’s largely ignored, so I feel like it’s mine.   It has an absurdly pleasing profile: a mellow gently rolling warm-up through picturebook hobby farms, a just-long-enough, just-steep-enough stair-step climb up through dense woods, followed by a Best-of-the-Best descent that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

It’s one of a trio of East Bay rides that are similar in general contour: Palomares, Calaveras, and Morgan Territory.  They’re all about-five-mile climbs, at first gentle, then moderate, up through pretty wooded canyons along creeks.  To tell them apart: Palomares is the simplest and has the most manicured ambiance, Calaveras has no backside descent and has the best open hillside views, and Morgan Territory has the roughest and narrowest pavement and the best backside descent.   Morgan Territory’s pavement is poor on the north side of the summit, which doesn’t bother the ascent but puts a damper on coming back down that way.  If you’re just going to ride to the summit and back, do Calaveras.  If you want to climb to a summit, descend the back side, then turn around and ride back, do Palomares.  And if you’re in for a bigger adventure (or a BART ride), do Morgan Territory.

As of 5/17, Morgan Territory also has the cachet of being the only ride of the three that’s not closed.



(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.)

Start at the intersection of Morgan Territory Rd. and Marsh Creek Rd.    Roll for a few miles through said hobby farms.  In about 4 miles you shift from hobby farm valley to a narrow creek canyon lined with pretty oak woods.  A sign reads “one-lane road next 6 miles”—yum.  The climb has a wonderful variety.  No pitch lasts longer than 100 ft.  You never get bored or tired, and you’re deep in the trees so it’s shady and quiet and wonderful.  If you meet more than one car, alert the media.

The front-side climb in December

The front-side climb in December—much prettier in any other season

At the obvious summit you ride past a little settlement of four or five houses, then fasten your seat belt because you’re about to spend some time at speed.  From here on out the road surface is glass.  The descent is in two parts.  The first part switchbacks steeply down off the hilltop.   This part tests your 40-mph cornering ability.  You may well meet a car here, but you can see the road well ahead of you, so you should get warning.  At the bottom, the road turns R and straightens out and you think the excitement is over, but it isn’t.  The road drops faster than you think, so you can hold 35 mph or more, and the contour, instead of going back and forth, now goes up and down like a wavy slide at a funhouse, with a few curves thrown in.  It’s unique in my experience, and literally breath-taking.   You finally roll out, spent, and dead-end at Manning Rd.

The back-side descent is completely different

The back-side descent is completely different

There are a number of ways to get to and from this ride, none of them particularly easy.  If you want to do a loop, you have two choices, both involving a lot of miles.   1. The southwest loop, which I know (I’ll describe it from the end of the ride, but you can begin it anywhere), is to go R on Manning, R on Highland, R on Tassajara when Highland dead-ends, L and under 680 when Tassajara ends, R on Danville Blvd. to Main St. of Walnut Creek, R on Ygnacio Valley Rd. (it’s huge and the traffic is truly life-threatening—there are signs telling cyclists to ride on the sidewalk) for far too long, then R on Clayton Rd., which becomes Marsh Creek Rd., which leads to Morgan Territory Rd.  Some of this is pleasant country riding through grassy hillocks and farms, and some of it is downright unpleasant.   2. The loop I don’t know is to go the other way and loop back to the east and north: from Morgan Territory Rd. work you way over to Vasco Rd. and go L on Camino Diablo, which becomes Marsh Creek Rd.  It looks good on a map, but I’ve been advised not to do it, so I pass that warning on to you.

I loop the ride via BART (see the introduction to the Bay Area region).  I BART to Concord and ride Clayton Rd., which turns into Marsh Creek Rd.   You could BART to Walnut Creek, but Clayton is much less harrowing than Ygnasio Valley Rd.  From the end of Morgan Territory I go R on Manning, R on Highland, L on Tassajara, R on Dublin Blvd., and L down a side road following signs to the BART station—watch for the BART sign as you approach Dougherty—for a total of 43 miles.  This leg varies from pleasant country riding (Highland) to boring mega-mall with good bike lane (Dublin). A reader recommends taking Collier Road off Highland instead of continuing on to Tassajara, a route I’m going to try next time out.

A stretch of Tassajara is currently closed through December 2016 (truly closed, not just closed to cars), and there are frightening signs as you approach the closure saying “Find alternate route” and “No access to Dublin,” but in fact there are clear detour signs leading you through an alternate route to Dublin that leaves you at Dougherty and Dublin Blvd and adds only a couple of miles (and one unwelcome hill).

Adding miles:  There’s nothing I’’m keen to ride near either end of this ride.  You’re a few miles from the Mt. Diablo ride—Loop #1 above takes you almost past the front door.

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “Morgan Territory Road

  1. corvetti

    For logistical reasons, we took this ride as an out and back, but only went 10 miles out (to the summit) and then turned around. It was a nice ride, but the surface was a little shoddy in patches which detracted a little from the beautiful valley scenery on the way back down. The top was a very strange little homestead area that was very picturesque. Perhaps not a ride we would go out of the way for, but fun if you’re in the area.

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Mssrs. Corvetti, that roughness of surface on the return is a good argument for continuing on and bagging the splendid descent on the other side. If you’re only going to the summit and back, Calaveras might be a better choice–similar profile, but smoother surface.

      Reply
    2. tobyssium

      You should’ve gone on past the 10 mile mark, the backside descent is truly beautiful. I rode it this afternoon, out and back the whole way, and I don’t really think the descent on the way back is that bad, as long as you know what you’re in for. In fact, I thought the frontside descent with cracks etc. was pretty exhilarating! Up, down, left, right, loose gravel — very fun.

      Reply
  2. Dean C

    Jay,

    Thank you so much for posting these rides…I’ve been (back) in the Bay Area for a company assignment and have found many new routes for my bucket-list!

    I looped Diablo into Morgan territory on Saturday (https://www.strava.com/activities/445031427) and wanted to report two points:

    1) I encountered quite a bit more traffic than expected, on both the front and back sections of Morgan Territory. Traffic was intermittent, but definitely moved in both directions; I counted 4 cars + 3 motorcycles (+ 2 dog walkers?) on the front-half ascent and 5 cars + 2 motorcycles on the descent. Even with the narrow, winding, occasionally rough road, I felt safe on the ascent, but dialed back SIGNIFICANTLY on the descent after nearly getting run off the road around the first switchback of the descent. The route was still phenomenally beautiful (and I didn’t mind the road surface on the front half), but future riders may want to take note that the encroachments of Suburbia have begun to creep into Morgan Territory…
    2) I’ll offer a slightly stronger “don’t do as I did” discouragement against looping this ride. There may be a better way, but I started with Diablo (South Gate ascent, North descent), looped through Clayton, and rode Camino Tassajara + Blackhawk home. As you already noted, Ygnacio Valley Rd is terrifying – to provide color to future riders, this stretch is essentially a 50mph+ freeway with dirty (though wide) shoulders. I picked up a piece of glass on YV…changing this flat was one of the most unpleasant things I’ve ever done while on a ride. Overall, on the front side, the 7ish mile stretch into Clayton is varying degrees of unpleasant; on the back side, Camino Tassajara has stretches that are bikelane-less and busier (though slower) than Ygnacio Valley while Blackhawk doesn’t have a lane or shoulder (not good for a solo rider, may be OK with a group).

    All-in-all awesome ride…but a loop that I wouldn’t repeat.

    Dean

    Reply
  3. oakland-17

    I rode Morgan Territory yesterday (Saturday), as part a 53-mile loop with a few friends. We started & ended at Pleasant Hill BART.

    https://www.strava.com/activities/583647064

    Overall: Great ride. The thing is, you do about 30 miles of “meh” suburban riding to get the awesome 20 miles of Marsh Creek + Morgan Territory. But the suburban riding really isn’t that bad. Dean’s route above includes Ygnacio Valley—you’ve *got* to avoid that street, it will ruin anyone’s day.

    On the north side of the loop, we used the bike path, combined with lower-traffic roads like Treat Blvd. and Pine Hollow.

    Highland is fairly scenic and low-traffic. Camino Tassajara is a busy suburban thoroughfare but has the widest bike lanes I’ve seen, so it’s a comfortable if uninspiring ride. We completed the return via Danville Blvd., a medium-busy road through a fancy, leafy suburb—again, bike lane the whole way. That connects with Iron Horse trail for the last few miles to BART.

    On Morgan Territory, the first few miles were a little busier than I expected. In fact, it was probably that part, not the suburban roads, that were most harrowing, since you’ve sometimes got farm vehicles and whatnot passing you at medium-high speeds. But it quiets down and turns into a great ride with an amazing descent.

    Love the site, and I have been ticking your rides off one-by-one since I discovered it a few months ago!

    Joe

    Reply
  4. Mike

    You can prolong the pleasure without any more pain (i.e. climbing) by continuing after Morgan Territory ends as follows: Manning Road W to Highland Road to Collier Canyon Road S into Livermore/Dublin; 8 – 10 more miles of beautiful country roads. After that it’s just the burbs but you can ride safely W on North Canyon Blvd about 4 -5 miles to Dublin BART. Also, on the approach from the N you can avoid Ygnacio Valley Rd by following bike path from Heather Farms to Treat Blvd, then cut over to Clayton on boring but not terrifying back streets.

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      I’ve always wondered if Collier Canyon was good—thanks for the info. I’m not sure what you have in mind with North Canyon Boulevard—googlemaps shows only a North Canyons Parkway, and it’s just a spur.

      Reply
  5. Nige

    I am planning to ride Morgan Territory Road on Monday, but I’ve just seen that it was closed by a landslip in February. Can anyone confirm whether it is now open and cycleable?

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Googling indicates the slide is still unrepaired and should remain so for some time. News articles speak of a “100-ft long” slide area. The road is blocked by barriers, but there is a gap for pedestrians—I can’t see why cyclists couldn’t get through, perhaps with some walking. Anybody know more?

      Reply
    2. James

      Just rode it today as a loop from Walnut Creek (in the Clayton -> Morgan Territory direction).
      The small stretch of slide-damaged road is open one-way with automatic signals. It’s ridable – just a little bumpy.

      Reply
      1. Nige

        What a road! No problems at all with the “closure”. But there was a lot of traffic. I guess that’s what you get for riding on Memorial Day. I bypassed the Ygnacio Valley of Certain Death by using the Castro Canal Trail, Treat Blvd and Turtle Creek Road, which was all very acceptable.

        Reply

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