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 less well-known (and so less trafficked) than the nearby icons (Diablo, Hamilton). 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 domesticated ambiance; Calaveras is the easiest (though none is Mt. Diablo hard), has no backside descent, has the best open hillside views, is the only one of the three that has great riding contiguous to it, and is ridable only on weekends (because of car traffic); and Morgan Territory has the roughest and narrowest pavement, the best isolation, 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 riding on a weekend and are 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.
(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 ups get steeper and the pavement gets worse as you go.
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.
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 because the traffic is intense (see comment below).
I loop the ride via BART (see the introduction to the Bay Area region). I BART to Concord and ride Concord Blvd, which turns into Oakhurst Dr., which runs into Clayton Rd, which becomes Marsh Creek Rd, which takes you to Morgan Territory Rd. You could BART to Walnut Creek, but then you end up riding out Ygnasio Valley Rd., which is a deathtrap. From Concord you could ride directly out Clayton Rd., but Concord Blvd. is much, much quieter—almost pleasant in fact. However you go, getting to Morgan Territory Rd. isn’t easy—from the intersection of Oakhurst and Clayton to MTR you will climb 1000 ft.
From the end of MTR 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, which I haven’t tried, but it won’t save you any miles.
Shortening the route: Without a shuttle, you can’t. I don’t like the ride down the north side, so you have to complete the loop. If you’re determined not to, ride from the Manning Rd./Morgan Territory Rd. intersection up to the summit and back.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I rode Morgan Territory yesterday (Saturday), as part a 53-mile loop with a few friends. We started & ended at Pleasant Hill BART.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Just did Morgan Territory Road from the south end to the full closure as an out-and-back. Morgan Territory is closed approximately 3/4 mile from the north end, along a short stretch. The closure will run from July 17 to mid-October. The road is blocked on both sides of the closure to all types of traffic, including bikes and pedestrians. There is a detour on Leon Drive which connects with Marsh Creek Rd a mile further down from Morgan Territory Rd.
Still an outstanding ride as an out-and-back, 27 miles altogether. The south side descent and climb are both great. The climb averages 5.5% along 5 miles according to Mapmyride, but it feels harder due to the constant changes in gradient from moderate to steep – hard to settle into a climbing cadence. The road tilts up less than a half-mile from the south end, so if you aren’t warmed up, you’ll have to adjust quickly. The descent on the south side has good visibility, good tarmac, and zooms by quickly – I wouldn’t have appreciated the views of the rolling, golden hills without the climb. Only downer was catching up to a pickup truck halfway down.
The north side is a bit rough, especially the last mile before the crest, but kinda fun on the right bike. There aren’t tire-grabbing cracks or potholes. It’s just cracked, bumpy with lateral undulations due to a poor road bed that has settled unevenly. I was glad that I chose my Roubaix for the ride (the one with the spring-loaded headtube). With the shock-absorption and disc brakes it was a rough but not jarring descent and a bit of fun – half-way between road and mountain biking. The lack of visibility through trees, turns, and dappled shade on a single-lane road slowed things down more than the road condition. It would have been a pain going down at speed on a stiff, unforgiving road frame. The climb back is much more gradual without much bite until the last mile.
As for traffic, I counted 16 vehicles in either direction (which matters on a single-lane road), most of them near the south end. On the south side there are plenty of stretches with good visibility to test your descending skills, but no way I would recommend taking any of the blind curves at the limit.
Update from my first north-to-south out-and-back on Morgan Territory. Road has been repaired and reopened since November 2017. There haven’t been too many storms this winter, so the road condition hasn’t changed much (a few additional pot holes on the north side), with one exception. On the descent going south, there is now a potentially tire-grabbing meters-long crack running parallel to the road right around the 11700 street number. The left and right sides of the road have separated slightly due to uneven settling.
Having done the ride out-and-back in both directions, I would say starting on the north side is somewhat more challenging because you take the steeper climb second, with a bit more fatigue.
I also did this ride on my Tarmac, which is a traditional road bike, without the endurance features of the Roubaix, which I had used on my prior few rides on Morgan Territory. Much less pleasant descent on the north side. The stiff frame never gets settled and was standing on the pedals the first 1.5-2 miles to absorb the shocks. Easily 5 mph average slower than on the Roubaix, where the front shock in the stem does a terrific job of keeping the bike planted.
The Livermore (south) side of Morgan Territory is an absolutely amazing ride. The pavement is fairly new, the road is exposed, and the views are awesome. Both climbing and descending here are unbeatable. The Concord (north) side is very different, you don’t get much of a view due to trees and bushes blocking everything and the road is in very poor condition, which is ok for climbing but you can’t really enjoy the descend.
I agree the north side is densely wooded, but that isn’t a drawback to me—it’s gorgeous in the canopy.
It has been a few years, but when I did it, I rode into Livermore, had coffee and pastry/snack, then rode back via Vineyard Avenue. It is “suburban,” but with a strong dose of preserved vineyards and some quite pretty scenery. Then you either catch BART or take the Iron Horse Bike Trail from Pleasanton/Dublin back to Concord via the Contra Costa Canal Trail, which can be pretty in certain places! I would ride on Concord Blvd. (Walnut) or side streets rather than Clayton Road, which is a death trap. The City of Concord seems to be making an effort to becoming more bicycle friendly, and Concord Avenue even has lanes. It’s the worst part of the ride, so I usually get it out of the way first by starting in Concord.
There are easier and less messy ways of committing painful suicide than riding on either Ygnacio Valley Rd. or Treat Blvd. I am VERY traffic tolerant, and there is no way anyone should ride these streets, especially given the handy alternatives—bad, bad traffic/sewers/stroads.
To amplify BK’s points: Concord Blvd. parallels Clayton Rd. and adds only a smidgeon of distance. Treat Blvd. parallels Ygnacio Valley Rd. A “stroad” is an busy, threatening combination street/road that brings together the disadvantages of each.
I don’t find Clayton all that bad—certainly nothing like Ygnacio Valley—but Concord does look like a quieter, easy alternative. I’ll try it.
Clayton isn’t bad at all, and has a bike lane most of the way from the intersection of Ygnacio for about 3 miles toward Morgan Territory, with the remaining 2 miles a two lane highway (turns into Marsh Creek Rd along the way). Cars DO go about about 45-50mph on that section, but traffic isn’t heavy and visibilty is decent. If I were doing an out and back, I’d do it from Clayton if I wanted somewhere with cafe/food/water.
Went out and back on 4/22/18 from the North side. Road conditions haven’t changed much since January when I last did this ride. A couple new observations: first, the first three miles of the descent from S to N may be one of the most technical and interesting in the near Bay Area—rough pavement, tight turns, numerous gradient changes. Absolutely keeps you on your toes at speed. Second, the climb from S to N is more taxing than the Mapmyride gradient map looks. I recommended Morgan Territory to a few folks who noted that sections of the climb were *hard*. Yup. There are a few tougher pitches. One of the first is about ~300W @50rpm, ~360W @70rpm for a 67kg person (36/30 gearing). Not that long, maybe 250M? That’s the worst of it and it gets easier, but expect 200-275W most of the way @70rpm, until you get to the first of the hobby farms. Frankly, great climb and great descent. If this road could easily be connected, it would be classic.
Thank you for posting this ride description. A really good mixed-terrain loop involves taking Morgan Territory Road to Curry Canyon Road. Unfortunately, Curry Canyon Road from Morgan Territory Road to the border of Mt. Diablo State Park is a private road, so ride at your own risk. The road is gravel at the beginning and then fairly smooth fire road, with a gradual 4% grade ascent. Once you get inside Mt. Diablo State Park borders, Curry Canyon Rd is all smooth fire road until you get to Curry Point, which intersects with South Gate Road at about 1775 ft elevation. At that point, you could either head up or down South Gate Rd or even take Knobcone Pt Trail if you prefer more dirt. A good loop would be to head up South Gate Road to the Junction, then down Northgate Road.
Incredible! Did a Labor Day 2018 morning loop, parked Rudgear Staging lot for Iron Horse Trail so I could get through Walnut Creek downtown before the shoppers and traffic arrived. Turned R off of IHT onto Contra Costa Canal Trail as others have mentioned, a great way to avoid all cars. Breathtaking descent down thru Morgan Territory, road open all the way, some repairs going on but no problem getting through. Saw maybe 5 cars in 20 miles. Took Highland to Camino Tassajara back to Danville, and I agree, great bike lane all the way. Thanks for posting another amazing ride!!
This road is awesome and a wonderful ride if you can do it during the week. I often loop it via Vasco and Camino Diablo/Marsh Creek after the commute traffic has died down. I generally prefer to ride counter clock wise. Virtually no traffic late morning-early afternoon.
I’d like to repeat the recommendation not to ride the Vasco Rd. loop. It’s used for long-distance commuting, so the traffic is fast and unyielding. There have repeatedly been cyclists and pedestrians killed on that road. The riding is nice, but it’s not worth it.
I ran Morgan Territory this Sunday using Loop 1 (clockwise) starting from the intersection of Blackhawk Rd and Camino Tassajara in Danville. I’ve climbed Calaveras from the north and south sides, as well as Palomares from the south side, and for me this ascent was the toughest of the lot. The road surface is just rough enough to be slightly distracting without being dangerous. Constantly rising mini-rollers. Definitely a more interesting descent than Calaveras and Palomares. The unique road contour kept me guessing all the way down.
I discovered this gem today from a totally different direction. My target today was Diablo, but initial disappointment in that soon turned into a pleasant surprise when deciding to go explore. South from Diablo on Tassajara road, a left on Finley (marked dead end but I did not care) takes you through horse farms and gorgeous barns. At the end is a map and trail head for the continuation of Old Finley Road. Do not be scared by the initial short leg of coarse, rocky uphill and unrepaired bridge. It quickly turns to a well-grated, gentle, winding climb with a few short steep pitches I handled fine on my road bike. The descent to Morgan Territory Road is a bit bumpy preventing high speed, so give up and go slow. Only trick comes with a private property gate that requires a little single track around the farm to the road. I was lucky to meet the owner and pass through. I chose right on M T road.
The once-dangerous mile-or-so section of Camino Tassajara near Finley Road/Highland Road now has nice bike lanes on both sides. This makes access to the south side of Morgan Territory Rd. a much safer ride via Camino Tassajara, Highland, Manning. These roads can still have fast and higher level traffic during commute hours as drivers use them as “short-cuts” to avoid 580/680 log jams. Non-commute hours are lovely.
Like many others, I have no interest in Ygnasio Valley Rd.-Marsh Creek Rd. so no loop for me.
The Livermore (southeast—jr) side of Morgan Territory is one of the most technical descents I’ve done. The road is one lane, very steep, and you have to be careful to control your speed and stay in your lane around the blind corners or else you could become a hood ornament. I used to ride the Livermore side almost to the top every other week from work when I was younger and stronger. It’s a tough climb with lots of steep pitches.
This is the best way, in my experience, to ride Morgan Territory Rd (a wonderful road that’s well worth riding):
* Pick up a sandwich at Genova Delicatessen near the Contra Costa Canal Trail
* Use the CCCT, Treat Blvd, Turtle Creek Rd, Ayers Rd, Academy Rd, Alberta Way, and Pine Hollow Rd to avoid Ygnacio Valley Rd entirely (you’ll cross it once and won’t ride a single inch on YVR itself)
* Refill bottles at The Grove park in Clayton
* Eat the sandwich (and a cannoli?) at the staging area near the top of MTR
* Rip the descent!
* Get soft-serve ice cream at Meadowlark Dairy in Pleasanton
Here’s a Strava route from Pleasant Hill BART to Dublin/Pleasanton BART that checks all the boxes except the ice cream: https://www.strava.com/routes/2968422995220530518