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Riding Fernandez Ranch

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

Fernandez Ranch in Martinez is one of the newest mountain bike parks in the East Bay. Opened to mountain biking in 2017, this former grazing land, managed by the John Muir Land Trust, is entirely multi-use and mostly singletrack.

Bridge at Fernandez Ranch. Photo by Adam Weidenbach

Directions to Fernandez Ranch

Directions to the park trailhead -- and a map of the property (from JMLT's brochure -- https://jmlt.org/fernandez_ranch.html)

From I-80 (Hercules / Pinole):

  • Head east on Highway 4

  • Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road. Use caution; Christie Road is a minor exit off of Highway 4

  • Fernandez Ranch is .7 miles down Christie Road on your right

From Martinez:

  • Head west on Highway 4.

  • Take the Franklin Canyon Exit

  • Turn left and merge onto Highway 4 eastbound

  • Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road. Use caution; Christie Road is a minor exit off of Highway 4

  • Fernandez Ranch is .7 miles down Christie Road on your right

Fernandez Ranch Suggested Route

Refer to map at the JMLT website link above (in “Directions to Fernandez Ranch” section)

Note: this suggested route will take you for a brief time on an East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) right-of-way. This is a bike-legal section, but you will need to acquire and carry an EBMUD trail to ride this segment. See the following link to purchase a permit: https://www.ebmud.com/recreation/buy-trail-permit/


From the Fernandez Ranch parking lot, proceed across the large steel bridge over Rodeo Creek. Just past the creek, a trail branches off to the left (this is Black Phoebe Trail -- you'll end up here later) – DON’T go left; go straight here, instead.

Almost immediately, the trail splits again. Take either branch -- they rejoin in about a quarter mile, on the other side of the small knoll that contains a picnic area and trellis. Where the trail branches rejoin on the far side of the knoll, proceed through the gate and continue up the fire road about another quarter mile until a trail branches off to the right.

Turn right here -- this is Woodland Trail (you'll see a windmill just up the hill to your right).

1. WOODLAND TRAIL

Woodland Trail will begin as a climb for approximately 1/2 mile along an open hillside until you reach a gate. Proceed through the gate -- this next section is about a mile of nice, swoopy single track through a wooded canopy featuring several wooden bridges, finally opening up to an open hilltop about 3/4 mile later. You will reach another gate about 1/4 mile after you hit this open patch -- proceed through this gate* and make a quick left to go through a 2nd gate. Proceed a couple of hundred yards to Franklin Ridge fire road. *Ride option: you’ll see a trail to the right / uphill immediately after the first of the two gates – this is the beginning to the Canyon Loop Trail. Canyon Loop is a 1.1-mile loop that heads downhill towards the Franklin Canyon Golf Course, then returns uphill and reconnects to the Franklin Ridge EBMUD fire road. It’s a worthwhile loop, but it’s a steep downhill and something of a slog (though not quite as steep) on the uphill return, if you do it counter-clockwise, i.e. starting from this gate. This loop might be a good option for a future trip to Fernandez Ranch (because you WILL be back!)

1a. EBMUD CONNECTOR FIRE ROAD / FRANKLIN RIDGE TRAIL:

Where the Woodland Trail single track ends at Franklin Ridge fire road*, take an immediate left onto the fire road and continue along the ridgeline (note: all the branches downhill to the right end up down in in Hercules’ Refugio Valley neighborhood -- avoid unless you want steep, unrewarding climbs back out).

*Ride option: where the Woodland Trail single track first meets Franklin Ridge fire road, there is a short (1/3 of a mile or so) optional/easy out-and-back (the Vista Trail) you can take to get a nice 360-degree view of your surroundings. If you want to give this a shot, take a right onto Franklin Ridge fire road, then follow the fire road about a hundred yards. Here you will find single track to your right (watch for it, it’s a little hard to distinguish) just as the fire road starts curving uphill to your left. Almost immediately, the single track splits – stay left (to the right is the end of the Canyon Loop Trail, discussed in the previous section). Continue to the left / uphill on the Vista Trail for about 300 yds (there are a couple of switchbacks on the way up, but it’s a mild grade). The trail eventually peters out at the top of a knoll – from here, enjoy the beautiful 360-degree view, including San Pablo Bay (to the northwest), Mt. Tamalpais (to the west), the Oakland/Berkeley Hills (to the southwest), and Mt. Diablo (to the east). Once you’ve filled your senses, return back the way you came and work your way back to the gate on the Franklin Ridge Fire Road.

After a couple of hundred yards after you’ve made your left from the Woodland Trail onto Franklin Ridge fire road, you'll reach a gate signed as East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). You can proceed through this gate legally, but access requires an EBMUD trail use permit (see notes earlier in this document for how to obtain a permit).

Stay left on the fire road after the gate, and follow it for about 1/2 mile along the ridgetop to the east until you see a gate to your left (just as the fire road makes a sharp downhill right and starts heading down towards Alhambra Valley Rd on EBMUD watershed land).

You'll also see the Bay Area Ridge Trail poking uphill from here -- at this point, it's somewhat overgrown, but worth a short hike up, if you're inclined); luckily, here's where you'll join back into what is arguably the best of the Fernandez Ranch trail segments, the Wood Rat trail.

2. WOOD RAT TRAIL

Immediately as you pass through the gate to your left off the EBMUD fire road, the trail splits -- a fire road (Windmill Trail) to your left, a single track (Woodrat Trail) to your right. Take the right-hand / single track branch – it’s a nice little swoopy through-the-forest downhill.

Point your bike downhill and GO!*

*The only thing to watch for here is that there is often a lot of leaf litter on the trail (needs more wheels, folks!), so make sure to keep your bike underneath you!

About a half-mile down, you'll see a short split-rail fence, about fifteen feet long to your left; it's a bit hard to see, but the trail makes a SHARP left-hand turn here -- don't overshoot it, or you'll end up in the brush.

From here, there will be a couple of single track trails branching off to the right within the next couple of hundred feet (they lead to Whipsnake Trail) -- for purposes of this first ride, ignore them and stay left for about another quarter mile until the single track dumps you back out onto the Windmill fire road.

Stop here and catch your breath for a moment, then...turn around and head right back on the single track you just came down.

3. WHIPSNAKE TRAIL

Within a couple of hundred feet after your turnaround, there's a single-track branch to the left (one of the ones you ignored on the way down) -- take it.

This is the beginning of Whipsnake Trail, the last of the three major loops in the park. This will take you downhill through the forest for another couple of hundred feet, where you will then cross a wooden bridge to your left and begin your climb up to the ridge (which you'll hit in about 1/2 mile and three rather sharp switchbacks, the first of which -- a right-hand one -- you'll hit about 100 feet after crossing the bridge).

Once you hit the open hillside, you'll continue climbing gradually. You'll hit a little promontory with a bench in about a quarter mile, just before the downhill begins -- stop here and take in the nice view, if you're inclined.

From the bench, the trail almost immediately begins a drop that lasts for about a mile -- nothing much to note here except (a) follow the trail -- there are no branches -- and (b) watch out for the switchbacks -- they can creep up on you pretty fast!

When you hit valley floor at the bottom of the downhill (after the final left-hand hairpin), there is another gate. Once you proceed through this gate (and across a small bridge), you have actually crossed over onto Black Phoebe trail, which is a packed-gravel double track that meanders through the valley for about a half-mile until you eventually spit out right next to the large steel bridge where you entered the park at the very beginning of your ride. Take a right here, and it's only a couple of hundred feet across the bridge and to the parking lot.

Or you can take in some of these trails again, perhaps mixing it up with a reverse direction on some or all of them.



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