El Corte de Madera

Mountain biking mecca off Skyline Boulevard.

El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve tumbles down the west side of the Santa Cruz mountains from Skyline Boulevard. This popular mountain bike park is often empty on weekdays but certainly well traveled. Known by the nickname Skeggs, short for the Skeggs Point parking area and overlook, the park delivers the fun first, in the form of rollicking downhills, before demanding payment in sweat on the steep uphill climb that follows.

This 2,817-acre park is criss-crossed with 36 miles of trail riding, running, or hiking fun. There are plenty of rocky, techy sections but also plenty of smooth, rolling stretches layered in duff.

Newbie mountain bikers will find themselves spending more time hike-a-biking than spinning around this steep park. Intermediate to advanced riders will have a little, okay a lot, more fun. Luckily much of the uphill ridding can be accomplished on fire roads, allowing the focus to shift away from technical trails when your legs and lungs are bursting.

While there is an ocean view from Fir Trail’s Vista Point during clear weather, most of the beauty here is found in the forest. Once logged for old-growth redwoods the second growth now mingles with Douglas fir to provide very deep shade for all those steep trails.

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PRO-TIP watch out for bikers, and if you are one heads up for pedestrians, there isn’t much room to maneuver on the narrower trails. If you hear a biker in an area with low visibility feel free to call out to let them know that you’re there.

A GREAT PLACE TO get lost, so remember that map. Other activities include riding a bike, working it out on some steep slopes, staring up at big trees, ogling crazy rock formations, and steeping in solitude.

NOT NECESSARILY THE PLACE TO cool off in the water or go on an off-trail adventure. Swimming and wading is prohibited and wandering off the beaten track is worth a misdemeanor from the District’s Watershed Protection Program.

YOUR MOM WOULD TELL YOU TO use the shoe and tire scrubbers at the main (southern-most) park entrance to stifle the transfer of sudden oak death between parks. And slow your roll. Bike speed limits clock in at 15 mph – 5 around blind turns (of which there are many).

IF YOU’RE LUCKY YOU’LL avoid a head-on hiker v. biker collision.

-L. Clark Tate

Directions: The main, southernmost, parking lot is 2.7 miles north of the Highway 84 intersection along Skyline Boulevard on the west side of the road. The middle parking lot, accessing the Methuselah Tree and Trail, is 3.3 miles north of Highway 84, and the northern most parking lot, Skeggs, is 4 miles north.

Tafoni Trail Loop
4 miles RT; 300 ft of climbing; moderate
See a plane crash memorial, ocean view and a remarkable sandstone formation on just one walk through the woods. Hikers, bikers and equestrians welcome.

Gordon Mill Trail
5.2 miles RT; moderate; 1,000 ft of climbing; moderate
A relatively easy-to-follow, wide-open dirt road diving deep into mountainside forests and back out. Open to hikers, bikers and equestrians.