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Length 23 miles
Time 3 hours
Total Climb 300 feet
Fun Rating
Scenic Rating
Aerobic Difficulty
Technical Difficulty 

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Alameda Creek Trail

Alameda Creek Regional Trail is a flat and unchallenging recreational trail that follows a creek bed cutting through some suburban swaths of the Bay Area. This definition puts it in the same company as many other such examples like Los Gatos Creek Trail, Stevens Creek Trail, and Coyote Creek Trail. Other than being in a different part of the Bay Area from those other trails and hence serving a different set of local folk, there isn't very much that would set this trail apart from those other ones. Alameda Creek Trail does reach all the way to the bay shore, allowing connections to some other trails that follow coastal levees, but so does Stevens Creek Trail; and its ample length allows pretty long rides, but so does Coyote Creek Trail. However, there are two minor features of this trail that are not shared with other such examples in the Bay Area: the fact that it provides a choice between riding on gravel and riding on pavement, and the fact that the creek bed itself is actually a lot more scenic than your typical suburban waterway.

Strictly speaking, Alameda Creek Trail is actually not a single trail but several trails. This name is used for two trails that follow on either side of the creek bed and a number of connectors that extend outward from the creek in various locations. More crucially though, of the two "core" trails that lie along both sides of the creek bed, the one on the north has a (mostly) gravel surface, and the one on the south is paved. While this ride route might, at first glance, look like the slim line of an out-and-back ride on the map, it's technically a loop that traverses the trails on both sides of the creek.

In contrast to the "concrete duct" to which many creeks passing through settled areas are reduced, the Alameda Creek bed is actually a fairly wide and surprisingly green belt over almost all of its length between the bay shore and the East Bay hills. In that respect, one might say that this trail does a fairly believable job of providing a slice of nature to those living in the vicinity of Union City or Fremont. In fact, there are spots in the upper reaches of the creek where you might be able to squint your eyes and, for a moment, imagine yourself to be next to one of the tributaries of the Nile or some other such exotic place. This certainly works toward making this ride a more pleasant one than it otherwise might be, and it's the main reason I've given this ride as high a scenic rating as I have.

I've started this ride from one of the trail's own parking lots—the one named Alameda Creek Stables Staging Area (a more recent trail map labels this simply as "Alameda Creek Staging Area"). This is certainly not your only option, but it's an option I've found convenient enough in terms of the ease of reaching it when you're coming here via the freeway, and in terms of available space. In addition, while this parking lot has a gate that will be locked before its formal opening time of 8:00 AM, the residential streets just outside this gate seemed to be quite suitable for street-side parking, in case you'd prefer to start your ride earlier than that. However, considering the fact that this trail is not a "ride destination" to which people would come from afar, most people who'll be interested in the trail will probably be locals who can simply ride to the trail from their own doorstep anyway.

Needless to say, there is no climbing on this ride to speak of. Yes, the elevation increases by a few feet as you head upstream, as attested by the elevation profile above, but you'd need senses of scientific precision to be able to detect that during the ride. The only time you'll be pedaling uphill on this ride is on your way out of the numerous underpasses that the trail uses to cross major roadways and at the tiny ramps at the trailheads. So, in case you were wondering if you could bring along your little niece riding with training wheels on this ride or your uncle with the beer belly riding a townie, yes you can.

One thing that makes Alameda Creek Trail a good place for a bike ride is the fact that it connects to Coyote Hills Regional Park. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a typical ride on Alameda Creek should include a loop or two on the trails in Coyote Hills. It would make more sense that way. I haven't included that on this particular ride only because I wanted to include the full extent of the trail itself and increasing the ride length even further by including Coyote Hills would not have worked with my time constraint at the time I did this. From that point of view, you could even think of this ride route as more of a "mapping out" of Alameda Creek Trail rather than representing a typical recommended route for an Alameda Creek bike ride.

Seeing the pair of trails you use on this ride sit on either side of the same creek that is crossed by numerous roadways, you'd expect to have plenty of opportunities to cross from one side to the other easily. The opportunities are there but I wouldn't call them very easy. I was surprised to notice that some of the bridges of the roads crossing the creek are not very suitable for bike riding. Their traffic can be very heavy (and fast), the sidewalk is nearly absent, there is no shoulder space on the side of the road, and the right-hand lane is not particularly spacious. So, crossing from one side of the creek to the other on of these bridges involves more reliance on the courtesy of the drivers with whom you'll be sharing the road than I'd be comfortable with. Still I've had to do one such crossing via Union City / Ardenwood Boulevard on this particular ride in order get to the southern side of the creek from the northern side. I'm not certain that this is true for all bridges that connect the two sides of the trail, but I think it's true for most of them. When turning around via Old Canyon Road at the upstream end of the ride and at the end of the "detour" along Dry Creek, you do have the possibility to stay on the left-hand sidewalk in order to avoid crossing traffic, but even these sidewalks are pretty narrow and it would be awkward if you encountered pedestrians as you do this. Meanwhile, one notable exception to this is the Sequoia Bridge (adjacent to Quarry Lakes), which is closed to motor-vehicle traffic and is exclusively for trail users.

A minor detail that I feel could be worth pointing out is that you might encounter small swarms of gnats that are hovering and stationary that you'll have to ride through. In fact, I saw one other biker on this particular ride who was wearing a dust mask and I think it was probably against these insects. (The reason I thought so was that the mask closed only his mouth and not his nose.) This is not something that I found throughout the ride route; they were only clustered in a few stretches in the lower parts of the creek. They might also be seasonal. I wouldn't expect to find them on a chilly morning during the colder months of the year. But, they were present on my early-spring-morning ride and this is also something with which I'm familiar from riding on Stevens Creek Trail a few times over the years. These are not large swarms; they're more like "clumps" if I can call them that. Riding through one of these doesn't even take one second. But they do hit your face, hair, and body.

While we're on the "ick factor", one other obscure detail that might be worth your attention is the tide. At low tide, the trails along the shore around the South Bay can have a pretty stomach-turning odor. This could become an issue if you happen upon such conditions as you're doing the part of this ride that takes place on the coastal marshlands and, if you've included it in your ride, on the coastal side of Coyote Hills. It's not like this happens every other day, but I'd expect you to witness this at least occasionally (perhaps when the tide, temperature, and wind direction hit upon an unlucky combination) if you ride here regularly.

In terms of side attractions along the ride, I can't point to too many. Ardenwood Historic Farm is only a couple of miles from the trail on Ardenwood Boulevard. As both a working farm and a historic display piece, it might interest those who would like to take in a little bit of the local history or present the opportunity to expose kids to some furry critters. I also seem to remember that they have a corn maze open to the public around Halloween. A lesser known local curiosity is the obscure little town of Niles, at the eastern extreme of this ride route. Although this place is currently little more than a neighborhood on the outskirts of Fremont, it actually has a colorful page in its history in which it used to house a major film studio (the first on the West Coast) when Hollywood hadn't even started making feature films yet. In fact, the film that put Charlie Chaplin on the map, The Tramp, was filmed right here. Today, you're not likely to find many indications of this local history other than at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, but that might be more than enough to interest serious film buffs.

If you're interested in extending this ride further or in varying it, you'll have several obvious options from which to start. The most sensible one of these is to continue into Coyote Hills, as I've already explained. Notice, however, that if you're riding on the southern, paved, half of Alameda Creek Trail on a road bike and expect to extend your ride into Coyote Hills without leaving pavement, your options there will be limited to a loop on Bayview Trail. Most other trails at Coyote Hills are unpaved. As long as you're okay with riding on unpaved trails, once you make your way to Coyote Hills, a number of additional trails following the levees around the coastal evaporation ponds will also be available to you. You can follow these even into the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge, on the other side of Route 84. If you're looking for extensions into other trails, another area that could be fruitful for you is Quarry Lakes park, near the opposite end of Alameda Creek Trail. If, instead, you're on a bike with skinny tires and looking for some interesting extension options for road rides starting from Alameda Creek Trail, one easy suggestion I can make is Niles Canyon Road. The eastern turnaround point of this particular ride route is a stone's throw from the western end of this fun road that traverses its cute-and-curvy namesake canyon. Personally, I find the road to be a bit too narrow and its traffic a bit too heavy to be comfortable for a road ride, but this doesn't change the fact that I see plenty of road riders using this route anyway, and the canyon surely is pretty.

© Ergin Guney


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