Due to recent storm damage on Calaveras Road, the long-distance routes have been re-routed. This Travelog reflects the route changes.
The ride starts from Mission San Jose High School and turns left onto Mission Blvd, named after the Mission San Jose in Fremont, a short distance from the start of the ride. Fremont was incorporated in 1956 from the towns of Niles, Mission San Jose, Irvington, Centerville, and Warm Springs.
After a nice descend down Mission Blvd. the route turns right onto Nile Canyon Rd which parallels the Alameda Creek, crossing it twice before reaching Sunol. The route of El Camino Viejo à Los Angeles (Old Road to Los Angeles), the oldest north-south trail in the interior of Alta California, ran through Niles Canyon at one time. In addition, the canyon was located in three different Mexican land grants – Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda, Rancho Ex-Mission San José, and Rancho Valle de San Jose.
The Union Pacific Railroad has an active mainline on the south side of the canyon. The Altamont Commuter Express runs along this line on weekdays. The former Southern Pacific route from Oakland to Tracy via Niles Canyon is now abandoned, except for the portion from Sunol to Niles Station operated by the Niles Canyon Railway. When you reach Sunol later in the ride you may be lucky enough to see one of the diesel or steam trains at Sunol train station.
The abandoned Sunol Aqueduct also runs through the canyon. The aqueduct, built in the 1920s, formerly provided half the water supply to San Francisco before it was replaced by the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct. Now the aqueduct acts as an interesting “secret trail” through the canyon for those in the know. It’s even featured on the Atlas Obscura website.
Stay single file on Niles Canyon Rd as there are some narrow shoulders and sections of rumble strips.
Two miles into the canyon our ride takes a left turn onto Palomares Rd, a scenic climb past farms and ranches. You may see or hear goats, cattle, horses, chickens and maybe even some peacocks along the way. Enjoy the climb and a panoramic view of the valley at the crest before descending the backside of Palomares into Castro Valley. The downhill takes you the Palo Verde Rest Stop, the first rest stop of the ride where you’ll be greeted by friendly volunteers and plenty of energizing snacks.
After leaving the rest stop the route takes you east to Pleasanton via the gentle grade of Dublin Canyon Rd a.k.a. the Dublin Grade. Dublin Canyon was part of the original Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway, from Times Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. You’re likely to have a tailwind on the climb which will help you conserve energy for the return trip later in the day. When you reach Pleasanton you’ll take Foothill Road towards Sunol passing the adobe house built by the first white settler in the area Augustine Bernal in 1850. The adobe (Alviso Adobe) has been fully restored and is now part of an interpretative park which details the history of the Amador Valley from it’s Native American beginnings to the early to mid-20th century when it was a popular dairy. Shortly after you’ll make a couple of turns that lead you onto the Pleasanton Sunol Road, which, not surprisingly, brings you all the way to Sunol for your second rest stop.
There is one more sight before turning into Sunol. At the stop sign at the end of Pleasanton Sunol Rd, take a look straight ahead and see the Sunol Water Temple. This 1910 temple, at a mixing point of three water sources and the twin temple at Crystal Springs Reservoir are the symbol of the Hetch Hetchy Water system of the San Francisco. The temple is modeled after the ancient Temple of Vesta in Tivoli Italy (Tivoli is where much of the waters that fed Rome converged in the foothills of the Apennines). Unfortunately, the grounds and Temple are only open weekdays 9 to 3. The stop sign is Scott Corner and a favorite for cyclists, but go another ¼ mile to a right turn into Sunol School.
Sunol School is site of the second rest stop. This rest stop crew usually has a theme with costumes and music. No one knows what it will be this year, or at least they are not letting anyone know. After leaving the rest stop look out for the statue of the former honorary mayor of Sunol next to the Post Office. The statue is of Bosco the first American dog mayor! Before the route turns off Main Street you’ll see Sunol Trail Station. Each Sunday Niles Canyon Railway runs vintage trains from Niles to Sunol and back from the station, including the day of the Primavera.
The route makes a couple of quick turns at the Sunol Train Station and onto the lovely Foothill Road. After a few rollers, it is good to be in pacelines on the tree shrouded road with some beautiful houses. There is a turn on Foothill directing cyclists across Verona Bridge, an old iron bridge that once carried 50 guests a weekend to Hearst’s Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, is now a popular spot for bicyclists, nature lovers and pedestrians. After turning left on Pleasanton Sunol Rd, it is a right turn onto Happy Valley to wind through the oaks on a quiet lane before connecting with Sunol Blvd.
At Sunol Blvd the 100k route diverges from the 85 and 100 mile routes. The 100K riders take a left at Sunol Blvd and are routed back to Foothill Rd, while the 100 (and 85) milers make a right onto Sunol Blvd, skirting Pleasanton and right onto Vineyard Drive for some more smooth roads into Livermore. The route travels through vineyards south and west of the town of Livermore and to the rest stop at Rios Lovell Winery. The winery has a wonderful view and good shade. You may want to stop in and try their wines some time, especially the port.
After a nice rest and nourishment it’s east on Tesla Rd and left on Cross Rd. Be careful of traffic making the left. It is OK to stop and look back and forward before turning left on Cross. Cross leads to Patterson Pass Rd, two roads that have seen several Tour of California rides. Then it is right onto South Flynn, which becomes North Flynn and a little more climbing past wind turbines leading to the Altamont Pass over the freeway at its highest point onto Carrol Rd These lonely roads offer great riding, even if there are 700 feet of climbing involved. By then you’ve worked up a good appetite and it is mostly downhill to another stop at the winery and more nourishment. For those 85 milers who want more than the 100K and less than the 100 mile, skipping Altamont is an option, but it is a nice route.
From the winery (the second time) it is through Livermore on Arroyo Bike Lane to Jack London Blvd taking us back to Pleasanton. Once in the north part of Pleasanton, it is more tree lined roads and parks (with bathrooms) to Foothill Rd to rejoin the 100K route. A left on Dublin Canyon Rd and it is up and over the Dublin Grade again. In the afternoon, the breeze usually comes off the bay and pacelines and riding in groups help to break the wind.
It is then downhill to the Palo Verde Rest Stop for some more nourishment. You will see the roosters walking around the rest stop. It is time to fuel up and get some sugar in you for the last hill of the day. It is exactly 5 miles to the top, followed by 5 miles of downhill. The mileage signs help you pace yourself. Mile ten is at the bottom and mile marker five is at the top, so you know how far you have to go. The markers decrease in miles until 5, but the steepness increases. It really is a pretty road and enjoying the beauty makes one forget about the slight uphill, at least for the first four miles. An easy uphill turns into a steep uphill the last half mile, with the last quarter mile being the steepest. Fortunately, the redwood trees shade the road and make the last half mile bearable.
Then it is 5 miles of downhill, past a couple more wineries, to Niles Canyon. Note that the speed limit on Palomares on the downhill is 25 mph. Keeping a safe speed only adds few seconds to your ride and you get a little longer to enjoy it and avoid a ticket. Then it is onto Niles Canyon. Niles Canyon is definitely a single file zone with passing only where the shoulder widens. Alameda Creek runs down the canyon and projects are in place to promote steelhead trout in this area which used to be a weekend retreat accessible by rail from San Francisco in the first half of last century.
Niles Canyon Rd runs past the site of the Vallejo’s Grist Mill. Niles was established in the 1850’s and was a junction point of the Southern Pacific Railroad lines from Oakland to San Jose and southern coastal points. Vallejo’s Mill was the first flourishing flour mill constructed and completed in this country. It was run by water conducted in a long flume from Alameda Creek. Niles at one time was noted for the location of the California Nursery, the largest nursery in California, with the largest rose plantation in the state.
In 1912, Essanay Studios was at the height of its movie making fame. The studio, owned by Bronco Billy, made famous movies of the time starring Charlie Chaplin, Wallace Beery and Ben Turpin. Many cowboy adventures were filmed through Niles Canyon and along the main streets of Niles. Hollywood, because of more days of sunshine, became more popular. The 85 and 100 milers go left onto Mission Blvd, but the 100K riders get to experience the old town. If you want a small detour, follow the Green arrows. They take you for a short ride through Niles past the old train station and right on Sullivan Underpass and right on Mission Blvd. All the routes, including the Fun ride, join up on Mission Blvd.
The rides go straight up Mission Blvd with a nice view of Mission Peak. Typically there is a tailwind in the afternoon. A nice warm meal awaits the victorious riders.
The 25 mile Fun Riders follow north on Paseo Padre Parkway from Palm Avenue, via Olive Avenue. They follow Paseo Padre through Fremont, past the Central Park and to Coyote Hills Regional Park and a rest stop. They then get an option of cycling all the way to the edge of the bay for a view of San Francisco and a lot of wildlife. It is then along the bike path along Alameda Creek Trail to a second well stocked rest stop. The route continues to the end of the trail at the mouth of Niles Canyon. A restroom and a water stop await the riders at the end of the trail. The route winds through some quiet neighborhoods and a left turn onto Mission Blvd back to the high school and a delicious hot meal.