Berries for Bikers

By Tracy Wu / Photography By Bambi Edlund | June 01, 2013
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Biking for wild berries
Illustrations by Bambi Edlund

As the glorious days of summer arrive here in Marin County, flocks of bikers pedal through the landscape between idyllic towns and redwood-lined glades. They converge upon the rolling hills as the wild berries of the countryside burst into brilliant color—and flavor.

Bikers and berries can be found along many of the same trails in Marin, so here are some rules of the road to help transform your next biking adventure into a feast of delicious wild berries.

China Camp Shoreline Trail

If you get an early start and arrive at China Camp before your biking buddies have fully rubbed the sleep from their eyes, head over to the lower parking lot and pick a few blackberries to munch on while sipping that crucial coffee. Take advantage of the long blackberry patch stretching along the right side of the parking lot to fill up a Tupperware for a mid-morning treat after bagging a few peaks.

While the tardiest members of your biking crew slather on a few more ounces of sunscreen, direct the rest of the team to the massive blackberry patch on the right-hand side of the trail directly above China Camp’s lower parking lot. Indulge in a few minutes of herd grazing in imitation of Marin County’s very happy cows.

A few miles in, take a breather at the cattail patch across the road from Bullhead Flat parking lot. Directly abutting the cattails is a large blackberry patch, with a smaller patch for those who want a more exclusive blackberry picking experience on the other side of the fence.

Berries illustrations
Illustrations by Bambi Edlund

Bear Valley Trail

The beautiful countryside surrounding iconic Olema is home to many species of wild edibles, including fiddlehead ferns, miner’s lettuce, fennel, bay and thistle as well as a multitude of berries. Plan a bike ride with family and friends of all ages and spend an afternoon together exploring the shaded forest vegetation of the Bear Valley Trail.

Begin at the trailhead close to Bear Valley Visitor Center and pedal along south for a quarter of a mile. At this point you’ll begin spotting salal berry trees, the adorably named bearberry dwarf shrubs, and strawberry runners. Blackberries make their scattered debut half a mile in, with thimbleberries closely following on the left-hand side of the trail. Keep one eye on the road and the other peeled down low to find berries on this bike ride, as strawberries like to cluster beside the road and thimble-berries grow only slightly higher.

Mt. Tamalpais

Head up to Mt. Tam from Fairfax, taking a welcome break at Eldridge Grade for a few juicy huckleberries. Mt. Tam also harbors rambling caches of manzanita berries, which make a delicious nonalcoholic cider or tea when properly prepared.

Fairfax-Nicasio-Point Reyes Loop 

Keep an eye out for the hairy leaves and stems of black- berry brambles abounding on this popular road bike trail alongside Marin’s arterial Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (SFD) linking three of Marin’s quintessentially charming towns. You’ll find the first blackberry bushes four miles after exiting downtown Fairfax headed westward for sleepy Point Reyes Station. After pushing over the peak of White’s Hill you’ll encounter blackberry bushes stretching along the right-hand side of the road as you come to the turnout for Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

A few more minutes of relaxed cycling brings you to another large blackberry patch on the left between Dickson Ranch, a local horse boarding facility, and SFD. Cycle another mile and you’ll encounter more blackberry bushes, first on your left-hand side as the “Welcome to San Geronimo” sign looms up in the right-forward corner of your peripheral vision, and then on your right-hand side between the end of San Geronimo Golf Course and SFD.

Further into San Geronimo Valley, a medium-sized black- berry patch crops up on your left-hand side in front of Valley Inn, and more blackberries tantalizingly tempt thirsty bikers on the right-hand side of the road just after San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center. A quick detour off SFD before reaching the outpost town of Lagunitas will take you to a large blackberry patch directly across the street from the San Geronimo post office. Once in the calming redwood forests of Samuel P. Taylor State Park, keep your eyes peeled for jewel-like thimbleberries scattered in the dense forest carpet.

Camp Tamarancho

This nine-mile single-track loop for intermediate and advanced bikers is dotted with wild berries. In between flying down daring downhill stretches and climbing convex hills in low gear, look for manzanita berries between Serpentine and Wagon Wheel trails and thimbleberries between B-17 and Broken Dam trails.

Happy (berry) trails to you!


Picking berries illustrations
Illustration by Bambi Edlund

BEFORE YOU GO:

  • Pack along a few extra containers, preferably of the snap and lock variety, to avoid mid-trail berry explosions.
  • Dig out your oldest pair of winter gloves and chop an inch off the tip of each finger, including the thumb. These gloves will be your best friends in negotiating the thorns that zealously guard wild berries.
  • Remember to always check before foraging on federal or state land, and ask for permission before entering private property.
  • Watch out for poison oak lurking among the berries. “Leaves of three—leave them be!”
  • Never eat a berry you are not sure you recognize as safe to eat. Some may be poisonous, or at least give you stomach discomfort. If you are not sure, put them in a container and take them home to eat later after consulting with an expert on edible berries.
  • Watch out for cars and other bikers!

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