By Joh Rathbun. Photos by Brad Davies.
The Soquel Demonstration Forest is a unique forest located on Santa Rosalia Mountain about an hour away from San Jose, California. It’s unique not just for its amazing beauty and great riding, but because it’s owned by the California State Fire Department and it leases out the land for logging and recreational activity.
California took ownership of the property in 1988, but the 2,600-acre “Demo” became a state forest in 1990 so the state could conduct "baseline monitoring and studies of the hazards, risks and benefits of forest operations and watershed to urban areas." According to the state, the park was designed to “host research projects and demonstrate improved forest management practices, from timber production and environmental stewardship, to public recreation uses.”
Coho salmon—once wildly successful in the area but now decimated—use the creeks as spawning grounds and environmentalists are watching the evolution of the park in hopes of saving endangered species in this area. Redwoods are also prevalent in the park. A picky species, redwoods address their specific need for water with a solution unique to most trees: absorbing water through the air. The climate they grown in is known as a “cloud forest”, and the lush scenery combined with the ride to the trailhead is breath-taking.
While Demo is a demonstration of how two different demographics within the community can share land, a new timber harvest plan was enacted last year. One trail in particular, appropriately called the Tractor Trail, was “sacrificed” for logging. While local advocates work towards restoring the trail, there are still at least half a dozen trails to ride. From the short but steep Saw Pit to the wildly-loved Braille Trail, the Demo Forest is truly a mountain biker’s park.
The climb from the parking lot is about two miles of paved and dirt roads, but once at the trailhead, you now have a choice of about half a dozen singletrack trails ranging in technical ability, but almost all with bailout routes. Your bike like its own little car on your very own woodsy roller coaster. At the end, all the trails stop at Hihn’s Mill Road, and you must ride uphill to get back to the parking lot. Most local mountain bikers take a couple laps, riding up Sulpher Springs—aka “Suffer Springs” to get another descent in. Because if riding down once was awesome, then twice will be twice as fun.
If you’re looking for just the gravity-assisted type of riding, a local, Dave Smith started up Shuttle Smith Adventure a couple of years ago, the only shuttle service in the Santa Cruz mountains. For $20, you and your bike will be dropped off on Buzzard Lagoon Road, about 3/10 of a mile away from the intersection of Aptos Creek Road. From there, ride up Aptos Creek Road for approximately a mile to get to the Ridge Trail trailhead. Dave is a great character, and is a fountain of information. He will tell you about the new bridge built over Mill Creek while giving accurate up-to-date information on the trails. A big teddy bear of a guy, Dave is your downhill shuttling van man!
While Demo is one of only a handful of demonstration forests in California, it is considered the mountain biking destination in the Bay Area for tight, yet legal singletrack that knocks your black little ankle socks off.
About the author: Joh Rathbun is a Freelance Writer and columnist at shineriders.com. To stay up to date on West Coast events, like her Facebook page.