Author Archives: Jack Rawlins

Sacramento River Trail

Distance:36.6-mile out and back more or less
Elevation gain: 1845 ft

Normally I don’t like rec trails, because they’re crowded and claustrophobic. But the occasional rec trail rises above the regrettable norm, and Bestrides discusses five that I really like: the Monterey Bike Trail, the Willamette River Trail in Eugene, the American River Trail in Sacramento, the Coyote Creek Trail in San Jose, and this one. As with all rec trails, the Sacramento River Trail (also called the Sacramento River Parkway) can get unpleasantly crowded on weekends, but if you can catch it on a quiet day, it’s a wonderful ride, with an immaculate road surface, grand vistas, and (much of the time) an intriguing contour.

Besides crowds, the curses of rec trails are monotony and flatness/straightness (since most are trail-to-trail conversions). The SRT has neither problem. The route is a constant series of entertaining surprises: Turtle Bay Exploration Park with its vast array of educational attractions, McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens next-door, a giant sundial, three river crossings on bridges (one world-famous, one a suspension bridge straight out of Indiana Jones), one spooky tunnel, endless views of the Sacramento River (since you’re riding along its very lip), distant views of Mt. Lassen to the southeast, views of Mt. Shasta at the turn-around, a ride along the top of one of the world’s largest and most scenic dams, interesting historical placards to further your knowledge, cards naming and describing the trees and shrubs along the path, one mighty hydroelectric generating plant, bald eagles in flight, and so on. And the SRT is, about 2/3 of the time, as far from flat/straight as you can get, a delightful roller coaster of up and down and back and forth (it’s more work than the elevation total suggests). When it is flat, it’s still perfectly pleasant.

Avoiding the crowds is key here. Two solutions are obvious: 1) ride on weekdays and 2) ride farther than the walkers can walk. The SRT is one of those trails that begins near the heart of the city and gets more and more isolated the further you go. Most of the walkers are in the first 3 miles of the route, and by Keswick Dam they’re almost entirely gone. The third solution is unusual: ride in the winter. The flora is as pretty in January as it is in June, but the crowds are indoors, so if you can find a clear, dry winter day the trail should pretty much belong to you and the hard-core runners. In addition, in the winter the surrounding summits are crowned with snow and the vistas are vastly improved.

The frequent trailheads along the route all have bathrooms. Water resupply is available at Keswick Dam, Shasta Day Use Area, and (I’m told) the Shasta Dam Visitor Center.

Our route crosses the top of Shasta Dam, but RidewithGPS doesn’t recognize that as a “road” or it thinks it’s closed to the public—for whatever reason it wouldn’t let me map it.

Click on any of the photos to see them enlarged.

The SRT changes its personality every few miles, so I’ll describe the route in sections.

Section 1: From the Sundial Bridge to the Diestelhurst Bridge. Park in the Turtle Bay parking lot (it’s free). Make a mental note to come back and explore the riches of Turtle Bay soon. Ride across the famous Sundial Bridge carefully—the road surface of the bridge is mostly glass and is therefore slippery if at all wet or frosty. Check out the giant sundial laid out on the earth at the north end of the bridge. Turn L onto the North Sacramento River Trail. Immediately pass the gates to the Botanical Gardens. Make a mental note to come back and explore the riches of the gardens soon. At the gate to the gardens is a poster with an excellent map of the SRT—take a photo for later reference if you forgot to download your ridewithGPS route map.

Sundial Bridge

This section of the trail is cozy, full of tight little turns, drops, and rises as it works its way through pretty riparian oaks and past playgrounds and other suburban signs of life. It’s likely to be the section of the ride most crowded with walkers, dogs, and children. Note the pretty quarter-mile markers along the route—they are one of at least 5 different sets of distance markers you’ll see on the ride, so you’ll never be in doubt about where you are on the route.

Section 1

Follow the unmistakable trail as it passes under two bridges. At the third bridge, the Diestelhorst, pass under, immediately go R and loop up onto the bridge. From the center of the bridge (which is closed to cars), note Mt. Lassen through the trusses of the two bridges to the east.

Section 2: From Diestelhorst Bridge to Keswick Dam. At the south end of the bridge turn R onto the unmissable South Sacramento River Trail and ride to Keswick Dam. Note the large sign at the trailhead giving you distances to all destinations ahead—it’s the first of many. This is a popular trailhead for runners, because this leg is mostly flat and straight, so you may have company. It’s mostly free of development, traveling through pretty, small woods and later more open country, hugging the riverbank the entire way. Note the prominent mountain dead ahead of you (hopefully snow-crested if you took my advice and are riding in the winter), which I was told by a local is Whiskeytown Mountain. Watch for bald eagles from here to the turn-around.

Section 2

As you approach the impressive pile that is Keswick Dam and Power Station, you pass a lovely little suspension bridge across the river, called either the Sacramento River Trail Bridge or the Ribbon Bridge depending on your map. We’ll cross over on it on our return ride.

The Ribbon Bridge

Section 3: From Keswick Dam to Keswick Boat Launch and Trailhead. Officially the Sacramento River Trail ends here and the continuation is called the Sacramento River Rail Trail, but no name could be more misleading. This leg is by far the most dramatic, difficult, and rewarding on the route, and no rail line could ever consider traversing it. It begins with a challenging 0.5-mile hill, named Heart Rate Hill on the nearby placard, the first of two climbs on the route that you’ll really notice. RWGPS says it maxes out at a bit less than 9%, but I promise it feels like more.

Section 3

From Heart Rate Hill’s summit, the leg meanders dramatically, up and down, back and forth. You’re high above the river, on top of the canyon ridge, and it’s exhilarating. The terrain is sparse and dry, made more barren by the recent fires that pounded Whiskeytown, but it’s a grand barrenness, and the constant views of Mt. Lassen and Brokeoff across the river to the east are splendid. By now you should have out-ridden all but the heartiest of trail users, so you can really attack the course. This is great riding and is the one leg of the SRT you can’t afford to miss.

Section 3

Section 4: From Keswick Boat Launch to the Shasta Day Use Area. This leg fits the rail-to-trail stereotype—basically flat, straight, and homogeneous—as it works its way through riparian shrubs and low trees along the river’s shoreline. Trailside placards naming and describing the local flora pop up. The monotony is broken by a cool little tunnel, long enough to get pleasantly tingly but never pitch-dark. You’re nearing the northern end of the trail, so you may pick up some walkers or casual cyclists coming from the Shasta Use Area campgrounds just ahead of you.

The bike trail debouches onto a major road at the Shasta Dam Trail Head of the SRT. Follow the road to the R, which soon leads to the Shasta Day Use Area, a major complex with campgrounds, bathrooms, and water.

Shasta Dam

Section 4 would be the most skippable on the route except we need it to get to the next leg, which you don’t want to miss.

Section 5: Shasta Day Use Area to Shasta Dam. Ride through the Day Use Area on the main road (Coral Rd., unsigned) and follow it to the dam, a very sweet, moderate 1.5-mile climb serpentining up beside the dam face to the road across the top of the dam itself. Halfway up the climb the road changes its name to Shasta Dam Access Rd., again unsigned. At the dam, ride across it to the other side, then ride back. The dam road (officially still Shasta Dam Access Rd.) is surrounded by guardhouses, barriers, and guards armed with automatic weapons, so it looks forbidding, but you are in fact welcome to ride there and poke around (a sign says, “No knives, guns, or food”—I didn’t ditch my Clif Bar). Smack on the far side of the lake is Mt. Shasta in regal grandeur, and the views down the face of the dam are unforgettable. It’s an iconic dam, everyone’s image of what a dam should look like. On the far side is a Visitor Center where you can replenish your water.

Mt. Shasta from the top of the dam

Turn around and ride back down the hill. It’s a perfect slalom on perfect pavement, over too soon. Return to the SRT and ride it backwards past Keswick Dam to the suspension bridge. Cross the river on it and begin the next leg.

Section 6: North Sacramento River Trail to the Diestelhorst Bridge. You are paralleling Section 2, but the terrain couldn’t be more different. Whereas Section 2 is flat and straight, this leg is the most twisty/turny up and down riding you’ll do all day. I loved it. If you love it too, there is an argument to be made for skipping the tamer Section 2 on the ride out and doing Section 6 in both directions. I won’t say no.

Section 6, with Mt. Lassen in background

The NSRT debouches onto a suburban neighborhood street. Continue down the street and keep an eye out for the continuation of the trail, which takes off to the R in 1/4 mile with no signage. Don’t fall for the trail-look-alike driveway just before it.

This leg runs back into our outward path at the base of the Diestelhorst Bridge. Return the way you came to your car.

Shortening the route: Since there are car-accessible trailheads with parking lots scattered along the route, you can start/stop your ride at any of them and tailor the route to suit your aesthetics, conditioning, and tolerance for crowds. The 6 sections from best to worst are IMO #3, 5, 6, 1, 2, and 4. Which means there is no way to ride just the good stuff. My ideal short route would be #3, 4, 5, and back, putting up with Section 4 for what lies on either side.

Adding miles: You can add on 6-8 nice miles to our route by continuing on past the dam Visitor Center and going R/south on Hwy 151, Shasta Dam Blvd., to Summit City, then either turning around or heading north on Lake Blvd, which will return you to the dam. Shasta Dam Blvd. has a nice serpentine contour and climbs 600 ft. for some good views of the dam and the river downstream of it. Lake Blvd. is pretty vanilla.

There is a fair amount of additional bike path to the east of the Sundial Bridge, on both sides of the river, and it’s all fun stuff—consult the map by the Botanical Gardens—but it isn’t a significant number of miles.

Cavedale Road

Distance: 15-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 2630 ft

This is a winding, narrow backroad in the Wine Country with one striking virtue that makes it stand out among Wine Country rides: new, glassy pavement. Half of it (the southeast half) has been repaved in the last few weeks (as of 11/22)—the other half is being paved as we speak. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you haven’t ridden in Sonoma County very much. Among our Wine Country rides, this, Mt. Veeder Road, and Hopland Road are the only three with respectable pavement, and Veeder is chipseal and Hopland is big and trafficky, so Cavedale is the only well-paved backroad climb in the area.

Cavedale Rd. climbs up and down over a ridge between the Napa and the Sonoma Valleys. From the SE end, it’s a pure climb to the summit—in 5.2 miles you accumulate a total elevation gain of 1930 ft and a total descent of 18 ft. It’s a pretty steady 8-10%, with lots of little stingers of 12+% that RidewithGPS refuses to acknowledge. The climb from the NE end is milder, but only because you have to climb Trinity Grade to get to the start, so unless you do Trinity by car the elevation gain (and the amount of 8-10% pitch) is about the same from either direction. In other words, it’s work.

If you ride it right now (11/17/22) the road is closed to all vehicles, including bikes, at the point of construction, which is somewhere west of the summit. This is a plus and a minus—a plus because through-traffic is detoured around Cavedale, and a minus because you’ll encounter some massive trucks and other heavy-duty equipment on its way to or from the site. On my descent I ran across a huge flatbed truck apparently stuck fast in an attempt to negotiate a switchback.

There’s no telling when the construction will be done—there are two signs at the base of the climb giving dates for completion, and they’re different, and they’re both long past. But I would guess they’ll be done by 2023.

Thanks to the closure, I wasn’t able to ride the entire road, so, even though my map route is an out and back of the whole thing, in fact I rode from the Sonoma end to the summit and back. I’ll describe what I rode, and we can assume the rest of the road is similar.

The repaving hasn’t widened or straightened the road, so it still varies from one-lane-plus at its widest to true one-lane and is never straight, which makes the steady 10% pitches bearable. The landscape is mostly dry, with some fire damage, and the main visual payoff are the frequent vistas of the Sonoma valley below you once you gain some altitude.

Sonoma Valley views

You’d think a lonely, narrow, serpentining, glass-surfaced descent would be marvelous. I didn’t find it so. It’s fun but not exhilarating, because it’s too steep, with too many blind corners and too much traffic (even with the road closure) for you to let it it rip. In fact, I would say that trying to rip this descent would be seriously dangerous, unless you have disk brakes and an eagle eye for on-coming cars, since there is no shoulder, a major drop-off at either edge of the pavement, and no guardrails. Tellingly, two people I met on the road separately told me, without prompting, to be careful on the descent, and when I came down I saw why. I rode it at a mellow pace, without pressing, and enjoyed it.

Cavedale from the southeast end begins climbing immediately, and there’s no shoulder to park on anywhere near it on Hwy 12, so for those two reasons I suggest you drive north on Hwy 12 a half mile to wide, open, flat Madrone Rd. and park/warm up there. Ride back to Cavedale, thanking god you don’t have to be on busy and dangerous Hwy 12 any longer than this.

At the base of Cavedale there are a number of promising/interesting signs: “Winding one-lane road, RV’s and trailers not recommended” (always encouraging for cyclists); “Road narrows” (which seems impossible, given the width at that point); and a sign telling you that the repaving is partly paid for out of profits from Levi’s Grand Fondo, the enormous group ride out of Santa Rosa—thank you, Mr. Leipheimer! (Hey, some of that money is mine!)

It’s all pretty much like this

About riding Cavedale itself there is little to add. It’s all up for 5.1 miles to an obvious summit. For a while there is little to distract you—there are no forks or crossroads and no visible houses by the road. Many people live in the area and use the road (hence the traffic), but they’re all down long driveways and nothing is visible from the road except for the occasional gate. There is some fire damage, but the terrain is so barren you won’t notice. Views of the valley below improve as you ascend, and near the top of the hill the inevitable Sonoma vineyards begin to appear.

Past the summit the road descends steeply for a half mile, then becomes mellow (4-5%) up and down to the turn-around.

A steady 7-10% pitch

Shortening the route: Ride to the summit and back. For a much easier ride, ride from the northwest end to the summit and back (4.4 miles).

Adding miles: As discussed in the Mt. Veeder Road ride, Mt. Veeder and Cavedale are sorta parallel, so you can loop them both by riding one, then Trinity Grade to the other, then a rather lengthy connector through the greater Sonoma area. Locals do it, but I wouldn’t. I think Hwy 12, which you would need to ride from Cavedale to Sonoma, is a death trap—narrow, very busy in both directions, with no shoulder.

See the Mt. Veeder Road Adding Miles section for options at the northwest end of Cavedale.

Comptche to Ukiah

Distance: 29 miles one way
Elevation gain: 3890 ft

There are three routes to get from the Mendocino area of Hwy 1 to the Lake Mendocino area of Hwy 101: Hwy 20, Hwy 128, and this one. They couldn’t be more different. Hwy 20 (from Willits) is a death-trap for bikes, a heavily-trafficked road of blind corners and no shoulder. I’ve never seen a bike on it, for good reason. Hwy 128 through Boonville) is part of the Mendocino/Comptche ride, a mellow, nearly flat cruise through domesticated farmland and riparian redwoods. Our route (called at its west end Comptche-Ukiah Road and at its east end Orr Springs Road, with a name change somewhere in the middle) is a different beast, a dramatic, demanding roller-coaster. It’s a world-class ride, constantly serpentining and climbing up and down (it’s never flat) through several kinds of pretty terrain on an almost-car-free road that ranges in size from small two-lane to tiny.

There are two drawbacks that may keep it from being your favorite ride. First, it’s too long and too hard as an out-and-back for all but the hardiest of riders—57 miles and 7310 ft., and harder than that sounds. So I’ve mapped it as a one-way ride, and left you to deal with the logistical consequences. If you’re up for a century-like effort you can loop it, and almost every mile of the loop is top-quality riding—we’ll talk about the route in the Adding Miles section below.

Second, most of the road surface is OK to great, but about 6 miles are chipseal—not horrible, intolerable jagged chipseal, but the kind of chattery “smooth” chipseal I find merely annoying.  If you’re on fat tires it will probably be OK.

Besides 30 miles of exhilarating road contour and beautiful isolation, the route offers two splendid perks: Orr Hot Springs, a small, charming Hippy holdover, and Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve, a fine stand of old-growth redwoods with a short loop trail.  Each is well-worth an hour’s stop-over.

The ride is about as good in the other direction, and through-riders might like to use it to get from Hwy 101 to Hwy 1 and Mendocino, but don’t think that just because it’s going west from the heights of the Coast Range to the ocean it’s all down—it’s 3420 ft of gain going west, and the ups are steep.

There is no water source along the route except a few private houses and Orr Hot Springs, so plan accordingly.

Start in the tiny town of Comptche, which consists of a few houses, a rustic school, a rustic church, and a classic, friendly corner mercantile worth a visit (when it’s open, which seems to be most of the time). Head east on Comptche-Ukiah Road, the only road that isn’t Flynn Creek Road. After a short 2-mile warm-up on rollers, you do a vigorous 2-mile climb on 7-11% pitches. The road surface, recently redone, is incredibly good from Comptche to around Mile 7, then merely good to around Mile 10. You’ll have some town traffic in the first mile or two, but soon the houses and farms end and you should have the road pretty much to yourself for the rest of the ride.

If you’ve ridden the Mendocino/
Comptche ride route from Hwy 1 to Comptche, the landscape isn’t that pretty here, but almost nothing is. East of Comptche the climate is dryer, so instead of redwood rainforest you get oaky woods, but it’s still very pretty.

At the fairly noticeable summit the road begins to roll up and down (as I say, the route is never flat) for about 5 miles. You begin hitting short sections of road with poor pavement, but they’re interspersed with sections of new glass, and it never gets troublesome. Then you see a sign that reads “next 2 miles, 10% (down)” and you begin about 2 miles of serious descending, 10-15%, which is the most compelling argument against riding the route east to west.

At the bottom of the descent you begin a 7-mile stretch of gradually rising rollers, the nearest to flat on the route. The scenery, which has gotten pretty dry by now, begins to perk up as you hit a wetter microclimate, and soon redwoods reappear and you’re in paradisial forest. It would alll be heaven except that it’s all chipseal—about as good as chipseal can get, never unbearable but certainly irritating.

When the redwoods reach their peak you hit Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve (unmissable), a lovely short walking loop through the best of the trees. Bikes are forbidden (it would be an awesome mountain bike ride), and it’s too far to walk without real shoes, but if you didn’t pack them you can still stop, sample the ambience, and use the bathrooms by the entrance.

The road, which was always small, has been getting smaller (the center line is long gone), and right after Montgomery it gets laughably narrow. Enjoy it—it will return to normal two-lane width soon enough.

You may see walkers along the road here, because Montgomery is a mile or two down the road from the route’s other plum, Orr Hot Springs (unmissable). This small but developed hot springs has nothing in common with big operations like Harbin Hot Springs or Wilbur Hot Springs. It’s usually almost deserted, which is good because the hot springs can only handle about 4 people at once, consisting merely of a large roofed barrel and a shallow, rocky puddle. The expansive flower gardens are an unexpected but joyful draw—walking among the blooms is as restorative as the hot water. It’s all very peaceful and solitary. Consider begging for water here, because you have 12 miles of hard, exposed, and potentially hot riding still to do.

Immediately beyond Orr, the route begins its most demanding climb, 4.5 miles of tough pitches that for the first mile or so are brutal. RidewithGPS says that mile is consistently c. 10%, but expect much steeper stuff. After that it’s just standard hard. To make matters worse, when the climbing starts, the terrain changes completely, from lush redwood canopy to open, grassy oak-strewn hillsides, so if you’re riding on a summer afternoon expect to be cooked. The good news is that, as the climbing starts, the road surface turns to glass.

This new rolling grassy landscape lasts until the end of the ride, and it’s really quite rewarding in its way, with a lot of serpentining in the road contour and lots of big vistas in all directions. For the first time in the ride, you can see more than 30 yards of the road ahead of or behind you.

At mile 21, the extended climbing is over and you’re officially “descending” to just before the end of the ride, but the road continues to roll so you’ll do some work. Much of this pavement is merely OK but never hateful.

The landscape for the last 10 miles

Once off the hill, you roll under Hwy 101 and T into North State Street just north of central Ukiah. Here there is basically nothing but some commercial/ industrial activity, and there I abandon you to the whims of fate.

Adding miles: Obviously the simplest extension is to turn around and ride back the way you came, which of course doubles the distance and almost exactly doubles the climbing effort. If you don’t like out and backs and are willing to put in a very long day, you can loop the route, and it’s almost all great stuff: from our end point, go south, through Ukiah proper to Boonville-Ukiah Road, take BUR, go R onto Hwy 128, ride 128 to Flynn Creek Rd. and take Flynn Creek Rd. back to Comptche—80 miles, 8340 ft gain (so it’s easier than the out-and-back route, since it’s a little more climbing spread over a lot more miles). All these legs except for the few miles through Ukiah proper are discussed in other Bestrides posts (you can search for them) and are top-quality miles.

If you want to keep the return miles to a minimum but don’t like out and backs, there is a mythic road that will take you almost straight back to your starting point: Masonite Road. It takes off from Orr Springs Rd. just outside Ukiah and wanders around until it rejoins Hwy 128 just east of Flynn Creek Rd. 35 miles, 3070 ft, so it’s a much easier ride than Comptche-Ukiah/Orr Springs Rd. in either direction. Here’s a map. My sources tell me it’s officially a “private” road and gated off to cars but bikes are welcome. Google “Masonite Road” for more details. It sounds dreamy, except for one thing: it’s 75% gravel, so it’s not for me.

When in the town of Comptche you’re at the midpoint of our Mendocino/Comptche ride.

Shortening the ride: You can turn around any time. The first logical turn-around spot is at the first summit—round trip distance 8 miles but it’s a demanding 8 miles.  It’s a very nice descent, with great pavement, good sight lines, and gentle turns that don’t require much braking. East from the summit it rolls for about 5 miles, so you can continue on without a major climbing penalty and turn around at the “Next 2 miles, 10% (down)” sign—round trip 17 miles. Beyond that point, you’ve got a tough 2-mile climb coming back so continuing is an investment.

Dirty Moody

Distance: 11.6-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 980 ft

Until now Bestrides had no rides on the east side of the Skyline Blvd. ridge, so this is my attempt to fix that. This sweet little loop is easy and short. It includes a very sweet little dirt back route that only locals know—the “dirty” part of Dirty Moody. (A word of warning: RidewithGPS considers the dirt a “path” and as such won’t let me map it, though you can see it on the map clearly enough, so the map below just stays on Moody.)

The basic loop here is only 5 mi. long, and, while half of it is a climb, there isn’t a foot of it that’s work, so you’ll either want to start somewhere else to get some more miles or do the loop 3 times, which isn’t as stupid an idea as it sounds.

(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)

I begin at Shoup Park in Los Altos, for 3 reasons: it has a parking lot that’s a nice place to park (I was told it was OK to do so), it lets you ride pretty University Ave, and it leaves you only a couple of blocks from charming Main Street Los Altos and Satura Cakes, a great bakery, for post-ride refueling. If the parking lots at Shoup are full, there is plenty of curbside parking along University Ave. It adds 6 miles to the ride.

Moody Court

Ride University to S. El Monte Ave. University itself is a tranquil, leafy, upscale neighbor-hood street, very pretty. S. El Monte is almost a highway, big, open, and busy, but there’s a nice shoulder all the way and you aren’t going far. When SEM passes the unmissable Foothill-De Anza Community College football field on the R, the intersection is confusing because the main road seems to swing around the field, and the lone street sign telling you that SEM continues straight (on the island in the center of the intersection) is hard to see. You can go straight on SEM and take Moody St. when it soon goes off to the L., or, if you prefer bike paths or dislike the SEM traffic, at the intersection if you look at 1:30 (ahead and to your R) diagonally across the intersection you’ll see a little bike path which, if you take it, will parallel SEM for a short while and deposit you back on our route.

The dirt

Moody Rd. itself is a very pleasant climb, so you could certainly stay on it until it deadends at Page Mill Rd., but eventually you’d be looking at a startling stretch of climbing that peaks at 16%, and there’s a easier and prettier alternative. Go R onto Moody Court. The signs tell you it’s private and not a through street, but you’re welcome to ride it and it’s closed only to cars. Soon you meet a cable across the road and you’re on dirt for perhaps a mile (which RidewithGPS shows as a trail). I am no fan of dirt, but this is dirt any road bike can ride in comfort, perfectly smooth hardpack at a mild uphill pitch that poses no traction problems. So you won’t actually get “dirty” despite the name (though, as with all dirt, I wouldn’t attempt it in wet conditions). It’s wild and wooded in there, quite the surprise after the multi-million-dollar manicured manses you’ve been riding past.

There is no signage, but just stay on the main route and ignore all obvious driveways. Soon you hit another cable, the dirt ends, and you’re on Central Drive. Central deadends at Page Mill Rd. Take a break from pedaling and check out Foothill Park on PMR—it’s a charmer.

It’s a stone’s throw down PMR to Altamont Rd, which offers views of some homes remarkably lavish even for this neighborhood, and one short but super-sweet, fast descending leg—you’re there when you see the “bicyclists—caution” sign. As if.

The extent of the signage

When Altamont ends at Moody, return to your car. Don’t just pack up and leave. Main Street Los Altos is 100 yards away, and it’s an urban fantasy on the order of Disneyland’s Main Street USA. Why aren’t all main streets as pretty as this? Oh, right, they don’t have infinite amounts of money. Anyway, it’s delightful if you can forget the 1% issues, with lots of places to eat with outdoor seating and the killer bakery I promised, Satura Cakes. Yelp, which rates the expensiveness of eateries, gives Satura 4 out of 4 $’s, which must be a first for a bakery, but that’s just for the $90 cakes—the almond croissants are a perfectly reasonable $4.50.

Shortening the ride: You’re kidding, right?

Adding miles: Depends on your standards. Local cyclists ride the surrounding roads (Page Mill Road, for instance) all the time and think they’re swell. I prefer the riding on the west side of the ridge, so I encourage you to ride towards the sea and do the Bestrides rides there. For instance, if you continue up Page Mill Rd., when it intersects Skyline Blvd. you’re on our magnificent Pescadero/Tunitas Creek Road ride.

East Dunne Avenue

Distance: 18-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 2680 ft

East Dunne Avenue is the road to Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill. It’s the southernmost of a series of climbs into the East Bay hills (although it’s actually well south of the Bay), and it’s a lot like its brethren—Mt. Diablo, Mt. Hamilton, Sierra Road, and Metcalf Rd. The landscape is pretty much the same for all five—oak- and grass-covered hill—and all have similar grand panoramic views of the flatland to the west (in this case, the Santa Clara Valley). All five rides are steady climbs on good road surfaces. So how do they compare?

Hamilton, upper Diablo, and Dunne are the twistiest, so if you like carving corners start with them.

Metcalf and Sierra are the steepest, both absolute brutes (but short); then comes Dunne, then Diablo, then Hamilton. On paper the numbers don’t look all that different, but it’s the difference between moderate climbing on Hamilton (6-7%) and work on Dunne (8-9%). Dunne is exactly half the length of Hamilton, but I find it to be the tougher climb.

Because Dunne is the steepest climb among the big three, it’s the worst descent, because it’s too steep to stay off your brakes and rip. Maybe if you have disc brakes it’s another matter.

Diablo and Hamilton have better road surfaces. Diablo is a State Park, so its road surface is always pristine. Hamilton just got repaved (in 2021), so it’s pristine right now. Dunne is intact (no potholes, no patches), but the surface is chipseal (albeit a smooth version of chipseal), so there is some chatter descending. I give the surface a solid B+ rating and no more.

Dunne probably has the least amount of traffic. On a Tuesday late morning in July I saw perhaps 5 cars. This is probably because, unlike Hamilton and Diablo, there is no tourist attraction at the top—no world-famous vistas, no observatory. Just hiking trailheads, a small visitor center, and a few historic ranch buildings.

If you think that sounds like East Dunne isn’t as splendid as Diablo or Hamilton, you’re right. Still, it’s a good ride.

(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)

Our route begins around the intersection of E. Dunne and Jackson Oaks Drive. Looking at the map you’d think that the trip from Hwy 101 to that intersection would be flat, but the intersection actually sits on a little ridge, and there’s significant unrewarding climbing to get there, so I don’t recommend beginning the ride any further west unless you just need more climbing.

The boat launch at the nearly dry Anderson Reservoir

You’ll come pumped for the big climb, so you’ll be surprised when the ride begins with a sweet, brisk descent down to (as of 2022) nearly-dry Anderson Reservoir. Cross the large bridge over the dry lakebed (note the hilarious sign saying that diving from the bridge—into the dirt—is discouraged) and do 1.5 mi. of easy rolling along the lake front. When the road turns away from the reservoir, there is no more flat—it’s almost all up, with two noticeable short descents, to the park. The serious climbing is only 6.3 miles, but you’ll feel it.

The road surface is good chipseal

After that 6.3 miles there’s a mile or so of easy up and down to the historic Coe Ranch, which is the end of the paved road. There’s not much to the ranch. The last 1/10 mile is noticeably down, so if you’re drained you might want to skip it. The Visitor Center was closed when I was there (on a Tuesday), but the drinking fountain was working and there’s a shady picnic table.

The inevitable western vistas are, on this ride, of Morgan Hill

The return ride includes two noticeable climbs, one 0.4 mi. and the other, at the end of the ride, 1 mi. Both are shallow enough to be rolled in almost any state of exhaustion.

Shortening the route: You could ride partway up the climb and turn around, but I don’t see the point. The raison for doing the ride is to do it all. You can skip the last 1-mile climb by driving to the bridge and starting there.

I think that distant fog bank is Monterey Bay

Adding miles: The Canada Road Plus ride is a short car trip to the south. From our start/finish point you’re 7 easy miles from the Uvas Road loop, described in the Adding Miles section of the Canada Road Plus post, and you’re 5 easy miles from the southern trailhead to the Coyote Creek Trail, at the intersection of Eagle View Dr. and Morning Star Dr. While I am generally cool towards rec trails on road bikes, this trail, which runs from Morgan Hill to San Jose, is pretty perfect: totally effortless, it gently meanders up and down and back and forth through surprisingly pretty country, with lots of woods, next to no stop signs or road crossings, no back sides of industrial complexes or junk yards. It’s not a place for pace lining or time trialing (there’s a 15-mph speed limit), and that’s just fine—leave your heart rate monitor and computer at home and stroll it. The only drawback is foot traffic—I rode it on a Wednesday morning in July, and the trail was largely deserted but the occasional clutch of walkers put a slight dent in my wa. Weekends I assume would be much worse. You’d think the trail would get wilder and prettier the further out of town you get, but not so—my favorite leg is the 3-4 miles south from Hellyer Park, smack in the middle of San Jose.

Coyote Creek Trail

Tunnel Road/Claremont Ave. Loop

Distance: 10-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1240 ft

This little loop is, pound for pound, one of the most rewarding rides you’ll find anywhere. Its riches just keep coming: a lovely 4-mile climb on a small, winding road with almost no traffic, views of the 8-lane freeway far below you, the remnants of a historic tunnel through the mountain, several examples of “space-age” architecture, astonishing views of the entire central Bay (Oakland, San Francisco, Alameda, The Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Mt. Tamalpais, Angel Island, and so on), a breath-taking descent on glassy new pavement, and a world-class bakery at the finale.

There is a climbing pitch that is right between easy and hard. You know you’re climbing, you’re doing some work, but you aren’t suffering. You’re thinking, “Hey, climbing is fun!” and “I’m really climbing well today!” It’s about 4-5%. That’s what the Tunnel Road climb is like. Nothing to brag about but tons of fun.

This is a ride you don’t want to ride backwards (clockwise), because doing so replaces the great descent with a lousy one and replaces the moderate climb with a lot of 10-12% stuff.

The loop overlaps our Grizzly Peak Blvd/Redwood Rd. ride for 2.4 miles, so it’s an easy add-on to that ride.

(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)

We start and end our loop, as all good loops should do, in front of a killer bakery: La Fournée on Domingo Ave., a tiny block in the shadow of the unmistakable Claremont Hotel. Before or after the ride, sample the almond croissant and die of pleasure.

Tunnel Road

From La Fournée, ride the remaining 60 ft of Domingo Ave. and at the intersection turn L onto Tunnel Rd. (busy but with a very luxurious bike lane). You will now climb for 5.4 miles without pause.  At the first big intersection, go L onto Tunnel Road. This turn is hectic and confusing, with multi-lane traffic going every which way, so it’s best to look at a map ahead of time.  Ride Tunnel for a stone’s throw and take the first L onto the tiny (30 ft.) connector by which Tunnel jogs L, then R (the road you are leaving is here renamed Caldecott Lane). Stay on Tunnel through the L and R turns.

Hwy 24 below you with the Caldecott Tunnel entrances in the distance

Continue up Tunnel Rd. (which changes its name to Skyline Blvd halfway up) for 4 miles until it intersects Grizzly Peak Blvd. It’s a mellow, meandering, delightful climb, and the only car traffic you should see is a few locals.   Hwy 24, the main connector between Berkeley and Orinda in the valley to the east, is running alongside and below you, and you get some good views of it and the Caldecott Tunnel ahead of you where the 8 lanes of Hwy 24 disappear into 2 huge black holes.

Halfway up the climb, Bay Forest Dr. takes off to the L (clearly signed), the road bends R and changes its name to Skyline (no signage), and there’s a prominent tree on your L that almost seems to stand in the roadway. Beneath the tree are two historical plaques and there’s a large dirt pull-out behind it. Stop here and read the plaques. You’re standing at the mouth of the Kennedy Tunnel—you can see a dug-out spot in the hillside right beside you where the tunnel adit was. The tunnel opened in 1903 and was rendered obsolete by the modern Caldecott Tunnel. It’s why the road you’re on is called Tunnel Road. The modern-day tunnel is directly beneath your feet. Try to feel the thousands of cars passing below you (you can’t).

Skyline, which is a degree steeper than Tunnel, returns you to Grizzly Peak Blvd.  There are some nearly-comical examples of “modern” home architecture along Skyline, houses that look like Captain Kirk might live there. There are several splendid views of the Bay off to your R, and you have my permission to admire them, but the views from GPB are better so save some awe.

Go L on GPB, which continues to climb at an easy rate for a while, then rolls. The Bay views along this leg are world-famous—I don’t know any views anywhere to top them.

San Francisco from Grizzly Peak Blvd.—double-click on photo to enlarge

The first noticeable L is Claremont Ave. Take it and enjoy a ripping, screaming, curving descent on perfect surface (for its first half anyway) that’s often dishing out 10-12% pitches. You have to back off a little on the second half, since the surface deteriorates, the sightlines get worse, intersecting streets proliferate, and the car and foot traffic increases, but it’s all exhilarating. Roll along the back side of the Claremont Hotel and return to Domingo St., La Fournée, and your well-earned almond croissant.

Shortening the route: You really can’t. Neither Tunnel Road nor Claremont Ave. is a viable out-and-back.

Adding miles: Since you’re overlapping the Grizzly Peak Blvd./Redwood Road ride for 2.4 miles, you can do the rest of that ride. See the Adding Miles section of that ride post for other riding options nearby.

Eureka Canyon Road/Highland Way

Distance: 41-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3220 ft

This is a staple Santa-Cruz-area ride. It’s an approximate square, and each leg is unlike the other three. The right side of the square is a mellow-to-moderate climb through some of the best redwood forests in the area—more precious now than ever, since most of the magnificent redwoods in our rides to the west have burned. The top leg rolls up and down through oak woods and along a sidehill. The left side is a Best of the Best descent on a serpentining, manicured thoroughfare. And the bottom is a flat cruise through the charming commercial cottages of downtown Soquel and Aptos. The stars are the climb and the descent. The two legs that get you from one to the other aren’t great but they’re worth riding.

(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)

You must ride this route counter-clockwise—otherwise you’ll be swapping a great descent and a great climb for a jarring descent and a long tedious slog. You can begin this route anywhere, but I suggest you start somewhere along the Soquel-to-Corralitos leg, so you have some flattish riding to warm up your legs on before the 10 miles of climbing that begins in Corralitos. Our map begins at the corner of Freedom Blvd. and Day Valley Rd., which gives you 5 miles of flat to warm up on. But in truth the first few miles of the climb out of Corralitos are so mellow you could warm up on them. If you want to start in Aptos, the Safeway on Soquel Drive offers trouble-free parking. Wherever you start along that leg, ride Soquel Drive > Freedom > Corralitos Rd. to Corralitos.

Eureka Canyon Road

Freedom Blvd. is the worst part of the ride—a shoulder ride on a big, busy road. Gabriel below says you can dodge all of Freedom by taking Valencia Rd. > Day Valley Rd. > Hames Rd. to Corralitos, which I haven’t done yet but am looking forward to trying. It adds some climbing.

Corralitos is an intersection with a grocery store and a tiny park. Note the grocery store: it’s the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company, whose meat department serves an amazing assortment of spectacular made-in-house sausage sandwiches. If you’re a hot dog man, as I am, you’ll want to time the ride so you can eat here afterwards.

Eureka Canyon Road

Start up Eureka Canyon Rd. and climb for 9 uninterrupted miles of mellow to moderate. The woods along ECR are as good as any in the Santa Cruz area, which means they’re as good as anywhere, and you’re riding along a sweet little creek, which always ups the prettiness factor. The road surface starts out poor and steadily worsens, until near the top of the climb it’s awful, but about the time you’re wishing you hadn’t come you hit two stretches of brand-new (as of Spring 2022) pavement and all is well. Still, the pavement is bad enough that turning around and descending (or riding the route clockwise) is a bad idea, because you’d be in for a jarring, tooth-rattling descent. I did it once—never again. If they ever repave the entire road, it would be a marvelous descent.

After 9 miles of climbing, Eureka Canyon Rd. reaches an obvious summit and the road changes its name to Highland Way (clearly signed). Your work is mostly over. There are other roads at the summit, so make sure you find Highland.

Highland’s pavement is never very good, but it’s never as bad as what you’ve just ridden. The elevation profile is bowl-shaped. Highland begins with a long descent that the rough road surface keeps you from fully enjoying, and the microclimate is too high and too dry for the lush redwoods you’ve been riding through, but the new oak forest is still pretty. On any weekend you’ll probably pass mountain bikers going the other way, and at the bottom of the bowl you’ll see why—there’s a mountain bike trailhead there, and on the Sunday I rode through there were about 60 cars. From there to the far end of the road you’ll have company from the mountain bikers’ vehicles coming and going, but they understand you and are civil.

Climb up the other side of the bowl (it’s pretty easy). You’re now riding mellow rollers on the sidehill of a large canyon (apparently Soquel Creek Canyon) on your L, and some of the views of the canyon below and ahead of you are pretty good. Ride through a confusing 4-way intersection where the two roads to L and R are signed (Spanish Ranch Road and Mt. Bache) and your road, which is sorta straight ahead, isn’t. The two miles from this intersection to the end of Highland at Soquel-San Jose Rd. are perhaps the sweetest riding on the loop, a gracefully curving 30-mph descent on good pavement on a small road through lovely woods. You’ll want it to last forever, but watch for Soquel-San Jose Rd. going off to your L. in the middle of the bliss—for such a major artery, it’s surprisingly hard to see. There is only one sign, and it’s small. Go L onto SSJR. (Highland continues but changes its name to Summit at the intersection, in case you’re wondering.). We descend SSJR on our Bean Creek/Mt. Charlie route, so you can read about it there, but it’s a glassy-smooth, ripping banshee ride you’ll dream about later.

Eureka Canyon Road

SSJR drops you in the small town of Soquel, where you pick up Soquel Drive, the surface road paralleling Hwy 1, and follow it through Soquel and Aptos and out the other side. This is all through solidly built-up commercial stuff, which sounds at best tedious and at worst dangerous, but these communities are small, charming, and cozy, the vibe is mellow and tranquil, and the ride is pleasant—a perfect cool-down after the high drama of Eureka Canyon, Highland, and Soquel-San Jose. You pass numerous places to resupply or dine (I recommend Zameen Cuisine in Aptos) if you decide to pass on the Corralitos Market and Sausage Co. Ride back to wherever you parked.

Eureka Canyon Road

Shortening the route: as I mentioned, this is a hard route to shorten. Eureka Canyon Rd. and Soquel-San Jose Rd. have serious drawbacks as out-and-backs, and neither Soquel Drive nor Highland Way is a good enough ride to justify riding it only. The best you can do is ride 6-7 miles up ECR and turn around before the road surface gets seriously bad.

Adding miles: This is Santa Cruz, so good riding is all around you. On Soquel-San Jose Rd. you’re momentarily on our Alma Bridge/Old Santa Cruz Hwy Plus and Mt. Charlie routes. See the Monterey Bay section of the Regions page for an intro to the other riches nearby.

Near the end of Highland on our route you intersect with Mt. Bache Rd., reputed to be a short (0.9 mi.), steep, and delightful climb dead-ending at Loma Prieta Way/Ave., which I haven’t ridden but looks on Streetview to be little more than a coarsely paved path with great vistas, eventually turning to dirt.

Several readers have praised Hazel Dell Rd., which can be reached from Corralitos via Browns Valley Rd. It’s an easy add-on. I found it pleasant. It will take you to Mt. Madonna Rd., a major climb that comes highly recommended.

Soquel-San Jose Road

Alma Bridge Road/Old Santa Cruz Hwy Plus

Distance: 27-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 3100 ft

This outstanding route offers a variety of Santa-Cruz-area environments: rollers through open country, fast serpentining through splendid redwood forest, grand isolation over broken pavement and dirt, and moderate climbing on big, busy roads. There isn’t a bad mile in it. You cover 6 different roads, but the unmissable jewel is Old Santa Cruz Hwy, which is magnificent both climbing and descending. The entire ride is east of the great burn, so the woods are undamaged, and they’re as good as any in the area now that Big Basin has burned.

(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)

Take the Alma Bridge exit off Hwy 17 (accessible from the south only), drive to the Lexington Reservoir County Park, and park there. There is no roadside parking between Hwy 17 and the park. There is a fee, but there is free parking in the dirt across the road from the park.

Ride down Alma Bridge Rd. It’s a wide two-lane roller, up and down on good new chipseal along the open sidehill paralleling the reservoir. Very nice riding. At the intersection with the improbably named Aldercroft Heights Rd., go R, cross the unremarkable eponymous Alma Bridge, and ride the short leg to Old Santa Cruz Hwy. Go L at the intersection with OSCH and begin the steady, easy climb up to Summit Rd.

Alma Bridge Road, and the iconic Santa Cruz “Newt Crossing” road sign

This is as perfect a stretch of cycling road as I can imagine. The pavement is glass, the traffic is light, the trees are awesome, and the road contour is a perfect meander you’ll appreciate even more on the return descent. Savor this.

At Summit Rd. go straight across onto the unsigned (I think) continuation of OSCH. You are now going to drop without interruption for 3.8 miles, 3 miles of which is on fragments of pavement, rough dirt, and gravel. If you don’t want to do this (and I’m not implying you should), turn around and ride home.

Old Santa Cruz Highway

Assuming we’re continuing on: The pavement is lousy from the moment you leave Summit. Shortly after starting down OSCH, take the clearly-signed Schulties Rd. to the L and descend to the creek. The road surface is chattery and can’t be called fun, but I did it on 25 mm racing tires and had no problems other than sore hands from braking constantly. I definitely wouldn’t want to ride up it.

Schulties Road

The perks here are the forest and the isolation. The woods are dense, pristine, silent, and entirely empty of people. I love that stuff. Your mileage may vary.

Incidentally, when I was researching the ride I got reports on Schulties that ranged from 1) it’s a piece of cake to 2) it’s rough but doable to 3) it’s brutally rough and you’ll regret it to 4) it’s unrideable to 5) it’s blocked by landslides and impassable. The truth is #2. It is closed to cars, according to the sign, but any car could navigate it, while having little fun doing so.

At the bottom of Schulties, the pavement returns (and is unproblematic to the end of the road), there is a little group of houses called Laurel on maps, and there is an intersection, with your way, Redwood Lodge Rd., clearly signed. It’s hard to trust the sign, because it’s almost an 180-degree turn, but trust it anyway. Somewhere around this intersection it is reported that one can see one of the adits to one of the four defunct tunnels on the old train route from San Jose to Santa Cruz. The tunnels have been dynamited but the adits remain–a thing of much historical interest. I missed it.

Redwood Retreat

Redwood Lodge Rd. drops briefly, crosses the creek, then begins the climb up the other side with a ferocious little pitch. Fear not—since most of the descending on Schulties is recovered by climbing on Soquel-San Jose and Summit later, the climb out of the canyon on RLR is (after that one scare) moderate and short. Very pretty, but slightly less isolated than Schulties because it services the population of Laurel.

RLR deadends at Soquel-San Jose Rd., the road we ride down in the Bean Creek Etc. ride and the Eureka Canyon Etc. ride. Now we go up (L). It’s pleasant climbing through a garden-like landscape with fairly steady traffic on a reliable shoulder back up to Summit Rd. As you approach Summit, there is a sweet-looking little cut-off on our L, Merrill, which will let you skip some of Summit if you’re willing to add some climbing to your total.

Take Summit Rd. to the L and ride 3 miles (assuming you didn’t take Merrill) of shoulder back to Old Santa Cruz. These 3 miles may be tediously pleasant or hellish, depending on the traffic level and the temperament of the individual drivers on your day, but it’s mostly moderate rollers and it passes quickly. Summit is largely built-up commercial, and it’s the nearest thing to slog on the ride.

Old Santa Cruz Highway

Go R on OSCH and get ready for one of the great descents. As I said, the surface is glass, the road is almost entirely empty of cars, the scenery is awesome, the road contour is perfectly designed for fast slaloming, and the pitch is just steep enough for serious speed without much braking. Wow. When I did it there was a pair of cyclists who seemed to be riding it over and over. I totally get that.

You’re moving fast so watch for the turn-off on the R to get you back onto Alma Bridge Rd. It’s very large and signed “Aldercroft Heights Rd.” Take it back to AMR and ride home.

Shortening the route: Ride Old Santa Cruz Hwy out and back. For a few more miles, add Alma Bridge Road.

Adding miles: You’re in the Santa Cruz area, so riches abound. The Soquel-San Jose and Summit legs are part of our Bean Creek/Mountain Charlie loop and the Soquel-San Jose leg is part of our Eureka Canyon/Highland Way ride, though in the other direction. At the intersection of Old Santa Cruz Hwy and Summit you’re a short ride from the top of our Zayante Rd. ride, which bottoms out near our Felton Empire ride. And so on.

Cañada Road Plus

Distance: 35-mile loop plus three spurs
Elevation gain: 2270 ft

There are two Cañada Roads in the Greater Bay Area, one in Redwood City and one in Gilroy. The one in Redwood City is essentially a multi-use recreational freeway—meh. Ours is a super-pleasant jaunt through the rolling hills to the east of Gilroy. It’s just west of Henry Coe State Park, and one of its spurs takes you a few miles into the park. It’s a leg of the Terra Bella Century, which encircles Gilroy, though the TBC rides it in the other direction.

It’s not a life-changing ride, and there are no natural wonders or heart-pounding thrills, but it’s an outstanding ride nonetheless—35 miles of mellow, pretty, solitary riding on good road surface. You will work only once, on a four-mile climb of moderate pitch near the beginning of the ride. The rest is basically flat (check out that unthreatening elevation total), with enough constant gentle rolling up and down to keep your interest.

The loop offers up four different ecosystems. The first is the first half of the climb, through a thicket of trees in a small, narrow creek canyon. The second is the second half of the climb, through the same classic grass-covered bald hills you see throughout the East Bay. The third is dense forest canopy as you skirt the edge of small meadows. The fourth is riparian woods along Coyote Creek. All four are very pretty. The decor is classic California foothill: oaks, dales, sycamores, and creeks that go dry later in the year. Much of the foliage is evergreen, so the ride feels pretty lush even in December, though ideal season is late spring/early summer.

The loop has the distinction of having three eminently ridable dead-end spur roads taking off from it: Jamieson Road, Gilroy Hot Springs Road, and Coyote Lake Road. They’re all much like the loop itself: mellow, essentially flat, fun, and pretty.

There isn’t a whole lot of humanity along the bulk of this route—only the occasional house, dairy, or hardscrabble farm. From the beginning of Cañada Road to Gilroy Hot Springs Road I’ve seen perhaps 3 cars, even on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May.

I’ve only done the ride counter-clockwise, but the ride should work equally well in either direction. Clockwise, my guess is the climbing would be shorter (so maybe steeper) and the 4-mile pitch on the south side would make for a longer, somewhat more exhilarating descent than you get going my way.

Start at the intersection of Leavesley Rd. and Dryen Ave. You can start anywhere on the course, but starting here gives you a easy 20-min. warm-up before you hit the Cañada Road hill. Ride east on Leavesley and almost immediately take the first L (actually straight ahead when Leavesley turns R) onto Crews Rd. (there is a sign but it’s hard to see). Follow Crews to its dead-end at Ferguson Rd and take Ferguson (boring) briefly to its dead-end at Pacheco Pass Hwy. Take your life in your hands and go L onto very busy PPH (there’s a traffic light with an arrow for your turn) for a blessedly brief stint, then turn L onto Cañada Road (clearly signed). This turn across the near-constant traffic is brutal. I simply pulled off the road and settled in for the long wait until there was a substantial gap.

The Cañada Road climb

Cañada (which means many different things in Spanish: ravine, glen, arroyo, animal track, but not canyon) is flat, straight, and built-up on one side for the first half-mile, but then it transforms into a small, winding 4-mile climb up through a pretty wooded canyon beside a small, usually-dry creek, then through grassy hills. At the top, the work of the ride is done. At the top of the climb you meet the first dead-end spur, Jamieson Road.

Jamieson Road

Jamieson runs through the heart of a small, pretty ranching valley for a couple of miles, then turns to dirt. It’s flatter, straighter, and more open than the rest of the route, but peaceful and pretty. Ride to the dirt and turn around.

Back on Cañada Road, ride to the intersection of Cañada and Gilroy Hot Springs Rd. This leg is to me the star of the route. It rolls gently up and down through the trees along the lip of several small meadows populated with the occasional low-rent cattle ranch. Turn R on GHSR and ride 3 miles along the shore of Coyote Creek. Coyote Creek, which is a major stream after rains, dries up every summer, so that’s an argument for doing the ride early in the year—by mid-May it was already a trickle. GHSR is a main route into Henry Coe State Park, so there’s a bit more traffic here, but almost all the traffic is going to a large trailhead staging area a stone’s throw into the park (Hunting Hollow), so you should have the road to yourself after that.

Gilroy Hot Springs Road

Gilroy Hot Springs Rd. obviously goes to Gilroy Hot Springs, an old resort which has an interesting history but has been closed for many years. Check out the history on google. A group of

preservationists have been trying to restore and reopen the springs—apparently access is now (12/21) limited to one docent-led tour (no bathing) a month. So at the end of the 3 miles you cross a large wooden bridge over the creek and meet an intimidating barb-wired gate that emphatically orders you to turn around. I’m all for riding on gated-off roads, but this one is a serious no-no. Obey the sign and turn around.

Gilroy Hot Springs Road

Ride back on GHSR and continue on it past the Cañada Rd. turn-off, to the turn-off to Coyote Lake Rd. on the R (unmissable). Coyote Lake is a pretty but fully-developed reservoir, so the road is a constant series of campsites, boat launches, and such. I had the place to myself in December, but it might be a madhouse in July—be warned. It’s another sweet, gently rolling, pretty road, but it’s certainly the spur I would skip first if I was trying to reduce my mileage. The road goes to the far end of the lake and turns to dirt. Ride to the dirt and turn around.

Coyote Lake

Return to Gilroy Hot Springs Rd and take it to the R—at this point GHSR changes its name to Roop Rd. (clearly signed at the intersection). You could stay on Roop until it dead-ends at the delightfully named New Ave., then ride south on New to Ferguson and east on Leavesley if you wanted to, but there’s much better option: when Roop goes hard R, go straight onto Leavesley Rd.

Leavesley Road

Leavesley is not to be missed, a twisty descent, often through dramatic oak canopies—the only real whee on the loop. I liked it so much I turned around, climbed it, and descended it again. It bottoms out right where you left your car.

Shortening the ride: Skip the three spurs—this leaves you with 17 miles of loop. If you’re thinking of skipping one or two of them, the best is Gilroy Hot Springs Road, then Jamieson, then Coyote Lake Road.

Adding miles: About 6 miles due north by back roads is our E. Dunne Rd. ride.

On the other side of Hwy 101, beginning to the west of Gilroy, is a lot of small rolling hills, and the roads through them, while never being spectacular, are solidly pleasant—perfect for recovery days: Day Rd., Watsonville Rd., Uvas Rd., Oak Glen Rd., McKean Rd., Sycamore Ave./Dr., and Redwood Retreat Rd., most of whom are part of the Terra Bella Century route. Scenery ranges from woody canopy to McMansion estates to open, grassy oak-dotted hills. Elevation profile is consistently flat or mild. My least favorite road among these is McKean (straight, open, barren). My favorite is Uvas (“grapes” in Spanish, but I saw nary a grapevine except for one winery at the south end), my next favorite Oak Glen. You can make a nice 25-mile lollipop by starting at the intersection of Uvas and Bailey and riding around the two reservoirs, Chesbro and Uvas. This route would be good enough for a Bestrides post if it were elsewhere, but not here, where you’re close to a lot of better riding. Don’t expect much from the reservoirs—they’re large homely puddles.

Five miles north of the E. Dunne ride is the southern terminus of the Coyote Creek Trail, a multi-use rec trail that’s much better than you think it is. It’s described in detail in the Adding Miles section of the E. Dunne ride.

Wildcat Canyon Road/Happy Valley Road/Nimitz Way

Distance: 32-mile lollipop with two spurs
Elevation gain: 3400 ft

In this route I’ve strung together four of my favorite little East Bay roads. The stellar bits are connected by some residential riding that’s surprisingly pleasant and one 4-mile grind of a climb, for which I apologize up front. It all begins with Wildcat Canyon Road, the hoariest of chestnuts for Berkeley riders, the ride you do once or twice a week when nothing bigger is afoot. You’ll see a lot of e-bikes and townies in the first couple of miles, because it’s easy, but there’s plenty of work further along in the route.

Begin at the intersection of Grizzly Peak Blvd. and Wildcat Canyon Road, which is the same starting point as our Grizzly Peak Blvd. to Redwood Road route. There is no formal parking nearby, but there is always curb parking on GPB to the south, and most riders are going to get there by climbing Spruce from the Shattuck area anyway.

Ride down Wildcat Canyon Rd. From the gun, it’s simply perfect, a gently meandering road with constant variety of contour and a perfect surface through lovely woods sprinkled with tasteful, expensive houses and with occasional vistas of the Wildcat Canyon watershed on your L. Notice a geographical anomaly: you are “descending” from a ridgeline “down” to the creek at the canyon floor, but in fact you gain 120 ft. elevation in the process. This means that, however wonderful the ride to the creek is, the return ride you’ll be doing in 2-3 hours will be a quantum leap better because it’s imperceptibly downhill.

Wildcat Canyon Road

“Descend” to the creek. You’re riding through Tilden Park, which is rich with wonders, and there are a number of things worth exploring along this route—a merry-go-round, Lake Anza, and the Botanical Gardens (at the creek crossing) among others.

Climb gently from the creek to Inspiration Point, which is on the spine of San Pablo Ridge between Wildcat Canyon and the San Pablo Creek watershed. There are fine hiking trails and good dirt roads open to mountain bikes and gravel bikes along this leg.

The Wildcat Canyon descent

Inspiration Point is only minimally inspiring, because shrubbery has been allowed to grow up and block most of the view, but if you go 50 ft. to the left of the official viewpoint (the one with the informational placards) you can get a pretty good vista of the area to the north towards San Pablo Bay. There are also brick bathrooms, where the Nimitz rec trail takes off.

Wildcat Canyon Road descends from Inspiration Point to San Pablo Dam Road/Camino Pablo (the road changes its name at the WCR intersection). It’s a grand descent, through gorgeous oak canopies and with every curve unique and interesting. It would be one of my favorite descents if the road surface was better. It’s not awful, but it’s rough enough to make holding a line occasionally problematic, and that knocks it down from bucket-list to merely very very good.

Halfway down the descent from Inspiration Point to San Pablo Blvd is an absolute gem of a road. El Toyonal forks off Wildcat Canyon Road to the R at an unmissable intersection (not sure there’s a street sign, but it’s big—sometimes there’s a sandwich board at the intersection reading “free compost” and showing an outline of a horse). Take it (you can do it on the ride back if you don’t like interrupting descents). It doesn’t look impressive, and the first half mile will make you think you’re on the wrong road (an imposing gate, broken pavement, a ramshackle bridge, and a stretch of dirt), but persist and you’ll ride an absolutely perfect two-mile stretch of road (see photo below). It’s a mild climb leaving WCR and a crackerjack descent returning through pristine woods and car-free isolation (since the road is gated off at both ends). Ride to the houses (around the Vista Del Orinda intersection), turn around, and ride back to Wildcat Canyon Road. Friend of Bestrides Thomas put me on to this jewel, which I’d been riding past and ignoring for 25 years, and for that we are in his debt.

Neither of our maps includes the El Toyonal out and back, so if you want exact mileage and elevation totals add 4 miles and a hundred feet or so to our totals.

Bear Creek Road—some people like that sort of thing

Continue on down Wildcat Canyon Road. Cross San Pablo Dam Road. You’ll probably see groups of cyclists at the intersection, because you’re now on the Three Bears ride, the most popular big ride in the East Bay. I hate it. It’s almost all long, tedious, unvarying climbs and descents over a series of smooth, grassy hills in the blazing sun on a big shoulder of an even bigger road. My notion of hell. But we’re going to have to do a leg of it to get to something really good, so strap in, head down Bear Creek Rd., and grind out the next 4 miles, at which point Happy Valley Road goes off to the R.

Happy Valley Rd. is happy enough, but there is absolutely no valley to be seen. It’s a short, steep (but never fierce) climb on a tiny, fairly rough road through canopies of very pretty trees. It’s a favorite of mine. You’ll have it to yourself (if the construction that started in the summer of 2021 is completed).

Happy Valley Road

At the summit everything changes. The road goes smooth and wide (though not at all straight) through up-scale built-up residential. You’ll be tempted to let it rip, but if you do you’ll be in trouble, because the road is still steep and surprisingly twisty, and several of the corners punish the overly aggressive. It’s tons of fun, especially after the steep pitch moderates and you can really carry some speed.

Soon you reach the intersection of Happy Valley Road and Upper Happy Valley Road, which paradoxically is below HVR. You can go either way, R onto Upper Happy or straight onto more of HVR. They’re both very nice moderate, fast descents through residential streets on good surfaces. I’ve mapped it via Upper Happy, mostly because I love the name.

Upper Happy dead-ends into El Nido Ranch Road, the surface road running along the edge of Hwy 24. Take it R and stay on it through several name changes—El Nido Ranch, E. Altarinda Dr., Orindawoods Dr., Santa Maria Way—until it meets Orinda Way in downtown Orinda. This leg varies from big-road boring to pseudo-golf-course posh.

Take Orinda Way R to avoid a short stretch of Camino Pablo, which is busy and fast. When Orinda Way dumps you out on Camino Pablo, you’re stuck with it. CP has a mostly large and mostly pleasant shoulder/bike path, so it’s painless. Ride back to Wildcat Canyon Road and climb WCR back to Inspiration Point (if you skipped El Toyonal before, do it now).

This climb, which was borderline great as a descent, is now splendid. The road surface problems won’t bother you, but the scenery is just as gorgeous and the road contour just as interesting as it was an hour or so earlier. It’s a perfect pitch, just hard enough to make you feel like you accomplished something but not hard enough to hurt. Another of my favorite climbs. It isn’t car-free, but the cars are civil.

If you’ve done the climb from San Pablo Dam Road to Inspiration Point a dozen times and you’re sick of it, or you want something tougher, ride south on Camino Pablo to El Toyonal Rd. (the other end of it) and climb it back up to Grizzly Peak Blvd.  ETR wanders among typical charming East Bay woodland homes and is often 9-10% pitch.  When ETR meets the beautifully named Lomas Cantadas Rd., take LCR to Grizzly Peak Blvd. Worth doing once.

Nimitz Way

Back at Inspiration Point, you could keep retracing your steps and ride back to Grizzly Peak Blvd., but you don’t want to yet, because at the Inspiration Point parking lot is the trailhead to the Nimitz Trail (aka Nimitz Way), a 4-mile (one way) paved multi-use trail that is simply a hoot. I know, I hate rec trails too, but this one is special. It runs along or just below the spine of San Pablo Ridge, through dry but charming countryside, with frequent stunning views of SF Bay spread out before you to the west (benches provided for musing). The best Bay view is a mile+ in, at the Bertold and Inge Hannes memorial bench.

The Hannes Bench on Nimitz Trail, with The Bridge and Angel Island at 11 o’clock, Mt. Tam on R horizon

The trail climbs and drops and weaves just enough to keep you interested (680 ft. of gain in 8 miles). There’s a nice post midway that informs you that you are simultaneously riding the Nimitz Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail, and the East Bay Skyline Trail.

At the end there’s a gate, the path turns to dirt, and there’s an abandoned Nike missile site to check out (unsigned but visible, up the hill to your R as you stand facing the end of the pavement).

The weather on the Nimitz is often windy, the Bay views are often obscured by fog, and it can be crowded. Still, do it. My last outing was a lovely Saturday afternoon in August, and the people were plentiful but no problem at all. Yes, they slow you down, which is not a bad thing—this is not a training ride. The crowds get thinner the further you go.

If you’re on a gravel bike, the Nimitz continues on excellent dirt from the end of the pavement all the way down the spine of the ridge until it peters out in Richmond. Now that would be an adventure. Also, a friend says that the trail to Grizzly Peak, which takes off from Nimitz about halfway out, is a great short hike with a great vista at the end.

Return to Wildcat Canyon Road and ride back to your car. One sweet surprise remains. As I mentioned, the leg from Wildcat Creek to the Grizzly Peak ridgetop turns out by some miracle to be an imperceptible descent, so you end the ride whizzing along at terrific speed through luscious curves, wondering where you suddenly got all that oomph. It’s as sweet a 2 miles as you’ll ever do on a bike, and when it’s over you’ll want to ride it again.

Shortening the route: Ride to San Pablo Dam Blvd. and turn around. Easier still: ride to Inspiration Point and turn around. Dead easy: ride to the Botanical Gardens and turn around. Add Nimitz to taste.

There’s a 20-mile route that bags the bulk of the good stuff from the long route: ride from our starting point to Inspiration Point; ride to the end of Nimitz and back: descend Wildcat Canyon Road to El Toyonal; ride El Toyonal out and back; ascend WCR to Inspiration Point and return to your car. It’s an easy 20 miles, since it skips the steepest section of the WCR climb, which is below the El Toyonal fork.

Adding miles: The beginning of this ride is also the beginning of our Grizzly Peak Blvd to Redwood Road ride.

El Toyonal

At the other end of the loop, the roads circumnavigating San Pablo and Briones Reservoirs are, as I’ve said, hot and boring, but the roads circumnavigating Briones Regional Park, immediately to the east, are nice riding. To reach them from our route, where Happy Valley Road ends at Deer Creek Rd., follow DCR, the surface road along Hwy 24, east to Pleasant Hill Rd., and take PHR to Reliez Valley Road. Ride Reliez and Alhambra Valley Road.