Distance: 23 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3260 ft
A Best of the Best descent
Let me lay my cards on the table. This ride is in Bestrides because of 3.7 miles—the length of Felton Empire Road. Since few Bestrides users are interested in going for a 7.4-mile ride, I’ve added some worthwhile miles to make a day of it, but it’s those 3.7 that really matter.
There are two roads that run parallel north/south through the region northwest of Santa Cruz: Hwy 9 and Empire Grade. Hwy 9 is a beautiful road but the main artery through the region and is very heavily trafficked with no shoulder—to be avoided except when necessary as a connector. Empire Grade is much less developed and much less busy, and is a staple bike route for Santa Cruzans, but it’s tamer, bigger, and straighter than the real Santa Cruz back roads and thus lacks that sense of being IN the redwood forest that makes SC riding so special. So I wouldn’t ride it by itself either.
These two roads are connected by three roads of interest to cyclists: Felton Empire, Alba, and Jamison Creek. All three are short (3-4 miles), steep, windy, and spectacularly gorgeous. Felton Empire is fairly steep, Jamison Creek is very steep, and Alba is ludicrously steep. Locals ride Alba all the time—I don’t know how, and I’m not recommending it, but if you love miles of 20% pitches, go for it. Jamison Creek is rideable with suffering, but the descent is too steep to be fun, says me. So if we’re looking for a ride that’s rewarding up and down, the choice is Felton Empire, a testing but totally rideable climb and absolutely as good a descent as there is on this Earth.
At the top of Felton Empire you can go three ways, and they’re all good. But two of them, Ice Cream Grade (straight ahead) and Empire downhill (L), are part of the Bonny Doon ride, so I’ve mapped this ride to go R, uphill on Empire, to its end, then back.