Distance: 32 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1780 ft
This is unlike any other ride in this list. It’s short, easy, and almost flat. The appeal is entirely in the scenery—you’re riding through some of the greatest redwood forests left on earth. It’s in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, but the car traffic isn’t bad—since the Avenue is paralleled by the main highway just a stone’s throw to the west, all through traffic is diverted and you’ll share the road with the few cars hip enough to linger.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
Park on the Avenue of the Giants as close to the Pepperwood exit off Hwy 101 as possible and ride south. The Avenue is mostly pristine redwood forest, but it has its own 50’s-era “road trip” micro-culture of trinket shops, penny-crushing machines, drive-thru trees, and cafes. I recommend stopping at all of them, but that’s me. Twelve miles in you’ll reach a place where the main road obviously swings right and goes under the highway overpass, while a secondary road goes straight and up a sort of ramp. Go right, onto Bull Creek Flats Road. Signage is very poor here, but if you’re on a road headed west you can’t be wrong.
Continue on Bull Creek Flats Rd. until the forest ends; then turn around. Bull Creek Flats Rd is as bad a riding surface as there is in this list, really awful in places, but in all other aspects it’s better riding than the Avenue of the Giants—it’s smaller, so you’re closer to the trees, and it meanders more, so the sense of being in the forest is greater. It’s worth the jarring. There are campgrounds along Bull Creek Flats that make for pleasant lunch stops. Rumor has it that the first part of Bull Creek Flats has been recently (2016) repaved.
Adding miles: The Avenue of the Giants and Bull Creek Flats Rd are two legs of the famous Tour of the Unknown Coast, a 100-mile loop that begins in Ferndale, then goes down Grizzly Bluff Road to Rio Del, down Highway 101 to Avenue of the Giants (exit at Pepperwood), out Bull Creek Flats (it becomes Mattole Rd) to the ocean, along the beach to the infamous Wall (18-20% pitch) and equally infamous Shadow of the Wall climbs and back to Ferndale. The scenery is good to glorious the entire 100 miles. So why am I not including it in our list? Because everything after the Avenue of the Giants—all 60 miles of it—is over a really bad road surface. If you don’t mind crawling down all the descents at 12 mph with your hands cramping from the constant braking and your teeth getting rattled around in your head, by all means do the entire loop. If you do the loop and don’t want to do it in one day, you can arrange camping or cabins in the area before Petrolia.
The miles from Ferndale to Highway 101 are very nice—do them by all means. Ferndale is an adorable town full of gingerbread (the architectural kind), good restaurants, and a classic old drugstore with a soda fountain. It’s 30 miles from Ferndale to the Avenue of the Giants. From Ferndale to 101 is almost good enough to make our list, and the leg on the shoulder of 101 is not at all bad as a curiosity once in a lifetime. Ferndale to the turn-around at the end of Bull Creek Flats gives you 45 miles one way, or 90 miles round trip. With only three small hills, so it’s a very doable ride.