Distance: 32 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1780 ft
This, along with the two San Francisco rides and the Monterey Bike Trail, is easy enough that it can easily be done by a non-cyclist on a rental cruiser. The appeal is entirely in the scenery—you’re riding through some of the greatest redwood forests left on earth. It’s not my favorite Redwoods ride—that would be Big Basin (at least before it burned), which in addition to Redwoods has wonderful climbing and descending—but it’s certainly the ride with the biggest, most awe-inspiring trees. (There is a list of Redwood rides on the Best of the Best page.) 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. If you want to make the ride longer or harder, there is good riding on either end (see Adding Miles).
(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 and ride back to your car. Bull Creek Flats Rd used to have a terrible riding surface, but it’s been repaved recently (2016) and is now as smooth as a baby’s bottom, and it’s better than Avenue of the Giants—it’s smaller, so you’re closer to the trees, it meanders more, so the sense of being in the forest is greater, and it’s undeveloped save for a few campgrounds that make for pleasant lunch stops.
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 Dell, 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 (15% 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.
If you don’t want to do the Unknown Coast loop but crave a little climbing, if you continue past our turn-around point on Mattole Road you’ll begin the 7-mile climb up to Panther Gap. It’s a fairly straight, fairly steep (frequently 8-10%) climb through conventional woods made harder by moderately rough pavement. Not one of my favorites.
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. The riding is 30 miles of mostly picture-book, flat agricultural land from Ferndale to the Avenue of the Giants. Those 30 miles are 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 (big shoulder). 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 noticeable hills, it’s a very doable ride.
If you’re on a gravel bike, Rob’s comment below tells you how you can access the State Park’s dirt trail system, and even climb a mountain.