Distance: 34-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3560 ft
A Best of the Best ride
This is a fairly big, kitchen-sink sort of ride designed to bag five of Santa Cruz’s prime cycling roads, one of which is the area’s only high-speed luge descent and one of my favorite descents anywhere. The route can easily be chopped into smaller pieces in lots of ways. It’s all up and down, like most of Santa Cruz riding, and it has some steep moments, but those moments never last. My computer recorded 4000 ft of gain in 34 miles, which is a lot, but you’ll wonder where the 4000 ft are coming from—it doesn’t feel that bad. The route sports incredible variety—the road contour changes every 25-50 yards—and it’s almost all stunningly gorgeous.
Most of this route has houses but not much else, so if you want to reprovision and don’t like knocking on strangers’ doors, there are stores halfway down Summit Rd. and at the intersection of Soquel-San Jose Rd. and Laurel Glen Rd. (and of course in Scott’s Valley).
(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.)
Begin at the south end of Bean Creek Rd. in Scott’s Valley. Parking is tricky, because Scott’s Valley is downright snooty and the neighborhood curbs are designed to prevent visitor parking. If you get tired of cruising the side streets, go L off Bean Creek onto Blue Bonnet and in 1/2 a mile you’ll see a large parking lot in front of the municipal building on the R.
Ride up Bean Creek Rd. to its end at Glenwood Rd. BCR, surprisingly, begins with a substantial descent, then climbs moderately for a while, so you don’t need to warm up your legs on flat streets. The only taxing pitch on BCR is at the very end, so when it get’s hard, you know you’re done. BCR is narrow and gorgeous and lightly trafficked.
Go L on Glenwood and ride the short, mostly down leg to Mtn. Charlie Rd. on your L. This leg of Glenwood is quite delightful in itself, so you might be tempted to stay on it, but the road surface soon becomes unpleasantly rough, then it debouches onto Hwy 17, where you don’t want to be.
Take Mtn. Charlie to its end at Summit Rd. It’s more typical Santa Cruz rainforest gorgeous. Compared to Bean Creek Rd., it’s steeper, narrower, windier, more deserted, and rougher of surface. The road goes up and down, back and forth, never staying the same for very long. You’ll come upon a few stretches of 15-18%, but they’re over almost before you can start to worry, and thanks to the God of Cycling almost every tough pitch is followed by a stretch of flat or descent so you can recover, which is how I like to do my steep stuff. The road surface is poor enough to make descending on these roads a poor idea (though many cyclists do), but at my 5 mph ascending isn’t a problem. In short, it’s an adventure and needs to be approached in that spirit. I don’t hammer this sort of stuff—I forget about speed and get as much into the beauty that’s surrounding me as I can. Think of it as hiking on your bike. If it’s not your cup of tea, rest assured that everything else on the route is much more domesticated.
When MCR deadends at Summit Rd., take Summit Rd. to the R, do a little steep drop, immediately cross over Hwy 17, and go L at the stop sign, which is still Summit (there’s a large sign). The next 4 miles is wide, open, straight, with big rollers where you can hit an honest 40 mph, a refreshing change of pace after all that 5-mph climbing over patchy pavement. But it’s no fun, because Summit is a busy 2-lane artery, and the shoulder comes and goes, so expect to have cars passing you riskily as you’re doing 35 mph in the middle of the lane. I’m glad when it’s over. For an alternative route that bypasses most of Summit, see Brian’s Schulties Rd.-to-Redwood Lodge Rd. route below (some dirt).
Assuming you stay on Summit, watch for Soquel-San Jose Rd. going off to the R and take it. It’s a big road, and there are no fewer than 4 road signs announcing its approach, but they’re all small and it’s still easy to miss.
Shawn in the comments below outlines a back-alternative to the busyness of Summit Road, or at least two thirds of it: From Summit, go R on Old Santa Cruz Hwy > Schulties Rd. > Redwood Lodge Rd., which dumps you out partway down Soquel-San Jose.
SSJ is the sort of road I typically avoid—big and busy. But in this case it’s not to be missed—a Best of the Best descent without qualification. Smooth as glass, with sweeping turns that keep you alert but don’t slow you down, through beautiful woods, it begs to be ridden at a sustained, easy-yet-exhilarating 35 mph. I promise you will never touch your brakes. The cars (and there will be cars) are courteous—there are even signs reading “(bike icon) may use full lane.” If you needed an invitation to ride here, there it is.
Turn R off SSJ onto Laurel Glen Rd., the first real road on your R (at the country store) and return to climbing through small-road, light-traffic, dense woods. You might be tempted to continue down SSJ, and you wouldn’t regret it (come back up on Branciforte Dr.), but the big descent is over and the rest of the road is just very mellow/pleasant.
Laurel Glen climbs briefly to a summit at the intersection with Rodeo Gulch Rd. (make a mental note to come back and ride our Rodeo Gulch ride some other day—it’s a pip), where it changes its name to Mountain View Rd., then does a rough and only-OK descent and dead-ends at Branciforte Dr. Go L on Branciforte.
Branciforte is unique in the Santa Cruz area: an easy ride. It’s a pretty and mellow road that climbs gently from its source in Soquel to where we join it. Enjoy it for the tranquil respite that it is, and remember to bring your non-riding partner back here for a relaxing roll.
There are two ways back to the car from Branciforte: Glen Canyon Rd. and Granite Creek Rd. Glen Canyon is the more direct and less steep route, so take it if you’re done taking on challenges for the day. Granite Creek Rd. adds about 4 miles and is the slightly harder climb, but it’s prettier (though Glen Canyon is just fine), so do it if you can. The difference between the two pitches isn’t great—maybe the difference between 4% and 6%. Our map goes up Granite Creek.
As you enter suburbia on Granite Creek, watch for S. Navarra going L (shortly after plain Navarra goes R)—if you miss S. Navarra, you’ll find yourself on an entrance ramp to Hwy 17 within seconds. Take S. Navarra, ride it to a dead-end, and go straight ahead through the dead-end barrier onto the arrow-straight frontage road along Hwy 17 heading directly away from you. Ride its rollers for 2 miles until you get to the first road going R (there’s a stop sign). Take the R, which immediately plunges straight down for 30 ft., then crosses under Hwy 17. Stay on that road to the T at Mt. Hermon, go R onto Mt. Hermon, R on Scott’s Valley Rd, and L onto Bean Creek. These last 3 turns take about 2 minutes and cover at most 1/3 mile.
If you parked at the Blue Bonnet civic center, you can actually save yourself some climbing by staying on Mt. Hermon and crossing Scott’s Valley Rd., then going R on King’s Village Rd., which runs into Blue Bonnet at the Center.
Shortening the route: There is no way to significantly shorten this route without losing its heart. Riding Bean Creek/Mtn. Charlie as an out-and-back isn’t desirable because Mtn. Charlie is a very unpleasant descent. Riding Soquel-San Jose as San out-and-back would suck because climbing SSJ would be a tedious, trafficky slog. So I think you’re in for the full monty.
Adding Miles: Almost everything in any direction is good—see the Monterey Bay discussion in the Rides by Region chapter for a survey of roads in the Santa Cruz area. Since it’s the same conversation for all 6 of our Santa Cruz rides, I’ll do it once there and leave it at that.