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 isn’t insignificant but also isn’t panic-worthy. The route sports incredible variety—the road contour changes every 25-50 yards—and it’s almost all stunningly gorgeous.
(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. Go L on Glenwood and ride the short leg to Mtn. Charlie Rd. on your L. Take Mtn. Charlie to its end at Summit Rd. It’s all typical Santa Cruz rainforest gorgeous. The road goes up and down, back and forth, never staying the same for very long. You’ll come upon a few stretches of 18%, but they’re over almost before you can start to worry. (OK, one 18% pitch lasts 1/4 of a mile.) Both roads are narrow (true one-lane stuff in places—it can be hard to tell the road from the driveways), and the road surface is often flawed, enough to make descending on these roads a poor idea. In short, it’s an adventure and needs to be approached in that spirit. If it’s not your cup of tea (and it’s very much mine), rest assured that everything else on the route is much more domesticated.
Take Summit Rd. to the R and immediately cross over Hwy 17. The next 4 miles are a pretty busy artery, so the traffic will probably be fairly constant. Summit Rd. is 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. 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.
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. 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, no-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 changes its name to Mt. View Rd. at the intersection with Rodeo Gulch Rd. (make a mental note to come back and ride Rodeo Gulch some other day—it’s a pip) and dead-ends at Branciforte Dr. Take Branciforte L and enjoy a mellow, sweet respite from all the high drama.
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, so do it if you can. The difference between the two pitches isn’t great—maybe the difference between 4% and 6%.
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 right 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.
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 3 of our Santa Cruz rides, I’ll do it once there and leave it at that.