Distance: 23.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1980 ft
Occidental is an amazing cycling resource. Six roads head out of this little town, and each one of them is some degree of wonderful for riders. All 6 figure in a Bestrides route in one way or another. This route focuses on the roads to the northwest of town. It and Bittner Rd. (which is in our Coleman Valley Rd. ride) are the only ones with thrilling descents.
This ride comes with some caveats. The Bohemian Highway can be unpleasantly, dangerously trafficky. About a quarter of the miles on our loop have a bad case of Sonoma County Disease (i.e. have rough surfaces). And one leg of the loop is downright not fun to ride. But the other three quarters of the miles are glass, for all of those three quarters the scenery is as good as the area gets (which is, gorgeous), and if we deal with BH’s traffic issues it’s a descent to be remembered.
See the Occidental Loop ride notes for info on the town of Occidental itself.
The Bohemian Highway also goes south out of Occidental briefly and dead-ends at Freestone, and it’s a pleasant enough few miles, but we’re interested in the northern leg, from Occidental to Monte Rio, 6.3 mi of delicious descending to the Russian River. It’s never steep (2-5%), which sounds boring, but it isn’t—it serpentines sweetly, the pavement is glass, and you can really attack the hill, pedaling vigorously and carving the sweeping turns at 25+ mph. The scenery is the usual Occidental-area redwood gorgeousness. It’s really very nice.
But there’s the traffic. You want to carve those turns from the middle of the lane, and that’s hard to arrange. Bohemian Highway is a main route to the Russian River, which is a main access route to the coast, so it can get busy, and there’s really no room for you and cars at the same time—two small lanes, minimal shoulder, cars in a hurry to get to the beach. So you have to plan the ride for slack traffic. I did the ride on Sunday (terrible idea), but waited until noon (good idea), and had to deal with perhaps 6 cars passing me. I would think any weekday after 10 am and before 3 pm would be OK, and any weekend day between 11 am and 2 pm, and any day at 7 a.m.
Near the bottom of the descent the road forks, into Bohemian Highway on the R and the oddly named Main St. on the L (clearly signed). The two roads are within sight of each other on opposite banks of the creek. Take Main St.—the road surface is better, and it goes by Lightwave, a charming, unpretentious coffee/drinks/small-menu food shop run by a couple recently from Israel. Try to stop, at least for coffee or a drink—you’ll like it. There’s a bike rack in full view, so you can sit at an outside table and keep your eye on your bike.
Cross the river on the unmissable bridge and say hello and goodbye to Monte Rio, a town named by someone who apparently didn’t know that “monte” means “mountain.” Go R (under the “Monte Rio Awaits Your Return” sign) onto River Rd., the road that follows the banks of the Russian River upstream, and ride it for 4.3 mi. to Guerneville. It isn’t fun. The traffic is constant, so you’re confined to the (largely spacious but debris-strewn) shoulder, the pavement is poor, and the neighborhood is generally shabby. Gentrification has yet to reach Monte Rio, which may be a blessing but doesn’t aid the riding.
You can bypass about half of the River Rd. leg by taking Old Monte Rio Rd., which parallels River Rd. just to the north, but it’s an adventure—the “road” is little more than a paved footpath and fairly decrepit. Check it out on Streetview (incredibly, it’s covered) before committing yourself to it.
Happily, Guerneville is a pleasant community with a good energy. Midtown, turn R onto Hwy 116 (called by some maps and my GPS “Pocket Canyon Highway”). Very soon, turn R. onto Mays Canyon Rd. and ride MCR to its end back on Hwy 116.
Mays Canyon used to be one of my favorite little rides, a car-free, secret back road offering pristine redwoods and splendid isolation. It still has some of that, especially in the first mile or so, but it also has, smack in the middle of it, a large community of run-down thrown-together dwellings with lots of signs telling you how unwelcome you are. With all that comes some traffic. And the road surface is bad. So ride it if you wish, or just stay on Hwy 116, which lacks Mays Canyon’s vices and virtues.
If you do Mays, go R on Hwy 116 (at the intersection there is no sign or any indication of where you are except for a hand-routered sign reading “Mays Canyon Rd.”). Everything is really good for the rest of the ride—the scenery is lovely, the traffic is light to non-existent, and the road surface is pristine.
Ride to Green Valley Rd. and go R onto Green Valley, which looks at the intersection like an afterthought but is really a well-established road. GVR goes up and down a steep little hill which is the steepest thing you’ll see on the ride (max pitch 12% briefly). Turn R onto Harrison Grade Rd.—I know, it’s very hard to leave Green Valley Rd., because it’s so very sweet, but Harrison is just as good.
Harrison Grade, as its name implies, is a climb—never as steep as Green Valley at its worst but more of it—2 miles of serious climbing with some 9-10% stuff. HGR runs you into Graton Rd., which runs quickly back into Occidental and provides the perfect cherry on this sundae—a brisk little descending slalom through perfect redwoods.
Shortening the ride: I wouldn’t ride Bohemian Highway as an out and back—the traffic whizzing past you as you do 5 mph on the return climb would be dangerous at any hour. River Rd. isn’t worth riding, ever. So we’re left with riding Green Valley Rd. + Harrison Grade Rd. as an out-and-back, with as much of Hwy 116 as you like.
Adding miles: See the Adding Miles section of our Occidental Loop ride for a list of the possibilities, which are many.