Caliente Loop

Distance: 44-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4320 ft

If you’re like me, you think Bakersfield is hot and flat, which is what you see driving through on Hwy 5.  But a Friend of Bestrides wrote in to say I had to overcome my prejudices and try the area.  It turns out that Bakersfield, while it is smack in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, is at the Valley’s southernmost tip, so it’s surrounded closely on 3 sides by mountains like the Tehachapis, and there are good roads in those mountains.   The Caliente Loop is considered one of the local gems.

The loop is essentially three different rides: a meander through a small, rocky creek canyon; a mostly flat roll across a wide valley dotted with horse farms, and a thrilling series of switchbacks through thick foothill shrubbery.

Why I didn’t ride (that and the 20-mph wind, and the cows)

First, a mea culpa: I haven’t ridden it yet—the only ride in Bestrides I haven’t done.  The one day I set aside for it, the fog on the course had visibility down to 100 ft, my wipers were going a mile a minute, the road was a slimy morass, the wind was 20 mph, mostly in the rider’s face, and free-range cows were wandering the road (in the fog) during the 9% descent that ends the ride.   I thought of my wife and children and drove the course, photographing from my car.  But Bestrides needs to recognize Bakersfield, so I’m putting the loop in.  I’ll get back and ride it, I promise.

Before you get on your bike, you have a decision to make: Which way to go?  See the vigorous debate about this in the comment section, with me on one side and everyone else on the other.  And check out the elevation profile.  The facts: clockwise gives you a 7-mile climb up a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks, then a steep 3-mile descent, then a 9.5-mile mellow climb, then a 22-mile medium descent; counterclockwise gives you the reverse: a 22-mile mild ascent, a 9.5-mile easy descent, 3 miles of 9+ climbing, then a 7-mile descent down a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks.  My route goes counterclockwise.  Wind direction is also a factor, since the middle 13 miles is open and fairly flat.

This is a ride you want to time correctly, and the window is small: ideally you’d ride in the spring, when the creek you’ll follow for the first 20 miles is babbling and the grassy fields of the second leg are green.   But spring means spring run-off, and any significant run-off closes the road, because Caliente Creek Rd. has several places where flash flood gullies flow right over the roadway.  I’d ask about road conditions at a local bike shop.  And expect to find a “road closed” sign and ford some streams any time before summer.

Caliente Creek Rd, with typical creek crossing—the fancy ones have culverts

Park in the almost non-existent “town” of Caliente.  There’s a tiny post office there but little else.  Ride the 3 miles to the intersection of Caliente Creek Rd. and Caliente Bodfish Rd., where you make your directional choice.  We’re going counterclockwise, up Caliente Creek Rd.  It’s an easy grade up through a dry but scenic little canyon.  There are frequent creek crossings, and feeder streams enter from the side and cross the road in spring, so figure to get your wheels wet.  This is the most scenic part of the course, and if you aren’t out for the full 44 miles you might consider riding it as an out-and-back, thought the road surface is only serviceable so I can’t speak for the descending.  The map shows several named “communities” along this leg, but I don’t think they exist—the first noticeable settlement is Twin Oaks, where there’s a country store.

Walker Basin Road

Past Twin Oaks you leave the creek canyon and begin crossing Walker Basin, a large open valley surrounded by hills and populated with unpretentious horse farms.  Somewhere in here the road changes its name to Walker Basin Road, but I saw no road signs so it doesn’t matter.  The road is relatively flat and straight and the scenery prettily pleasant.

View of the Basin on a better day—note the falcon posing for us. Photo by Phil Tucher.

At mile 29 you have your first noticeable intersection, a 90-degree L turn from Walker Basin Rd. onto Walker Basin Rd.—clearly signed, just like that.  At mile 32 at the T you go L onto Caliente Bodfish Rd. , do a 2-mile, 700-ft climb, and begin the thrilling/harrowing part of the course, the descending switchbacks.

The Basin again. Photo by Phil Tucher.

This stretch of road should be approached cautiously.  It’s steep, there are no sightlines, so you can’t see oncoming cars and vice versa, and when I drove it there were free-range cows wandering the road.   Any moisture adds to the hazard.  I don’t have photos of it because I figured I might very well die from a rear-ender if I stopped to take one.  Just be safe out there.  You’re mostly in foothill shrubbery here, but you won’t see it anyway.

The Caliente Bodfish descent takes you all the way back to the intersection with Caliente Creek Rd.  Return to the metropolis of Caliente.

Adding Miles: I don’t know the area, but Bestrides commenters offer up several great suggestions for routes below.  Other local routes are at, though the site seems to have flaws.  The consensus second-best ride seems to be Hwy 155/Evans Rd from town to Greenhorn Summit.  Deserving of mention for sheer audacity is Deer Trail Drive (aka Deertrail Drive and the Bear, for obvious reasons), a climb on private property that’s 9 miles long and averages 10.6%!  I haven’t done it and have no intention of doing it.

11 thoughts on “Caliente Loop

  1. Rick Mayberry

    Most locals that I know do the loop clockwise. The climb when you make that first left turn is about 6.5 miles with an average grade of 7%. That climb is locally known as Lion’s Trail. After climbing out of Walker’s basin, the long descent into Twin Oaks is exhilerating with great sight lines. The rest of the ride is slightly downhill and when the wind is just right, it is possible to maintain speed in excess of 30mph almost all the way back to Caliente. Even with a headwind, it is easy to maintain speeds in the mid 22-25mph.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Mapmyride and a little math makes the steep part of the climb 5.8 miles at a bit over 8% average—certainly doable on a day you want to work.

  2. Phil T

    Thanks, Jay! Do yourself a favor and go ride Caliente Loop. It’s stunning! I’d probably opt for clockwise next time. The 2 miles, 7% up to the top before descending (counterclockwise) was a bear for me, with 11% stretches. Also some wide open basin sections seemed to have stronger headwind.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      To clarify: riding the route clockwise commits you to a 6-mile, 9% climb almost immediately. Riding counterclockwise commits you to a short 9+% climb Phil swears peaks at 11%, around mile 32.

  3. Jim Thurber

    A nearby ride and one of my favorites leaves Delano (or Wasco from the AMTRAK station) and heads up to Woody and Greenhorn Pass along Highway 155. It’s spectacular and traffic is practically non-existent.

    On the other side the descent is really STEEP so one has to be careful. You’ll hit Lake Isabella (not the town) and turn left into Kernville. From Kernville it’s a nice trek along Highway 178 over Walker Pass to Ridgecrest and thence Trona, Panamint Springs, Towns Pass and eventually into Death Valley.

    I’ve done this as a four-day event, solo, with a spousal pick-up at Furnace Creek Ranch. Done in Spring or Fall it’s wonderful. I actually prefer the fall although Lake Isabella has been pretty low re: water level these last few years.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Thanks for the suggestion. I’m not familiar with the route, but looking at the map yields some thoughts: 1. It’s 188 miles from Delano to Panamint Springs, with a butt-load of climbing, so you’re talking a major commitment, assuming you have a way to get out of there. 2. The first 10 miles out of Delano look dead flat/straight valley riding, so I’d be tempted to skip it. 3. If you’re looking for a manageable day ride, you can start at Hwy 155/Hwy 65 and ride to Lake Isabella for an 88-mi out and back, with an intimidating 10,570 ft of gain! 4. The first 36 miles of Hwy 155 from Hwy 65 is all up to a summit, so that seems like the “easiest” day ride option that has any sense of closure.

  4. Juan Ventimiglia

    I’ve only done Lion’s Trail loop clockwise. Many times climbed Lion’s Trail from the Shell station on Comanche. Great ride: 53 miles, 4,900 feet of climbing.

    Living in Bakersfield gives us local riders close access to some incredible climbs. Not in any particular order:

    1. Breckenridge Road: 26 mile climb (how many of those are there?), ~7,000 feet of climbing
    2. Evans Road from Woody through Glennville to Alta Sierra ski area.
    3. Portuguese Pass: Elevation reaches 7,400 feet. One of the most beautiful climbs around once you’re near the cabins.
    4. Sherman Pass Road: start from from McNally’s Steakhouse in Kernville. Elevation reaches 9,200 feet. 17 miles, 5,000 feet of climbing.
    5. The Bear: Private road, must hop three gates. Steepest climb around. 10% average. Climbs 5,000 feet in 9 miles.

    Kern County is certainly one of the most under-rated places to ride a bike. Cheers.

  5. Rick Mayberry

    I rode the Bear, or as some call it, Deer Trail. It certainly is a bear. 10% average but I would say that most of the early climbing compares with the Sierra Road climb in the Bay Area. One of the hardest climbs I have done. Spectacular views of the valley floor below. It’s an accomplishment.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      You can find details on Deertrail Rd. on the Pjamm Cycling website. It’s a private road—I’m not sure what that means for cyclists.


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