Distance: 35-mile loop plus three spurs
Elevation gain: 2270 ft
There are two Cañada Roads in the Greater Bay Area, one in Redwood City and one in Gilroy. The one in Redwood City is essentially a multi-use recreational freeway—meh. Ours is a super-pleasant jaunt through the rolling hills to the east of Gilroy. It’s just west of Henry Coe State Park, and one of its spurs takes you a few miles into the park.
It’s not a life-changing ride, and there are no natural wonders or heart-pounding thrills—just 35 miles of mellow, pretty, solitary riding on good road surface. You will work only once, on a two-mile climb of moderate pitch near the beginning of the ride. The rest is basically flat (check out that unthreatening elevation total), with enough constant gentle rolling up and down to keep your interest. If you look up into the hills from Gilroy it looks bald, but most of the riding is among the trees that line the little valleys and creeks you’re riding along the edges of. The decor is classic California foothill: oaks, dales, sycamores, and creeks that go dry later in the year. Most of the foliage is evergreen, so the ride feels pretty lush even in December, when I did it.
The loop has the distinction of having three eminently ridable dead-end spur roads taking off from it: Jamieson Road, Gilroy Hot Springs Road, and Coyote Lake Road. They’re all much like the loop itself: mellow, essentially flat, fun, and pretty.
There isn’t a whole lot of humanity along the bulk of this route—only the occasional house, dairy, or hardscrabble farm. From the beginning of Cañada Road to Gilroy Hot Springs Road I saw perhaps 3 cars, but things might be busier in summer.
I did the ride counter-clockwise, for no reason, and the ride should work equally well in either direction. Clockwise will break up the climb and spread it out, so the climbing is easier and the 2-mile pitch on the south side might make for a longer, somewhat more exhilarating descent than you get going my way.
Start at the intersection of Leavesley Rd. and Dryen Ave. You can start anywhere on the course, but starting here gives you a easy 20-min. warm-up before you hit the Cañada Road hill. Ride east on Leavesley and almost immediately take the unsigned L (actually straight ahead when Leavesley turns R) onto Crews Rd. Follow Crews to its dead-end at Ferguson Rd and take Ferguson (boring) briefly to its dead-end at Pacheco Pass Hwy. Take your life in your hands and go L onto very busy PPH (there’s a traffic light with an arrow for your turn) for a blessedly brief stint, then turn L onto Cañada Road (clearly signed). This turn across the near-constant traffic is brutal. I simply pulled off the road and settled in for the long wait until there was a substantial gap.
Cañada (which means many different things in Spanish: ravine, glen, arroyo, animal track, but not canyon) is flat, straight, and built-up for the first half-mile, but then it transforms into a small, winding 2.5-mile climb up through a pretty wooded canyon beside a small, usually-dry creek. At the top, the work of the ride is done. You roll through some typical Northern California grassy hillside (much prettier if you get there before the summer brown-out) with the occasional vista of Gilroy to the west, then meet the first dead-end spur, Jamieson Road.
Jamieson runs through the heart of a small, pretty ranching valley for a couple of miles, then turns to dirt. It’s flatter, straighter, and more open than the rest of the route, but peaceful and pretty. Ride to the dirt and turn around.
Back on Cañada Road, ride to the intersection of Cañada and Gilroy Hot Springs Rd. This leg rolls gently up and down through the trees along the lip of several small meadows populated with the occasional low-rent ranch. Turn R on GHSR and ride 3 miles along the shore of Coyote Creek. This stretch of road is particularly sweet. A local assured me that Coyote Creek, which was a major stream when I was there, dries up every summer, so that’s an argument for doing the ride early in the year (I was there 2 days after a long stretch of rain). GHSR is a main route into Henry Coe State Park, so there’s a bit more traffic here, but almost all the traffic is going to a large trailhead staging area a stone’s throw into the park (Hunting Hollow), so you should have the bulk of the road to yourself.
Gilroy Hot Springs Rd. obviously goes to Gilroy Hot Springs, an old resort which has an interesting history but has been closed for many years. Check out the history on google. A group of preservationists have been trying to restore and reopen the springs—apparently access is now (12/21) limited to one docent-led tour (no bathing) a month. So at the end of the 3 miles you cross a large wooden bridge over the creek and meet an intimidating barb-wired gate that emphatically orders you to turn around. I’m all for riding on gated-off roads, but this one is a serious no-no. Obey the sign and turn around.
Ride back on GHSR and continue on it past the Cañada Rd. turn-off, to the turn-off to Coyote Lake Rd. on the R (unmissable). Coyote Lake is a pretty but fully-developed reservoir, so the road is a constant series of campsites, boat launches, and such. I had the place to myself in December, but it might be a madhouse in July—be warned. It’s another sweet, gently rolling, pretty road, but it’s certainly the spur I would skip first if I was trying to reduce my mileage. The road goes to the far end of the lake and turns to dirt. Ride to the dirt and turn around.
Return to Gilroy Hot Springs Rd and take it to the R—at this point GHSR changes its name to Roop Rd. (clearly signed at the intersection). You could stay on Roop until it dead-ends at the delightfully named New Ave., then ride south on New to Ferguson and east on Leavesley if you wanted to, but there’s much better option: when Roop goes hard R, go straight onto Leavesley Rd.
Leavesley is not to be missed, a twisty descent, often through dramatic oak canopies—the only real whee on the loop. I liked it so much I turned around, climbed it, and descended it again. It bottoms out right where you left your car.
Shortening the ride: Skip the three spurs—this leaves you with 17 miles of loop. If you’re thinking of skipping one or two of them, the best is Gilroy Hot Springs Road, then Jamieson, then Coyote Lake Road.
Adding miles: About 6 miles due north by back roads is E. Dunne Rd., the main road into Henry Coe State Park, said to be a rewarding, challenging climb. On the other side of Hwy 101, beginning to the west of Gilroy, is a small mountain range, and all the roads in it are reputed to be good—Day Rd., Watsonville Rd., Uvas Rd., Oak Glen Rd., McKean Rd., Sycamore Ave./Dr., and Redwood Retreat Rd. have all been recommended to me. If you string them together, you can ride from Gilroy to San Jose on bike-friendly back roads, something I intend to do some day.