Distance: 15-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 2630 ft
This is a winding, narrow backroad in the Wine Country with one striking virtue that makes it stand out among Wine Country rides: new, glassy pavement. It has all been recently repaved (in 2022-23) and is glass (thanks, Paul). If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you haven’t ridden in Sonoma County very much. Among our Wine Country rides, this, Mt. Veeder Road, and Hopland Road are the only three with respectable pavement, and Veeder is chipseal and Hopland is big and trafficky, so Cavedale is the only well-paved backroad climb in the area.
Cavedale Rd. climbs up and down over a ridge between the Napa and the Sonoma Valleys. From the SE end, it’s a pure climb to the summit—in 5.2 miles you accumulate a total elevation gain of 1930 ft and a total descent of 18 ft. It’s a pretty steady 8-10%, with lots of little stingers of 12+% that RidewithGPS refuses to acknowledge. The climb from the NE end is milder, but only because you have to climb Trinity Grade to get to the start, so unless you do Trinity by car the elevation gain (and the amount of 8-10% pitch) is about the same from either direction. In other words, it’s work.
When I did it the repaving was still in progress, so I wasn’t able to ride the entire road. Even though my map route is an out and back of the whole thing, in fact I rode from the Sonoma end to the summit and back. I’ll describe what I rode, and we can assume the rest of the road is similar.
The repaving hasn’t widened or straightened the road, so it still varies from one-lane-plus at its widest to true one-lane and is never straight, which makes the steady 10% pitches bearable. The landscape is mostly dry, with some fire damage, and the main visual payoff are the frequent vistas of the Sonoma valley below you once you gain some altitude.
You’d think a lonely, narrow, serpentining, glass-surfaced descent would be marvelous. I didn’t find it so. It’s fun but not exhilarating, because it’s too steep, with too many blind corners and too much traffic for you to let it it rip. In fact, I would say that trying to rip this descent would be seriously dangerous, unless you have disk brakes and an eagle eye for on-coming cars, since there is no shoulder, a major drop-off at either edge of the pavement, and no guardrails. Tellingly, two people I met on the road separately told me, without prompting, to be careful on the descent, and when I came down I saw why. I rode it at a mellow pace, without pressing, and enjoyed it.
Cavedale from the southeast end begins climbing immediately, and there’s no shoulder to park on anywhere near it on Hwy 12, so for those two reasons I suggest you drive north on Hwy 12 a half mile to wide, open, flat Madrone Rd. and park/warm up there. Ride back to Cavedale, thanking god you don’t have to be on busy and dangerous Hwy 12 any longer than this.
At the base of Cavedale there are a number of promising/interesting signs: “Winding one-lane road, RV’s and trailers not recommended” (always encouraging for cyclists); “Road narrows” (which seems impossible, given the width at that point); and a sign telling you that the recent repaving is partly paid for out of profits from Levi’s Grand Fondo, the enormous group ride out of Santa Rosa—thank you, Mr. Leipheimer! (Hey, some of that money is mine!)
About riding Cavedale itself there is little to add. It’s all up for 5.1 miles to an obvious summit. For a while there is little to distract you—there are no forks or crossroads and no visible houses by the road. Many people live in the area and use the road (hence the traffic), but they’re all down long driveways and nothing is visible from the road except for the occasional gate. There is some fire damage, but the terrain is so barren you will hardly notice. Views of the valley below improve as you ascend, and near the top of the hill the inevitable Sonoma vineyards begin to appear.
Past the summit the road descends steeply for a half mile, then becomes mellow (4-5%) up and down to the turn-around.
Shortening the route: Ride to the summit and back. For a much easier ride, ride from the northwest end to the summit and back (4.4 miles).
Adding miles: As discussed in the Mt. Veeder Road ride, Mt. Veeder and Cavedale are sorta parallel, so you can loop them both by riding one, then Trinity Grade to the other, then a rather lengthy connector through the greater Sonoma area. Locals do it, but I wouldn’t. I think Hwy 12, which you would need to ride from Cavedale to Sonoma, is a death trap—narrow, very busy in both directions, with no shoulder.
See the Mt. Veeder Road Adding Miles section for options at the northwest end of Cavedale.