Distance: 61 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 5860 ft
(A Best of the Best ride)
This is a fairly big, pretty ride through two lush valleys and over three moderate summits. The cumulative elevation gain is substantial, but except for those three ascents the climbing is pretty mellow.
East Carmel Valley Road is the name of Carmel Valley Road east of Carmel Valley Village. You could add miles by riding the first 11.5 miles of CVR, starting at Hwy 1, but it’s all 4-lane, fast, aggressive, over-developed, trafficky shoulder riding. Pretty unpleasant, and, while the scenery is nice, it’s nothing compared to what’s on our route. East of the Village the valley narrows, the valley walls steepen, the traffic lessens and slows down, the people thin out, the foliage gets denser, wetter, and prettier, and the road dwindles until it’s finally a centerline-less, shoulderless back road of exceptional beauty and charm. The road surface varies from good to poor, often poor enough to be a hamper on your riding pleasure.
Traffic is an issue here. Traffic isn’t heavy (3 cars/mile perhaps on a Friday afternoon in spring), but local drivers are hostile and impatient. Sightlines and passing lanes are poor and there’s no shoulder. So timing is everything. The last time I did the ride, on a beautiful Sunday midday in spring, I saw 1 car in 15 miles. Traffic lightens the further east you go, and, as always, the worst time for traffic seems to be 4-5 pm.
Cachagua Road (which means “place of grass” in—you guessed it—Mapudungun) is an alternate to 12 miles of CVR which takes off from it, crosses into the parallel valley to the south, rides along the valley, then climbs and descends the tall ridge that now separates the two valleys and returns to CVR. It’s as pretty as CVR at CVR’s best, it’s quieter, smaller, and windier, and the road surface is better, so you definitely want to take it unless you’re tired and want to get home as easily as possible. It adds about 4 miles and one substantial climb to the route.
Calvin, in the comments below, makes the point that there are no water sources on this ride. So you’re looking at a long day without a refill. You may have to drop a water bottle at the Tassajara Rd. intersection or knock on some doors. Except for the leg from the summit to Arroyo Seco, the entire route is largely in forested shadow, however.
Begin in Carmel Valley Village, a charming little upscale artsy community with friendly folks and good, unpretentious places to eat, if you like towns where every shop is a wine tasting salon, a spa, or a fine arts gallery (22 wine tasting rooms in a very small town, according to the town map). There are no public bathrooms in the village proper, but there are three bathrooms west of town: at the Chevron at the west end of town, at the visitor’s center/community center/museum/city park complex a bit further west, and Garland Regional Park still further west.
Ride east on East Carmel Valley Road to its end at Arroyo Seco Rd. The first few miles do not impress. You’re still in the Greater CVV Area, and it’s busy. The further you ride, the lighter the traffic becomes, the smaller the road, and the prettier the scenery, until you get to the summit 18 miles in (Mile 30 on the mile markers, which start at Hwy 1). These first 18 miles are mostly all up, but almost all of it is mellow. (Reader Bruce points out that the MWGPS map erroneously goes off-route briefly at mile 3.7—ignore it.). At Mile 10 you get the first and only laborious hill on the ride out (1 mile). Shortly after Tassajara Rd. goes off to the R (remember you saw it), you lose the centerline and things get really good. The canyon is small here, the woods are deep, and you’re riding alongside the creek, crossing it repeatedly on little bridges. It’s all up but never steep.
At the summit you have a decision: turn around or not? The rest of the ride is very different from what you’ve been through. This is the lee side of the hill, so instead of lush, dark oak canopies in a narrow creek canyon, you get down-at-heel ranches scattered on open, grassy hills and moderate vistas. By the time you get to the turn-around, you’re practically in California desert.
Ride back to the Tassajara Road intersection. The last 6 miles of the climb back to the summit are work. The road from the summit to Tassajara is all blissful down. Take Tassajara L, which is the only way it goes. In a short while take Cachagua Rd on your R. Cachagua descends very gradually for a few miles through pretty woods and low-key farms along Cachagua Creek, then does a major climb—2.5 miles of c. 7%—through lovely woods, as you climb over the ridge between Cachagua and Carmel Valley Road. The road meanders constantly and is never boring—a peach of a climb. After summiting and cruising on the flats for a bit, you are treated to a 2-mile, 10% plummet back to CVR. It’s fun, but it’s a lot of braking, so with rim brakes it’s stressful—I imagine with discs it would be a hoot.
Turn L on CVR and ride the 4.3 miles back to the Village.
There is an argument to be made for riding Cachagua in the other direction, west to east. Instead of a moderately taxing climb and a steep descent, you would have a tougher climb (2 miles at 9-10%), followed by a wonderful descent at high but manageable speed. It’s up to you.
Shortening the ride: There are several ways to ride only a part of this route and still preserve the charm and the beauty:
1. Ride to Arroyo Seco Rd. and back on Carmel Valley Rd (57 miles). This skips the big climb on Cachagua.
2. Ride to the summit on Carmel Valley Rd. and return, either via Cachagua or CVR. This skips the climb back up to the CVR summit.
3. Ride to Tassajara Road and take it, then Cachagua, turning the ride into a lollipop that skips the CVR summit in both directions.
4. Since the best legs of the route are Tassajara to the summit and Cachagua Rd., the shortest route that bags both of them is, start at the intersection of Tassajara and Carmel Valley Rd., ride to the summit of CVR, return, ride the Tassajara/Cachagua/CVR loop. That’s the short route I’d do.
Adding miles: At the turn-around at Arroyo Seco Rd. you can continue on Arroyo Seco in either direction. To the L/northeast, there are dramatic views of eroded hills for a few miles. Ride until the landscape isn’t interesting any more, then turn around. To the southwest the road is paved and the scenery dramatic until Arroyo Seco Campground, about 5 miles one way.
To the west of our ride, you’re only 5 miles down Carmel Valley Rd. from the jewel that is the Robinson Canyon Rd. ride. and about 14 miles from the Carmel entrance to the Seventeen-Mile Drive. You’re about 3 miles east of Laureles Grade, an up-and-down pass locals ride constantly and I hate—hot, dull, trafficky shoulder riding full of debris. Good vistas, though.