Distance: 61 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 5860 ft
This is a pretty big, gorgeous ride through two lush valleys and over three summits. It includes three substantial climbs, but I think Mapmyride’s elevation gain total is over-kill—you’ll do some work, but it’s only more than 7% for one stretch. If you aren’t in the mood, there are alternate routes that cut out one or two of the climbs and turn the ride into a piece of cake while preserving a lot of the beauty—see “Shortening the Ride” below.
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. Basic hell, and, while the scenery is pleasant, 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 just OK.
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.
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 no prettier than CVR, but it’s quieter, smaller, and windier, and the road surface is better. If the traffic on CVR bothers you or if you live for long, beautiful climbs, you definitely want to take it. If you’re tired and just want to roll home, you definitely don’t. It adds about 4 miles and one big climb to the route.
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’s a good bathroom at the Chevron at the west end of town, and they don’t seem to mind you using it. 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). You’re climbing continuously, but it’s usually effortless. 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.
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. There’s also a climb back up that will get your attention: the last 3 miles to the summit are at 8%+.
Ride back to the Tassajara Road intersection. Take Tassajara L, which is the only way it goes. In a short while take Cachagua Rd on your R. Cachagua descends gradually for a few miles through very pretty woods and low-key farms, then does a major climb—2.5 miles of c. 7%—through really lovely woods, as you climb over the ridge between Cachagua and Carmel Valley Road. The road meanders constantly and is never boring—a real peach of a climb. After summiting and cruising on the flats for a bit, you are treated to a 2-mile, 10-15% plummet back to CVR. Check your brakes before descending.
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 long slight descent followed by a 2.5-mile 7% climb and a super-steep descent, you now have an absolute killer climb (2 miles at 10-15%), followed by a wonderful descent at high but manageable speed and a long easy climb back to CVR. It all boils down to, are you willing to really work to earn a really fine descent?
Shortening the Ride: There are several ways to ride only a part of this route and still preserve 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 DVR summit.
3. Ride to Tassajara Road and take it, then Cachagua, turning the ride into a lollipop that skips the DVR summit in both directions.
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 absolutely hate—hot, dull, trafficky shoulder riding full of debris.