Distance: 22 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2750 ft
This is just another marvelous climbing back road in the hills above Santa Cruz. It starts out climbing gently through rural houses, and continues to get steeper, narrower, more isolated, more densely wooded, and more gorgeous as it goes. For the last five miles, the forest is as pretty as anything in our list.
Note Nibbles’s comment at the end: the road is blocked by mudslides as of 1/17. These problems can last well into the summer, so check road conditions before riding.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
Park near the intersection of Graham Hill Rd. and E. Zayante Rd and ride up E. Zayante until it deadends at Summit Rd. Then ride back. E. Zayante climbs imperceptibly through pleasant residential for a while, then steepens. Zayante can be pretty trafficky in those first few miles, but the cars will disappear soon, I promise, and you can dodge a mile of them by taking W. Zayante, a perfectly pleasant road, when it branches off and riding it until it rejoins E. Zayante at Quail Run Rd.
As the houses and cars disappear, the woods get thicker and prettier. About halfway up E. Zayante changes its name to Upper Zayante at a noticeable four-way intersection (a road sign announces the change), and about the same time a sign says “one-lane road” ahead. That’s a touch overly dramatic—two cars could pass, barely, and much of the time the white line is preserved, but it does get tight, and the quality of the pavement deteriorates. You won’t notice on the ride out, but it means the descent on the return requires attention.
The road gets steadily steeper, until the last 3 miles or so are work, but it’s never grim. You deadend at Summit Rd., and if you want to do a little recovery riding before turning around and heading down, go R. and ride Summit, a rolling and charming but trafficked ridge road, as long as you like, then come back.
The first miles of the descent aren’t ideal. The pitch is too steep, the turns are too tight, and the road surface is too rough. I almost went over the handlebars when I hit an unexpected pothole hard, then grabbed the brakes reflexively to stay attached to the bike, which of course made things much worse. Note to self: don’t descend with hands on the brake levers unless you’re actually braking.
But soon the pitch lessens, the surface improves, and the road straightens enough that the descending gets really good, and then you end up rolling back to your car, doing just as much work as you want to in the final gradually descending miles.
Adding miles: Almost everything in any direction is good—see the Monterey Bay discussion in the Rides by Region chapter for a survey of roads in the Santa Cruz area. Since it’s the same conversation for all 3 of our Santa Cruz rides, I’ll do it once there and leave it at that.
Afterthoughts: Unless the heat is fierce, try to do the ride sometime other than morning or evening (for a change), because you want the sun high enough to backlight the bigleaf maples. You’re in almost constant shade for the last 2/3 of the ride, so sunstroke shouldn’t be a problem.