East Zayante Road

 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.

The mudslides mentioned by Nibbles below are apparently now a thing of the past.

(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.

It's almost all like this

It’s almost all like this

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.

CIMG7136But 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.

5 thoughts on “East Zayante Road

  1. patcresmar

    First, thanks for your site. Your descriptions are spot on. I’m trying to branch out from my usual routes and I chose this ride today. It was just as you described it: pretty, isolated, shaded but also steep on a bad surface on the way down. Minimal traffic after a while, and I was the only biker. which I usually don’t mind, but as a woman on an unfamiliar territory, it felt a little lonely.
    It’s a very pleasant ride but It’s just not spectacular like some of my favorites: West Alpine; old La Honda on the other side of skyline; Pescadero…Perhaps it’s because I like vistas in my rides, now that I think about it. However, the shade made it perfect for this warm / hot day.
    Anyway, thanks for your detailed description. It helped this rider.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Indeed, there aren’t many rides that can compete with the Peninsula riding for vistas. The author of Bestrides.org admits to having a great yearning for dense undergrowth, canopies, and such. You might like to work from the list of Rides with Grand Vistas list on the Best of the Best page.

  2. nibbles

    Rode this as part of a longer ride in the area last saturday.

    *It’s closed to all vehicles due to a very large and scary rockslide that completely covers the road.*

    It would require most people both hands and feet (along with a complete lack of preservation instinct) to cross this massive impediment. How i managed to do this with my bike on my shoulder heaven only knows. I guess I decided I’d rather risk falling 200 feet into a ravine than ride back down this road (esp in the muddy condition it was in) and climb back to skyline otherwise. Besides this there were several significant mudslides where I had to dismount and walk.

    I only hope they repair the road soon, for it is truly beautiful and warrants many visits.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Thanks for the update. I guess we better get used to this all over CA this spring (1/17), what with our rainfall this year.

  3. Andreas

    This is a pleasant little ride if it’s cut shorter. Due to the traffic the first chunk of this ride was pretty tense. We were getting passed close and fast on a Sunday afternoon. No shoulder for a while.


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