East Zayante Road

 Distance: 22 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2750 ft

This is an out-and-back climber that starts out with a few miles of nearly flat among rural houses, and continues to get steeper, narrower, more isolated, more densely wooded, rougher, and prettier as it goes.   The woods are different from those of rides like Felton Empire and Big Basin—instead of mostly redwoods, you get a lot of bigleaf maples, so there’s a lot more light coming through, and at times it looks like the forest is on fire. There are two stretches that are hard work, but the rest is either next-to-flat or so varied in pitch as to keep you fresh and perky.

The downside is, the road surface deteriorates as you go, to a point where descending the way you went up is unpleasant, and, alas, there’s no simple alternative route down.  See the discussion at the end of the post.

Park near the intersection of Graham Hill Rd. and E. Zayante Rd.  There are small dirt turn-outs just a stone’s throw up E. Zayante.  Ride up E. Zayante.  There always seems to be a lot of traffic in the lower stretch of this road, and if it bothers you you can drive up a few miles until you get past most of the houses, but very shortly you can take the L turn onto W. Zayante (which explains why E. Zayante has “East” in its name), and ride up the other side of the creek in relative carlessness for the busiest 1.2 miles (that’s how I’ve mapped it).  W. Zayante dead-ends at Quail Hollow—take QH 50 ft to the R (crossing the creek) to rejoin E. Zayante.  The traffic will continue to thin out until it drops to next-to-nothing for the last half of the ride.

The first 7 miles or so are imperceptible climbing, so you’ll have time to warm up your legs before the hills start.  When the climbing does start, it’s pleasant ups sprinkled with downs, until the first real piece of work, the mile or so ending at the intersection where E. Zayante changes its name to Upper Zayante (clearly signed).  Immediately after the intersection, you get a long recovery in the form of a mile or so of flat road or down.

The road continues to get narrower and rougher and the woods get thicker and prettier.  Soon you’ll see a sign that says “one-lane road, two-way traffic next 3/4 mile.  5 mph” (I’ve never seen that sign before), and you climb, at a moderate to substantial pitch, to the end of the road.  I suggest you keep the road distance (11 miles) in mind so you don’t despair, but it’s really only hard once.  When the road T’s into Summit Rd., look back at the signage warning motorists starting down Upper Zayante what they’re in for (see photo).

Upper Zayante gets narrow!

Now the question is, how do you get back down the hill?  I used to descend on Zayante, but either I’ve gotten more timid or the surface has gotten worse, but I now feel it’s something I want to avoid.  The problem is, all the alternate routes back have their problems.

You can go R on Summit, ride to Hwy 17, do a death-defying descent of 17 down to Glenwood, and ride Glenwood back to Scotts Valley.  But the Glenwood surface is as bad as Zayante’s.  Or you can come down Mtn. Charlie, but that surface is perhaps the worst of the three (has the road surfacing department got it in for this area?).  You can go L on Summit and ride Bear Creek Rd. back to Boulder Creek and ride Hwy 9 down to Felton, but BCR is the main car corridor between Hwy 9 and Hwy 17 with no room for bikes, and Hwy 9 is worse.

Your best bet is either a) go R on Summit and pick up the Bean Creek/Mtn. Charlie route, descending Soquel-San Jose and working your way over to Scotts Valley, or b) suck it up, let some air out of your tires, and come carefully down Zayante.  After a few miles the surface improves and the descending becomes quite nice.  I’ve mapped it that way.

Shortening the route: Since the scenery gets prettier and the road smaller the further up you go, I’d start wherever the mileage lets you reach the end of the road.

CIMG7136Adding miles:  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 6 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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