Distance: 39-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3410 ft
First, a disclaimer: This is the only ride in Bestrides where I haven’t ridden every mile of the route. Highland Way was closed to all traffic due to construction (which it often is) when I was there. I’ve done all but that. But the loop is such an iconic ride that I wanted to include it. I promise to get back to it and finish it when it opens.
This is a staple Santa-Cruz-area ride. It’s an approximate square, and each leg is totally unlike the other three. The right side of the square is a mellow climb through some of the best redwood forests in the area. The top is a hairy, narrow track on iffy pavement or dirt along a sidehill. The left side is a Best of the Best descent on a serpentining, manicured thoroughfare. And the bottom is a flat cruise through the charming commercial cottages of downtown Aptos. So, pretty much every kind of road riding there is except steep climbing.
You can begin this route anywhere, but you must ride it counter-clockwise, because if you don’t you’ll be swapping a great descent for a lousy one. Our map begins at the corner of Freedom Blvd. and Day Valley Rd., which gives you 5 miles of flat, largely uninspired riding before the Eureka Canyon Rd. climb, but you can start anywhere on the route from Soquel on, and for that matter the climb out of Corralitos is so mellow you could start there and do it with cold legs.
Ride to Corralitos. There’s a shortcut on Hames Rd. which will save you a few miles and add some short, steep pitches to your day. In Corralitos, note the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company, where you are definitely going to want to have a post-ride sausage sandwich—amazing.
Start up Eureka Canyon Rd. and climb for 9 miles of mellow. The woods along ECR are as good as any in the Santa Cruz area, which means they’re as good as anywhere. The road surface varies from OK to poor and steadily worsens, until at the top of the climb it’s positively horrendous, which is why riding to the summit and turning around is a bad idea. If you are out for a short day, turn around the moment the pavement begins to deteriorate, or you’re looking at a jarring, tooth-rattling descent.
After 9 miles of climbing, Eureka Canyon Rd. summits. Thereafter there is only 2 miles of moderate climbing left on the route. ECR soon turns into Highland Way, which is the leg I haven’t ridden. I gather it’s a narrow track clinging to a dramatic sidehill with pavement that varies from OK to broken to dirt. Highland turns into Summit Rd. at the intersection of Summit and Soquel-San Jose Rd. Go L onto SSJR. We descend SSJR on our Bean Creek/Mt. Charlie route, so you can read about it there, but it’s a dreamy, glassy-smooth, ripping banshee ride you’ll dream about later.
SSJR drops you in the small town of Soquel, where you pick up Soquel Drive, the surface road parallel-ing Hwy 1, and follow it through Soquel and Aptos and out the other side. This is all through solidly built-up commercial stuff, which sounds at best tedious and at worst dangerous, but these communities are small, charming, and cozy, the vibe is mellow and tranquil, and the ride is really very pleasant—a perfect cool-down after the high drama of Eureka Canyon, Highland, and Soquel-San Jose. You pass numerous places to resupply or dine (I recommend Zameen Cuisine in Aptos), but of course you’re going to wait for Corralitos Sausage Co. so it doesn’t matter.
Soquel Drive dead-ends at Freedom Blvd. Take Freedom to the L and back to your starting place.
Shortening the route: as I mentioned, this is a hard route to shorten because you want to ride Eureka Canyon Rd. as an ascent, but once the rough pavement starts you won’t want to turn around. The best you can do is ride 6-7 miles up ECR and turn around before the road surface gets bad.
Adding miles: This is Santa Cruz, so good riding is all around you. On Soquel-San Jose Rd. you’re on our Mt. Charlie route. See the Monterey Bay section of the Regions page for an intro to the other riches nearby.