Distance: 20-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 1410 ft
Most of the rides in Bestrides are fairly taxing, not because I need to be taxed, but because most really good scenery goes up and down. But there are a blessed few rides that offer ample rewards without requiring work (consult the nearly-flat rides list on the Best of the Best page). Huasna Road is one. A mere 20 miles of mostly imperceptible climbing or descending, with one 1-mile moderate hill near the turn-around, it’s perfect for a recovery day or a day with the non-riding spouse, yet the road contour is so seductive (gentle rollers, no long straights) and the scenery so gorgeous (oat-dotted grassy hillsides, riparian oak canopies) that I guarantee even the most hardened of hammerers will be charmed. A perfect ride for the day after you do the thrill-fest that is Prefumo Canyon Road. The descents from the summit of the little hill are wonderful in both directions, definite Best of Bestrides descents if they weren’t so heartbreakingly short.
A side benefit of this ride is that it motivates you to go to the town of Arroyo Grande, where it starts. Admit it, you’ve never been there. It turns out to be a bustling, sweet little village with oodles of charm, an ice cream parlor, a gyro stand, a fish taco restaurant, and a patisserie, well worth a post-ride stop.
Two words of caution. 1) I did this ride in April, when the hillsides were green and the wildflowers lush. It might be a bit less stunning in the dead-brown grass of California’s summer. 2) The prevailing wind in this area is westerly, and it can snort, so I would consult the weather with a particular eye on the predicted winds, and plan my ride so I’m not doing the 10-mile return leg into the teeth of a gale.
A number of rides in Bestrides follow Huasna Road’s profile: park at the intersection of a main artery and a small, untrafficked road. Ride the untrafficked road through an agricultural valley, follow the valley until it turns into a narrow creek canyon, follow the creek up a gradually increasing pitch until it turns into an actual climb, ride to the end of the pavement, return. This profile always gives you a nice mix of flat, rolling, steep(er), open, wooded, inhabited, and isolated.
Do not begin at the beginning of Huasna Rd.—it’s big and busy. Drive down Huasna to where Huasna goes off to the R and Lopez Dr. continues straight. A sign at the T tells you that “Lopez Lake” is straight ahead. A sign on the R points to Huasna. Park before the turn, in a large dirt turn-out. Ride down Huasna. You will need to negotiate 3 intersections where you might have doubts—follow the signs to Huasna Valley in every case. Notice especially the second, at the intersection of Huasna, School, and El Rancho, where you go R—there’s a sign to Huasna as you approach the intersection in this direction, but when returning you get signs for School and El Rancho but none for Huasna and you have to take the unnamed fork.
For the first 4 miles you’re riding through small agricultural operations—pleasant enough but not particularly special—but then you get off the valley floor and into the trees, and it’s downright grand for the rest of the ride. You’re climbing, but so gradually you won’t notice until you ride it going the other way. About 8 miles in, you hit the one and only hill, about 3/4 mile at 4-7%—in other words, just enough to open up your legs. If you’re saving yourself for harder days, you can spin the entire hill without effort.
The descent down the backside is perfect—easy slaloming at 25-30 mph through lazy, banked esses on glass. Off the descent you debouche into Huasna Valley, which is very pretty, and Huasna itself, which is about 4 simple ranch houses. The road splits into two in the midst of “downtown,” and you turn around.
The climb back up the hill is about like the climb up the front side. Then the descent is just as sweet as the descent on the outbound leg was. The rest of the return ride is that sort of 2% descending where you don’t think you’re descending, you just think you’re on the best day of your life. Assuming you’ve timed it right and the winds aren’t bad.
Shortening the ride: I know the ride is already short, but there is a sensible way to make it shorter: drive the first 4 miles of Huasna, to where the road enters the canopy and begins to serpentine.
Adding Miles: Thanks to the fact that almost every road southeast of San Luis Obispo runs through pretty, gently rolling farm country, the opportunities for extending the Huasna ride are plentiful.
From our turn-around point, Huasna Rd. continues on past Huasna Valley, now smaller and much less developed. Apparently cyclists ride a lot of it, but it’s only paved for two more miles, and that pavement is only tolerable chipseal. The first mile is highly recommended, because the scenery is as good as what you’ve been through but it’s much more isolated. Go for the solitude. After that, the road climbs briefly to a summit and you can get an idea of what lies ahead of you if you continue. It looks pretty and wild. Back in Huasna, there’s a sign reading “End county-maintained road 14 miles ahead,” for what that’s worth. When I was last there (4/23), there was a sign at the beginning of the road saying “Road closed,” but I assume it’s tongue-in-cheek. But perhaps not. The winter of 2022-2023 tore up nearly every dirt road in California, so I wouldn’t venture out anywhere into the outback without a reliable report on road conditions.
One of the joys of riding around SLO are the people. While I was riding this leg, I stopped a car and asked the driver if the road was in fact closed ahead. She said, “I don’t think so. You can go for a really long way. There’s almost no one up there. It’s so pretty in there. You’re the smart one. You go and enjoy yourself.” I’m not making this up.
The other road out of Huasna is Huasna Townsite Rd. It runs for about 3 miles until it dead-ends, and the scenery seems fine, but the road surface is a particularly nasty kind of chipseal that seems to be pebbles instead of gravel. If you’ve dreamt of riding Paris-Roubaix, here’s your chance. I hated it.
From the start of our ride there are a several attractive options:
1. Ride 3 miles up Lopez Dr. (toward Lopez Lake), turn L on Orcutt Road, and ride Orcutt for 8 miles, then turn around. Orcutt is a perfect example of what I think of as open-country riding. It meanders peacefully up and down along big meadows, by small creeks, and past tidy family farms and vineyards. It’s not twisty or thrilling, but there’s a surprising amount of contour and the scenery is SLO rural at its best.
2. Ride 8 miles up Lopez Dr., past Lopez Lake, turn R onto Hi (not High) Mountain Rd. and ride it 6 miles to the end of the pavement. HMR is a mini-Huasna, less gorgeous but with a similar flavor. Reportedly, locals ride Hi Mountain’s dirt all the way to Pozo. From what I saw of the dirt it’s in excellent shape, though I asked a local (in 4/23) if the dirt was good all the way to Pozo and she laughed and said, “Usually, yes; right now, no.” Lopez Dr. itself is a popular bike route that rolls through pretty country, so you won’t suffer riding it, but it’s a bit big and a bit busy and I would only choose to ride it to connect better stuff.
4. If you want a real challenge and adventure, just a stone’s throw down Hi Mountain is Upper Lopez Canyon Road, an absolute ball-buster of a ride. It’s a rough, narrow road, little more than a track, and it’s nastily up and down pretty consistently. Oddly, it’s covered by Streetview, so you can preview it. I tried it and quit.
5. If you turn L on Lopez Dr. instead of R from our starting point and head away from Lopez Lake, you soon hit Corbett Canyon Rd., a local favorite that parallels Orcutt and seems similar in ambience.
If you want to look further afield, the SLO area is particularly blessed with route resources, thanks mostly to the SLO Bicycle Club website. There you’ll find a list of favored local rides, though the 40-odd rides detailed there aren’t evaluated for quality or character. I have a paper ride map of the SLO area called the San Luis Obispo County Bike Map, and it’s a beauty. See if local bike shops still have copies. Downloadable maps of the area are at https://bikeslocounty.org/resources/maps/.