Distance: 49-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 3920 ft
(A Best of the Best ride)
This ride is legendary. It’s the cornerstone of Levi Leipheimer’s King’s Ridge Gran Fondo, a ride that includes, in addition to most of this loop, our Coleman Valley Road ride, plus about 30 miles of very nice rolling farm and forest land riding out from Santa Rosa to Occidental and back. I don’t recommend Levi’s ride per se, because I think it’s unfriendly, but the entire route is well worth riding.
As is my method, I’m going to cut out Levi’s 30 miles of merely good riding and just tell you about the great stuff. It’s all pretty, challenging riding (5530 ft gain, and the poor road surfaces add to the effort). Perks include redwoods, a classic woodsy village, a Best of the Best descent, and the opportunity to detour to an overnight on the coast.
King’s Ridge Rd. (or King Ridge Rd.—you see it both ways) is a rough, centerline-less sorta-two-lane road that does a lot of climbing and then rolls along a ridge top through beautiful, wild country—rugged ranches and open space. Traffic is almost non-existent—the last time I rode the 47-mile loop, it was a beautiful holiday and I saw 8 vehicles, or 1 vehicle every 6 miles. The views from the ridgetop are grand. You can look north over a series of ridges untouched by Man and imagine that you’re the first human to see it. The odd thing is, you’re close to right. If you look at a map of California, you’ll see there’s nothing to the north of you for a hundred miles except a few small, sparsely-traveled roads. Breathe deeply. It’s a lonely, inspiring experience (another reason not to do it as part of Levi’s ride, when you have 7,000 riders for company). It’s not as wild as it used to be, thanks to some invasive vineyards, but it’s still epic.
The bad news is, the road surface varies from poor to lousy for most of the 50 miles. For some, the rough road surface becomes part of the adventure. And someone actually repaved 2.2 miles of it (see below), so it’s not as bad as it used to be.
(Note: if you read through the readers’ comments below, you’ll see that the state of the road surfaces on the climb to King’s Ridge is the subject of much debate. I haven’t seen it in a while, but I gather it’s much improved—by how much is unclear.)
I’ve seen articles which call this ride “the greatest bike ride in America.” That’s absurd. It’s good. It’s in my Best Of the Best, but is actually one of my least favorite rides on that list.
(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.)
(The 3-mile stretch of road marked as unpaved on RWGP’s map is wrong—the route is entirely paved.)
Start at the intersection of River Rd. and Cazadero Highway. Ride north up Cazadero Hwy to the town of Cazadero through lovely coastal forest. (If you’re dead set on back-road riding, you can ride up Austin Creek Rd., the smaller, rougher road just on the other side of the creek to the east. The turn-off from Hwy 116 is unsigned.) Cazadero Hwy has a glassy road surface, and it’s a barely perceptible climb all the way, perfect for warming up, and a treat when you’re ending the ride and you’re exhausted. It’s the last really good road surface you’ll see for 40 miles. Halfway to town, watch for the large, whimsical wooden sculpture of Babe Ruth on your R—if the nice man who does the sculpting is out and about, he might be willing to show you his other works.
Cazadero is a hardware store, a church, a firehouse, a general store, and surprise!) some fairly heavy industry. Ride through Cazadero, make sure you go R at the Y just past town (there’s a clear sign pointing you the right way, and marking the other fork as Ft. Ross Rd., which is your return), and begin a leisurely climb. The road changes its name somewhere in here to King’s (or King) Ridge Rd. The climbing is easy until it isn’t—then it’s 1.2 miles of 10-14%, followed by an obvious “summit” that is the Father of all false summits. You’ll descend and roll and assume you’ve done the hard climbing, but the steep pitch comes back, and you do at least another mile of 10% stuff. From the beginning of the hard stuff to the end, including the rolling in between, is 4 miles. It’s all pretty country and the contour is never monotonous. Pop out onto the ridgetop and ride through miles of big, tiring rollers (you’ll see 14% pitch again, briefly), often along the very spine of the ridge, with the aforesaid grand views. There’s a great spot where crows ride the thermals coming up the slope to your L and they’re at exactly eye level. This is open range, so watch for several cattle guards.
At the end of the ridge, you come to a sloppy T where the road to the R (unsigned, I think) is Tin Barn Rd., which is also in Bestrides. The road to the L is signed “Hauser Bridge Road.” Go L (do some of our Tin Barn Rd. ride backwards) and plummet down a vicious 12-20% pitch with a rough surface to a steel bridge over a creek. This descent is zero fun, so ride it just to survive—on one wet Levi’s ride they helicoptered out a few people who went off the road into the crevasse below, and subsequent riders were required to dismount and walk down the hill and across the bridge. The road is covered with painted “SLOW!” signs to remind you.
On the other side of the creek the road turns up, as roads after bridges must, and you climb at a consistent 10% for 1.5 miles. When you see the cow on the sign, the hard work is over—you now roll up and down, mostly up, for several miles. From here on the road is clearly signed (you’re going to Cazadero, not Jenner, remember). You’ll ride past Timber Cove Rd. (there’s even a stop sign) and later Fort Ross Rd., both entering from the R. At the next fork go L, onto what is also called Fort Ross Rd. (clearly signed).
At this point, 33 miles into the ride, you’re thinking, “OK, I climbed a ton up to King’s Ridge, descended to Hauser Bridge, climbed it all back, then rode 10 miles, mostly up, to here. So when do I get all that elevation gain back?” Answer: right now. Fort Ross Rd. is 10 miles consisting of a long descent, a decent-sized climb, and a long descent back to that fork just north of Cazadero. It’s all pretty woods, but the first 3 miles are the prettiest, so enjoy the scenery if you can will navigating an exhilarating slalom. The first 2.2 miles (the entire first descent plus a bit) have recently been repaved and the road surface is perfect. The pitch is ideal (c. 7%), the serpentining is constant, the turns are sweetly banked, and every corner is unique. As a result this is one of the best descents I know of—a Best of the Best descent for sure.
Enjoy it, because after the repaved 2.2 miles the old pavement returns, and it’s grim. It’s exhausting to climb and jarring to descend at speed. After I rode it, I felt I had been worked over by rubber-hosed goons. By the way I saw no sign that anyone was planning on extending the repaving any time soon (as of 11/22).
At the fork, continue straight onto Cazadero Hwy., buy an ice cream bar and sit on the Cazadero general store’s porch for a bit to contemplate what you’ve accomplished, then ride the effortless descent to your car. Now go casually mention to your riding buddies, “Dudes, did King’s Ridge last weekend…”
Shortening the ride: Start in Cazadero (this will save you some miles but almost none of the work). The loop can’t be cut short, but you can make it a mellow(er) weekend by taking Timber Cover Rd. to Timber Cove and staying overnight at the lovely and (when I was there) surprisingly cheap Timber Cove Inn. If you do, don’t ride back up Timber Cove Rd. the next day—it will kill your cold legs. Instead, ride south on Hwy 1 (deserted in the early morning) to warm up and take Fort Ross Rd. (also steep) to get back on our loop.
There’s a chunk of the loop that makes a very sweet 20-mile out-and-back. Start at the top of the climb out of Hauser Bridge, ride to Ft. Ross Rd., descend the super-sweet 2.2 miles of new pavement on Ft. Ross, and return. This gives you about 15 miles of moderate up and down, plus a Best of the Best descent and a beautiful 2.2-mile climb, all on decent to great road surfaces.
Adding miles: You’re in the midst of lots of great riding here. Going back to the L we took onto Fort Ross Rd.: if you live for fast straight descents, or if you want to see some ocean, don’t take that L—go R onto Meyer’s Grade Rd. (staying on the Gran Fondo route) and get ready for the Meyer’s Grade descent to Hwy 1. It’s a rocketship ride remembered by everyone who does it (to 14% grade). It’s all open and in front of you, so you’ll see everything coming and any traffic will be apparent, and there’s a big run-out at the bottom, so it’s as safe as a 50-mph descent can be.
After the descent you will pay a price for coming this way. You’ll need to ride a substantial stretch of Hwy 1. This is as pretty a stretch of Hwy 1 as there is, and the road contour is amazing—it’s the stuff of TV automobile ads—but traffic is a hassle. As I recall, there is no shoulder. If dodging cars doesn’t bother you, it might be your favorite part of the ride (certainly the most dramatic). Ride Hwy 1 to Jenner, where you can take the Shoreline Hwy up the Russian River back through Duncans Mills and to your car (moderate traffic), or do what Levi’s does and continue on down the coast to our Coleman Valley Road route, then take the Bohemian Highway from Occidental back to your car.
The Tin Barn/Annapolis Rd. ride sits right to the north of your route and actually overlaps it for a few miles, from the Tin Barn fork to the intersection with Kruse Ranch Road.
From the end point of this ride you’re just down the road from the end point of the Sweetwater Springs Road ride.
See the Adding Miles sections of the Sweetwater Springs and Coleman Valley Road rides for more far-flung possibilities.
Afterthoughts: Water is an issue on this ride, as it’s all in relatively unpeopled areas after Cazadero. There is a water bib just after the climb out of the Hauser Bridge canyon, provided for you by the thoughtful monks of the Ratna Ling Retreat Center—watch for it in a dirt turn-out on your R, just before the unmissable main gate. Still, you might want to dig out your camelbak for this one.