King’s Ridge

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 very unfriendly, but the entire route is well worth riding.

As is my method, I’m going to cut out the 30 miles of merely good riding and just tell you about the great stuff.  It’s all pretty, challenging riding.   Perks include redwoods, a classic woodsy village, and the opportunity to detour to an overnight on the coast.  As to Mapmyride’s elevation gain of 3920, good luck with that—my computer read 5860 ft vert at ride’s end.

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).  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 about 47 of the 50 miles.  That’s not the deal-breaker it sounds like, however.  Somehow the rough road surface becomes part of the adventure.

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.)

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 is a barely perceptible climb all the way, perfect for warming up, and a treat when you’re ending the ride and you’re exhausted.  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.

Along the top of the ridge

King’s Ridge. All photos by Brian

Cazadero is a hardware store, a church, a firehouse, and a general store.  Ride through Cazadero, make sure you go R at the Y just past town (there’s a very small sign pointing you the right way), 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.

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Along the top of the ridge

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 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 short climb or two, and a long descent back to King’s Ridge Rd. just north of Cazadero.  It is, in places, the prettiest scenery on the ride, and the descending would be an absolute hoot, a candidate for our Best Of the Best descents list, except the road surface is often wretched.  Some of the potholes are truly dangerous, with nasty, sharp edges.  But, if you make like a mountain biker and pick your route through the obstacles, there is fun to be had here.

Go R. on King’s Ridge, 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…”

Making it easier: This loop is a hard 50 miles, and you can’t cut it 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.

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If you detour to Meyers Grade, you get this

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.  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.  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—you remember, you passed the Tin Barn turn-off just before Hauser Bridge.

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.

11 thoughts on “King’s Ridge

  1. Jonathan P

    An incredible ride to round out a week riding in/around Napa.
    Jay – we followed your wise tips/advice religiously throughout the week. Thanks for a great site.

    Reply
  2. jjvc

    There is a drinking fountain on the King Ridge route. It is at the Ratna Ling Retreat Center on Hauser Bridge Road. The center installed it just for cyclists, and there is also a bike rack. It comes just when you really need it.

    Reply
  3. joe

    A couple of notes from riding this today:

    – Ratna Ling water is awesome. I donated to them via their website to say thank you. I went through about 2.5 L of water before getting there ( I did, in fact, break out the camelbak).

    – Austin Creek Road has signs that it is closed, but it is just a washout of the pavement for about 20 feet. It is no problem for a bicycle or pedestrian to get through. That may change in the rainy season, but I doubt it. Austin Creek Road itself is patched all over the place, but there weren’t any really dangerous potholes or obstacles. A little bit cyclocross/bumpy, but I thought it was worth it to avoid cars.

    – I missed that second turn to stay on Fort Ross Road, and went on to Myers Grade Road inadvertently. So that might be a turn to check out on Google Street View before you head out. Maybe it was just me and not the signage, I was pretty tired by that point. Highway one does not in fact have a shoulder (except in a few interspersed places), although on a Friday, going south, there was not that much traffic and I wasn’t too bothered. Also going downhill for a lot of it so you’re going at almost the same speed is traffic. And it’s only 6 miles to Jenner/116, And 116 going inland has a pretty good shoulder. Highway one on a Sunday, when everyone is going back to San Francisco might be different.

    Reply
  4. Joseph Morris

    Hauser bridge is being replaced and will be out for several weekends in August/Sept 2017—see http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/TPW/Roads/Projects/Hauser-Bridge-Replacement/.

    In what is apparently my annual King Ridge ride (actually semi-annual, I also did it on a rainy day in January—not recommended), I did this in reverse last week.

    I again used 116/River Road to Hwy 1, then up Meyer’s grade to make it a full loop rather than lollipop. Going in reverse means going through Duncan’s Mills first, where I stopped to get pastries at Gold Coast. They are four bucks apiece, which seemed pretty expensive at the time, but they’re big and delicious. Let me tell you, a long grinding climb up Hauser Bridge Road with intermittent bites of a butterhorn pastry is a lot better than a long grinding climb up Hauser Bridge Road by itself. Whether it is pastries or something else, in addition to water, don’t forget to bring enough food on this one. I went through two pastries, two sandwiches, and a box of M&Ms.

    The downside of going in reverse is that you load up on water at Ratna Ling and then do the big climb out of Hauser Bridge. The climb out of there was so steep in that direction I had to walk, and I’m not normally a walker. However, it’s not all that long of a climb. I used about two liters of water from Ratna Ling to Monte Rio.

    Lots of blackberries in August and September. If you wanted to make this a berry-picking tour, you could probably bring a container and make a pretty serious amount of jam when you get home.

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      The terrors of the climb up from Hauser Bridge in this direction are chronicled in the Tin Barn/Annapolis ride. The climb up from the bridge is much easier in the other direction (east to west).

      Reply
  5. Kathryn

    My favorite ride so far (only ~10 total, with 1 from top 10 tried), we caught it on a cool mid September day, so climbing was almost a joy and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of shelter.

    Just wanted to second the warning for the Fort Ross, Meyer’s Grade turn off—we also missed it and my riding buddy is a very good navigator.

    Reply
  6. David

    Living in the Bay Area, I’ve been working my way through Jay’s local rides. I rode King’s Ridge on June 16, 2019. I have to agree with Jay that it isn’t at the top of the best-of-the-bay list (Mt. Tam, Mt. Diablo, Mt. Hamilton, Pescadero/Tunitas are all better). Road conditions have changed a bit from Jay’s description due to the heavy rains as well as some resurfacing work:

    – KIng’s Ridge had 4 or 5 spots, all marked, with moderate to severe partial wash outs, mostly in the climbs. It doesn’t affect the ride much as they are readily passable and you are climbing, but some spots are on double-digit grades and the scattered loose gravel and silt make for poor traction. I had to stay seated to avoid wheel spin. I wouldn’t want to be doing the loop clockwise, and hope they repair the road before Levi’s Grand Fondo. I’d rate the road surface as poor to wretched for the moment. Once you get to the rollers, the road is generally as Jay described.

    – Hauser Bridge Road appears to have been patched recently (fairly smooth, not lumpy) down to the bridge. I went slow, based on Bestrides description, waiting for nasty road, but it never appeared. I still wouldn’t bomb the descent. The climb after the bridge isn’t patched.

    – Fort Ross Rd from the Meyer’s Grade turnoff has been completely resurfaced for the first three miles! Fantastic descent. Sight lines aren’t great, so beware the traffic. I didn’t meet any cars on those three miles and it was by far the best 3 miles of the ride. The next 7 miles back to Cazadero are as rough as Jay described.

    I took my rim brake road bike, and found the whole affair pretty jarring. I’d recommend doing this route with bigger tires, maybe a gravel bike, and definitely with disc brakes.

    Reply
  7. Richard Foster

    I did the standard lollipop version of this ride last summer, 2018 (51.42 miles, 5894 elevation gain). This summer (2019) I just did the loop variant starting and ending on highway 1 just north of Jenner at a nature preserve parking lot: 50.67 miles, 5266 elevation gain.

    I prefer the loop variant. The last descent down to highway 1 is spectacular! Epic views of the California coast. No traffic. good road condition. Wide-open dive bomb the whole way. Once back on Hwy 1, there was a bit of traffic but the road is so winding and downhill you can almost match the pace of traffic, and you’re only on highway 1 for a couple/few fast miles. I personally didn’t find it sketchy, and I’m paranoid of cars.

    In 2018, I found the lollipop section that looped back to Cazadero very rough with lots of climbing, and there might of been views but I don’t remember them. It felt like that section was more of the same, whereas the descent to Jenner this year really offers a whole ride within the ride. Same distance, a few hundred feet less (redundant) climbing. And, I just like loops better than lollipops.

    Regarding water, I was dangerously low (completely out) this year and didn’t know about the zen center water source. I actually looked closely as I rode by but didn’t see anything. I was almost in ‘knock on doors’ mode, but then rolled past the Timber Cover Fire Station. Nobody was home, but they had a spicket on the front of the firehouse. I was able to refill.

    I was on a road bike, but this ride almost requires a gravel bike. As of summer 2019, at least 10 large wash-outs, countless potholes and loose gravel sections. Several cattle gates. Parts of King Ridge Road are barely more than a gravel driveway. In short, it’s awesome!

    Reply
  8. Jeremy

    Classic ride—thanks for documenting. And yes, the Meyers Grade detour definitely worth it, and the Hwy 1 section to Jenner is fine on a weekday/off-season.

    Sorry to be pedantic, but I believe the correct name is “King Ridge,” not “King’s” (it’s a royal ridge, rather than the ridge owned by the King! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Pedantry is always welcome. The world seems to be going with the non-apostrophical form of the road’s name, but I can’t be bothered to spend the hour it would take to rewrite the code for the post to match. And shouldn’t that be “Meyers’s Grade”?

      Reply
  9. Fred Gibson

    There’s a sign that King Ridge is closed for road repairs (landslide).
    Not sure if a bike can get through (11/19).

    Reply

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