Distance: 44 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4900 ft
This road goes by several names: the Maricopa Highway, the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway, and Highway 33. The road contour isn’t fascinating. It’s a “motorcycle road,” designed to be exciting at 60 mph but at 12 mph is fairly tame. This ride is mostly about the scenery and the solitude. It’s a remarkably isolated, stark, and rather grand high desert landscape, with varied and striking rock formations and large vistas, land that seems untouched by Man and so harsh that you understand why.
You can do this road several different ways. You could ride the entire road as an out and back, starting at Meiner’s Oaks on the outskirts of Ojai and turning around at the intersection with Lockwood Valley Rd., giving you a 70-mile day with about 8000 ft of vert—big but not undoable by any means. But the southern 13 miles, from Meiner’s Oaks to Rose Valley Rd., are a grind going up and not particularly exciting going down—by far the least rewarding miles on the road (about a mile north of Rose Valley Rd. there’s a small overlook where you can see several miles of what you’re in for). There’s one moment of interest, Wheeler Gorge, a small rock crevasse bisected by two tunnels, that you’ll be missing if you skip it. You could ride the entire road one way from south to north, which starts the ride with a 30-mile climb and leaves you with the problem of shuttling back to your car. You could ride the entire road one way from north to south—certainly better than south to north, because it minimizes the climbing and turns the southern 13 miles into a painless downhill—but you still have the shuttle problem. The best route is the way I’ve mapped it: start at the Ozena Fire Station just south of the Hwy 33/Lockwood Valley Rd. junction, ride to Rose Valley Rd. and turn around. This gives you all the good scenery, one good, short climb and one good short descent, and a lot of moderate rolling. And that’s why they pay me the big bucks. Of course this does leave you with the problem of how to get to the intersection of Hwy 33 and Lockwood Valley Rd, so the second best route is my route starting at the southern end, which involves you driving 13 miles from Ojai to Rose Valley Rd. and back. Every route has its own inconveniences.
About the ride itself, there is little to say. Park in the Ozena Fire Station parking lot. You begin with a brisk but not killer climb (1500 ft in 5 miles), so you may well want to warm up first by doing some flat miles on Lockwood Valley Rd. (for which, see Adding Miles below). Then it’s rollers, mostly gradually down, to the turn-around. The math says you’ll do 3400 ft gain in the return to the summit (in 17 miles), but it’s not as bad as it sounds.
You can’t get off the road, so navigation is effortless, and there are no services, quaint country stores, or historical markers along the route, so there’s nothing to be on the lookout for, except the scenery around you. Don’t miss the rock strata exposed by the cut at the very summit (see photo below). If you are through-riding from north to south, do a lot of looking over your shoulder on the climb to and at the summit—by far, the best vistas are behind you. As mentioned, a mile or so before Rose Valley Road there’s an informal pull-off spot with a stunning view of the next 10 miles of so of road (see photo)—it’s hard to miss.
I don’t want to oversell the scenic beauty here. We’re not talking Zion National Park or Bryce. This isn’t limestone, so it doesn’t sculpt, and the native plantlife is brushy scrub. Check the photos to see if it’s to your taste.
Be self-sufficient—there’s nothing out there but rock. When I did this ride I saw 3-4 cars. It can get windy out there, and the predominant wind direction is from the north, which can make for a slog getting back to the summit, so check the weather and ride early if a northerly is predicted.
Adding Miles: Lockwood Valley Rd., at your starting point, is a ride worth considering in its own right. For about the first 20 miles from the Maricopa Highway intersection, it’s a desolate, isolated road with a constantly changing contour through desert country of surprising interest. It’s primitive—the road surface is often poor, and there are several flash-flood gully crossings that are impassable after rains.