Distance: 46-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2083 ft
This may be the prettiest wooded ride, mile for mile, in California. And it has the selling point of starting and ending in downtown Mendocino, one of my favorite places. It climbs and descents up and over a summit among simply perfect piney woods, passes a classic country store, descends gradually along the Navarro River and its stunning raparian redwoods, and ends with a pretty but trafficky leg on Hwy 1 that’s thick with lovely, charming inns and one State Park to stop and explore. The road surface is glass, except on Flynn Creek Road, where it’s only OK. It rides equally well in both directions—see Afterthoughts for the comparative virtues of the two routes. I’ve arbitrarily picked the clockwise route to describe.
(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.)
Ride out of town heading south on Hwy 1. You immediately cross a large bridge over Big River and turn L on Comptche Ukiah Rd. You soon climb moderately up into perfect conifer forest, over a summit, and down a stunning descent into Comptche, an intersection with a few houses and a pleasant little grocery store for resupplying. The gas pumps used to sell “Arab Gold” gasoline, but I guess the issue got too touchy because it’s just “Road Gold” gas now.
Turn R on Flynn Creek Rd (the only other road in Comptche), which is a notch less gorgeous than Comptche Ukiah but still very good. In this direction it’s a fairly big climb, then mostly descending. It dead-ends on Hwy 128. Turn right on 128 and ride to Hwy 1, where it dead-ends.
There is simply nothing like the 12 miles you are about to ride. Take your time—you’re riding through some of the best redwoods accessible to bikes. They aren’t as big as the old-growth trees of the Avenue of the Giants, but I like them better, because the sunlight illuminates them in a way the old-growth trees can’t match. Hwy 128 is surprisingly untrafficked for a “major” highway, and, though there’s no shoulder, the two lanes are wide enough that vehicles can pass comfortably while you hug the fog line.
At Hwy 1, turn R and ride 10 miles of Hwy 1 back to Mendocino. This stretch of Hwy 1 is busy, often narrow and without shoulder, and not at all flat (you’ll climb 850 ft in those 10 miles), but it’s standard Hwy 1 gorgeous so you won’t mind. This stretch of road is lined with interesting places worth exploring: in the order in which you’ll encounter them, 1) Albion River Inn, 2) Heritage House, 3) Little River Inn, and 4) Van Damme State Park (good beach walking and kayaking on your L, good fern canyon hiking on your R).
Adding miles: As much as I love Mendocino, the options for good riding in the area are few—there’s Hwy 1, which I avoid, and a very few roads heading east from 1. From Comptche you can continue up the Ukiah Rd. as far as you like, all the way to Ukiah if you’re of a mind (33 more miles). The road would be a world-class ride—constantly serpentining and gorgeous—were it not for the road surface. It’s glass for 8 miles beyond Comptche—then the rest of it varies from bad to ghastly. To me it’s unrideable, especially downhill. In the interests of full disclosure I must add that it offers the two splendid perks of Orr Hot Springs, a unique and charming spot, and Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve, a fine stand of old-growth redwoods.
You can continue east on Hwy 128 all the way to Boonville—the road stays a gorgeous gradual ascent all the way. See the Mountain View Road ride for possibilities in the Boonville area.
Thirty minutes up Hwy 1 is the Branscomb Road ride.
An alternative to the first half of the Comptche Ukiah Rd. climb is Little River Rd., which takes off from Hwy 1 2.5 miles further south and roughly parallels CUR for a while before joining it. I mention it only because if you’re studying the map you can’t help but wonder about it. It has a nice contour, but the road surface is pretty much hell—the lower half is rough chipseal and the upper half is often comically terrible. But there is that indefinable cachet of knowing you’re on the backroad alternative to what everyone else is riding.
A ride with an altogether different flavor is the Old Haul Road, an abandoned road, now multi-use path, among the sand dunes heading north from the northern border of Fort Bragg. Beginning at the Pudding Creek trestle, it goes to about a mile north of MacKerricker State Park, where it disappears into the dunes and reappears after a few miles and ends at Ten-Mile Beach. It’s a short ride (maybe 6 miles) and the road surface is often poor—too poor for road bikes—but it has a definite surf-and-history cachet and offers great access to relatively deserted beaches. I do it on fat tires.
The Jackson Demonstration Forest to the immediate east of Mendocino has a nice warren of dirt logging roads and singletrack that cries out for mountain biking. There’s a MTB map and guidebook in local stores.
In case you get a hankering to ride Hwy 20 between Fort Bragg and Willits, don’t—it’s a deadtrap. Staggeringly beautiful forests, but absolutely no room, no visibility, and lots of traffic in a hurry. I’ve driven it 50+ times and never seen a bike on it, for good reason.
Afterthoughts: Like all northern coastal areas, Mendocino is foggy and drippy, and the road to Comptche is largely in deep shadow, so wait for dry conditions or prepare for drizzle. It won’t be an issue if you’re riding clockwise (see below). From Comptche on, the route is dry. The Hwy 128 redwoods look their best when the sun is not directly overhead, so you’ll maximize the gorgeousness if you ride earlier or later in the day. If at all possible, do the ride on a weekday to minimize the Hwy 128 traffic problem.
This route works just as well counterclockwise. In fact this is the only route in Bestrides where I’m torn about which way to go. Pluses to going counterclockwise: 1) you get to do Hwy 128 early in the day, to beat the traffic; 2) you get to do Hwy 1 early in the day, to beat the traffic; 3) you get to ride Hwy 128 uphill, an almost imperceptible 2% that slows you down for better scenery gawking without making you work; 4) you do the serious climbing later, when you’re warmed up; 5) you typically get a tailwind on Hwy 1, and 6) you end with a descent instead of 10 tense, tiring miles on Hwy 1. Pluses to going clockwise: 1) you get a splendid long descent—if you ride to descend, go this way; 2) The climbing is less intense—if you ride to avoid climbing, go this way. The climb out of Comptche going counterclockwise is substantial.
Finding affordable lodging in Mendocino is an art. Ft. Bragg, eight scenic miles to the north, has standard motel accommodations at reasonable prices. Lodging in Mendocino proper tends toward expensive B and B’s in Victorian farmhouses. If you want to splurge, rent a house from Mendocino Coast Reservations. My secret spot is Alegria, a not-cheap but joyful, friendly, and unaffectedly luxurious B and B in downtown Mendocino with great deals if you come in the off-season. Tell Eric I sent you.