Distance: 21 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2440 ft
I love this road. It’s loaded with character, and will charm you, I promise. It’s pretty easy, given the stated elevation gain, and it’s paralleled by a much more car-friendly road, Dry Creek Road (more on that later), that goes to the same place, so it’s almost car-free. Why can’t all cycling roads be set up like that?
Mt. Veeder Rd. is a text-book two-hour ride: a straight climb-summit-descent, then return. The landscape is varied, always beautiful, and often unmarked by Man, and the road contour is ever-changing. It’s a perfect ride, except for the Sonoma County Curse, which I discuss in every write-up of a ride in this region: the road surface varies from pretty good to terrible. If you’ve been riding in Sonoma County, you’re used to it. But do not despair—80% of the broken surface is in the climbing lane (where it isn’t a problem at 6 mph), so the descent return can be taken at speed, and it’s a hoot—my favorite descent in the Wine Country. Keep looking ahead and you can find a clean line through the pavement breaks—it becomes a game.
By the way, names are misleading here. You are not climbing a mountain, and, despite the fact that you begin on Redwood Road and follow Redwood Creek for miles, these are not redwood forests. You’ll see more deer than redwoods.
(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.)
Park where Redwood Road leaves houses, makes a sharp R-hand turn, and enters unbroken woods. There’s a dirt turn-out there. You don’t need to warm up on flat roads—the ride begins with 6 miles of effortless, might-as-well-be-flat climbing. These first miles are the most densely wooded, so appreciate the scenery. You ride along Redwood Creek, a pretty, heavily canopied stream. Soon Redwood Rd. goes L, and the road straight ahead becomes Mount Veeder Rd (it’s all signed), and the pristine road surface goes L with Redwood Rd., whose denizens apparently have an in with the paving department. You’ll see numbers painted on the road—1100, 1200—which for a long time I thought were elevation markers, but I think they’re street addresses. The pitch goes to noticeable, then gets serious for the last mile or so before the summit—it’s noticeably work but nothing more.
At the summit, a number of things happen: 1) you reach the intersection of Mt. Veeder and Lokoya Rd to the L; 2) you get the first of 3-4 nice vistas of the land to the north, the only views on the ride; 3) the pavement gets noticeably worse; 4) you enter an area damaged by the Tubbs Fire, which burned 2800 homes in Santa Rosa in October of 2017, though it’s still pretty; and 5) you do not descent yet—you roll up and down for 2+ very pleasant miles, if the pavement doesn’t drive you nuts. At 8.5 miles the real descent begins, and you drop for 2 miles, all the way to the T at Dry Creek Road.
This descent would be marvelous if it weren’t for (wait for it) the pavement, which is broken enough to put a serious damper on your fun. As it is, it has lovely moments and the scenery is gorgeous.
At this point you have a route choice: ride back on Mt. Veeder, or turn R and ride the half-mile to Dry Creek Road (not the famous Wine Trail road out of Healdsburg—this is another DCR) and ride it back to Redwood Road. Both are very good options, and most local riders do the loop route.
Here’s how to make up your mind: DCR has a better road surface (though not great–this is Sonoma County), has a much gentler pitch, and is wider, straighter, more open (sunnier), and much more developed. And it eliminates the 2-mile climb at the start of the Veeder return ride. As a result of all this, it’s easier, gentler, and less dramatic. It can be pretty, in a manicured sort of way, but not as pretty as MV. Do it if you’re ready to relax on the ride home. The Mt. Veeder return is dramatic, exciting, and dodgy. Do it if you want to whoop and holler, and work a bit. I take the one that suits my mood on the day. I’ve mapped the ride as an out and back, because the MV descent must be experienced at least once.
When I first started doing this ride, it was practically wilderness. Like the rest of California, it’s being gentrified. The million-dollar gates are moving in. There’s one place up there that looks like it was helicoptered in from Vegas. But it’s still a very cool place.
Shortening the route: Ride to the summit and turn around.
Adding miles: If you turn the other way at the end of Mt. Veeder Rd and go L onto Dry Creek Rd, it will soon turn into Trinity Grade, a classic little up-and-down across a ridge separating Napa County from Sonoma County. It’s steep, twisty, and scenic, but the road surface is horrid even by Sonoma County standards, and there is no room for you and cars. It’s not as trafficked as one of the major arteries, because it connects two very small communities, but you won’t be alone.
If you go R at the Veeder/Dry Creek Rd intersection, then go straight instead of R again at the next intersection, you’re on Oakville Grade, a short stretch of road famous for its steepness. I haven’t ridden it.
Check out the route for the Tour of the Napa Valley (see below) for lots of good but not great riding on the east side of the valley.
Afterthoughts: This road is part of the Tour of the Napa Valley, a century with good folks, good food, good roads, and a great attitude. On the century, as you approach the summit of Mt. Veeder Rd, you hear bagpipes. The music is live and coming from the summit, and it’s meant to lift your flagging spirits. Boy, does it work. One of the great century perks of all time.