Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

Distance: 53 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4720 ft

( A Best of the Best ride)

This route is covered thoroughly in words and pictures at toughascent.com.

This is the best ride in California and Oregon.  It’s a long way from anywhere, so you’re going to have to go out of your way to get to it, and it goes from the middle of nowhere to a blank spot on Hwy 1.  This is all to your advantage, because it means you’ll pretty much have the road to yourself (see update below).

It’s one of those rides where you just ride the road, from its start to its finish, then ride back.  In the process you’ll ride through four distinct ecosystems and experience four distinct kinds of riding, each a perfect example of its type: first, easy rollers through a valley full of golden grass and magnificent oaks, then gentle climbing along a pretty creek as it ascends a small riparian canyon, then vigorous climbing as you leave the creek and ascend to a saddle through oak forest, and finally a steep plunge down a steep, twisting road to Hwy 1 with views of the sea and coastline that are simply astonishing.  The riding on the return is different but just as wonderful: a challenging 7-mile climb up from the ocean, a flat-out slaloming descent, an easy roll along the creek, and finally the oaken valley.  It’s all just perfect—you’ll swear Disney built the course.

Update 5/17:  Highway 1 is currently closed north and south of NFR thanks to the failure of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and two large mudslides.  NFR is now the only route to the stretch of Hwy 1 south of Big Sur.  Expect car traffic on Nacimiento-Fergusson to be elevated for the next several months to a year.



(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 ride is not terrifically hard—all the nasty is in the 7-mile climb up from the beach—but as always don’t trust Mapmyride’s rosy elevation gain.  My computer racked 5600 ft vert.

Valley of the giant oaks

Valley of the giant oaks

It’s impossible to get lost once you’re on Nacimiento-Fergusson itself, but finding it is a bit of a challenge.   Drive to Fort Hunter Liggett near King City.  It’s a large, functioning army base no one’s ever heard of.  If you ask directions, show the locals you’re cool by pronouncing Jolon Rd. “ho-LOAN.”

Once you turn onto the base, you’ll pass an unmanned gate of sorts on the outskirts and drive for a few miles through open country with little signs of life.  As you approach the base complex, about a mile before the fort main gate the road makes a sweeping curve to the R, and on the outside bend of that curve, on your L, is a small road that immediately crosses a metal bridge.  That’s your road.  There is no sign reading “Nacimiento-Fergusson,” but a sign reads (among other things) “State Route 1” with an arrow.  (Once you begin riding, the road is clearly signed “Nacimiento-Fergusson” in the first 1/2-mile and whenever necessary thereafter.)

Riparian woods

Riparian woods

DO NOT PARK AT THE INTERSECTION or anywhere else along the roads—this is a military base, after all.  Drive on,  pass the front gate to the fort on your R, pass the huge, gleaming white Hacienda on your R, and come to an intersection of (counting the one you’re on) no less than 6 roads.  In front of you is a narrow fork with a sign between them reading “Mission San Antonio.”  Take the fork to the L of the sign, drive to the mission (it’s barely visible from the intersection), and park there.   It’s a real, functioning Spanish mission, Mission San Antonio de Padua, with plenty of parking.  The mission itself is worth checking out.  There is some interesting history here.

The creek

The creek

Ride back to that road with the bridge and take it.  After a short up and down, you’re looking at a few easy warm-up miles through a grassy valley dotted with magnificent old oak trees.   You can see the draw you’ll soon be climbing ahead of you.  Then you climb peacefully along the creek at a constantly varying 0-4% through a pretty riparian woodland of sycamores, yellow penstemon, ceanothus, and California’s state plant, poison oak, until you cross the creek on a small bridge and the road tilts obviously up.  The new climb is moderate of pitch and serpentining without interruption and ends at an abrupt, razor-sharp summit—you can almost stand with one foot on each watershed.

Climb to the summit

Climb to the summit (looking back down)

This ride is in our list of Best Descents, but not for what’s about to come—the drop to the ocean is so steep and the curves are so tight that you’ll be constantly braking, the road has a lot of loose rock, marble to softball size, so you have to go cautiously, and the sight lines are terrible so you can’t see cars coming.  But the vistas are bucket-list so you don’t want to skip it.  The entire Pacific Ocean is laid out before you.

The climb from the ocean: seven miles of this

Halfway down the 7-mile descent to the ocean, looking back up

At the bottom you’re on as isolated a stretch of Hwy 1 as there is, but there’s a tiny jewel of a campground called the Kirk Creek Campground, thank god.  There’s a good bathroom but no water source, so I always just ask one of the campers for a couple of bottles’ worth, which they’re always happy to give.  One time the campground host bawled me out for eating a sandwich at one of the picnic tables without paying the day use fee, but I think it was an aberration.

First sighting of Hwy 1 (photo by Don)

The 7 miles back to the saddle is a truly challenging climb, especially in the first 2-3 miles, which has a lot of 8-10%.  After that it mellows out.  It is also mostly in full sun and typically very hot later in the day.  But of course you can always lose yourself in the scenery.  Past the saddle is one of my favorite descents and the reason why the ride is in the Best Descents list—long, smooth, never straight, with wide, cambered curves you can take at speed and frequently good sight lines.  Then it’s back along the creek and through the valley and back to your car for some serious gratitude for a universe that gives you such things as this ride.

Afterthoughts: I always drive to and from the ride, but if you want to stay in the area you’ve got a few options (other than King City 15 minutes away, which is a valley ag town without merit).  You can stay at Kirk Creek Campground and do the ride backwards.  There are at least two small, pretty campgrounds along the ride route, between the military land and the summit.  And there is the afore-mentioned  Hacienda, a complex designed in 1930 by the famous Julia Morgan for William Randolph Hearst that sits on the military base and rents rooms to civilians (thanks, Patricia).

Adding miles: There is nothing good nearby.  You can do some Hwy 1 in either direction from the campground, but I wouldn’t.  At the Hunter Liggett end the riding is flat, hot, and boring in all directions.  At the ridge summit you cross a dirt road called the Coast Ridge Road that is reputed to be nice riding if you’re on your mountain bike, but why would that be?

Forty miles away (hey, I’m desperate) is the road into Pinnacles National Park—Hwy 146, sometimes labeled Shirttail Canyon Rd (there is no road sign at the intersection).  It’s a ride worth doing if you’re nearby.  It climbs steadily out of the valley into the foothills for 7 miles to the Park Visitor Center at pitches ranging from 6% to the occasional 13%—2000 ft. gain in 7 miles, so you’ll work—then it drops precipitously for 2 miles to the trailhead parking lot.  Skip those last two miles unless you want to do some serious climbing or you want to hike some trails.  The 7-mile return ride is the reason for coming, a roller coaster that will have you whooping and hollaring as you touch 35+ mph through the esses.   The landscape is fairly bland, so I wouldn’t do it for the scenery, but the road is varied of contour and pleasingly narrow, and the traffic is absurdly light for a road into a National Park—I’ve done it 6 times and seen an average of 2-3 cars in the 7 miles each time (always on weekdays).

12 thoughts on “Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

  1. densely

    Be prepared for temperature changes on this ride. I’ve been on it when it was 55 degrees and overcast at the coast, we rode up through the clouds, and it was 100 degrees when we broke out into the sunshine and wildflowers near the top.

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Good point, and true of any ride that leaves the coast and climbs. I remember riding up from Fairfax to the ridge on the way to Mt. Tam in 90-degree weather and meeting a rider who had come up from the coast side, and he was wearing a down jacket and looking bewildered.

      Reply
  2. patcresmar

    Has anybody done the ride in two days: biked to the campground, spent the night and went back up to the car? I have never done 100 miles, but this looks so beautiful I want to find a way to do it. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Don’t see any reason why you couldn’t, but you’d want reservations at the campground, since it’s small and popular. There’s no water source there——not that some kind camper wouldn’t give you some. And about those 100 miles: you do see that the ride is 50 miles *round trip*, right? I always ride out and back in a day——totally doable.

      Reply
  3. patcresmar

    Oh, that’s right: it’s 50 miles total. I read that too quickly. It’s on my list for March, then. Can’t wait! Thanks so much for your reply.

    Reply
  4. patcresmar

    What a fantastic ride! Just did it, on a clear day with hardly any temperature contrast. Just mild and sunny everywhere. I am staying at Fort Hunter Ligett, since I don’t have the stamina to drive to the road, do it and get out. For anybody reading this–do it! The climb up and the slalom down is not worse than Page Mill, and the drivers are quite polite for the most part. The road is wider than you’d expect, too.

    A beautiful ride not to be missed. And you get to see a Mission, too. It’s a road biker’s dream ride.

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      I just did it, on a mild April day, and the temp was about the same at the summit and at the ocean.

      Reply
  5. patcresmar

    Also–there are a couple of campgrounds with restrooms along the way. Ponderosa is the first, soon after you enter Los Padres NP. You don’t need to crouch behind a tree!

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      There’s also a ranger station right by the summit, where I imagine you could beg water.

      Reply
  6. patrickmccorry

    This ride exceeded our already high expectations. Thank you, Jack, and we hope to do the ride again soon. No water on the route at the moment, but we bummed a few water bottles from a friendly park ranger at the summit. Best ride I’ve ever done.

    Reply
    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Rides where water resupplies depend on campground campers, like this one, get dicey late in the year, when the campgrounds are often deserted or shut.

      Reply
      1. patrickmccorry

        Yep, the campgrounds are shut down because of the fires north of there at the moment, but the ranger told us they’re hoping to re-open soon.

        Reply

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