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

(Note: As the notes sent in by readers make clear, this road always seems to be going through a lot of trauma as a result of fires and weather.  Its current rideability is always hard to determine.  See for the latest road conditions.)

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.

(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.  RidewithGPS says 5800 ft gain.

Valley of the giant oaks

Valley of the giant oaks

It’s impossible to get lost once you’re on Nacimiento-Fergusson (“birth-Fergusson” in English) 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).

Shortening the route: Obviously I hate to give up any of it, but if you must, it’s just a matter of choosing what sort of riding you want—flat oak meadow, mild creekside climbing/descending, serious climbing/descending to/from a summit, or hairy descent/ascent to/from the sea.

Adding miles:  I’m not a fan of riding Hwy 1, because of the traffic, but the section to the north and south of N-F might not be bad, since you’re a long way from the more popular stretches near Big Sur and San Luis Obispo.

At the Hunter Liggett end the nearby 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 highly regarded by gravel bike riders.

Forty miles away is our Shirtail Canyon Road ride.

28 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.

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    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.

      1. Ian

        Re: temperature differentials: it depends on the time of year. In summer, the top of the road will be hotter while in the winter the areas closer to the ocean will be warmer. April is probably the perfect time to do it.

  4. 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!

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

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

  5. 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.

    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.

      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.

  6. Anonymous

    From the top it’s possible to get to the Cone Peak trailhead on a gravel bike. It’s a great road and adds about another 1500 feet of climbing. There were no cars at all on that stretch.

  7. David

    I rode the full Nacimiento-Fergusson Road out and back from the Fort Hunter-LIggett to the Coast on June 29. Hot day inland—around 94F inland, 80 at the coast. Absolutely fantastic ride, though I would choose a cooler day if possible. The traffic was light going toward the coast but from the summit to the Hwy 1 and back to the summit there were several dozen cars each way, including RVs that had no business on such a narrow road. Absolutely stunning views descending to 1—it would be an epic descent, but I had to take it slow due to the traffic. Didn’t bother me much as I stopped to take in the views often.

    The section from the summit to Hwy 1 had recently been maintained. The vegetation had been cut back, the roadway cleared of gravel and rocks, and the most of the potholes patched. I even passed a crew on lunch break patching a few sections, so couldn’t complain about the road conditions other than the vehicles.

    With the temps ranging from high 70s to 90s during the ride, the lack of any available water was a bummer, and I absolutely had to rely on the kindness of strangers. If I had done the ride in reverse, there is water and beverages available if you can get onto Fort Hunter Liggett.

    There is at least one more option for housing. In addition to the Hacienda, Fort Hunter Liggett has an IHG operated hotel on the military base that is open to the public (same hotel group that operates Intercontinental and Holiday Inn). It is a basic hotel, and costs about $100 a night, but it is clean, quiet, well operated, and VERY safe (I had no doubt I could leave my bike out and not have it stolen). I checked in 8pm the night before my ride, had an included breakfast (with as much carbs and protein as I could put down), and access to showers after my ride the next day at the fort gym, even after I checked out. If you are a veteran or otherwise affiliated with the military, there are discounts. Note, they do a background check before letting you on the base.

  8. Susan Killebrew

    Just returned from an amazing 3-day bike adventure with my friends. Our first night we stayed at the Hacienda at Fort Hunter Liggett and then rode Nacimiento Fergusson the next morning. It was pretty much the most beautiful ride I have ever done.

    I checked the websites for the campgrounds along the route and saw that there was potable water available at the Ponderosa campground, which is about halfway between the mission and the coast. Sure enough, there was water, and we filled our bottles on the way to the coast and on the way back. Don’t know if there is always water there, but it’s worth checking.

    Other delightful rides we did on the trip were San Juan Canyon Road in San Juan Bautista and Peachy Canyon Road in Paso Robles, both in Bestrides. Thanks, Jay!!!

  9. Joel

    8/15/19: My wife and I rode out and back from the Mission to 1/2 way down the steep grade to Hwy 1 yesterday. The few motorists and motorcycle riders out were all friendly. There were only a few campers at the various campgrounds. There were two hot spots smouldering on Ft. Hunter Ligget from a recent wildfire. I guess access thru the fort had been closed while the fire was active, but it’s open now. It is amazingly isolated so happily carried extra water and bike emergency kits. Next time I’ll pack a lunch and we’ll go to Kirk Campground.

  10. James Thurber

    Be on the lookout for mountain lions. Twice I’ve seen ’em on the road, both times on the Hunter Liggett base proper. The custodian of the San Antonio Mission sees them all the time.

    Take time to visit the Mission. It’s amazing and was restored by the Hearst Family in the 1940’s when it was in near ruin.

    Doing this ride starting from San Jose (two days) is wonderful. Take McKean/Uvas Canyon Road down to Highway 152 and turn left, head into Gilroy. After a 1/2 mile stretch on Highway 101 you’ll exit on Highway 25 and proceed south into Hollister. Snag lunch and continue south on Highway 25. You’ll pass Pinnacles National Park and eventually go right on the road marked G-13, which takes you into King City. There’s a very nice Motel 6 in King City (if that’s possible) and the next day head down Jolan Road into Hunter Liggett.

  11. Nibbles

    I regret to inform the forum that the road is significantly and terribly damaged, and much of the scenery lost to fire. I rode it a couple of weeks back, and pretty much the entire stretch beyond military base now is like a war zone. Gone are the green canopies, with only ashes remaining. Besides the obvious loss to the scenery and charisma of the ride, it is now actually quite dangerous, since the whole road is covered with thick debris from the landslides after last summer’s fires. In fact the narrow corners seemed to have the worst detritus. The west descent, which was tricky in the best of conditions, is now positively treacherous, while the east side downhill, once a best of the best, now can only be maneuvered by completely stopping and getting off the bike on the narrowest bends.

  12. Alec Sharp

    I road this from Hwy 1 to the top of the climb and back down on June 1, 2021, so can’t comment on the Hunter Liggett side. However, I thought the big climb was great. There has been some repair work about 4.1 miles from the bottom, so I was riding on asphalt the whole way. There was some sand on the road on the upper 2.5 miles so I had to be careful cornering on the way down. Cars would have gotten rid of the sand pretty quickly, but on the other hand it was wonderfully peaceful with no cars. I loved it, the calm and the beautiful scenery.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      The NFR descent begins c. 30:30 into the video. The rest is gravel riding the ridge road etc.

  13. Aaron

    Thanks so much for putting this site together—SUPER useful! Here’s an updated (12/12) trip report on NFR: The road is still closed to cars but there is a sign for hikers to use the very beginning to connect to a trail. I went on a weekday evening and only saw one mountain biker descending. It was super cool having the road to myself. The road itself had lots of sand/rocks/debris but is definitely ridable. Be sure to check the weather—it got extremely foggy, which cut visibility and made for a very slow descent.

  14. charlie

    Rode N-F on March 30, 2022. Absolutely beautiful. The road was blocked to cars but not to bicycles. One closed gate was just east of Nacimiento Campground. The other was at highway 1. Both were easy to skirt on bikes. We spoke with a Forest Service rep who assured us this is perfectly legal. We saw just a couple of cars. Current projection is for the road to remain closed until December 2023.

    We were doing a big loop up Hwy 1, so the lovely people at Mission San Antonio de Padua invited us to leave our car in their parking lot. If you do this, I recommend (1) letting them know your travel plans and (2) leaving them as generous a donation as you can. And if you’ll get there after they close, call ahead to let them know. They are truly kind and will worry about you if you don’t leave your info. ( They also rent rooms in the mission for $60/person/night.

  15. drewster

    Rode early April and can say that the road is in great shape – limited choppiness and mostly cleared of debris. There were some road crew folks out that were really friendly as we passed by.

    About parking:

    Note that Google Maps shows Fort Hunter Liggett as just a small area, but in actuality it extends quite a distance into the ride if you were hoping to just park your car roadside and not get in any trouble. For the early birds – if you’re hoping to drop the car at the mission, the gates are closed until 10 most days from what we could tell. Next time I’m in the area, I’ll definitely look into Charlie’s call-out of just staying at the mission – would have helped get us out on the road earlier and avoid the heat!

  16. Gabriel Wihtol

    I rode the entire thing on June 20th, 2022. Excellent road conditions although watch out for dirt and rocks. Totally doable on a road bike with thin tires. Certainly one of the best rides in the region. A gate on both ends means it is closed to cars but perfectly legal for bikes to ride on. I called the forest service to verify this.

  17. Dan S

    Thanks for this blog, Jay—west coast cyclists owe you a deep sense of gratitude. Confirming Charlie’s and Aaron’s comments above, the road is open to bikes but not to cars. I’ve ridden the closed-to-cars section from Hwy 1 to Nacimiento Campground a couple of times the last few months. In April on a weekday I did see a couple of friendly forest service trucks driving the road and even a construction crew with street sweepers—it’s a heavenly ride without the cars and I think April is the best time for this ride too.
    Recently (7/16/22), there was much more debris and rocks on the road. It’s mainly on the top half of the coast side section with some very rocky areas as well as all the east with a lot of twigs and bark. So you have to ride pretty cautiously. But the lower half of the descent to the coast is relatively clean and without the cars you can carve both “lanes” to help maintain your speed, making for one hell of a descent.

  18. Derek G

    Feb 3, 2023: I just talked with the information assistant at the Monterey District Ranger office, and Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd is closed even to bikes due to a general Forest Closure in the Monterey Distict of Los Padres National Forest ( When the closure order is lifted (projected to be in mid-March, but could be sooner or later), bikes will be allowed on Nacimento-Ferguson Rd again (but not cars)

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      This closure, like many others in California, is a result of the heavy rains in January 2023. jr


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