Distance: 20 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1770 ft
This ride is one of a trio of East Bay rides that are similar in general contour: Palomares, Calaveras Road, and Morgan Territory Road. They’re all about-five-mile climbs, at first gentle, then moderate, up through pretty wooded canyons along creeks. To tell them apart: Palomares is the simplest and has the most domesticated ambiance; Calaveras is the easiest (though none is Mt. Diablo hard), has no backside descent, has the best open hillside views, is the only one of the three that has great riding contiguous to it, and is ridable only on weekends (because of car traffic); and Morgan Territory has the roughest and narrowest pavement, the best isolation, and the best backside descent. Morgan Territory’s pavement is poor on the north side of the summit, which doesn’t bother the ascent but puts a damper on coming back down that way. If you’re riding on a weekend and are just going to ride to the summit and back, do Calaveras. If you want to climb to a summit, descend the back side, then turn around and ride back, do Palomares. And if you’re in for a bigger adventure (or a BART ride), do Morgan Territory.
Two words of warning: 1. Palomares is by far the shortest of the three, and the most domesticated, but it’s also the steepest—the mile that precedes the summit on the north side is 9-13%—MTR and Calaveras never see such a pitch. 2) it probably has the most climbing miles, because you climb the hill twice, once from each side. I racked 2250 ft of gain in 19.5 miles.
Palomares is as simple as a ride can get: start at the beginning of Palomares Rd. near Hwy 580 and ride to its end, then turn around and ride back. It’s a perfect little ride: you do a little flat stuff to warm up, then climb gently, then climb a bit more steeply to a summit, then descend down through an exciting curvy series of esses to the end, all of it through pretty hobby farms and wooded creek canyons. Then you get to do it all in reverse. Piece of cake.
(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 near the intersection of Palo Verde Rd. and Palomares in Castro Valley. There is abundant shoulder parking on Palo Verde just west of the school (which is just west of the intersection).
The ride is roughly symmetrical—5 miles and 1000 ft up to the summit, then 5 miles and 1000 ft down to the turn-around—but the character of the two sides is very different. The north side is 4 miles of fairly straight, very mellow climbing followed by a truly tough mile, topping out at 13%; the south side is much curvier, thus more dramatic, and steadier of pitch, probably never exceeding 7%. You can start at either end, but it’s a better ride the way I’ve mapped it, because from the north you begin with 20 minutes of easy pedaling as a warm-up. Starting from the southern end has you doing real climbing from the gun.
Both descents are rewarding. The south side is almost constant curves, smooth and graceful. You’re following a creek the entire way, and in the latter half of the descent the canyon gets steep and dramatic and the trees begin to swallow you up—beautiful. The north descent, on the way home, is at first idiotically fast—13% and straight, so you can easily hit 45 mph if you can stand the slightly choppy road surface. After that, it’s just a sweet, rolling descent, pedaling effortlessly at 20 mph through hobby farms.
Adding Miles: Palomares is smack in the middle of the Best of the Bay century route, so you’ve got great riding just to the north and south of you. Our starting point is close to the south end of our Grizzly Peak ride, and the turn-around is a short, unpleasant shoulder ride on Hwy 84 from the start of the Calaveras Rd. ride.
I’ll mention two not-great rides worth doing if you’re in the neighborhood. Five and a half miles away from the start of our ride is a pleasant little climb, Norris Canyon Rd., recommended by RH below. It’s a small road that has little room for you and cars together, so it should be ridden at some time other than rush hour. To get to NCR, ride down the extremely unpleasant, nerve-wracking Castro Valley Blvd. and turn on the big and busy but well-shouldered Crow Canyon Rd. I’m not sure NCR is worth that, but if you drove to Palomares and want a nice little climb as an add-on it’s an easy drive. NCR is 7.5 mi out and back, straight up and down over a summit in each direction, with a couple of 10% moments (one on either side of the summit)—otherwise it’s mellow to moderate. It’s wooded and a bit rugged on the southwest side, polished, straight, and wide with gated mansions on the northeast, so you might turn around at the summit unless you crave a short 40-mph descent.
From our turn-around at Niles Canyon Rd., you can ride 4.5 miles down unpleasant NCR, L on huge, busy Mission Blvd., and L on Morrison Canyon Rd. and ride the curiosity that is Morrison Canyon Rd. (recommended by Nibbles below—read his excellent description). It’s only 5.2 miles out and back, but they’re memorable miles. Signs at the start say “road width 9 ft,” “No turning,” and “No stopping.” It’s in places little more than a driveway, and it’s steep—1.5 miles of 10%+, maxing out at 15% right after the intersection with Vargas Rd., which is also very short and worth riding. The descent on MCR is too steep, broken, and gravel-strewn to be tons of fun—think of it as braking practice. It’s a novelty ride, worth doing once. MCR is now closed to cars (see COH’s note below), which is a plus. COH also offers a route from Palomares to Morrison that avoids busy Mission Blvd.