Distance: 19 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2770 ft
This is another of those rides that has location going for it. What else are you going to do if you’re stuck in Coalinga? It’s a classic climb from the lip of the Hwy 5 corridor up 10 miles through hardscrabble hills of grass, rock, and oak. The scenery is quite lovely in its way. It’s at its best in spring when the grassy hills are green. Grand vistas of the San Joaquin Valley below abound. The road surface is sound (which is all you can ask, since no one uses this road save the rare ranchers who run a few head of cattle on the hills), and, while the pitch is a tad monotonous, the back-and-forth contour is constantly stimulating. It’s a fair amount of vert (2000 ft in 6 miles), but it’s just a steady moderate effort, never steep enough to be a grind. The road turns to dirt at the summit, which will keep most cars out of your playground. All in all, a thoroughly rewarding little outing.
Avoid this ride (and Hwy 189) during periods of hot sun—it’s fully exposed. In summer, ride only in early morning.
Start at the intersection of Hwy 198 and Parkfield Grade. Ride to the summit, where the road turns to dirt, then return. After a couple of miles of flat and a couple of rollers, it’s an unaltering pitch to the top. There’s nothing up here but views and a few cows. Keep looking around—that’s why you’re here.
Sadly, the road surface is perfectly fine at 7 mph but chattery at 25, with loose gravel scattered about, and the corners have shapes not conducive to speed, so the descent is no better than OK. Do the ride for the climbing and the scenery.
Shortening the route: It’s all pretty much the same stuff and at a steady pitch, so turn around whenever you’d like. Of course the vistas get more dramatic the higher you get.
Adding miles: If you have a gravel bike you can keep riding when the road goes to dirt, all the way to Parkfield, whence you can go other places if you’re touring.
The ride from Coalinga to the trailhead, on Hwy 198, is so good I was torn whether I should make it a part of the ride. It’s a highway (= bad), but it goes from Coalinga to San Lucas so it’s very lightly trafficked—I saw 3 cars at 8:30 am on a lovely Friday in spring—and it has a complex contour and good scenery (see the photo). It adds 19 miles to the out-and-back, for a total of 38 miles.
In the other direction from our trailhead, Hwy 189 is interesting for a few miles, then it goes mostly flat and straight through OK scenery and is only good for through-riding. It ends at San Lucas, 72 miles from Coalinga. If you’re going that far, you might as well continue past San Lucas and go right to Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd., the best ride in California. Be self-sufficient on 189—it’s long, fairly isolated, and can be very hot.