Prefumo Canyon Road/See Canyon Road

Distance: 25 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2910 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

I’m delighted to add this ride to Bestrides for two reasons, beyond the obvious one that it’s great: a) it’s in an “under-represented” area of California—San Luis Obispo had no rides in Bestrides before this (there are now two, this and Huasna Road); and b) I was tipped off to it by a reader who told me I had to check it out, which is always my favorite way to discover a ride.

It’s a marvelous ride, full of everything we ride bikes for: beautiful woods, grand vistas, some easy rolling, some moderate climbing, a little tough climbing, some thrilling descending—even a bit of rideable dirt. I didn’t put it in the Top Ten best of the best list, but I was sorely tempted. It’s a high-energy thrill-fest, along a creek through dense, magnificent riparian oaks, then up to a mountaintop where you can see forever, then down the back side through more oak canopy to the outskirts of Avila, a beach town that is a perfect spot for getting off the bike and exploring.

You might worry that 25 miles won’t give you a workout. Fear not. It’s harder than the numbers suggest, because most of the (recorded) 3200 ft of climbing you do in 4 miles—two on the climb up to the summit and two on the return from Avila. Mapmyride says you’ll do some 12-13% on the ride out and touch 14% on the ride back, and I won’t dispute those numbers. The rest of the route is moderate to easy rollers.

Timing matters on this ride. I am told that the SLO spring is very short-lived—two weeks or so. Apparently I was supremely lucky to do this ride in mid-April, when the wildflowers were flourishing and everything was green. Try to time your ride accordingly. Similarly, much of the specialness of the ride is in the views from the hilltop, so try to find a day with immaculately clear skies.

You can start where Prefumo Canyon Road leaves huge Los Osos Valley Road, but it’s generic residential/apartment complex, so I drive the 1/2 mile down PCR to Castillo Ct., park curbside on Castillo and ride from there. The first 3 miles are mellow ascending rollers, so you can warm up on them before doing anything hard. The scenery here is solid bush and OK but not spectacular. It will get much, much better.

From mile 3 to the summit (at c. 4.5 miles) you will work, but you won’t mind because there’s a lot going on. The road is never straight and never climbs at one pitch for long, so you get constant breaks and variations, and the landscape is first pretty riparian oak woods, then open hilltop with steadily improving vistas overlooking the SLO valley to the east and the land to the north. Eventually you can see the ocean and Morro Rock to the west. Possibly the grandest vistas in Bestrides after the Santa Rosa Road Wall.

The first few miles of Prefumo Canyon Rd. are a monument to the tar dribbler’s art

Roll across the hilltop for a short mile (with several mega-mansions for company), then begin the obvious descent down the back side. Of course you can turn around at the summit if your climbing legs are toast, but you don’t want to, because the rest of the road is really, really pretty. Instantly the road surface, which has been unproblematic, goes to hell, but it doesn’t matter because very soon it disappears and you’re on dirt. I’m not big on dirt, but this is totally rideable (I had 25 mm tires, but you don’t need them), it only lasts a bit over a mile, and the oak canopy on the dirt leg is the best non-vista scenery on the ride. Somewhere in here the road changes its name from Prefumo Canyon Rd. to See Canyon Rd., but I don’t know where.

When the dirt ends, you begin two miles of fast but not very interesting descending (mostly straight, mostly monotonous)—my least favorite part of the ride, in either direction. Once off the slope, you have 4 miles of effortless (in both directions) riding over easy rollers through a garden-pretty hillside with oaks on one side and often old apple trees on the other (See Canyon apple cider is apparently a local thing).

I’ve ended the route at the end of See Canyon Rd., but I encourage you to ride the two additional miles to Avila, one of the most charming of the many coastal villages in this area.

The ride back has only one surprise, which is how hard the climb back to the dirt is. The road is still straight and monotonous, but now it’s that at 5 mph. I didn’t enjoy it. The oaks are still pretty. After the dirt, the short climb to the hilltop is murder, but, as I say, short.

The descent from the hilltop is at first a bit too rough, a bit too steep, and a bit too full of speed-scrubbing switchbacks for ideal riding, but the situation you’re in is so amazing that you’re transported anyway. Once past the 2 miles of steep, the descending is pretty ideal—dropping rollers through pleasant esses at comfortable and controllable speed on unproblematic pavement. Castillo Ct. comes all too soon.

The rewards of the dirt leg

You’ll see some cars at the two ends of this route, and the hilltop is a popular place for nature lovers and their cars on weekends, but I didn’t find it to be a problem. Passing lines are good, and much of the route is almost deserted. I did the ride at the road’s busiest season, and it wasn’t at all bad.

Shortening the route: Ride to the summit and turn around.

Adding miles: Save the few miles to and just past Avila Beach, there isn’t any prime riding at either end of this route. It’s possible to loop the ride by returning on the frontage road running along the lip of Hwy 101, but it’s not rewarding (see alternate view in the comments below).

Looking north from the hilltop on Prefumo Canyon Rd.

If you’re looking for rides further afield, the SLO area is particularly blessed with route resources, thanks largely to the SLO Bicycle Club website. There you’ll find a list of favored local rides, though the some 40-odd rides detailed there aren’t evaluated for quality or character. I have a paper ride map of the SLO area called the San Luis Obispo County Bike Map, and it’s a beauty. See if local bike shops still have copies. Downloadable maps of the area are at

Prefumo Canyon Rd: Dropping off the edge of the hilltop on the return to SLO. Downtown SLO is barely visible on either side of the mound at 1:30

4 thoughts on “Prefumo Canyon Road/See Canyon Road

  1. Alan Shoebridge

    Fully agree with your rating this ride a “best of the best.” The climbs were tough, but the view at the summit was unbelievable. I rode up from Pismo Beach where I was staying, so it added some nice ocean scenery along the way.

  2. Brian M

    The one advantage of making it a loop from Avila Beach is the Bob Jones Bicycle Path, which meanders along a really pretty creek. It eventually DOES dump you on that frontage road, but it is not that bad, and I find SLO a very interesting city.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      The BJBP, which I haven’t done, looks pretty short on the map, so you’re buying into a lot of big-road riding for a small pay-out. I’d just drive to the bike path and do it, but see the comment below.

      1. Brian M

        It’s not bad. You really ride on a pleasant, low-traffic frontage road, not 101 itself. And Higueroa Street in SLO proper is actually kind of interesting in a mixed residential/commercial/light industrial way. (I am a City Planner by profession, so I find city riding interesting. Your mileage may vary!) Plus, you pass several breweries, a cool sandwich shop, an amazing bread bakery, and all of the interesting elements of downtown SLO, which I think is the best smaller city downtown in the state (better than Chico, even!). SLO would be a consideration for a post-lottery retirement landing spot for me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.