Purissima Creek Road

Distance: 8.3 miles one way
Elevation gain: 550 ft

The San Francisco Peninsula has a spine running down its center.  On the east side of the spine is Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, Stanford, and a crush of people.  On the west side is a lot of deep, dark woods, open rolling hillsides sloping to the ocean, and the laid-back hamlets of Half Moon Bay and Pescadero.  There are few roads on that western slope, but what’s there is great riding.  I’ll show you two rides in the area, this one and Pescadero/Tunitas Creek Road.

This is a dead-simple, perfect little rambling climb and descent that winds sweetly through classic open coastal hills.  The tiny road’s contour is constantly varied and interesting, the road surface is good, and there’s nothing up there except the largely unknown Purissima Redwoods Open Space Preserve so you should have the place to yourself.  It rides equally well in either direction.  The route is one continuous road, but it has a different name at each end—it’s Purissima Creek Rd. at the south end, Higgins Canyon Rd. at the other.  At the summit you pass by the Preserve, a wonderful place to hike if you brought walking shoes.

(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.)


Not epic scenery, but it has its rewards

The road is a little hard to spot at either end.  If you start at the northern end, the turn from Hwy 1 onto Higgins Canyon Rd. has a fairly prominent sign (which actually reads “Higgins Purissima Road”), but you’re just leaving the greater Half Moon Bay area and the road is divided and busy there, so it’s easy to miss.  Look for it as soon as you clear all town buildings.  At the southern end, the road is unhelpfully signed “Verde Rd.” (both as you approach it on Hwy 1 and at the turn-off).  A stone’s throw down Verde you hit a T and follow the sign to Purissima Creek Rd. to the L.  As you ride, enjoy the various spellings of “Purissima” on the road signs: you’ll see “Purisma,” “Purisima,” and “Purissima.”

The ride is short enough to make carrying hiking shoes in a backpack doable, so consider incorporating a walk in the Open Space Preserve into your ride.  There are two routes leaving the parking lot, a singletrack to the left called Harkins Ridge Trail and a large dirt road to the right called Purissima Creek Trail.  The dirt road has by far the better scenery because it follows the creek, and it’s usually in good enough shape that you could ride some of it if you’re set up for dirt.

At the end of the ride, you can turn around and ride back the way you came—easy enough to do given the distance and elevation gain—or close the loop by riding a 3-mile stretch of Hwy 1.  Normally I avoid Hwy 1, but here the highway is open, straight, and wide, so cars can pass easily, and there are views of the ocean on one side and charming small-scale coastal agriculture on the other, so it’s actually quite pleasant.  I have fond memories of that stretch of road, because one day doing this ride I came across hundreds of pairs of white athletic socks strewn all over the pavement—obviously the result of a lost truck load.

Adding miles: Tunitas Creek Road, part of the Pescadero/Tunitas Creek Road ride, is the next major road to the south.  The little stuff in between (Lobitos Creek Rd., Lobitos Creek Cut-Off) is also good.  Two cycling curiosities lie to the north:

1) The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail runs north from Half Moon Bay along the water for over 10 miles, often with the beach and ocean on one shoulder and quaint old beach houses on the other—a completely charming stroll.

2) The Devil’s Slide section of Hwy 1 above Montara has recently been rerouted and the old highway turned into a bike path.  It’s only a bit over 1 mile, and it’s very much in progress (on Oct. 2013), so google it to find out the status, but if you’re in the area, riding a cliff section of old Hwy 1 without cars is an experience not to be sneezed at.

Afterthoughts: The town of Half Moon Bay is a low-key charmer worth your time.  The harbor (actually called Pillar Point, a few miles to the north) is still real, and the old main street is a classic—you have to get off the two intersecting highways to find it.  Since the old town is something of a get-away destination for Bay types, the hostelries and restaurants are a cut above what you’d expect.  If you like gardening, the nurseries in the canyon along Hwy 92 are wonderful.

6 thoughts on “Purissima Creek Road

  1. patcresmar

    This ride works well as an introduction to road biking to that friend of yours who wants to know what you are raving about but has never been on a “real” bike ride. The ups and downs are interesting enough but not too tough or technical, and the whole ride is short enough that if your inexperienced friend forgot something (gloves, water), it’s over before you know it. The road is quite wide in places, so you can ride parallel and carry a conversation. A pleasant ride to enlist one more to the cause.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      That’s a lovely thought. There is a list of fairly flat rides in the Best of the Best page that could be used in a similar fashion.

  2. Jon Callahan

    Just did this ride yesterday. It was my first “real” road biking trip and I absolutely loved it. I did it north to south and back, opposite to what is written here, and had to stop to catch my breath a few times on the initial ascent. If you are taking a beginner, make sure they are in decent shape, as this was by no means easy. There was minimal traffic on the road even on a Saturday afternoon.

    There was ample parking at the north end near the village building and fire station. The town has plenty to do afterwards, or, if you prefer to take a break mid-ride, there is a really cool redwood park that you ride past (with an outhouse!).

    The views from this ride are stunning. Definitely check it out!

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Jon, think of all the wonderful rides you have ahead of you! Major envy.

  3. Grant

    Tunitas Creek is an epic ride. So much so that I ship my bike out from Colorado to ride it every year while my family visits my in-laws in Moss Beach. Coming from the north, I prefer to head down Highway 1, through Half Moon Bay, and then jump on Higgins Canyon Rd as a way to warm up the legs for Tunitas Creek.

    I used to be afraid of Highway 1, but the shoulder is wide enough so you don’t feel the cars are that close to you. Obviously, it requires attention, but it’s not as nerve wracking as it could be…

    Keep up the good work Jack!

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Tunitas Creek Rd is the downhill half of Bestrides’s Pescadero/Tunitas Creek ride. It’s a tough but rewarding climb, but I never do it in that direction because I think climbing via Pescadero/Alpine is unmissable.


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