Distance: 19 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2760 ft (RWPGS)
(A Best of the Best ride)
This ride is dear to my heart. It’s my flat-out favorite short out-and-back climb, anywhere. It’s a perfect climb—varied, challenging, interesting—up a gorgeous wooded riparian draw to a dead-end, followed by an equally perfect descent back down. Every foot of it is delicious, in both directions. And it has the “added plus,” as the admen like to say, of being largely ignored, even though it begins in a densely populated area, because it’s a dead-end road to a private lake. Once upon a time you could expect to meet a car or two, but the world is changing, and now you can expect to meet a car every two miles. There’s (incredibly) even a golf course several miles in now. The road surface is consistently good, now that the one stretch of sketchy pavement, below the summit, has recently been repaved.
(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.)
Robinson Canyon Rd. takes off to the south from Carmel Valley Rd. about seven miles out from CVR’s beginning on Hwy 1. You can park along the foot of Robinson, but the climbing begins immediately, so I like to spend 20 minutes warming up on Carmel Valley Road, which consists of mild ups and downs around there. If you want more miles, park in the mega-mall parking lot 1/4 mile down Carmel Valley Rd. from Hwy 1 and ride from there, but take notice, if you ride later in the day you may well be ending the ride with 7 mostly (mild) uphill miles into a significant head wind in heavy traffic at dusk (but the shoulder is good).
RCR begins with about a half-mile of fully built-up flat. Then you cross a little bridge, all housing stops, and it’s never flat again. Beyond the bridge is a sign that reads “Road Closed 3 Miles Ahead, Local Traffic Only.” I have no idea why the sign is there—ignore it.
Robinson Canyon is a pretty serious climb—about 2700 ft of gain in 10 miles, most of it in a 2.5-mile stretch of 8-10% before the summit. So it’s possible to get seduced by the work load. Please don’t—this is some of the most gorgeous woodland I know of, so I hope you’ll keep your head up and take it in. It’s gorgeous from the moment you leave the houses at the bottom of the climb, and it stays that way to the end.
At the summit the hard work is over. There’s an unmissable saddle with prime vistas of Carmel Valley and the Monterey area behind you. Do a mellow 1-mile descent (the climb on the return is easy) into a pristine hidden valley with the only signs of habitation being a few expensive, pretentious stone gates in front of driveways (the golf course is behind you on the hillside to your L). Cross the valley, then do a series of short, easy climbs through an oak and redwood forest, different from the woods you just rode through but just as pretty. Watch for a field with 3 titanic oaks on your right. Ride to a gate across the road keeping out all but the members of the private lake that lies beyond. If the gate-keepers are out and about and the season is right, ask if you can have an apple from the trees beside the road.
Turn around and ride back on the peerless descent—one of the best descents in California. It’s 10 miles of constantly changing, constantly interesting, constantly challenging curves. The road surface is now very good thanks to a recent repaving, so you can get up to terrific speeds, but don’t go to sleep, because there are a few hairpin corners that are hard to see coming and I always seem to meet at least one car.
Shortening the route: Please don’t. You could of course save a few miles by riding to the summit and turning around, but you’d be missing beautiful country, and at the summit you’ve done almost all of the work.
Adding miles: As I said in the Monterey Bay section of the Rides by Region chapter, there are three good rides in the Monterey area. From the intersection of Hwy 1 and Carmel Valley Road it’s an easy ride through Carmel Village to one of the others, the Seventeen-Mile Drive ride. A few miles past Robinson down Carmel Valley Road is the other one, our East Carmel Valley Road ride.
Robinson Canyon near its gated end intersects with Rancho San Carlos Rd., which is gated off at both ends and prominently marked “Private Road” where it intersects Robinson Canyon (in fact it looks like someone’s driveway, though there is a road sign). I’ve never tried it. The word used to be that the locals looked the other way when cyclists jumped the gate. Now the word is, they don’t—the closure is enforced and taken seriously. Yet Anonymous in the comments below says he was treated well when he rode through recently, and he says the ride is worth the risk. The entire area, including Rancho San Carlos Rd. and Robinson Canyon Rd., is in fact a “preserve” run by the Santa Lucia Conservancy. It’s exclusive—I notice a house along the road just sold for $7 million. Your legal status there is ambiguous. I always figure the worst that can happen is, you get caught, plead ignorance, and get asked to leave.