Distance: 19 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2020 ft
(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. Expect to meet 3 cars and no bikes.
As of 5/17 a stretch of the upper road is being redone and is dirt, and there’s heavy machinery at the site and a road closure at the base. But “road closed” is cyclingspeak for “Hey! Car-Free Road Ahead!” You can work your way around the gate, and the workers don’t seem to mind you coming through, though you may do some walking.
(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, 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 uphill miles into a significant head wind in heavy traffic at dusk (but the shoulder is good).
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. At the summit there’s an unmissable saddle with prime vistas of Carmel Valley and the Monterey area. You do a mellow 1-mile descent into a pristine hidden valley with the only signs of habitation being a few expensive, pretentious stone gates in front of driveways, cross the valley, then climb again through an oak and redwood forest, different from the woods you just rode through but just as pretty. Watch for a field with 4 or 5 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. The road surface is mostly good, and the road is only used by about ten cars, so you can take it pretty fast, but there are a few blind corners and I always seem to meet one car coming at me on this descent, so ride with that possibility always in mind. It’s nice to ride with a friend and send him down ahead of you—if you don’t hear any screaming, you know it’s clear. You can take point the next time.
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.