Robinson Canyon Road

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.

It really looks like this

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.

After the summit: perfect valley rollers

After the summit: perfect valley rollers

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.

View from the summit

View from the summit, looking at where you started in Carmel Valley

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.

22 thoughts on “Robinson Canyon Road

  1. admin

    Full agreement with everything said here. This is the most idyllic countryside I’ve ever ridden through.

  2. oakland-17

    Rode this two weeks ago, and had light-to-medium rain on the return ride. I was hoping to combine it with Rancho San Carlos, as seen in this route:

    But, that wasn’t possible. Workers doing landscaping in the area informed us it was a private road that we weren’t allowed on, cyclists or not.

    So we did Robinson Canyon as an out-and-back. It was a nice ride, and I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t run back to this one, for only this reason: a 19-mile ride, with no easy way to extend, is just too short for me to drive out to.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      That’s why God made the East Carmel Valley Road ride just down the road.

    2. Paul S.

      Thanks for turning me on to this beautiful climb! Saw a bobcat at the summit close by the side of the road all by its lonesome. Loved it.

  3. Joanne Swenson

    Lovely, challenging ride, 6/7/17. Heartened by Jay’s motto, “a ‘Road Closed’ sign means, for cyclists, ‘No cars ahead!'” I climbed through barrier tape, attached to the ends of a gate barring the road, about five miles past St. Dunstan’s Church. As I was scrambling through the stretchy plastic ties, a Caltran truck stopped and the driver advised me to be careful, that the road was under construction “at the top.” So, up I went! A great, hard climb (for me), but the shade over the road, even at 2PM, was forgiving.

  4. Ralph

    I did this over the weekend. 10/27/17. It’s a good ride.

    My Comments:
    1. A lot of the lower ride is tree-protected but exposed in the mid-upper section. Weather, and especially wind, can make this area tough.
    2. The steep parts are very tough. There are a couple of long 10-10+% sections. Those mostly come in ramps, but there is one section of enduring hell just before you crest the valley’s wall.
    3. The road appears to be the only public land. The rest is aggressively, very aggressively, privately held. Cameras and gates on every side road, complete with private security patrols in pickup trucks. There appears to be a new investment for development of the area…and a golf course. It’s off-putting.
    4. There is little traffic on the climb. Most is from the construction crews.
    5. Starting from Carmel makes a nicely sized day. 34 miles and 3400 ft of vert.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      The golf course is (or was) almost impossible to see—I had to keep an eye peeled to find it. That “enduring hell” is the good kind of enduring hell. My casual-cyclist brother followed me up it once, and he’s still speaking to me.

    2. Jack Rawlins Post author

      I just re-rode it on 4/11/19, and there was no construction or construction traffic, though the residential traffic continues to increase. I think I passed 7 cars total.

  5. Joel

    Rode at noon Sunday and it was awesome. Cool, overcast, with a mild wind. Turned around at the gate to White Rock and blasted downhill except for a few picture stops. The oaks overhanging the road and the Sequoia groves are similar to N. Santa Cruz. I’ll have to replace my brake pads soon as they took some abuse—there are many hairpin, blind steep corners. Only one car and cyclist coming up hill on the return. Well worth the effort! Thanks for the site and list of rides–I’ll try others.

  6. Anonymous

    I just did this ride Saturday, July 28, 2018. The area of previous construction is now a short stretch of wonderfully smooth surface. Very little traffic—I counted 16 cars passing me in total.

  7. Joanne Swenson

    Love, love this road, and hate to be negative, however. . .Re-rode this 9/12/18, with new blacktop smoothing the way, but also dark worries about the recent assault of a woman cyclist on this road: The seclusion of this road, while glorious, also is worrisome for women. I brought pepper spray, attached to my handle bars.

    Another thing to consider: the pitch and steep twists of the climbing section of the road make cyclists nearly invisible to oncoming cars. I strongly recommend wearing the brightest colors (not black, where you literally match the blacktop road, which is often in shadows) and using a head or handlebar beacon.

  8. Vincente

    This is one of the best rides in the world. I used to do it 3 times a week and I miss it dearly. I now live in another part of the world and have yet to find a ride as satisfying as RCR.

  9. Alan

    Really nice ride. Rode it today, but only made it up six miles. It was hot and the bugs were out in force, swarming me as I ground up at a slow speed. Net time I’ll skip the Carmel Valley Road warm-up ride—the shoulder is good, but it’s loud and cars are moving FAST.

    Have you ever ridden any of the closed paved and/or gravel roads in Fort Ord? I think that is some great riding, especially in the early spring. I live in Monterey and as you state there are just a few great rides here. I would add Fort Ord to that list.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      I’ve done some of the paved roads in Fort Ord–did the Sea Otter Festival’s century, which covers a lot of them. Pleasant, plain, totally worth riding, but not Bestrides quality in my opinion.

  10. John D Tullius

    I’ve ridden all over Europe and RCR ranks with the best rides. It’s only about 5 miles, so not the length of Alps climbs, but it is very scenic, and challenging because the pitchiest parts are at the top. It’s a great TT/Fitness Test. I agree with the previous posts on the Fort Ord rides, including the entry from Laguna Seca. Pebble Beach has some nice climbs too.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      John’s recommended roads around Pebble Beach are discussed in the Added Miles section of the 17-Mile-Drive post.

  11. Patrick O'Halloran

    Just did this ride on the 4th of July and it was really awesome. I think it would be prettier at the top during Spring (it was pretty brown when I was up there). I also did this ride in the middle of the day, which I would not recommend if you don’t want to be baking on the climb. There are sizable stretches without sun cover so be ready for that. Not many cars, which was nice for the 4th. Would recommend for sure.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Of course “hot and brown” describes most July riding in California. I’d estimate 1/4-1/3 of the ride is sun-exposed at noon.

    2. Matthew Solomon

      This is my new favorite climb in the Carmel Valley–wonderfully scenic. I had planned a loop through that area down to Hwy 1 south of Pt. Lobos but got turned around at the gates. Offered to pay for a day pass and they said no. It’s called a “preserve” but for who!?

      1. Jack Rawlins Post author

        I’m assuming you were hoping to take Rancho San Carlos Rd. through the Santa Lucia Preserve, a spectacularly exclusive private enclave west of RCR. If you google the SLP, you’ll see that you are emphatically not welcome.

  12. John Beem

    Just rode to the top of the climb. What a kick! So pretty, and the sun and effort are both abated frequently, so even an old guy (70) like me can do it. The views at the top are terrific. Not much going on up there but there was some traffic. I am also not sure I would rate the road surface quite as high. Certainly the recently repaired section is sweet, but there are some other rough bits and occasional sand on the road that required vigilance. I was glad to have bigger tires at lower pressure. Also glad to have disk brakes. The bike really wants to go on the descent! Thanks for the tip.

  13. Anonymous

    I rode this a couple months ago using the RideWithGPS map that included the Rancho San Carlos Rd return. Had no indication it was gated until I got there. The gates have cameras and I wondered what to do… but then a lost UPS driver appeared and asked for permission to enter and the gate opened. I tailgated on in.

    The ride down through the Preserve was absolutely lovely–unbelievably lovely. I was a little worried that someone would pull up and tell me to pull over, so when a car did pull up next to me and the driver shouted out I figured I was busted. But the driver just congratulated me on the ride!

    The Rancho San Carlos Rd was a lot longer than I expected with lots of small climbs and gorgeous descents. Not much traffic, the occasional car. I liked it so much I contacted them and requested membership information. There’s a golf membership, there’s an equestrian membership, but there is no bike/trail membership. Wish there was.


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