North Rodeo Gulch Road

Distance: 11 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1045 ft

I run the risk of having too many Santa Cruz rides in Bestrides, but this one is charming, different from the others, and hard to find on one’s own.  It’s not a great ride, but it’s a nice little one.  It’s officially N. Rodeo Gulch Road, and South Rodeo Gulch Road is directly across the street from its southern end, but people (and most maps) just call it Rodeo Gulch.

For Santa Cruz, It’s a dry landscape

How is it different from the other SC rides?  First, there are almost no redwoods.  The scenery is very good, but it’s not OMG awe-inspiring like the others.  The ecosystem is dry, so the woods are eucalyptus and great, gnarly oaks.  And it isn’t all along a creek at the bottom of a canyon in the dark—you work your way up a gulch and break out on the top of a largely open hill where there are (unheard of in SC) clear skies and actual vistas (not impressive vistas, but vistas).  And it isn’t all up and down—the top of the hill and the first miles at the southern end are essentially flat.  You won’t even rack 100 ft/mile.  Consider it a recovery ride.  Yet you’ll do enough work to feel like you rode your bike.  If you want more miles, it’s easy to add on (see Adding Miles).

Begin at the intersection of N. Rodeo Gulch Road and Soquel Drive.  Soquel is a big, very busy main artery, but there is a big dirt turn-out perfect for parking at the very beginning of NRGR.

Ride north on NRGR.  You’ll climb gently for a few, moderately built-up miles.  Traffic is an issue, but once you clear the metropolis (in a couple of miles) you should have the road largely to yourself.   Note the marvelous oaks on your L at the very outset.

In about 2.5 miles you leave the creek (Rodeo Creek, I assume) and start climbing noticeably,  working your way out of the gulch and up to the hill top, a pitch that lasts about 1.5 miles and will get your attention (you’ll even be at 11-13% for a short while).   Once on top, roll along the essentially flat hill top for about a mile.  What vistas the ride offers are here, views of the two broad scrub canyons on either side of the ridge and a few glimpses of the Bay through the trees (easy to miss).  In the last 1/4 mile of the ride, the road drops steeply down to the dead-end at Mountain View Rd./Laurel Glen Rd. (the road changes its name at the intersection).  If the intersection looks familiar, it’s because you ride through it on the Bean Creek/Mtn. Charlie ride.  The 1/4-mile drop to the intersection and subsequent climb back out after you turn around have no virtues, so if you want to skip them I won’t think less of you—just turn around when the road makes an obvious move to plummet.

The oaks in the Gulch are mighty. I think it’s an oak.

The ride back has a very different character, which is why I encourage you to ride the road both ways.  Saunter across the hill top, then enjoy a very nice serpentine descent marred by imperfect pavement.  The last 2.5 miles of slight downhill are an ego-boosting delight.

Lovely eucalyptus on the southern climb

Adding Miles: If you want to ride NRGR as an out and back, then continue on, start at the north end so you end up on Mountain View Rd./Laurel Glen Rd. instead of Soquel Drive.  Then you’ve got good riding in either direction (see the Bean Creek/Mtn. Charlie ride for routes).  If you’re looking for a small loop, you can loop Rodeo Gulch from either side, riding either Branciforte Dr. > Mountain View > Rodeo Gulch or Soquel—San Jose > Laurel Glen > Rodeo Gulch.  I prefer Branciforte Dr. to Soquel—San Jose, but I prefer Laurel Glen to Mountain View, so there you go.  Either loop involves you in some typical urban connecting, but the area’s bike lanes are good.  If you’re looking to extend our mapped ride by just a bit, I suggest NRGR>Laurel Glen to the end of LG, then return.

For riding further afield, see the introduction to the Monterey Bay area in Rides by Region for a list of the good roads in the Santa Cruz area.

Oaks at the south end of N. Rodeo Gulch Road

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