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 I really like this one.  It’s different from the others, and hard to find on one’s own.  Some rides just have a lot of charm—this is one.  It’s officially N. Rodeo Gulch Road, but no one knows there’s a South Rodeo Gulch Road and 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 (hereafter just “Rodeo Gulch”) and Soquel Drive.  This is busy downtown and parking isn’t easy.  If it’s a hassle, you can start at the north end of the route, but there it’s the opposite problem: small mountain road with no shoulder.

Ride north on Rodeo Gulch.  You’ll climb gently for a few miles.  Once you clear the metropolis you should have the road largely to yourself.   Note the marvelous oaks on your L.

Work your way up a serpentining moderate climb, rising out of the gulch to the hill top.   Roll along the essentially flat hill top until the last 1/4 mile of the ride out, when 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 has no virtues, so if you want to skip it 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 slightly by imperfect pavement, then roll the last miles on an ego-boosting slight downhill.

Lovely eucalyptus on the southern climb


Adding Miles: If you want to ride Rodeo Gulch 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 great 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.

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.

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