Santa Rita Road/Cypress Mountain Road

Distance: 45.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4860 ft

This ride has a lot of dirt—the only largely dirt ride in Bestrides.  I don’t do dirt, and my bike wasn’t made for dirt, but this is doable dirt as long as you have 25 mm tires, and the pleasures of the route make the dirt worth enduring.   Beyond that, Bestrides has two rides in Paso Robles (Adelaida, Peachy Canyon) and a ride in Cambria (Santa Rosa Creek Road), and it would be lovely if there was a way to ride from one to the other without the grim tedium of Hwy 46.  This is the way, as the Mandalorian says.

The route involves two pretty, deliciously isolated stretches of dirt road, both of which climb up and over a summit, one short tough pavement climb, a nice descent on one of Paso Robles’s classic wine trails, and some of the most spectacular vistas in all of Bestrides.  There is one mile of smooth but steep dirt climbing (10%+).

The loop can be started at any point, so just decide where you want to end up and start there.  As with all dirt riding, I wouldn’t attempt this ride if the ground is wet.

Santa Rita Road pavement

Begin at the intersection of Vineyard Dr. and S. Bethel Rd.  Ride south on Bethel, which in a 1/2 mile turns into Santa Rita Rd. (which is called Cayucos-Templeton Rd. on some maps, but isn’t signed that way).  SRR is a lovely, gently rolling ramble through big oaks, a perfect warm-up.  Watch for the huge flock of wild turkeys that inhabit the area.  In 4 miles there’s a sign that reads “Pavement Ends,” and the road does turn to dirt, but they forgot to put “briefly” on the sign—the pavement soon returns, to disappear in another half-mile.   You’re then on dirt for about 10 miles, until about a mile from Old Creek Rd.

A flock of about 40 turkeys hangs out in the first miles of Santa Rita Rd.

The road surface is about as good as dirt can get—smooth, often hard clay for good traction, with only the lightest of loose stuff to cause problems.  The scenery is really pretty, an excellent version of the oak forest you see all over the Paso area, and the traffic is non-existent (I saw two vehicles, a car and a horse van).  The elevation profile is flat, then gently climbing, then moderately steep for just long enough to make you feel like you earned it.  At the obvious summit there is a humble view of rolling hills but nothing to write home about (the vistas come later).  The descent down the back side is much longer and (in the beginning) steeper that what you climbed up, and much of it is a solid enough surface that you can really carry some speed—perhaps the only time I’ve had fun descending dirt with drop bars.

Santa Rita Road dirt

Santa Rita Rd. dead-ends at Old Creek Rd., which connects Hwy 46 and Cayucos on the coast.  Feel free to turn L and check out Cayucos, a small coastal hamlet with a bit of a cult following (and excellent fish tacos, says Christopher, who alerted me to this ride—see his comment in the Santa Rosa Creek Ride).  The climb from Santa Rita Rd. to Hwy 46 involves a hard 2.5-mile pitch, and going to Cayucos adds 8 miles round trip and 500 ft of vert to the work load.  Old Creek Rd. is also the only time on the ride when traffic might be obnoxious, especially if you’re there on a weekend.  If OCR were flatter and less populated, it would be a nice ride.

Santa Rita dirt

From the intersection of Santa Rita and Old Creek Rd, slog up OCR (there is no visible creek, old or otherwise) to a summit, then roll to Hwy 46.  At the highway, if you’re looking for a less challenging day, go R and ride the big rollers on Hwy 46 for 6 miles to Vineyard Dr. and you’re back on our route.  But if you’re game, cross Hwy 46 and ride Santa Rosa Creek Rd., the very same road as our Santa Rosa Creek Rd. ride, though that ride begins at the road’s western end and turns around about 4.5 miles before Hwy 46.  I love this stretch of SRCR.  It winds through a pretty grassy valley, then does a short, steep climb up to the saddle which is our STCR ride’s turn-around point.  Enjoy the grand vistas from the saddle and along the next 2/3 mile of road, but don’t exult too much because the views are going to get better.

Cypress Mountain Dr. just west of the summit: double-click to appreciate

From the summit, descend steeply for 2/3 of a mile.  This is the top end of The Wall, the bane of our Santa Rosa Creek Road ride, and it’s just enough to give you a sense of what climbing it is like.  On your R, clearly signed and sporting a large sign reading “This road closed to through traffic” (they forgot to add, “Just kidding!”), is Cypress Mountain Dr. (Some Bestrides users tell me that it’s actually Cypress Mountain Road, but the maps disagree and anyway there’s only one road in the area, so take that one.)   Don’t be so glued to the views and Santa Clara Creek Road dropping away beneath you that you go rocketing past the CMD turn-off.

Now comes the work—one mile of seriously steep climbing up to the summit of CMR.  The dirt is smooth, but it’s dusty, so traction is difficult.  As you climb, keep looking to the west—the view continues to get more and more spectacular, an expansive view of rolling hills, the coast, and the ocean.

Hwy 46: your bail-out option

From the summit, drink in the final western vista, then CMR descends, then rises and falls on a road surface that is never threatening but often loose and rocky, until paved Klau Mine Rd goes off on the R, about 5.5 miles past the summit.  Take KMR, which goes up and down over poor pavement and through some lovely woods, until it dead-ends at Adelaida Rd.  Take Adelaida to the R for 1.3 miles to Vineyard Dr., miles which are part of the Adelaida Rd/Chimney Rock Rd. ride.  Descend Vineyard back to your car.

Vineyard Dr., as the name suggests, is the very heart of Paso’s wine country, and as such it’s a busy road, and it gets busier the further down it you go.  But it’s almost all downhill in this direction, so you’re moving fast, and at speed it’s not unpleasant.  Still, if you want peace and quiet, David below suggests a more back-roads alternative to Vineyard—Willow Creek Rd, which parallels it.  From Vineyard, drive a short leg down Peachy Canyon Rd. and turn R onto WCR, which returns to Vineyard near Vineyard’s south end.  WCR is probably a better route than Vineyard, even though I haven’t mapped it that way.

Shortening the route: This ride can easily be cut in half if you aren’t up for a long day—just ride what’s above or below Hwy 46, whichever half appeals to you, then close the loop via Hwy 46, which is big, boring, and relatively easy.  Santa Rita Rd. is prettier and easier; Cypress Mountain Dr. has the views.  If I was doing the Santa Rita Rd. half, I’d ride out Hwy 46 and back on SRR, so Old Creek Rd was downhill.  If I was doing the Cypress Mountain Dr. half, I’d ride out on CMD and back on Hwy 46, so the steep pitch at the west end of CMD was downhill.  If you’re saying, “I can do 45 miles standing on my head,” remember that dirt is twice as tiring as pavement, climbing on dirt even more so.

Adding miles: Part of our route traverses a short leg of the Adelaida Rd/Chimney Rock Rd. ride in reverse.  Our route takes you by the turn-around of the Peachy Canyon Rd. See the Peachy Canyon ride’s “Adding Miles” section for a discussion of riding in the Paso Robles area, and see the discussion of Paso Robles as a riding destination in the “Planning the One-Week Bicycle Vacation” section of Bestrides’ home page.

4 thoughts on “Santa Rita Road/Cypress Mountain Road

  1. Todd Christensen

    I rode Old Creek once on a Friday. There was a lot of traffic, probably commuter traffic as this is a huge short-cut between Morro/Cayucos coastal area and Paso Robles. The lack of shoulders and volume of fast and impatient drivers made me nervous and several cars obviously “buzzed” me to make the point they were not pleased I was there to slow down the flow (even when I was riding to the edge of the pavement).

  2. David

    This was one of the most varied and interesting rides I’ve done this year. It had forests, rolling farmland, coastal mountains, vineyards, as well as varied terrain from dirt roads to the smoothest tarmac. The dirt roads shouldn’t deter anyone from trying this route. It is definitely doable on 25mm, but larger road tires would certainly increase comfort and traction.

    Instead of returning to Templeton via Vineyard, I took a left on Peachy Canyon and rode it all the way down to Paso Robles, and returned to the top of Peachy Canyon via Kiler Canyon Road. Much of Kiler is dirt similar in road quality to Santa Rita and Cypress Mountain, but there is a steep and rocky one-mile section in the middle that made me glad I had 32mm and not 25mm tires. Peachy Canyon was a great way to extend miles, but unless you particularly like riding gravel/dirt, Kiler doesn’t have anything unique to offer. Other routes back to Templeton might be better, including returning up Peachy Canyon.

    From the top of Kiler, I went back to Vineyard Drive, then took the suggestion from one of the commenters (on the Peachy Canyon route) to try Willow Creek Road which had been repaved recently. It was a very nice, low traffic, buttery smooth, oak-lined route back down to Templeton. (You might consider making Willow Creek a default bypass instead of following the busier Vineyard Drive all the way down.)

    The first 30 miles of the route doesn’t have any water stops, but as soon as I reached the vineyards and wineries, it was easy to get water and use their restrooms. The two I stopped at were friendly and accommodating. A few also seemed to be serving food (and wine, of course), so a lunch stop would have been easy to add in.

  3. Susan Killebrew

    I have been on so many of your rides over the years, and this was one of my favorites! However, there is one crucial error in your directions. The turn off onto dirt with the “Closed to Through Traffic” sign is, in fact, Cypress Mountain Road, not Cypress Mountain Drive. Fortunately, while we were paused at the intersection trying to decide whether the instructions were mistaken, some local cyclists passed by and clarified that we did need to turn up onto CMR. Otherwise, we might have continued down Santa Rosa Creek Road, which would have been a drag to climb back up. (We actually did your SRCR the next day, so we know firsthand what that climbing is like!). Other than this one bit of confusion, we had a totally delightful ride!

    Thank you again and again for creating a website that has truly enriched my life and led to so many wonderful experiences with friends.

    1. admin Post author

      The map clearly shows the road being called Cypress Mt. Drive, but your experience seems irrefutable. I’ve used both names in the ride description.


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