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 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

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. (not Cypress Mountain Road, by the way, which is another road nearby).  Take it.  Don’t be so glued to the views and the road dropping away beneath you that you go rocketing past the 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.  Say hi to Peachy Canyon Rd. as you pass its western end.

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.

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