Distance: 26 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1820 ft
This ride climbs out of Cambria (pronounced both “KAMM bree uh” and “KAYM bree uh” by the locals), one of those amazing little enclaves of culture and fine dining (and Internet-based bicycle supply stores—yes, it’s that Cambria) that somehow manages to get established far from anywhere. There’s one bike ride here, but it’s a beaut. It climbs from the shore high up into the coastal hills to a summit saddle with spectacular vistas of whence you came.
It’s four rides in one. The first 5 miles are dead easy, nearly flat cruising through a farming valley (blissfully free of vineyards), and you’ll probably see obviously non-serious riders out for a stroll. The next 5 miles are a roller-coaster through riparian woods. Then you do a classic canyon creekside climb. And finally it turns to hard, hard climbing in the final miles before the summit, as you ride what the locals call The Wall. You can turn around any time.
This road dead-ends at Hwy 46, so after the first few miles of farms you have the road to yourself, save for the occasional hardy car driving up to the summit to gawk at the view.
(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.)
Begin in downtown Cambria (might as well—it’s a great place to stroll, eat, and shop). Ride south out of town on Main St. and go L onto clearly-signed Santa Rosa Creek Road as soon as you’re really out of town.
The route rides up a valley that narrows steadily until it disappears and you’re riding up a steep draw. So you begin rolling gently past pretty cattle farms. At Mile 5 you pass Lynn Farmhouse, a classic country “gift shop” and pie emporium, and just before then the road begins to get smaller and go up and down and back and forth deliciously, and the scenery turns dense, gorgeous riparian canopy. This is my favorite leg of the ride. At Mile 10 (at the Soto Ranch—the name is over the gate, along with “Since 1910,” though the place looks brand new) the valley abruptly disappears, you cross the creek and the road becomes an uninterrupted, serious climb along the creek. After a while of this, the road goes unmissably from up to very hard up—like, 20% at times, and probably never less than 10%—to the turn-around at an obvious saddle. It’s a short but truly tough pitch. How hard is it? Consider: the ride totals about 2400 ft of gain, and it’s mostly in these two miles (it’s 900 ft of gain to Soto Ranch).
This profile allows you to dial in your preferred level of work/pain: easy (5 miles), medium (10 miles), serious climbing effort (12-ish), or brutal (to the top). The scenery, after the first few miles, is varied but consistently marvelous, and the views from The Wall and the summit are simply jaw-dropping.
So why isn’t this ride in our Best of the Best list? One reason only: the road surface. About 1/3 of it has been recently repaved, and it’s fine, but the other 2/3 varies from poor to awful—nothing to damage your bike or injure you, and not bad enough to keep you from doing the ride, but enough to drop it off the Best list. And enough to mar a good chunk of the return descent.
At the summit, drink in the views on both sides of the saddle, then decide what you want to do from here. My route has you returning the way you came. It’s an almost pedal-free trip, and parts of it are excellent descending (not the Wall itself—descending 20% pitches on broken pavement is no fun). Consider stopping at Linn’s Pie Farm, midway on the return, for a snack. But there are five other possibilities, all tempting in their way. For them, see Adding Miles below.
Adding miles: Option 1: If you ride on past the summit, you’ll do 3.7 miles of sweet road before you meet Hwy 46. This stretch is a bowl: it drops sharply for a bit through dense woods, then rolls through a pretty valley of grassy fields and oaks, then climbs up to Hwy 46. The road surface is at first poor, though nothing like what you’ve just ridden over, and soon it gets downright OK. If you turn around at Hwy 46, the only cost to adding this leg to the ride is the climb back to the summit, which is stiff.
Option 2: If you still don’t want to to go back yet, you can continue on after Option 1. Where Santa Rosa Creek Rd. crosses Hwy 46, it becomes Old Creek Rd. and remains generally excellent as it descends, often steeply, to Hwy 1. It’s almost Bestrides-worthy. At its end you’re in Cayucos, a tiny hamlet with a bit of a cult following. It used to have a Michelin-quality restaurant, which closed, but the food possibilities are still good. Christopher (below) says, Great tacos.
But now you have to get back to Cambria. If you can arrange a car pick-up, Cambria to Cayucos is only a bit harder than the route I’ve mapped. If not, you’re going to have to 1) ride 16 not-too-rewarding miles of Hwy 1, or 2) ride back the way you came, which involves you in 51 miles out and back, with 13 miles of serious climbing just on the way back and a Mapmyride estimate of 5030 ft gain overall. Not undoable, but not to be undertaken lightly.
Options 3 and 4: You’re a 30-minute car trip from Paso Robles and an hour by car from San Luis Obispo—see the Adding Miles section of the Peachy Canyon Road ride for details. But if you want to cycle from Cambria to Paso and (wisely) want to avoid Hwy 46, which is a very big highway with constant traffic, a wide shoulder, and constant big rollers, you have a couple of options, both involving dirt. Option 3: 12 miles into our mapped ride, almost at the turn-around, Cypress Mountain Drive (clearly signed, with a large “Road closed to through traffic” sign, for absolutely no reason) forks off to the north/L. It climbs for a moderately steep mile, then summits at a ridge and descends the back side, then rolls until it reaches paved Klau Mine Rd., which dead-ends on Adelaida, which connects with the other west-of-Paso rides mentioned in the Peachy Canyon post. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t set up for dirt (disc brakes, big tires). Option 4: Midway down (or up) Old Creek Rd., Santa Rita Rd., mostly rideable dirt (I’m told—I haven’t done it), goes to Templeton—taking Bethel Rd. north just outside of Templeton will take you to Paso Robles with minimal highway miles (see Christopher’s comment below).
And Option 5: if you get to the top of The Wall and you’ve got some legs left and want a change of pace, seriously consider riding the one mile to the summit of Cypress Mountain Rd. and back. The vistas from the top are staggering—like the vistas from the top of The Wall, squared. The road is fairly steep, but the dirt road surface is very rideable (in the dry season).