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 has a schizophrenic profile. It’s dead easy, gentle rollers for about 10 miles—so easy a child could do the 20-mile out and back—then it’s hard, hard climbing to the summit, as you ride what the locals call The Wall. So it’s both one of the easiest rides in Bestrides and one of the hardest.
(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, 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, then you go up and down a bit more as the farms get smaller, then you follow the creek through beautiful big riparian trees, and then the valley disappears and the road goes vertical—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. Until that vertical, the ride is nearly effortless, and the road contour is just a hoot—the classic roller-coaster, with every dip and turn having its own character. If you don’t want to do the Wall, turn around at Soto Ranch (the name is over the gate—”Since 1917,” though it looks brand new), where the road crosses the creek and starts to climb above it.
Throughout all of this, the scenery is either gorgeous or spectacular or both, and it gets better as you advance. The Wall itself is simply jaw-dropping: a steep windy narrow ribbon of pavement switch-backing through grassy hills with constant amazing vistas of what lies ahead of you and what you’ve just come through.
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 is no fun). Consider stopping at Linn’s Pie Farm, midway on the return, for a snack. But there are two other possibilities, both tempting in their way. For them, see Adding Miles below.
Adding miles: If you ride on past the summit, you’ll do 3.7 miles of really amazing road before you meet Hwy 46. This stretch goes seriously up and down (mostly down) through extraordinary scenery that’s hard to put into words—funky, mystic, quirky, spooky—totally unlike what you’ve been through thus far. Think of Fangorn: “What madness drove them in there?”, as Gimli put it. It would be a ride not to be missed, except for one thing: the road surface gets even worse than before. If you don’t mind being bounced around, or you have 28mm tires, ride it, definitely. If you turn around at Hwy 46, you’ll have a physically punishing 3.7 miles back to the summit. You’ll see what you’re in for the moment you descend from the summit, so you can try before you buy.
But you still don’t have to go back yet. Where the road crosses Hwy 46, it becomes Old Creek Rd. and remains generally excellent as it descends to Hwy 1. It’s almost Bestrides-worthy. But now you have to get home. Unless you can arrange a car pick-up, 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, which means it’s more like 7000 ft. Not undoable, but not to be undertaken lightly. Since I didn’t know how you felt about riding rough pavement, I ended the ride before things got dicey.
There is no other riding in the Cambria area. 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.
Afterthoughts: If you descent Old Creek Rd. to Hwy 1, you’re in Cayucos, a hamlet of extraordinary charm with at least one Michelin-quality restaurant.