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)—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.
This road is an alternative to the main route via Hwy 1 and Hwy 46, so all the through traffic takes the highways and 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 Linn’s Farmstore, 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 up the narrow canyon. After a while of this, the road goes unmissably from medium hard to very hard—like, 14% 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 870 ft of gain to Soto Ranch).
The scenery, after the first few miles, is varied but consistently marvelous, and the views from The Wall and the summit are jaw-dropping—perhaps the best vistas in Bestrides after the Tamalpais ride.
This profile is plenty good enough to get this ride into our Best of the Best list, were it not for the road surface. It constantly varies, from glass to chipseal to nasty pothole-strewn, and there’s enough of the latter to drop it off the Best Of list.
At the summit, drink in the views, then decide what you want to do from here. My route has you returning the way you came, but see Adding Miles for some very attractive alternatives. As I’ve mapped it, it’s an almost pedal-free trip, and parts of it are excellent descending. Not the Wall itself—descending 14% pitches on broken pavement is no fun—but much of the descent back to Soto Ranch is very good, and the five miles between Soto and Linn’s Farmstore is one of my favorite roller-coaster rides, constantly up and down and back and forth, better than the ride out because now it’s downhill so you’re carrying a head of steam, and with the pavement problems only slightly dampening your giddy enthusiasm. The last 5 miles in, like the first 5 miles out, are merely pleasant.
Consider stopping at Linn’s Farmstore for a snack—the store is a masterpiece of kitsch, though I think the pie is actually lousy (heavy crust, too sweet).
Shortening the route: The ride profile allows you to dial in your preferred level of work/pain: easy (first 5 miles), medium (first 10 miles), serious climbing effort (first 13-ish), or brutal (to the top). Of course the harder/further it gets, the better it gets. Funny how that happens.
Adding miles: If you don’t want to ride back, there are four other possibilities, all tempting in their way.
At the turn-around point you are standing on a leg of the Santa Rita Rd./Cypress Mountain Rd. ride. Option 1: if you want just a bit more riding, continue on past the summit and ride 3.7 sweet miles of SR/CM backwards to the intersection with 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 noticeable.
Option #2: Continue on the Santa Rita/Cypress Mountain route, in either direction. If you do the entire loop, you’re in for a long day, but it’s totally possible. Riding the Cypress Mountain Rd. leg will leave you at a spot on the Adelaida Rd./Chimney Rock Rd. loop.
Option 3: At the turn-around point of Option 1, you can cross Hwy 46 and continue on Old Creek Rd. to Cayucos, a tiny hamlet with a bit of a cult following. Christopher (below) says, Great tacos. Old Creek Rd. is surprisingly big and surprisingly trafficky for what looks like a back road, but as a descent it’s good.
But now you have to get back to Cambria. If you can arrange a car pick-up, Cambria to Cayucos via Santa Rosa Creek Rd. and Old Creek Rd. 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 climbing, much of it hard, on the way back and a Mapmyride estimate of 5030 ft gain overall. Not undoable, but not to be undertaken lightly, and I don’t find Old Creek Rd. at all rewarding uphill.
Option 4: if you get to the top of The Wall and you’ve got just a bit of legs left and want a change of pace, consider riding the one mile of dirt from Santa Rosa Road to the summit of Cypress Mountain Rd. and back (see the Santa Rita/Cypress Mt. route for details). The vistas from the top are staggering—like the vistas from the top of The Wall, squared. The road surface is smooth, but it’s steep and loose, so traction is iffy without wider tires.
Notice I don’t mention returning to Cambria via Hwy 46. It’s a very straight, steep, exposed, busy, and usually blustery descent, so you’d be doing 45 mph amid traffic, bored while fighting for control. Not my idea of a good time. Nor do I mention riding Hwy 1 in either direction from Cambria—there is lots to do off the bike, but the riding itself is dead boring.
For an easy cool-down after Santa Rosa Creek Road, or for an effortless recovery-day jaunt, hit Moonstone Beach Drive, which runs along the ocean heading north from the north end of Cambria.
For other riding options in the Paso Robles area, see the Adding Miles section of the Peachy Canyon Road ride and the discussion of Paso Robles as a riding destination in the “Planning the One-Week Bicycle Vacation” section of Bestrides’ home page.