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.
Nice report with excellent photos. We did this yesterday, coming back to Cambria via HWY 46 which I would not recommend unless you’re dead set on doing a loop. Some might like droning along at 40 kph on the long descent, but for us it’s rather dull.
Indeed, this is a ride with no ideal return route. You either go boring (Hwy 46), rough (back down Santa Rosa), or long (continue onto Old Creek Road and back on Hwy 1). The Hwy 46 descent is not only boring but lethal, since it’s typically windy along there.
We did a nice loop from Paso to Cayucos using Santa Rita Road. Start riding west on Hwy 46, then turn L on Bethel. SRR is a gorgeous road with about zero traffic. It turns to dirt after several miles, but we were fine in our 25mm tires. The climb is pretty gentle, except for a couple of short pitches of 7%. At the summit you get a terrific view of surrounding hills and the ocean (if it’s not foggy). The descent has a couple of steep pitches at the beginning, but nothing bad, then it flattens out, and joins Old Creek Road a few miles from Cayucos. Definitely go to Cayucos for the fish tacos.
We then retraced our steps and climbed Old Creek Road, which also has some nice 20% ramps. We rode back on Hwy 46, which isn’t bad. We had a tailwind all the way back to Paso—at one point going 45 mph down hill—and there are great sight lines and a wide shoulder. The ride ended up being 56 miles with 4400 feet of climbing.
Thanks, Chris—your route is now half of a new Bestrides ride. I couldn’t find those views of the ocean at the summit, or anything close to them. I don’t think Old Creek Road approaches 20% anywhere—it just feels like it. Don’t count on the Hwy 46 tailwind—I rode it twice, both times into a headwind.
Fabulous ride. I started in Cayucos, rode Hwy 1 to Cambria, climbed Santa Rosa Creek Road, and descended Old Creek Road.
As Hwy 1 goes, the stretch from Cayucos to Cambria is pretty pleasant, in my opinion. Zero contour, of course, but the surface is good and the scenery is spectacular.
I highly recommend the Old Creek Road descent. Though it’s certainly more crowded than SRCR, the traffic wasn’t bad at all (on a winter sunday). The scenery is unbelievable; you roll for a while and then dive into a deep canyon for an unforgettable descent. Then you suddenly emerge from the woods to a huge vista of Whale Rock Reservoir.
Thanks, Jay, for your incredible site! I wouldn’t have ridden this without it.
I think you’ve found the best way to ride Santa Rosa Creek Rd., avoid the pavement miseries of descending the Wall, and skip the unrewarding slog up Old Creek Rd. Is the Old Creek Rd scenery unbelievable? The last time I did it it seemed ordinary, but I was going the other way and I was blinded by the blood in my eyes.
I did the Santa Rosa Creek Road/Old Creek Road/Hwy 1 loop. I really liked the descent of Old Creek, but I imagine going up it is not fun. For some reason there’s a fair amount of traffic, and there’s zero shoulder. Maybe it’s just nicer when done faster!
Hwy 1 isn’t too bad in this area, all things considered. There’s always ample shoulder, so it’s not frightening, but it’s also wide and completely devoid of contour. I would do that loop again though! The bit after the summit of SRCR is fantastic.
Spectacular scenery following the creek and a challenging climb to the top. Very few cars. I highly recommend this ride and will do it again.
Not sure why anyone who calls themselves a cyclist would enjoy this road. Yes, the scenery is nice, but the road is awful—loose gravel, huge cracks and potholes everywhere. Some stretches of smooth payment but I wouldn’t recommend it on a road bike. Not fun at all.
@ Dylan, SRCR isn’t super-bad, especially if you watch your speed on the descent. Going up it does require you to watch for cracks and bumps. The Black Forest roads of Germany it is not. To see really deteriorated country roads, come to Santa Cruz County where they are apparently repaired only once every few decades!
The argument about who has the worst road surfaces in CA rages on. I find the roads in Santa Cruz country beautifully paved. Most of the roads in the Paso Robles area have good surfaces. My local roads, in Butte County, are terrible. And Sonoma County locals insist their roads are the worst.
Did this as an out and back today, and this is definitely a Best of the Best ride. The surface is really not that bad! I had an absolute blast on the descent. Rode it with 25’s pumped to 75 psi and, apart from the 2 hairpins that require some honest braking, the rest of the ride just spirals along the hillside contours mimicking the hawks above. This was one of the most fun and gorgeous descents I’ve ever experienced.
I’ve done the Old Creek descent and do not recommend it. It is trafficky and relatively bland and commits you to returning by riding along impatient motorists on Hwy 1.
The SRCR descent, though, must be experienced to be believed.
Okay, everyone seems to agree: Old Creek Road sucks ascending and descending. Nuff said.
Here is what I recommend to avoid most of Old Creek Rd.: Find a place to stay in Morro Bay. It’s absolutely lovely there. Take the bus to Cambria (it’ll fit two bikes). The earliest bus dropped us off in Cambria by around 7:30am. Do Santa Rosa Creek Rd. as mapped, then do Santa Rita Road/Cypress Mountain Road through Adelaida and Templeton. Then at the corner of SRR and Old Creek Road, take OCR into Cayucos and go get your tacos at Ruddell’s. Then back into Morro Bay along the Pacific Coast Highway (but note that you can use side roads/trails to avoid most of PCH from Cayucos to Morro Bay).