Distance: 10 miles one way
Elevation gain: 1160 ft
This is a challenging climb and ripping, curvy descent through surprisingly dense, pretty woods. It would be deserted were it not for the other cyclists, of which there can be many. One weekend day I met about 200 bikes climbing the back side as I descended. On a weekday, you’ll see no one. The road surface is a little rough in places, but I don’t think you’ll mind. I’ve called the ride a one-way. People ride it in either direction, so it’s possible to do it as an out-and-back, but it would give you two tough climbs, and most riders make a loop (which I will describe in Adding Miles) along roads that aren’t good enough to make our list but are good nonetheless. I always ride it the way I’ve described it, east to west. If you ride it the other way, the climb is less steep and longer.
Warning: periodically my electronic mapping services show a gap in the middle of this road—not a stretch of dirt, just nothing. Trust me, the pavement is continuous.
(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.)
Start at the intersection of Sweetwater Springs Rd. and Westside Rd. There’s a small but nice turn-out for parking 20 yards up Sweetwater Springs Rd. Ride Sweetwater Springs Rd. to its dead end on Armstrong Woods Rd. You’ll start with some rolling climbs, then a surprisingly long descent, then ride along a little creek through a lovely, shady, thickly-wooded riparian area, then start some serious climbing.
When you enter the riparian area, the road surface deteriorates for a while, and then the climbing gets positively fierce, like 18%, 4-mph fierce. Luckily when the pitch is at its worst, the road surface is glass. The really hard stuff doesn’t last more than a mile or so. Watch for a paved driveway on your left which marks the end of the steepest work. The climb continues, but at an 8-10% grade that feels positively easy by comparison.
Past the obvious summit it’s all very fast, very curvy downhill—watch for road imperfections and bicycle traffic coming at you.
Adding miles: If you don’t want to ride back up the hill, you can loop back to your car with negligible climbing by riding back along the Russian River. The scenery is great, and you get to experience Guerneville, a wonderfully charming below-the-radar village. From the end of Sweetwater Springs Rd. go L onto Armstrong Woods Rd. into Guerneville. Turn R on Main St., ride to the Safeway parking lot on your L, and eat at the taco truck in the parking lot. Ride back up Main St. the way you came and keep going east along the Russan River on what is now called River Rd. This leg is narrow with a minimal shoulder, and it’s always busy with traffic, so it’s not a stretch of road I enjoy by any means, even though the ambiance (river, lush woods, old-California ramshackle vacation cabins) is adorable. Watch for Westside Rd. angling off on your L and take it—it’s all fine riding from there to your car.
At the end of our route, Armstrong Woods Road to the R is reputed to be short, steep, and rewarding.
Four miles north up Westside Rd. is Mill Creek Rd., which is described in the Adding Miles section of the Pine Flat ride. Westside Rd. itself is a popular mellow bike route, but its northern end is lined with wineries, so it’s busy with cars.
There is great riding north and south of River Rd. To the south, the Bohemian Highway is beautiful all the way to Freestone, although it’s a bit of a car thoroughfare. To the south and east of Freestone everything is good, especially Barnet Valley Rd. In the middle of the Bohemian Hwy lies the town of Occidental, a nice spot with a few surprisingly good restaurants, and the beginning of the Coleman Valley Road ride. Mays Canyon Rd. is a particular treat—a gorgeous, centerline-less, patchy, winding path through back country so heavily wooded you almost need a machete. On the north side, a few miles toward the ocean from Guerneville, is the King’s Ridge ride. See the Adding Miles sections of the Coleman Valley and King’s Ridge rides for more possibilities.
Afterthoughts: It’s shady in there, so this ride can be drippy. It’s not a problem until you hit the 18% stuff. I did it once when the road had a thin film of water on it, and traction was…interesting. On a dewy morning you might like to wait until later in the day or start the loop from Guerneville.
Rode this on Saturday as part of a loop that included Mays Canyon and Green Valley. Loved all of it, not just Sweetwater.
Sweetwater is a *tough* climb, a lot tougher than the elevation profile makes it look! Great ride though!
I rode oakland-17’s loop on 11 Nov 2021. It was great. Armstrong Redwoods has re-opened after the August 2020 fires but many trails and the road out of the valley remain closed. Green Valley Road seems to have been recently repaved and is in stunning condition. Buttery smooth.
I agree with Oakland-17: doing this as a loop starting in Graton is a fantastic ride. It’s got vineyards, redwoods, a serious climb, and very little traffic. If you want to add another serious climb (and more gorgeous redwoods) you can add the Armstrong Woods climb as an short, steep out and back in the middle.
The backside descent toward Guerneville has some terrible road patches – be careful! Good coffee stop in downtown Guerneville called Coffee Bazaar.
3/7/23. Did this ride from Graton. I went north on the West County Regional Trail, north on Covey, north on Wohler, then north on Westside Rd. Sweetwater was just so beautiful I had to ride it, get a scone and coffee at the coffee bazaar, and ride back the way I came. 42 miles and about 3100 vertical. I am glad I had my 43mm tires. I’ve done this on a road bike before and I can descend with more confidence and wasn’t beaten up after doing Sweetwater both ways. I also suggest (as did previous commentors) getting to Guerneville from Groton via Green Valley Rd. (nice pavement) to Hwy 116 (for 1 mile) to Mays Canyon Rd. The ride up Armstrong Woods Rd into the park is well worth it. Where else can you find single-lane 5-mph switchbacks one after another?