Category Archives: Wine Country

Bohemian Highway Loop

Distance: 23.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1980 ft

Occidental is an amazing cycling resource. Six roads head out of this little town, and each one of them is some degree of wonderful for riders. All 6 figure in a Bestrides route in one way or another. This route focuses on the roads to the northwest of town. It and Bittner Rd. (which is in our Coleman Valley Rd. ride) are the only ones with thrilling descents.

This ride comes with some caveats. The Bohemian Highway can be unpleasantly, dangerously trafficky. About a quarter of the miles on our loop have a bad case of Sonoma County Disease (i.e. have rough surfaces). And one leg of the loop is downright not fun to ride. But the other three quarters of the miles are glass, for all of those three quarters the scenery is as good as the area gets (which is, gorgeous), and if we deal with BH’s traffic issues it’s a descent to be remembered.

See the Occidental Loop ride notes for info on the town of Occidental itself.

The Bohemian Highway also goes the opposite direction, south, out of Occidental briefly and dead-ends at Freestone, and it’s a pleasant enough few miles, but we’re interested in the northern direction, from Occidental to Monte Rio, 6.3 mi of delicious descending to the Russian River. It’s never steep (2-5%), which sounds boring, but it isn’t—it serpentines sweetly, the pavement is glass, and you can really attack the hill, pedaling vigorously and carving the sweeping turns at 25+ mph. The scenery is the usual Occidental-area redwood gorgeousness. It’s really very nice.

Bohemian Highway

But there’s the traffic. You want to carve those turns from the middle of the lane, and that’s hard to arrange. Bohemian Highway is a main route to the Russian River, which is a main access route to the coast, so it can get busy, and there’s really no room for you and cars at the same time—two small lanes, minimal shoulder, cars in a hurry to get to the beach. So you have to plan the ride for slack traffic. I did the ride on Sunday (terrible day), but waited until noon (good time), and had to deal with perhaps 6 cars passing me. I would think any weekday after 10 am and before 3 pm would be OK, and any weekend day between 11 am and 2 pm, and any day at 7 a.m.

Mays Canyon at its best

Near the bottom of the descent the road forks, into Bohemian Highway on the R and the oddly named Main St. on the L (clearly signed). The two roads are within sight of each other on opposite banks of the creek. Take Main St.—the road surface is better, and it goes by Lightwave, a charming, unpretentious coffee/drinks/small-menu food shop run by a couple recently from Israel. Try to stop, at least for coffee or a drink—you’ll like it. There’s a bike rack in full view, so you can sit at an outside table and keep your eye on your bike.

Green Valley Road

Cross the river on the unmissable bridge and say hello and goodbye to Monte Rio, a town named by someone who apparently didn’t know that “monte” means “mountain”. Go R (under the friendly “Monte Rio Awaits Your Return” sign) onto River Rd., the road that follows the banks of the Russian River upstream, and ride it for 4.3 mi. to Guerneville. It isn’t fun. The traffic is constant, so you’re confined to the (largely spacious but debris-strewn) shoulder, the pavement is poor, and the neighborhood is generally shabby. Gentrification has yet to reach Monte Rio, which may be a blessing but doesn’t aid the riding.

You can bypass about half of the River Rd. leg by taking Old Monte Rio Rd., which parallels River Rd. just to the north, but it’s an adventure—the “road” is little more than a paved footpath and fairly decrepit. Check it out on Streetview (incredibly, it’s covered) before committing yourself to it.

Happily, Guerneville is a pleasant community with a good energy. Midtown, turn R onto Hwy 116 (called by some maps and my GPS “Pocket Canyon Highway”). Very soon, turn R. onto Mays Canyon Rd. and ride MCR to its end back on Hwy 116.

Harrison Grade Road

Mays Canyon used to be one of my favorite little rides, a car-free, secret back road offering pristine redwoods and splendid isolation. It still has some of that, especially in the first mile or so, but it also has, smack in the middle of it, a large community of run-down thrown-together dwellings with lots of signs telling you how unwelcome you are. With all that comes some traffic. And the road surface is bad. So ride it if you wish, or just stay on Hwy 116, which lacks Mays Canyon’s vices and virtues.

If you do Mays, go R on Hwy 116 (at the intersection there is no sign or any indication of where you are except for a hand-routered sign reading “Mays Canyon Rd.”). Everything is really good for the rest of the ride—the scenery is lovely, the traffic is light to non-existent, and the road surface is pristine.

Ride to Green Valley Rd. and go R onto Green Valley, which looks at the intersection like an afterthought but is really a well-established road. GVR goes up and down a steep little hill which is the steepest thing you’ll see on the ride (max pitch 12% briefly). Turn R onto Harrison Grade Rd.—I know, it’s very hard to leave Green Valley Rd., because it’s so very sweet, but Harrison is just as good.

Harrison Grade, as its name implies, is a climb—never as steep as Green Valley at its worst but more of it—2 miles of serious climbing with some 9-10% stuff. HGR runs you into Graton Rd., which runs quickly back into Occidental and provides the perfect cherry on this sundae—a brisk little descending slalom through perfect redwoods.

Shortening the ride: I wouldn’t ride Bohemian Highway as an out and back—the traffic whizzing past you as you do 5 mph on the return climb would be dangerous at any hour. River Rd. isn’t worth riding, ever. So we’re left with riding Green Valley Rd. + Harrison Grade Rd. as an out-and-back, with as much of Hwy 116 as you like.

Adding miles: See the Adding Miles section of our Occidental Loop ride for a list of the possibilities, which are many.

Occidental Loop

Distance: 17-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 1730 ft

Occidental is an amazing cycling resource. Six roads head out of this little town, and each one of them is some degree of wonderful for riders. All 6 figure in a Bestrides route in one way or another. This route focuses on the roads to the east of town.

The roads between the towns of Occidental and Sebastopol all run through grand redwood forests and have charming, undulating contours. So you could just go wandering and ride any of them. But there’s a downside: the road surfaces are often terrible (Sonoma county cyclists take an odd pride in this), the roads are dangerously narrow, usually there is no shoulder (not a small shoulder—none), and the main arteries are heavily enough trafficked so as to be a pain if not an actual danger.

So what we want are routes on untrafficked back roads with good road surfaces. I’ve found two: this one and our Bohemian Highway loop (well, half of that one). This loop is entirely glass, and it spends most of its time on roads that see next to no cars—of the 6 roads it covers, only one may be uncomfortably busy. And every inch is beautiful to the eye and charming to ride. You’re about 2/3 in the woods and 1/3 riding by small farms and meadows, the farms are all cute, and there’s a general absence of vineyards, for which I am grateful. It racks up over 100 ft of gain per mile, yet there are no extended climbs, so you know it’s constantly rolling up and down—check that sawtooth elevation profile.

Begin in the town of Occidental, where our Coleman Valley Rd. ride and our Bohemian Highway ride start. It’s a famously charming little town, not yet totally touristified (for instance it still has a hardware store), with a couple of old, funky Italian hotel restaurants that are remarkably good and some other eateries with good reputations. Howard’s Station is a nice, simple restaurant with a short, unpretentious, and tasty menu. You immediately feel welcomed by the town because one side of the main street is a big free parking area without time limits. It’s a weekend destination for Santa Rosa-area residents looking for a small outing in good weather, so if you can ride on a weekday so much the better.

Graton Road

Ride out of town on Graton Rd. You are immediately in the midst of the Occidental riding experience: looming, cathedral-like redwoods, narrow lanes, no shoulder, some cars. This is the connector between Graton and Occidental, so it sees some traffic. I intentionally started later in the morning, to miss the morning work rush, and got passed by perhaps 6 cars.

Go R onto Green Hill Rd., largely car-free, then R onto Occidental Rd. Occidental is our only real risk of serious traffic, but if you’re after the morning rush and heading west (as you are) it shouldn’t be bad. Go R onto Jonive (“ho NEEV”) and prepare to experience serious cycling joy.

Jonive Road

Jonive is one of my favorite roads anywhere. It (and Barnet Valley Rd., which follows) are all up and down, but never tiresomely so—just roller-coaster whoop-de-doos that will have you shouting. It’s all so pretty and perfect I find myself wondering what it’s like to live in that kind of idyllic beauty, but I’m not about to find out since apparently the average house on Jonive goes for around $3-4 mil.

Jonive dead-ends at the Bodega Highway, the busiest road in the area. Go L on it for about 30 ft. and go R onto Barnett Valley Rd., which is exactly like Jonive only slightly less joyful. Ride to the intersection of BVR and Burnside Rd. and turn around. You could continue on, on either BVR or Burnside, but the good road surface ends at the intersection.

Barnett Valley Road

When you get back to the meeting of Barnett Valley Rd. and Bodega Highway, you have a choice. You can re-ride Jonive, as I’ve mapped it, and it’s wonderful both ways, but if you have an aversion to out-and-backs you can go L onto Bodega for a busy but brief downhill run to Bohemian Highway and take BH back to Occidental. BH is more open, busier, and blander of contour than our route, but it too is very pretty and it has the advantage of passing the locally-famous Wild Flour Bread bakery, where you can stand in line with the other cyclists to buy one of their scones. I find the scones OK but not spectacular, but it’s part of the local scene, like eating at the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley.

Bohemian Highway east of Occidental

Assuming you stick to our mapped route, ride Jonive back to Occidental Rd. and take Occidental Rd. back to Occidental. Again, you may run into a bit of traffic, but it should be midday now and you’re going the less-busy direction. Of course it’s beautiful.

Shortening the ride: You could ride just the loop, and it’s all very pretty, but it’s also the most trafficked part of the ride. I’d go the other way: ride Jonive Rd.>Barnett Valley Rd. as an out-and-back.

Adding miles: Occidental is the starting point for our Coleman Valley Rd. ride, whose road surface was atrocious the last time I did it, and our Bohemian Highway loop, which can get trafficky. Bohemian Highway takes you to Monte Rio on the Russian River, which is near our Sweetwater Springs Rd. ride and our Kings Ridge Rd. ride. Heading south, if you can endure one more short stretch of the Bodega Highway you’ll get to Valley Ford Freestone Rd., which takes you to all the riding around Tamales Bay and our Chileno Valley loop.

If you’re set up for rough road surfaces, you can happily explore the warren of little roads to the east of Jonive and Barnett Valley Rds.

Cavedale Road

Distance: 15-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 2630 ft

This is a winding, narrow backroad in the Wine Country with one striking virtue that makes it stand out among Wine Country rides: new, glassy pavement. It has all been recently repaved (in 2022-23) and is glass (thanks, Paul). If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you haven’t ridden in Sonoma County very much. Among our Wine Country rides, this, Mt. Veeder Road, and Hopland Road are the only three with respectable pavement, and Veeder is chipseal and Hopland is big and trafficky, so Cavedale is the only well-paved backroad climb in the area.

Cavedale Rd. climbs up and down over a ridge between the Napa and the Sonoma Valleys. From the SE end, it’s a pure climb to the summit—in 5.2 miles you accumulate a total elevation gain of 1930 ft and a total descent of 18 ft. It’s a pretty steady 8-10%, with lots of little stingers of 12+% that RidewithGPS refuses to acknowledge. The climb from the NE end is milder, but only because you have to climb Trinity Grade to get to the start, so unless you do Trinity by car the elevation gain (and the amount of 8-10% pitch) is about the same from either direction. In other words, it’s work.

When I did it the repaving was still in progress, so I wasn’t able to ride the entire road. Even though my map route is an out and back of the whole thing, in fact I rode from the Sonoma end to the summit and back. I’ll describe what I rode, and we can assume the rest of the road is similar.

The repaving hasn’t widened or straightened the road, so it still varies from one-lane-plus at its widest to true one-lane and is never straight, which makes the steady 10% pitches bearable. The landscape is mostly dry, with some fire damage, and the main visual payoff are the frequent vistas of the Sonoma valley below you once you gain some altitude.

Sonoma Valley views

You’d think a lonely, narrow, serpentining, glass-surfaced descent would be marvelous. I didn’t find it so. It’s fun but not exhilarating, because it’s too steep, with too many blind corners and too much traffic for you to let it it rip. In fact, I would say that trying to rip this descent would be seriously dangerous, unless you have disk brakes and an eagle eye for on-coming cars, since there is no shoulder, a major drop-off at either edge of the pavement, and no guardrails. Tellingly, two people I met on the road separately told me, without prompting, to be careful on the descent, and when I came down I saw why. I rode it at a mellow pace, without pressing, and enjoyed it.

Cavedale from the southeast end begins climbing immediately, and there’s no shoulder to park on anywhere near it on Hwy 12, so for those two reasons I suggest you drive north on Hwy 12 a half mile to wide, open, flat Madrone Rd. and park/warm up there. Ride back to Cavedale, thanking god you don’t have to be on busy and dangerous Hwy 12 any longer than this.

At the base of Cavedale there are a number of promising/interesting signs: “Winding one-lane road, RV’s and trailers not recommended” (always encouraging for cyclists); “Road narrows” (which seems impossible, given the width at that point); and a sign telling you that the recent repaving is partly paid for out of profits from Levi’s Grand Fondo, the enormous group ride out of Santa Rosa—thank you, Mr. Leipheimer! (Hey, some of that money is mine!)

It’s all pretty much like this

About riding Cavedale itself there is little to add. It’s all up for 5.1 miles to an obvious summit. For a while there is little to distract you—there are no forks or crossroads and no visible houses by the road. Many people live in the area and use the road (hence the traffic), but they’re all down long driveways and nothing is visible from the road except for the occasional gate. There is some fire damage, but the terrain is so barren you will hardly notice. Views of the valley below improve as you ascend, and near the top of the hill the inevitable Sonoma vineyards begin to appear.

Past the summit the road descends steeply for a half mile, then becomes mellow (4-5%) up and down to the turn-around.

A steady 7-10% pitch

Shortening the route: Ride to the summit and back. For a much easier ride, ride from the northwest end to the summit and back (4.4 miles).

Adding miles: As discussed in the Mt. Veeder Road ride, Mt. Veeder and Cavedale are sorta parallel, so you can loop them both by riding one, then Trinity Grade to the other, then a rather lengthy connector through the greater Sonoma area. Locals do it, but I wouldn’t. I think Hwy 12, which you would need to ride from Cavedale to Sonoma, is a death trap—narrow, very busy in both directions, with no shoulder.

See the Mt. Veeder Road Adding Miles section for options at the northwest end of Cavedale.

Old Howell Mountain Road to Ink Grade

Distance: 25-mile dumbbell
Elevation gain: 3340 ft

(Note: Apparently there was a nearly-impassable washout on Old Howell Mt. Road earlier in 2023 but the road is now clear—see reader comment below.)

This ride is a bit of a grab bag.  It strings together three climbs and three descents, each with its own character.  Locals typically ride it one way, from south to north, and continue on, as a part of pleasant longer routes we’ll discuss in Adding Miles.  But it’s equally good in both directions, and I’m not crazy about those longer routes, so I’ve mapped it as an out and back dumbbell.  The scenery is fairly ordinary for the area, and I wouldn’t drive far out of my way to do it, but it has nice variety, a very nice climb, and the thrill of riding a Forbidden Road (see below).  It also includes 1.6 miles of a nasty mix of heavy traffic and broken pavement which you must simply survive.

Because Old Howell Mt. Road is officially closed to all vehicles (see below), many maps (including electronic ones) don’t acknowledge its existence.  Also, various maps have various opinions about what it’s called.  Just follow the route map and you’ll be fine.

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Hopland Road

Distance: 35 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3925 ft

This is one of seven rides (all detailed in the Adding Miles section of the Mountain View Road post) that are worth doing around Boonville, a charming little town with good food and an interesting history, so I encourage you to find a place to stay in the area, make a cycling holiday out of it, and do all of them.

On paper, Hopland Road (aka Hwy 175) is exactly the sort of road Bestrides avoids like the plague: a big, wide main route between two fairly uninteresting towns with an unaltered pitch (read: slog) through unprepossessing scrublands.   The climbing is monotonous, the shoulder is minimal, and the traffic is well above Bestrides’ preferred one car per mile.  But the descending is swell and the vistas are breath-taking.  Do the ride for these two rewards, or don’t do it at all.  And, on the bright side, the traffic, while noticeable, isn’t obnoxious, since the two communities the road connects (Hopland and Lakeport) are both small and the road is straight and wide enough that passing is easy everywhere, and the road surface is flawless, at least on the west side of the summit.

If you don’t like out and backs or just find that once on Hopland Road is enough, I show you a way to loop the ride (on some dirt) in Adding Miles.

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Geysers Road

Distance: 42-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3820 ft

(Note 11/12/20: Geysers Road was a victim of the Kincaide Fire.  Richard (in his comment below) says the landscape is OK.)

Many areas have the “Big Ride,” the one you do on the day you want to put in some miles and do some work.  In the Wine Country, the Big Ride is Geysers Road (when it isn’t Stewarts Point/Skaggs Springs Rd.).

When I reached the beginning of the Geysers Road climb, I was stopped by a group of road maintenance guys and we got to talking.  Did I really want to do this?, one of them asked.  Geysers, he said, was a mess.  Long and steep, with a surface that was at its best broken pavement, at its worst full of gravel, rocks, and fallen plant material, with frequent stretches of dirt road and spots of minimally repaired earthquake damage where the road “just falls off.”  Also no water or other reprovisioning opportunities, and little to no cell service.

As it turns out, he was absolutely right, but it’s a wonderful ride nonetheless and nothing to be feared.  Except for one hard mile of 14-15% climbing, all the elevation gain (c. 4000 ft) is thoroughly manageable, and the scenery is stunning.  As with all Wine Country riding, the road surface is indeed poor, varying from sorta OK to wretched, but the worst of it is on the ascent, when you’re doing 5-7 mph and it’s not an issue.   I found the earthquake sections geologically fascinating.  And the isolation is a large part of the appeal—after I passed the turn-off to the gravel pit 3 miles in I can’t remember seeing a single vehicle.  (Mike below says 2021 saw a major patching of potholes and the road surface is now better.)

If you have everyone’s image of the Wine Country—vineyards, gently rolling hills, old farm houses, everything neat as a pin—forget it.  Geysers is a wild and woolly climb up the side of a creek canyon, followed by a few ridge crossings and mad descents through more canyons, all barren of signs of humanity (one house, one thermal power plant).   No wine tasting here.  You do, however, get that stereotypical Wine Country riding experience on the Geysers Rd.-to-Cloverdale leg.

You want to ride Geysers from north to south.  The road is in two halves with very different characters.  The north side (up to the Geysers Resort Road turn-off) is narrow, mellow of pitch, rough, and winding.  The south side is steep, wider, straighter, and smoother (though not smooth).  So riding from south to north robs you of most of the road’s rewards: instead of a charming, curious, and mellow ascent and a speedy, relatively smooth descent, you get a steep, relatively featureless slog up to the summit, followed by an unpleasantly rough descent.  You’ll see riders beginning at the south end, but I suspect they’re riding to the summit and back.  This is fine if all you want is a workout, but the north side is by far the prettier and more dramatic.

By the way, you won’t see geysers.  You’ll see some developed thermal activity in the distance to your L, but it isn’t pretty and the resort itself is closed.

I would avoid this ride on a hot summer day, since much of it is exposed and there is no water.

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Mt. Veeder Road

Distance: 21 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2440 ft

I love this road.  It’s loaded with character, and will charm you, I promise.

Mt. Veeder Rd. is a text-book two-hour ride: a straight ride up and over a summit, then return.   The landscape is varied and always pretty, and the road contour is ever-changing.  It’s a perfect ride, and the descent is my favorite descent in the Wine Country.  Once it was cursed with the usual Sonoma County lousy road surface.  About that I have good news, bad news, and good news.  The good news is that MVR has been recently repaved (Thanks, Joel) and it is now without a pothole or patch, so you can absolutely rip the descent.  The bad news is, it’s chipseal, so it’s a mite chattery. The other good news is, the repaving was done a while ago and car traffic has had time to wear down the worst of the jaggedness.  It’s not great, but it’s good.  The workload is between easy and hard—you’ll notice the climbing on both sides of the summit.

MVR is paralleled by a much more car-friendly road, Dry Creek Road (more on that later), that goes to the same place, so logically it should be car-free.  It isn’t.  When last I rode it, Monday afternoon in March, it was at times almost busy.  As with every other rural road is California, MVR is suffering from an influx of mansions and vineyards.  Again, it’s not great but it’s good.

By the way, names are misleading here.  You are not climbing a mountain, and, despite the fact that you begin on Redwood Road and follow Redwood Creek for miles, these are not redwood forests.  If you look up the hillside to the west you can spot some scraggly redwoods, but that’s it.  Still, the non-redwood woods are quite pretty.

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Coleman Valley Road

Distance: 22 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2600 ft

Occidental is an amazing cycling resource. Six roads head out of this little town, and each one of them is some degree of wonderful for riders. All 6 figure in a Bestrides route in one way or another. This route focuses on the roads to the west of town.

This ride has great variety of scenery and road contour in only 12 miles—dense deciduous woods, some redwoods, a meadowed valley, some open, rolling coastal uplands, the coast itself, and an iconic climb up from Hwy 1.  It’s all really pretty.  It’s more work than meets the eye—2600 ft in 20 miles, or well over our 100 ft/mile benchmark for climbing hardness, with several short pitches of 10% and three extended climbs you’ll definitely notice.  And the road surface is consistently poor to dreadful (this is, after all, Sonoma County), so all descending is largely spoiled.  Yet I’m very fond of this ride, and I think you will be too.  A bonus is that it starts and ends in Occidental, one of California’s most charming villages.  See Adding Miles below for other routes out of Occidental with much better road surface.

The climb up from the ocean after the turn-around tends to be mentioned in hushed tones by California cyclists, because it figures in the routes of a couple of famous rides, Levi’s Gran Fondo and the Marin Double Century.  It’s a bit of a spirit-crusher after 70 hard miles, but you’re going to be fairly fresh, so it’s not a huge deal.  You’ll climb about 700 ft in about 1.3 miles, roughly 10% average, with a stretch in the middle around 12%.  About the time you start cursing, it’s over.  And it’s at its steepest in the first half, so your spirit improves as you climb.

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King’s Ridge

Distance: 49-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 3920 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

This ride is legendary.  It’s the cornerstone of Levi Leipheimer’s King’s Ridge Gran Fondo, a ride that includes, in addition to most of this loop, our Coleman Valley Road ride, plus about 30 miles of very nice rolling farm and forest land riding out from Santa Rosa to Occidental and back.  I don’t recommend Levi’s ride per se, because I think it’s unfriendly, but the entire route is well worth riding.

As is my method, I’m going to cut out Levi’s 30 miles of merely good riding and just tell you about the great stuff.  It’s all pretty, challenging riding (5530 ft gain, and the poor road surfaces add to the effort).   Perks include redwoods, a classic woodsy village, a Best of the Best descent, and the opportunity to detour to an overnight on the coast.

King’s Ridge Rd. (or King Ridge Rd.—you see it both ways) is a rough, centerline-less sorta-two-lane road that does a lot of climbing and then rolls along a ridge top through beautiful, wild country—rugged ranches and open space.  Traffic is almost non-existent—the last time I rode the 47-mile loop, it was a beautiful holiday and I saw 8 vehicles, or 1 vehicle every 6 miles.  The views from the ridgetop are grand.  You can look north over a series of ridges untouched by Man and imagine that you’re the first human to see it.   The odd thing is, you’re close to right.  If you look at a map of California, you’ll see there’s nothing to the north of you for a hundred miles except a few small, sparsely-traveled roads.   Breathe deeply.  It’s a lonely, inspiring experience (another reason not to do it as part of Levi’s ride, when you have 7,000 riders for company).  It’s not as wild as it used to be, thanks to some invasive vineyards, but it’s still epic.

The bad news is, the road surface varies from poor to lousy for most of the 50 miles.    For some, the rough road surface becomes part of the adventure.  And someone actually repaved 2.2 miles of it (see below), so it’s not as bad as it used to be.

(Note: if you read through the readers’ comments below, you’ll see that the state of the road surfaces on the climb to King’s Ridge is the subject of much debate.  I haven’t seen it in a while, but I gather it’s much improved—by how much is unclear.)

I’ve seen articles which call this ride “the greatest bike ride in America.”  That’s absurd.  It’s good.  It’s in my Best Of the Best, but is actually one of my least favorite rides on that list.

(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.)

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Sweetwater Springs Road

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.

Early Sweetwater rollers

Early Sweetwater rollers

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.

Along the creek

Along the creek (winter)

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.