Originally this page gave very brief descriptions of cycling climbs I did, or Tanya and I did on the tandem, in July and August, 2014. We took a road trip to Utah, then Wyoming, back to Utah, finishing in California. All the climbs were from the second edition of John Summerson’s book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), and if the climb is in Summerson’s top 100 climbs, I’ve shown Summerson’s ranking. For example, #14 means Summerson rates the climb as the 14th hardest in the U.S. I also show Summerson’s ratings of the climbs, so S-1 means Category 1, and S-HC means Hors Category.
But we have been back to California since 2014 so I’ve added information to many of the climbs, and I’ve added additional rides. For a few climbs that I haven’t repeated since 2014, I only give my impressions of the climbs. So if you want to know where these few climbs start, buy Summerson’s book. He also has a book specific to California, which is probably a better book to get if you are interested only in California. Sorry.
If you are interested in cycling in California, a wonderful web site is Best Rides, which has great descriptions of what the author thinks are the best rides in California and Oregon.
Now, onto business. Here are links to the various sections in this long page, so you don’t have to do too much scrolling.
After our main road trip in 2016 we went back to Tucson for a week then Tanya left to visit family in India. I decided to return to California as I wanted to do some of the big climbs in the Eastern Sierra. Rather than include them in this page, I’ve written a separate page about the Eastern Sierra climbs.
Mt Shasta City
Mt Shasta City is a small town on I-5 just south of the Oregon border, nestled under Mt Shasta. The main ride here is to climb the Everitt Memorial Highway up the flanks of Mt Shasta. There are other rides in the area: Summerson lists two more hard climbs, there is a good 8 mile climb to Castle Lake, and Cycle Siskiyou lists several rides and has maps of each. You can also pick up a map of the Siskiyou County Bike Routes in the Fifth Season store in Mt Shasta City.
Mt Shasta (#67, S-1)
This is the big climb in the area, finishing under the rocky, barren slopes of Mt Shasta. It’s about 14.4 miles long with 4,100 feet of climbing. It has a reasonably consistent gradient on a smooth road with a good shoulder, but it’s never very steep. The last couple of miles give you great views of Mt Shasta.
You can start anywhere in Mt Shasta City, and I chose to start at the intersection of Lake Street and Mt Shasta Blvd. Ride NE on Lake St then bear left on N Washington Dr. Continue north on this as it becomes Everitt Memorial Highway. Follow this to the end. At mile 14 the composition and color of the road changes and it becomes very cracked for the last 0.4 miles.
Old Stage Road
Start at the intersection of Lake Street and Mt Shasta Blvd.
Ride down Lake St, across the Interstate, then it becomes Hatchery Ln. At the T-junction, turn right on Old Stage Rd. At the T-junction at mile 3.8 turn left following Old Stage Road. At the 4-way stop at 6.0 miles, continue straight. At the T-junction at 13.3 miles turn around and ride back.
- From the T-junction at the end, turn left on Old 99 Hwy, ride 0.5 miles, then turn left on Stewart Springs Road, and ride up this gentle climb for 4 miles to the resort. After the lovely smooth Old Stage Road, this road feels very rough.
- Ride back along Old Stage Road for about 3 miles to College Ave on the left. Turn left and ride College Ave into Weed then ride the Hoy / Edgewood loop. We were told about this by some cyclists we met – they said it was very pretty but the road is not so good in places.
- On the way back along Old Stage Road, simply explore the many roads that head off to the sides.
The cycling in Sonoma Country is well known for its short steep hills, and its crappy roads. Not all roads are bad – in fact some of them are super-smooth (and usually have more traffic), but the less-traveled roads are often rough and pot-holed. The riding is okay but not my favorite. The Santa Rosa Bike Club has a web page showing “10 great rides“. There’s also a very good Sonoma County Bike Map that you can order online or buy in bike stores.
King Ridge Lollipop
King Ridge is the only reason I can see to come to this area. It has plenty of rough and potholed road, but it’s a great ride: tough and varied, with lots of very steep climbing and wonderful views on the top of the ridge. It’s a famous ride: it’s part of Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo and the Amgen Tour of California has raced this road – I can’t imagine going full speed down some of these hills.
I don’t particularly like riding through trees, and I especially don’t like riding through trees with dappled sunlight on bad roads. There’s plenty of that on this ride, but for this one ride, it adds to the adventure.
I chose to ride it in yet another way (the even better way), with more climbing and less flattish riding. It includes all the climbing on the classic ride, and adds the incredibly steep Meyers Grade Road, and Fort Ross Road.
My variant is 49 miles with 7,320 feet of climbing. I saw almost no traffic on most of the loop. Here’s a useful map.
Park on Hwy 1 about 3 miles north of “downtown” Jenner, at the bridge by the turnoff to Russian Gulch beach, just below the big switchbacks. (I parked just before the bridge but there is more parking after the bridge.) Here are the basic ride directions:
- Ride up the beautiful switchbacks
- At the end of the climbing, at about mile 1.83, turn right onto Meyers Grade Road. This road has some super steep sections where my Garmin showed 20%.
- At mile 6.65 turn right onto Fort Ross Road, following the sign for Cazadero
- At mile 15.67 you reach Cazadero. Turn very, very sharp left onto King Ridge Road
- Follow King Ridge Road easily at first, then more steeply. The next 16 miles vary a lot, with some steep climbing, some rolling riding, trees, no trees, and beautiful views when you are on the ridge out of the trees. The ridge section is what makes the ride great.
- At mile 31.7 turn left following the sign for Hauser Bridge. Descend down to the bridge on a better road than some you’ve been on. The bridge is a one lane, metal surfaced bridge.
- Climb steeply from the bridge then at mile 38.5 you reach an intersection. Continue straight on Seaview Road, following the sign for Cazadero and Jenner.
- Eventually you’ll descend the very steep section on Meyers Grade Road and reach Hwy 1 at 47.14 miles.
- Turn left and descend the wonderful big switchbacks back to your car at 49 miles.
Coleman Road Loop
Starting in Occidental, this loop is 24.7 miles with 3,300 feet of climbing. As with all the riding in this area, the road quality varies considerably, although is never really bad. And the hills, while not long, can be viciously steep. The hardest part of this loop is climbing Joy Road. It’s a wonderful rolling ride with great views and great climbs.
[This ride is a shorter version of the Sonoma Coast loop, and with a slightly different finish. Here’s a useful map. You can also do Coleman Valley Road as an out-and-back. We also did the start of the Sonoma Coast Loop through Monte Rio and down the Russian River then came back up Coleman Valley Road, which gives a great 770 foot climb in 1.5 miles as you leave Hwy 1.]
Start in Occidental and ride west on Coleman Valley Road, with a steep climb out of town. The road rolls for several miles before a 1.5 mile, 770 foot descent drops you down to the coast and Hwy 1 at about 10 miles. Turn left and follow Hwy 1 for about 2 miles. A few hundred yards after the Bodega Bay city limit sign turn left onto Bay Hill Road. Just under 4 miles later, after some good climbing and descending, you rejoin Hwy 1. Turn left and follow this with a reasonable shoulder for 1 mile then turn left at mile 16.85, following signs for Bodega and Sebastapol.
You are now on a beautiful road with a lovely shoulder, so follow this through Bodega. A short distance after Bodega, at about mile 18.25, turn left on Joy Road. Climb this with several very steep sections up to Coleman Valley Road. The upper part of Joy Road is an interesting residential area in a redwood forest. Descend the other side of Joy Road to the Stop sign. Continue straight onto Coleman Valley Road and follow this as it climbs then makes a big descent into Occidental.
(The Sonoma Coast ride turns right on Bittner Road near the top of Joy Road, which reduces the amount of climbing a bit.)
Mt Diablo (S-1)
Mt Diablo is a beautiful climb from either the north or the south. From the south it’s about 11.2 miles and 3,320 feet of climbing. The road twists and turns and the views are wonderful. The northern and southern routes join about 4.5 miles from the top. The final two hundred yards is far and away the steepest section on the climb, reaching a 17% gradient.
We’d previously ridden both sides of Mt Diablo but on this trip we rode it from the south. The climb starts at the intersection of Blackhawk Road and Mt Diablo Scenic Blvd. We parked a short way up Blackhawk Road on Diablo Creek Place. This is another of Jay Rawlins’ “Best of the Best” rides.
Mt Hamilton (S-1)
This is a long but good ride with lovely views. The top 6 miles is amazing, with lots of very tight switchbacks. The whole ride, out and back, is 36.8 miles with 4,800 feet of climbing. This popular ride is another of Jay Rawlins’ “Best of the Best” rides.
Start at the intersection of Mt Hamilton Road and Alum Rock Ave. You will often see many cars parked here. I saw about 50 cyclists including 5 tandems when I did this ride.
The road surface varies between good to rough chip-and-seal to silky smooth. But even the rougher parts are wonderful compared to the roads in Sonoma County.
The climb is never too steep, and even includes two long downhills. At about 6 miles you get your first view of the Lick Observatory, which seems to be miles away. At 11 miles, everything changes: you see the observatory rearing up ahead of you, the road goes downhill, and the surface changes to silky smooth. The last 6 miles are wonderful to climb, and even more incredible to descend.
Sierra Road (S-1)
This ride is only about 3 miles from the start of Mt Hamilton and I read about it on Jay Rawlins’ site. So after riding Mt Hamilton I drove over there and just rode the uphill, which is 3.65 miles long with 1,805 feet of climbing. It has some brutally steep 18% sections, but fortunately the climb is stepped so the steep parts don’t last too long.
Start at the intersection of Sierra Road and Piedmont Road. Ride uphill to the top, to the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve viewpoint.
San Luis Obispo County
There are some lovely rides in San Luis Obispo County, many of them centered on Paso Robles. The San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club has a great web page that lists all its weekly scheduled rides, and lower on the page several lists of its favorite rides. And here’s another web site with photos and descriptions of many Central Coast routes.
This is a beautiful road, California at its best with its steep, yellow hills and gorgeous views. The classic ride is a 53 mile out-and-back from Fort Hunter Liggett to Hwy 1 and back, but the best part is the descent to and climb out from Hwy 1. However, when I did the climb in June 1, 2021, the road was officially closed due to damage from a fire in 2020 and huge flooding in January 2021.
Because of the closure I chose to just do the climb from Hwy 1, which is a climb of 7 miles and 2,590 feet of climbing. The start is about 43 miles north of Cambria, and I parked at the Vicente Trailhead. There are several big parking pullouts in the half mile south of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Okay, I know this is slightly outside San Luis Obispo County but it’s in the general area.
Fortunately the road was not as bad as I had read. The road has been repaired enough that I was on asphalt the whole way, although in the absence of cars there was a fair amount of sand on the road in the upper section. On the other hand, in the absence of cars it was a wonderfully quiet and peaceful ride.
Ride up the road as it twists and turns, with beautiful views of the golden hills. At the obvious top, turn round and ride back down, taking care on the sandy curves. While not paying attention to the turns, enjoy the gorgeous views. Unfortunately I was in sea fog for the lower 1.5 miles so I never got to see the views of the sea.
Summerson says it is “a solid climb that is perhaps the most scenic in the U.S.” Jack Rawlins says the full ride from Fort Hunter Liggett and back is “the best ride in California and Oregon.”
Santa Rosa Creek Road
This is a very interesting ride that leaves directly from the pretty town of Cambria on the coast. I say interesting because it has the most varied road surfaces I’ve ever ridden on, changing frequently from silky to rough to cracked and potholed then back again (as of June 2021). And yet it’s beautiful and varied, with incredible climbing and views near the top. If the road surface was uniformly silky it would be one of the best rides anywhere. The climb from Cambria to the top of the climb is 12.3 miles with 2,100 feet of climbing.
The first few miles are relatively flat on nice roads. Then the canyon closes and the road twists and turns and rolls through the trees. In places the road is slowly falling down into the river below(!) – these places are generally marked with poles.
Then the valley widens and things open up. Just under two miles from the top you are faced with some viciously steep but thankfully short ramps, and then it becomes just steep up to the top. This upper section has some horrible road surface which isn’t so bad on the way up, but much less pleasant on the way down, but the situation and the views make it totally worthwhile.
Once at the top you have various choices. We turned round and rode back down, but you could continue another 4 miles to Hwy 46 then turn round (the final mile back up to the summit from the other side is also brutally steep). For other suggestions, see Jay Rawlins’ wonderful page on this ride.
Some of the best rides in San Luis Obispo County are in the wine country to the west of Paso Robles. There are three main roads that head west: Nacimiento Lake Drive / Chimney Rock Road, Adelaida Road, Peachy Canyon Road – and you can make a big loop or two smaller loops out of them. Then there are a few add-ons.
The riding is all wonderful – rolling and twisting through beautiful hilly wine country. As you ride up and down and around, you pass many vineyards, wineries, and ranches. Of all these great roads, the one that you really have to do is Peachy Canyon as it returns to Paso Robles. This ride is superb and complex on a beautiful road – it’s, well, peachy. It has very little traffic, as do all the roads except Nacimiento Lake Rd.
A very good shorter ride is to go out Adelaida and come back along Peachy Canyon. This gives you the most climbing on the best roads. Nacimiento Lakes Rd is busy but with a good shoulder. When it turns into Chimney Rock Rd you lose the shoulder and the traffic, and the road surface becomes cracked but still fairly smooth. The worst road surfaces are on part of the Cypress Mountain loop
and on most of Willow Creek Rd. A good extension is to continue up Chimney Rock Rd instead of turning left on Cypress Mountain Rd.
Update, May 2021: Willow Creek Road has been resurfaced and is now a delight to ride. A very good ride is to go out Peachy Canyon Road to its end at Vineyard Drive, then turn left on Vineyard. Follow this rolling road for 4 miles then turn left on Willow Creek Road. Follow this gently uphill for 4 miles until it ends at Peachy Canyon Road. Turn right and return back on Peachy Canyon Road. From the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Olive Street this gives you a beautiful ride of about 29 miles with 2,800 feet of climbing.
Rather than trying to describe all the options in this beautiful area, I’ll simply point you to San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club’s page about their favorite rides (scroll down pas the organized ride section). And Jay Rawlins raves about Peachy Canyon as an out-and-back.
Santa Rita Road-Cypress Mountain Road Loop
This is a tough and varied loop: easy rolling, brutally steep hills, rough pavement, silky pavement, hard-pack gravel. It goes through some beautiful country with some spectacular views, and will give you 45.3 miles and 4,750′ of climbing.
The ride has almost 16 miles of gravel, so you have to make the decision about what type of wheels to use. I chose gravel wheels but many people choose road wheels as the dirt is mainly hard-pack. Unless you want to do lots of uphill riding on gravel, go clockwise – that way you only have 1.3 miles up uphill gravel.
Start in Templeton, at the intersection of Vineyard Road and S. Bethel Road. I parked 100 feet down the S. Bethel Road on Via Rojas.
The ride can be considered to have several parts:
- Ride down S. Bethel Road, which becomes Santa Rita Road, and continue for roughly 13 miles, of which about 9 miles are downhill gravel road, mainly through the wooded canyon, until you reach the intersection with Old Creek Road.
- Turn right on Old Creek Road and follow this for just over 5 miles to Hwy 46. There’s some very steep climbing in the first 3.4 miles, then it rolls prettily to Hwy 46.
- Cross the busy Hwy 46 onto Santa Rosa Creek Road, where the road surface becomes much more cracked. In just under 4 miles you reach the high point of this road, with spectacular views looking down the valley and over towards the sea. The last mile up to the high point are brutally steep. Continue down the other side for about 0.5 miles to where Cypress Mountain Road, a dirt road, heads off to the right. It has a sign saying the the road is closed to through traffic, which is not true. I think they just want to discourage people using the road as a shortcut. (The name of the road is confusing, being called Cypress Mountain Road on the street sign, but Cypress Mountain Drive in Google Map and Apple Maps. But no matter, the road you follow is totally obvious.)
- Ride up Cypress Mountain Road for 1.3 miles, very steeply at first then more easily and with beautiful views, until you reach the high point. Another 5 miles of downhill gravel road and you reach pavement again at Klau Mine Road.
- From now on the riding is much easier, rolling and very pretty. Every turn is to the right. Turn right on Klau Mine Road and follow this for just over 2 miles. Turn right on Adelaida Road and follow this for just over a mile. Turn right on Vineyard Road and follow this for about 11 miles until you reach S. Bethel Road again.
Prefumo Canyon & See Canyon
I didn’t think there was much good cycling around San Luis Obispo – except for the tough ride from SLO to Avila Beach via Prefumo Canyon and See Canyon. As an out-and-back, this gives a ride of 31 miles with 3,040 feet of climbing. But what climbing! On the way out my Garmin registered some ramps of 13% and on the way back sections of 17% and one brutal ramp of 19%. I don’t really trust my Garmin to tell the truth, but I do know that these ramps felt steep.
Park at side of Prefumo Canyon Road at the intersection of Los Oscos & Prefumo Canyon. The climb up Prefumo Canyon has variable road quality and very variable gradients, including some ramps my Garmin showed as 13%. At about 4.5 miles you leave the canyon and have gorgeous vistas. The road surface become silky smooth and you’ll see some incredible houses whose inhabitants get to enjoy the gorgeous views.
A short steep downhill on poor road surface leads to 1.1 miles of hard-packed gravel road. In this gravel section the road changes name from Prefumo Canyon Road to See Canyon Road, which you will now follow until it dead ends at San Luis Bay Drive at about 13 miles.
Turn right and follow SLBD a short way, almost to the bridge and traffic lights. Just before the bridge, turn right into Avila Village, where you will find the Bob Jones bike path on the left by the Woodstone Marketplace. Turn right and follow the bike path into the pretty little town of Avila Beach.
Return the same way. On the way back See Canyon starts easily then the gradient changes drastically – my Garmin was showing a long section of 17%. Repeat the 1.1 miles of gravel then you’ll be faced with a ferociously steep little section to the top of the climb. Enjoy the gorgeous views again then enjoy the twisty descent back to SLO.
The next few climbs are in the Santa Barbara area, and one thing you may find here is that the sea fog can come in and hang over the coastal area, especially in the mornings. But even when the coast is gray and gloomy, doing these climbs can take you up into the world of sunshine and light.
San Marcos Rd/Painted Cave (S-1) A lovely climb, only 5.5 miles with 3,485 feet of climbing. The upper (Painted Cave) part has some fantastic steep riding, then finishes along a single-lane road through a lovely wood. There’s even a huge boulder that overhangs the road and is a popular spot for rock climbers. If you are driving to the start, a good place to park is at Tucker’s Grove Park on Cathedral Oaks Road, just a short way east of San Marcos Rd.
Gibraltar Road (#85, S-1) A beautiful and tough climb of 10.2 miles with 3,560 feet of climbing. There’s a section maybe a mile long in the upper part that needs some repair work so be careful coming down that part. Updated May, 2021: the upper part has been repaved and is now gloriously smooth and delightful. It’s now a great climb and beautiful descent. If you are driving to the start a good place to park is at Rocky Nook Park on E. Los Olivos Street, a hundred feet from the start of Mountain Drive.
Ride up Mountain Drive until it splits then continue up Gibraltar Road. At the ridge where a road head right to Divide Peak OHV, follow the main road left, do a short downhill, then continue climbing E. Camino Cielo until you reach the obvious antennae.
Extra Credit: 13.4 miles and 1,400 feet of climbing. At the ridge a road turns right towards Divide Peak OHV; take this right turn. Continue along the ridge as it twists and rolls for 6.7 miles to where it turns to dirt. At this point you will have descended about 900 feet and climbed about 500 feet. Turn round and ride back.
Mountain Drive. Since we are in the Gibraltar area, a fun ride is to continue along Mountain Drive until it finishes at the intersection with San Ysidro Lane in Montecito. Mountain Drive actually continues a bit further but becomes a private road.
The whole out-and-back ride is about 15.7 miles with 1,400 feet of climbing, marginally more on the way out than the way back.
Starting near Rock Nook Park, ride east on first Mountain Drive then E. Mountain Drive. The road surface in Santa Barbara is very varied, but in Montecito it becomes much smoother. The road twists and turns and climbs and descends, and there are plenty of beautiful looking properties to keep you entertained.
Painted Cave – Gibraltar Loop. In 2014 I combined the Painted Cave climb with Gibraltar Road, going up SanMarcos/Painted Cave, along Camino Cielo (which has beautiful views of the ocean and endless climbing), and down Gibraltar Road, then turned round at Mountain Drive and reversed the route. It was the most fun and twisty ride I’d done in a long time. So many turns. The whole ride was about 46 miles with 8,000 feet of climbing.
But rather than doing an out-and-back, the two climbs make a fantastic loop of about 29 miles and 4,400 feet of climbing. Some people say it’s one of the best rides they’ve ever done. Both ways are good but I think clockwise is best because Gibraltar Road is a much nicer descent than Painted Cave. The easiest way to connect the two climbs at the bottom is along Hwy 192 and Cathedral Oaks Road, which can be busy, especially on the eastern end. If you are doing the loop, a great place to park is Tucker’s Grove Park at the intersection of Cathedral Oaks Road and N. Turnpike Road. We rode this loop in 2021.
Gibraltar Reservoir Gravel Ride. This is a beautiful ride on the back side of the front range, which drops down to Gibraltar Reservoir then climbs back out, through very gorgeous country. The out-and-back is about 19.7 miles and 3,380 feet of climbing.
From Angostura Pass (okay, where Gibraltar Road hits the ridge, drop down to the left, and where the road starts to climb again up E. Camino Cielo, Gibraltar Road actually becomes a gravel road and drops down the north side of the ridge) follow the gravel road down to the reservoir about 6.6 miles below. Continue down the road (take the left fork where it splits) then climb several hundred feet before dropping again until the gravel road becomes paved at the large Red Rock trailhead parking area. Turn around and ride back out.
I learned about this ride watching this video, but decided to do an out-and-back rather than climbing Arroyo Burro because the out-and-back gave more gravel riding. Now that I’ve done it I’d love to do more gravel riding in the Santa Barbara area.
Refugio Road (#51, S-1) About 10.9 miles with 3,857 feet of climbing, this is a strange climb. Summerson describes it as “a stunning climb” but I wasn’t as impressed. The steep first part of the climb has a very poor road surface in places. After about 5 miles you turn right and follow the ridge on an easier but much better road.
From the intersection of Hwy 101 and Refugio Road, drive inland for 1.8 miles to the start of the climb. Or simply ride from the intersection.
Ronald Reagan had a big ranch up Refugio Road, Rancho del Cielo, also known as the Western White House, to which he invited world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabath, and Mikhail Gorbachev. I suspect they got there by helicopter rather than along the road.
Figueroa Road East (S-1)
A tough climb, with some sustained climbing, about 9.7 miles with 3,342 feet of climbing. When I rode this in 2014 I couldn’t find the start to the east side (didn’t have Google Maps) so I started up the west side and went down the east side, then returned the same way to give an out-and-back ride of 38.6 miles with about 6,500 feet of climbing. The road from the west varies in quality, while from the east it’s more consistently good. Except for a one mile dirt section near the bottom of the east side that exists for no apparent reason.
Figueroa Road West (S-1). However, the east side is not nearly as good as the west side, which is much more beautiful and varied, with constant changes in gradient. The west side was in the first edition of Summerson’s book but has been dropped from the second edition (it’s still in the California book). A shame because while the west side may be slightly easier than the east side, it’s a lot more fun and has much better views.
If you want to drive to the start, go north on Figueroa Mountain Road from Hwy 154 at Los Olivos. After about 7 miles the the road turns sharply right and starts climbing. There are two big parking areas just before and after the turn. From here, the climb is about 9.3 miles and 3,280 feet of climbing. Alternatively, ride from Los Olivos up the pretty valley to the start of the climb.
If you do either side of Figueroa Road (or both sides), visit the nearby town of Solvang, a very cutesy Danish-style town.
Sulphur Mountain Road (S-2). This is a lovely little climb just east of the pretty town of Ojai. There is a big parking lot a few hundred yards down Montgomery Street from Hwy 150. From the intersection of Montgomery and 150 the out-and-back ride is about 22 miles with 2,400 feet of climbing.
Head east on Hwy 150. After about 2 miles you now have a lovely 1.5 mile twisty climb that gains several hundred feet. After 6.3 miles from the start, turn right on Sulphur Mountain Road. In another 0.4 miles the big climb starts. It’s fun, twisty, and as Summerson says, it’s a Must Do climb in this area. The true climb ends at 9.6 miles but the road continues, mainly descending, to where the paved road ends at a gate at 11 miles.
At this point the road turns to dirt and is apparently a popular gravel ride. Unless you want to continue for about 11 miles, mainly downhill, on the dirt road, turn round and retrace your path back to Ojai.
In June, 2020, we spent three days in Visalia, which lies in the Central Valley and is the closest decent-size town to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. All the rides in the mountains require a bit of a drive from Visalia, especially Kings Canyon.
Sequoia (#31, S-HC/1)
This is a lovely climb on a beautifully smooth road up into Sequoia National Park. The road gets a lot of traffic so it’s best to start early. Unfortunately, on the initial part of the climb you are looking into the sun so the views are not so great. However, the descent gives you much better views, and best of all, the road is smooth, the curves are never too tight, and it’s a wonderful and fun descent. The climb is about 16.6 miles with 4,965 feet of climbing.
Drive up Hwy 198 through the ridiculously long village of Three Rivers to Sequoia National Park. I parked my car just above the pay station in a parking area to the right, then I rode back down to the Park entrance to start.
Follow the road up the valley for a few miles and then the road starts switchbacking up to the left. The gradient varies, with plenty of 6-8%, and a small amount of 9-10%. For parts of the ride there is a beautiful stone wall on the outside of the road.
At mile 14.3 you enter the Giant Forest where you’ll see lots of very tall trees, and a few sequoias (at one point the road splits and both directions pass between sequoias. The next three miles is the steepest section of the climb. Once you reach the Moro Rock turnout on the right, the road starts to descend, so this is where the main climb finishes. You could continue to the Sherman Tree or even further, but by Moro Rock you’ve done the big climb.
Mineral King Road (#30, S-HC/1)
The paved-road climb is about 19.5 miles with 5,440 feet of climbing. It starts in the eastern part of Three Rivers, about two miles before the entrance to Sequoia National Park, and the Mineral King Road turnoff on the right is well marked.
I started early to beat the heat, but unfortunately I had the sun in my eyes for much of the ascent. The first 9 miles of the climb have the most inconsistent road surface, and there are some steep sections, but overall the climb is not too bad.
At mile 6.5 you see a pipe up on the hillside above you, then you cross a bridge to the left. At about mile 9 you pass a beautiful granite slab on the left with water cascading down it. At mile 9.3 you see a sign saying “End of County Maintained Road” and you wonder, given the rough surface, how they can claim to have maintained it at all.
At mile 9.5 you enter Sequoia National Park and the road surface becomes better. But on your way down you remember that “better” is a relative term.
Then at 10.3 miles you turn a corner to the left and a whole new valley opens up with new views. The rest of the climb is significantly steeper than the previous 10 miles, with plenty of 10-13% grade. I stood a lot on this section. Just above Atwell Campground, at about mile 19.5, with no warning the road simply turns to dirt. I turned around here.
The descent is steep and rough. In a couple of places there are signs that say “Save Your Brakes. Use a Lower Gear.” On a bicycle you don’t have a choice.
Kings Canyon (S-1)
What an incredible ride in big, magnificent country! Jay Rawlins says “one of the best rides I know of anywhere and a hands-down Best of the Best ride”. The ride as I did it is 53.5 miles with 5,250 feet of climbing and is absolutely worth doing.
The ride starts with a fantastic and fun descent, continues along a sensational shelf above the river bottom, descends to the river, then follows the crystal-clear river uphill for about 16 miles, then returns the same way.
It’s along drive from Visalia but worth it. Use Google Maps to get you there. We didn’t do the full ride as described by Rawlins, but took one of his suggestions about shortening the ride. We drove into the Canyon from Grant Grove Village, to where you suddenly leave the trees and see the canyon open up in all its vast magnificence. This is a good place to start.
Start with a delightful 5.5 mile descent down to the gas station and restaurant where Kings Canyon Lodge used to be, then another mile takes you to the start of a delicious shelf that rolls for three miles above the river. Just as you reach the end of the canyon and wonder where to go, the road makes a wonderful S-bend and in another two miles you are crossing a bridge across the river.
Follow the rushing, crystal-clear river uphill for about 16 miles to Road’s End, with quite a lot of gradual climbing. The first 10 miles are nothing special, apart from the amazing river, but after Cedar Grove the valley opens up and you have spectacular views of some amazing granite cliffs on the left.
Turn around at Road’s End and head back. The shelf above the river was vastly more interesting this way, with its sensational S-bend, then the five mile climb back above Kings Canyon Lodge is just pure delight with all the magnificent views of the Sierras.
The Six and a Half Faces of Soledad
This ride in La Jolla climbs to the top of Mt Soledad and around the cross at the Veterans Memorial Park six and a half times (the half time being a route that doesn’t go fully to the bottom.) This ride is based on the popular 5 Faces of Soledad climb, which you can find by doing a web search.
The ride is a series of out-and-backs from the top and you can obviously start at any of the bottom points. I started at the most northern one as we were staying in La Jolla Shores.
The classic 5 Faces of Soledad is about 25 miles with 3,620 feet of climbing. The 6 1/2 Faces of Soledad is about 32 miles with 4,910 feet of climbing.
On the image above, the blue lines show the classic 5 faces. The red line is the sixth face I rode, and the orange line is the half face, which only goes down until it joins Nautilus St. There are several other routes you can create if you want more, the most obvious being Hillside Drive.
Four of the routes share the last 0.6 miles to the Memorial, so you’ll be repeating part of the ride multiple times. I did the out-and-backs clockwise. Here goes.
- Start at the intersection of Hidden Valley Rd and Torrey Pines Rd. Ride up Hidden Valley Rd and turn right on Via Capri. The gradient reaches 19% on Via Capri. At the top turn left and ride up to and around the Veterans Memorial cross. This is the shortest and steepest route.
- Head south on La Jolla Scenic Drive to the first traffic light. Turn left and ride down Soledad Mountain Rd to the bottom at Garnet Ave. Ride back up and around the cross. This is the longest and generally easiest route, although there are three short sections of 8%.
- Head south on La Jolla Scenic Drive to the second traffic light. Turn left on Cardeno Drive and ride down to Turquoise Street. Ride back up and around the cross. There is a nice section of 8% on this climb.
- Head south on La Jolla Scenic Drive to the second traffic light. Continue straight down La Jolla Scenic Drive to the T-junction. Turn right then turn left on La Jolla Mesa Drive and continue down to Turquoise Street. Ride back up and around the cross. There is some nice 9-10% near the bottom.
- Head south on La Jolla Scenic Drive to the second traffic light. Turn right and ride down Nautilus Street to La Jolla Blvd. Ride back up and around the cross. The road above Muirlands Drive is beautifully paved and a delight to ride, and has a nice 8-9% section. You have now done the classic 5 Faces of Soledad.
- This is the half face. Head down La Jolla Scenic Drive for a very short way then at the red and white radio towers, turn right on Via Casa Alta. After a gentle climb, descend very steeply to Upper Hillside. Turn left and head down Caminito Valverde and Via Valverde to Nautilus Street. (I love that this road is called Valverde after one of my cycling heroes 🙂 ) Ride back up and around the cross. Valverde has some sections of 14% and Via Casa Alta has some 15%.
- Head down La Jolla Scenic Drive for a very short way then at the red and white radio towers, turn right on Via Casa Alta. After a gentle climb, descend very steeply to Upper Hillside. Facing you is a gate with the sign 7242 Encilia. At the left side of the big gate is a small gate for pedestrians and cyclists. Go through this, ride down the private road, and find the the small gate at the left side of the lower big gate. Ride down Upper Hillside Drive, Encilia Drive, Brodiaea Way, Romero Drive, Country Club Drive, Exchange Place to Torrey Pines Rd. Ride back up and around the cross. There are several steep sections, including 14% on Brodiaea Way and 15% on Via Casa Alta.
- Descend back down Via Capri and Hidden Valley Road.
(Interestingly, the big cross at the Mt Soledad Veterans Memorial is mired in controversy because of the First Amendment separation of church and state. Courts have several times ordered it to be removed.)
Great Western Loop
The route is mainly obvious, but there are a few places where it helps to know what to do.
Park in the shopping center by the intersection of Jamacha Road and Willow Glen Drive, in Rancho San Diego. The distances shown here start at this intersection. They are mainly based on Google maps because this area has strange magical qualities: after about 30 miles my Garmin 500 suddenly started showing that I had ridden 557 miles.
- 5.0 miles, turn right on Dehesa Road.
- 8.3 miles, at the 3-way stop, turn right to stay on Dehesa Road.
- 13.1 miles, turn right on Japatul Road. This next section is delicious – mainly uphill, lovely scenery, and you can see the road winding and climbing ahead of you.
- 20.1 miles, turn right on Lyons Valley Road, and start heading downhill. This next section feels remote, and is spectacular, with lovely views of hills covered with rocks.
- 27.8 miles, at the intersection with Skyline TT continue straight. The next section is narrower and twistier.
- 29.5 miles, you start a steep twisty downhill section that ends up in a beautiful rock filled valley. But all good downhills end, and you are faced with a brutally steep little hill to exit.
- 33.6 miles, turn left at stop sign.
- 34.2 miles, start another lovely twisty downhill.
- 36.4 miles, turn left at the T-junction
- 37.3 miles, turn right on Jamul Drive. Pay attention or you’ll miss the turn.
- 40.4 miles, turn right on Steele Canyon Road.
- 40.9 miles, turn left on Willow Glen Drive.
- 41.7 miles, back to Jamacha Road and the finish.
Note: if you need water on the route, turn left at mile 13.1 on Tavern Road and ride up for 0.5 miles. At the first house on the right there’s a triangle garden with a tap in the middle of the triangle. At mile 29.1 you’ll find the Lyons Valley Trading Post.
Pacific Coast Highway
This is a popular ride from La Jolla, heading north through Torrey Pines and UCSD, to Del Mar and back. You can go further but it gets less interesting beyond Del Mar. As described, it’s a 17.6 mile roundtrip, with 1,240 feet of climbing.
Start at the intersection of Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Shores Drive. Ride north on La Jolla Shores Drive, climbing up through two switchbacks past the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. At the traffic light, turn left on Torrey Pines Road and follow this to a second traffic light. Turn left again and follow Torrey Pines Road to a beautiful, long downhill. At the bottom of this you pass the lovely Torrey Pines State Beach before another climb takes up and over to Del Mar. Ride through Del Mar until you get bored and decide to turn back.
Riding back, you climb the wonderful hill out of the State Beach. Never too steep, this is a great hill to power up; some cyclists use it to ride hill repeats.
(As you ride through Del Mar you’ll see several steep roads leading away from the sea; in particular, Del Mar Heights Road is a fun little climb that leads to a neighborhood to its south that has several steep little roads to explore.)
Townes Pass East (#36, S-HC/1)
The east side of Townes Pass is a big climb out of Death Valley; it’s also a strange one. The road has so many straight sections and there’s so little change in the scenery, that you wonder why bother? I suppose because you are passing through Death Valley and it’s a big climb. Personally I preferred the west side of Townes Pass (#84, S-1), which is more twisty and interesting – and shorter. The east side climb is 14.5 miles with 4,723 feet of climbing.
I was coming over from Lone Pine so I simply parked in the Brake Check area at the top of the pass and rode down 14.5 miles to where the road flattens, just before it climbs slightly. Otherwise you are probably best off parking at Stovepipe Wells (lots of parking) and riding 2.2 miles to the dip in the road where the climb starts. The ride down seemed endless and I wondered how I could possible ride up that whole distance.
Well, it wasn’t so bad, although it is a bit monotonous with all the straightaways and lack of changing scenery. So here goes: The climb starts gradually and the tedium is relieved briefly at mile 3 with a short downhill. At mile 6.9 there is drinking water and toilets. There is a lot of riding at 6-7% then at mile 9.5 you get some 8%, which increases to 9-10% at about mile 10.8. The last 3 miles or so feel different, with the road wiggling a bit through the hills to the top.
Dante’s View (#68, S-1)
Start at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (190 feet below sea level) and ride east along Hwy 190 for 12 miles. The gradient is generally very moderate, and if you start early to beat the heat you will have the sun in your eyes the whole way, which rather takes away from the strange Death Valley scenery. After 12 miles, turn right following signs for Dante’s View. Follow this road easily then at about 19 miles it opens into a big bowl surrounded by hills. The gradient increases to 6-7%, then with about 2 miles to go you get some 11-12%. Finally you reach what looks like the top, only to look up and right and see the real top, with switchbacks leading up to it. Starting this section is the steepest pitch on the climb, at 15%. At the very top you have stunning views of the Badwater valley below.
These are all rides done a few years ago, before I was adding greater detail. Sorry.
Shirley Meadows East (#18, S-HC). I found this to be a rather unremarkable climb of 9.9 miles with 4,105 feet of climbing. Steep in places, to be sure, but nothing particularly memorable. But maybe my memory is not so good because Summerson says of it, “It includes one of the most difficult five-mile stretches of climbing in the United States along multiple double-digit ramps…… it is one of the most difficult climbs in the country and some think it may be the most difficult in California.” Well, don’t count me in that group, but as they say, your mileage may vary. (My friend Steve Correll has a very different recollection of the climb, thinking it was really quite hard, so perhaps my memory is just flawed. Certainly Tanya thinks it is.) We stayed in Lake Isabella, which was a mistake, and we should have stayed in Kernville.
Mt. Baldy (#15, S-HC). Summerson calls this “Perhaps the hardest climb in Southern California, and used in the Tour of California.” I didn’t think much of it. The first two thirds are nothing special, then you get to Mt Baldy Village and the grade steepens. There are a few steep sections but it’s not continuous, and the steepest part is at the end, through a big parking lot. I guess you have to do this as it’s supposedly one of the tough ones, but I didn’t think it was very special. The climb is 12.9 miles with 4,830 feet of climbing.
A much better way to do it would be to go up Glendora Mountain Road followed by Glendora Ridge Road to Mt Baldy Village, and then do the hard finish to Mt. Baldy. This route is much prettier and longer, with a gorgeous twisty road winding up and across the hills.
39/Dawson Saddle (#16, S-HC). I loved this ride. It’s big and beautiful and the views are spectacular. Or, as Summerson says, “a massive climb….with excellent views in places along the way.”
The climb is 22.9 miles with 6,438 feet of climbing. You can think of it as three parts – the first part, the steepest part, goes up a smooth, winding road to the turnoff for Crystal Lake. Part two is up a closed road that cuts across the hillside and which I had to myself. Part three heads up the Angeles Crest road to Dawson Saddle. Well worth doing, and you might as well add in the short side trip to Crystal Lake.
Palomar Mountain (#23, S-HC). Summerson describes this as “one of the most difficult climbs in Southern California.” He also says that “this climb is longer and as steep as the standard route up the Galibier.” So you can knock the Col du Galibier off your list 🙂 A fun climb of 13.2 miles with 4,735 feet of climbing. The first mile or so from Pauma Valley are pretty steep, then after a few miles you turn off the main road onto South Grade Road. The climb switchbacks steeply up from here, without too much traffic. A long way from the other climbs but worth doing if you are in the area.
Links and Other Clicks
Yes, I know I showed this link near the top of the page, but here it is again – a wonderful web site that describes what the author considers the best rides in California and Oregon.