This short road ride loops over some of the most scenic roads you'll find along the Marin ocean coast. The first of these is Ridgecrest Boulevard. This road is scenic for not only what you can see from the road, but also for what the road itself looks like. It playfully meanders through grass-covered rolling hills that descend to the coast on one side. This is the darling of car commercials. If you see a curvy road through rolling green hills with the view of the sea in any car commercial on TV in the US, I would claim that there's something like a 30% chance that it was filmed on this road. It's that common. When you see it (unless you have already), you'll understand why. Riding or driving on it makes you feel like you're in a made-up landscape, designed just to be pretty. The other scenic road that you traverse on this loop is the stretch of Highway 1 that follows the coast of Bolinas Lagoon. For most of this stretch of Highway 1, the water's edge is only a few feet away from the side of the road. Expect to see a variety of sea birds and possibly other critters. In addition, the soothing views of the calm lagoon will be filling much of your field of view almost all the way back to Stinson Beach.
Stinson Beach is not your only option as a starting point for this loop, but my choice of it was a conscious one. It should be easy to find available parking in the "Stinson Beach Park" parking lots on all but the busiest days. Additionally, you'll be able to sit at one of the cafes or restaurants here for some refreshments after your ride without having to drive again, or even laze on the beach for a little while. A reasonable alternative for the starting point of the ride could be the Pantoll Ranger Station. This could be a good idea if the unbroken 5.5-mile climb looks intimidating to you. Starting from the Pantoll Ranger Station would break up the suffering a little bit by resulting in a ride that starts with only a 1.5-mile climb, but it still can't change the fact that you'll need to finish your ride with a serious 4-mile uphill stretch.
As I've just mentioned, there is a tough climb on this ride. The first 5.5 miles of the ride route is virtually one unbroken climb that starts without even giving you any real chance to warm up. It's the only part of the route that's a real climb, but it does make up nearly a third of the ride's entire mileage. The grade of the climb is pretty even from beginning to end, and relatively reasonable at a hair under 7%. There are only a couple of very short flattish spots on the climb that provide momentary relief. Overall, it's not a grueling climb, but it's not a short one either. Riders in good shape won't find too much to complain about regarding this climb, but those in worse physical condition will suffer a bit.
The first two miles of the climb up Panoramic Highway is free of tree cover and the views of Stinson Beach and of the ocean quickly open up almost as soon as you start gaining some elevation on this road. Panoramic Highway almost never has a paved shoulder, but the traffic lanes on this two-lane road have a reasonable width, the traffic density is often moderate, and the drivers aren't particularly likely to be speeding, in my experience. So, it's not a bad road to ride on. Once you enter tree cover, the ride temporarily transforms into a climb through moderately dense conifer woodland. The shade of this stretch could serve as a nice and cooling break if you happen to do the ride on a hot day.
You arrive at the Pantoll Ranger Station when you complete the uphill portion of Panoramic Highway. You'll still have another 1.5 miles of climbing to do on Pan Toll Road after this point, but the ranger station serves as a good rest stop with restrooms, a visitor center, a water fountain, and even occasionally some food (depending on the presence of a snack cart).
As you carry on with the remainder of the ride's climb on Pan Toll Road, patchy tree cover continues for a little while but doesn't last, which is a good thing because this is the part of the ride where some of the more spectacular views are to be had. As you near the junction with Ridgecrest Boulevard, my advice would be to stop briefly at every roadside pullout in order to take in its views, and don't neglect to look over your shoulder every now and then. You won't regret any one of those stops.
That brings us to Ridgecrest Boulevard itself, which I've already hyped up at the beginning of this text. The only thing wrong with this little asphalt-covered slice of heaven is that its truly gorgeous segment lasts for only about 2.5 miles. From this road, you'll be catching views of the Farallon Islands and of Point Reyes as well as, obviously, Stinson Beach and Bolinas toward the southwest, and from the hilly terrain of the northern Marin County all the way to the Sonoma and Napa counties toward the northeast. You'll be traversing this road in the downhill direction when you do the loop counter-clockwise as shown on this page, which is the more enjoyable way of taking in its excellent scenery, in my opinion.
The last half mile you cover on Ridgecrest takes you back into a wooded setting. When you continue down Fairfax-Bolinas Road, this tree cover fluctuates and becomes more sparse as you approach sea level. The grade of the descent on Fairfax-Bolinas Road is at least as even as the grade of the ride's long climb. For nearly the first three miles of this descent, the grade is about 6.5%. It steepens to about 8% for a little more than the last mile on your way down, which only adds to the fun. The one thing that takes away from the fun on this descent, though, is the quality of the pavement. During my last ride here, the pavement was completely intact with not even any cracks worth mentioning, but it was oddly uneven and bumpy from beginning to end. Both Ridgecrest Boulevard and the Highway 1 segment on this ride are buttery smooth by comparison. This may mean that you'll have to stay off the saddle for extended periods of time if you'd like to maintain comfort as you're doing this descent at speed. That's a bit of a shame, because this would have been excellent as a nice and curvy descent down a beautiful hillside if the rough road surface didn't rain on this parade. Meanwhile, this road is going to be the part of your ride with the lowest amount of traffic.
Reaching the bottom of Fairfax-Bolinas Road will mean that you're left only with the 4.5-mile, pancake-flat return leg of your loop on Highway 1. My advice for this portion of the ride is that you should take it as slowly as possible. It feels like the edge of the water is sometimes mere inches away from the contact patch of your tires along this stretch. With the Bolinas Lagoon dominating half of your surroundings and no serious pedaling effort required for the rest of the route, this part of the ride is for sauntering along and taking it all in rather than worrying about maintaining cadence or average speed. You can't swing an arm here without hitting a couple of water birds and you'll probably encounter other wildlife too. It's not surprising that you'll be passing by the Martin Griffin Preserve of Audubon Canyon Ranch along this stretch of Highway 1, which is a wildlife preserve that most prominently features a set of trees that contain dense egret rookeries.
© Ergin Guney
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