40% FIRE ROAD60% ROAD
This is an out-of-the-way ride through some minor roads at fairly high elevation where you can expect to find some long views open on all sides in some places. The route is aimed mainly at exploring the road whose name I've used for labeling the ride, which is primarily a dirt road. The overall ride takes place over a mix of paved and dirt-surfaced roads all of which are open to car traffic. Therefore, while formally qualifying as a "road ride" all of whose mileage is open to public traffic, this is a route that should be ridden only on a bike that can handle trails or gravel roads.
I should point out that the Loma Fire that broke out less than a week after I added this ride to the website has already changed some of the scenery of this ride. The area burned by that fire reaches right up to one side of the roads followed on the ride along a two-mile stretch near the Loma Prieta peak. It's not that this should stop you from trying the ride, but you should keep in mind that a few of my photos in that region only reflect how things used to look.
I assume Summit Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains is unknown to most riders in the Bay Area and is probably largely ignored even by some who live in its vicinity. Not to be confused with the other road by this name that intersects Route 17 (and, to make matters worse, happens to be very closely and similarly situated to it), the Summit Road to which I'm referring here is a dirt road that traverses the top of some of the highest ridges along the spine of these mountains, stretching mostly southeast of the Loma Prieta peak. While I wouldn't consider this road a prime destination for cycling, the unique location of the road on the roof of a mountainous area little traveled by most makes it interesting to me along with the curious story behind its current status.
The story behind the road is related to some "keep out" signs that you'll encounter if you do this ride. While originally built as a public road and used that way for decades, it appears that some residents in the area have put up signs in more recent times that declare it to be a private road in an attempt to prevent access by outsiders (and bicycles). The rest of the story involves several years, some court cases, and plenty of public confusion, but it appears to be fairly clear now that this entire road is still very much public, in spite of the fake signs that are still up, which you will need to ignore during this ride. Considering "possession is nine-tenths of the law" when it comes to property rights, I'd like to encourage everyone who reads this to ride on Summit Road and to do it often, if we are to reinforce the status of this road as a public one.
Confusion about Summit Road may extend to more than just its status and history. This sparsely populated area doesn't exactly represent the pinnacle of rigor in road names. There are multiple examples here of the same name applying to two adjacent roads as well as the same road carrying multiple names. (In fact, one short stretch of Summit Road is labeled with three different names by Google.) Therefore, while the southeastern end of Summit Road can be fairly confidently placed at the intersection of Mt. Madonna Road and Pole Line Road near Mt. Madonna County Park, its northwestern end may be a bit harder to pin down. But, the road doesn't take you much further in the northwesterly direction past the Loma Prieta peak.
Honestly, part of what I was excited about when I originally planned this particular ride was a visit to Loma Prieta peak. Unfortunately, I've seen for myself during the ride that this peak is closed to public access. This is not the kind of fake closure that I've described above for Summit Road either. An ordinance by the MROSD clearly prohibits public access to the peak. Flaunting this closure could only serve to get bicyclists on the wrong side of the MROSD, in my opinion, and it's therefore something I'm not willing to do and wouldn't encourage. Even without reaching Loma Prieta peak itself, the ride features plenty of long views and open vistas facing both sides of the ridge and will certainly not leave you wanting in terms of scenery.
On this ride, I tried to cover Summit Road as part of an out-and-back ride, my main aim being the avoidance of excessive elevation gain. Those who might find traversing the same road twice a little pointless and could stomach an alternate route of about 50 miles and roughly 4000 feet of total elevation gain may be glad to hear that they can do a loop instead, which starts from the same point as the ride you see on this page but connects back to the beginning via Mt. Madonna Road, Eureka Canyon Road, and Highland Way. I haven't tried that loop myself, so I can neither encourage nor discourage you.
As with any out-and-back ride, you have two possible starting points when you want to ride Summit Road out and back. I opted to approach the road from its northwestern end for this ride. This is mainly because that end is closer for me when driving from home (as it would be for most people, probably) and because it allows the addition of a few more ridgetop miles along the secluded and scenic Loma Prieta Way and Loma Prieta Avenue. This end of the route also felt preferable to me because I'm a bit familiar with this area (being on the way to Demo Forest) and because I expected it to have a bit more traffic, perhaps making it safer for parking. But, if you'll be coming from Morgan Hill, Gilroy, or further south, starting from the southeastern end of Summit Road should also be just as convenient, by parking in the lot of Mt. Madonna County Park off Pole Line Road (though parking there will be subject to a nominal fee whose amount I'm not aware of). If you start from the southeast, you'll be slowly gaining net elevation as you ride further, though there are plenty of repeated ups and downs on Summit Road regardless of direction.
Even when starting from the northwest, I added a few more miles to the route than is typical. I'm under the impression that most cyclists who reach Summit Road from the northwest get there by climbing Mt. Bache Road and then following Loma Prieta Way. I opted to start from further away because it seemed easier to find parking spaces where I started this ride and the connection via Loma Prieta Avenue promised to be fairly scenic. The parking spaces in the area I picked consist of a couple of roadside gravel clearings adjacent to the Burrell and Regale vineyards on (the other) Summit Road.
Starting the ride several miles away from Summit Road itself and on a day when I had a finite amount of time for my ride meant that only a relatively small fraction of the ride ended up being on Summit Road itself. Only 36% of the ride you see on this page takes place on Summit Road. Time constraints forced me to turn back earlier than I would have wanted. My turnaround point was picked only to make the ride's length add up to about 20 miles. If I had more time, what I would have found ideal is continuing for 5 more miles southwest before turning back, resulting in a 30-mile round trip. I would recommend that to anyone who has the time.
At the very beginning of this ride, a steep climb that starts as soon as you get onto Loma Prieta Avenue lasts for only about a quarter mile, after which the road settles into a straight segment that's much gentler and nicely flanked by spacious, grassy, residential properties. Near the end of that stretch, the grade picks up and begins to exceed 9 and even 10 percent fairly regularly. This tougher stretch lasts for about a mile and a quarter, though with occasional short breaks. Along the way, you leave the residences behind and begin a one-lane, still paved, stretch of the road that becomes much twistier than before. This also happens to be the first time on the ride when views start opening up toward the south, though you initially don't see anything more than neighboring hills.
When you reach the fork where Lago Lomita Way splits off, your first dirt stretch of the route begins and it also happens to be the first segment that is a sustained (though interrupted) descent. You return to pavement when you reach a multi-way intersection where Mt. Bache Road ends and you begin the ride's longest paved segment with a significant climb, on Loma Prieta Way. The grade initially averages around 12% but then backs off before too long and doesn't exceed 10% very frequently after that. This paved segment takes you all the way to the intersection with the driveway to Loma Prieta peak, but the climb doesn't last that long. The road switches back and forth between a climb and a descent a couple of times along the way. Most of these have moderate grades, but the ride's longest sustained climb is also among them. This is a tough 0.7 miles that average a touch over 11% grade. In the meantime, though, the views become wider and look farther as you go further up, though you're still restricted to seeing the southern half of the scenery.
Views toward the north open up only after you leave the Loma Prieta peak intersection behind. That intersection can also be considered the beginning of Summit Road, as closely as I can tell. The point you get on Summit Road is also the point after which your elevation starts trending downward on average, though you won't be able to tell this due to the alternating ups and downs that the road still follows. Before too long, you'll reach Maymens Flat, which was announced by a sign at the time of my ride. What you immediately see from the road here doesn't look like anything more than a widened intersection, but this is also where you encounter those bogus "keep out" signs. After this point, all you're left with is picking a turn-around point for yourself, keeping in mind that the effort to return will be higher. I wouldn't describe the landscape around the road as particularly pretty, other than the long views that repeatedly present themselves on either side of the road, and often on both at the same time.
The most obvious option to grab a bite or a sip after your ride (if you begin the ride from where I did) will be Summit Store. While this is technically "merely a supermarket", it has something to satisfy every taste, including packaged or freshly made deli sandwiches, hot entrees, good cheese and bread, wine and beer, surprisingly decent sushi, an impressive variety of pastries, not to mention the sort of packaged food and bottled drinks that you'd find at any good market. They even have nice outdoor seating. The only thing you won't find is waiter service. Looking for other options, if your return trip will be taking you south on Route 17, you'll have one or two roadside choices like Casa del 17 (though this particular one will be on the opposite side of the road as you're heading south). Beyond that, it will have to be some place in Scotts Valley or Santa Cruz that's most handy for those heading south, and downtown Los Gatos for those heading north.
© Ergin Guney
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