Uvas Reservoir Loop
This is a nice little road loop through some foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains on the inland side. It would be a good way to take in some backcountry scenery without investing in too much climbing effort. The main perk of the ride is the pretty views of two separate reservoir lakes. While the appeal of this loop for cyclists in and around Morgan Hill is obvious (and I expect a lot of them to be already well aware of this as a ride option), I think the ride is rewarding enough to be worth the attention of road riders living in the South Bay as well.
I call this a "little" loop because, while the mileage figure for the ride as a whole might seem substantial enough to deserve a "medium-length" designation, a big chunk of that is just approach and return mileage through suburban neighborhoods, because I've chosen to start the ride from central Morgan Hill. The core loop itself is only 16 miles long. The reason I've started the ride from Morgan Hill is that this more closely approximates how this loop would be ridden by a local cyclist.
The parking spot I've picked for the ride is a parking lot by the Caltrain station. At first sight, one might expect that this means the parking lot is subject to the parking fees and restrictions of Caltrain. However, this is actually a free and unlimited parking lot and possibly belongs to the city instead. It also doesn't hurt that its location allows you to reach a number of downtown eateries after your ride by walking only a couple of blocks. Those who are unwilling to ride through the traffic of Morgan Hill or would like to keep the ride as short as possible should have no problem finding parking on the loop portion of the ride, such as at the recreational parking lot of the Uvas or of the Chesbro reservoir.
At the beginning of the ride, you start out in the somewhat dense traffic of the town center and take a handful of turns on your way out of town through dwindling urban density. There isn't much uphill effort involved in this part of the ride unless you count a short slope on Dewitt Avenue. The first (and possibly the only) real uphill slope on the ride that will demand your attention will arrive later on Sycamore Drive. It's not a long one, but it's got a serious slope of more than 12% grade for just under an eighth of a mile. Those who might be troubled by this could bypass this segment by turning in the other direction on Sycamore Drive and following a roundabout route that takes Bowden Avenue and Bowden Court to get to Watsonville Road and to the same spot to which this route takes you.
Sycamore Drive is also somewhat notable on this route in the way its shoulder is in the form of a somewhat steeply angled embankment on the side where you'll be riding during your first traversal of this segment. It's nothing to worry about, but it will probably encourage you to stay an extra foot or so away from the edge of the road and closer to the passing vehicles. Speaking of proximity to vehicles, while the wide roads that take you out of the center of Morgan Hill on this ride (up to Dewitt Avenue) feature bike lanes and good shoulder space, the rest of the ride almost never has more than a foot of paved shoulder width, if any. This is not necessarily a cause for concern. The traffic on the portion of this route outside the dense part of Morgan Hill is pretty light and calm, as far as I have seen. Meanwhile, the quality of the pavement is good; cracks or potholes hardly ever become an issue.
When you turn onto Uvas Road and start approaching Uvas Reservoir, you will be on the only part of the ride that feels like sustained elevation gain. This mild climb lasts for a bit over half a mile and ends right when you reach Uvas Dam and are met view a view of its reservoir. The overall average grade of the half mile comes to less than 3.5%, but the last quarter mile or so is slightly steeper with a grade barely exceeding 4%. This is so gentle that most riders will be able to maintain a substantial average speed here. If you don't count your second traversal of the hump on Sycamore Drive on your way back (which has a much milder 6% grade at its worst in the return direction), there is nothing else on the ride after this that feels like significant work.
As you look at the photos linked from this page to judge the scenery of the reservoir lakes, you'll want to keep in mind that I have taken those shots in the aftermath of the driest winter California had experienced to date. So, the water level in those photos is the lowest you're ever likely to see. In a "normal" year, things should look even nicer.
© Ergin Guney
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