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Length 50 miles
Time 6.5 hours*
Total Climb 4900 feet
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* On a road bike

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King Ridge Loop
100% ROAD

This is a major ride in both scale and fame. At 50 miles and 5000 feet of elevation gain, it could qualify as a mini-epic ride for many cyclists. If you research it, you'll find that the ride is widely discussed and written about and is highly acclaimed. Well, okay, maybe "hyped" could be another word that's just as applicable. I'll get into that part of it in just a bit but let me start by stating that, despite the hype and despite the fact that it may barely qualify for being called a Bay Area ride (its location misses the cut-off for my Out-of-Area Rides list by a hair), I would have to concede that, if there's any route that deserves the designation of being the king of all Bay Area road rides, this one would have to be it. And I don't mean that as merely a cute pun.

This is a ride for which my primary source is Bill Oetinger. Regular viewers will be familiar in how high esteem I hold his 75 Classic Rides, Northern California book. This ride is listed in that book only as part of an even more ambitious route that also includes Coleman Valley Loop, but he does list it on its own in his 10 recommended rides on the Sonoma Coast Cycling Club website nearly in the form in which I tried it. Some of the phrases Bill uses to describe this ride include "God's own cycling playground" and "this is why we do this". Meanwhile, Jay Rawlins mentions on his Jay's Essential Bike Rides website (without necessarily agreeing with it) that he's seen articles that call this route "the greatest bike ride in America". Comments like these set up mightily high expectations. On the other hand, there seems to be a second camp in terms of their opinion of the ride, mainly made up of pro racers, whose remarks include "death march" and "f'ing scary". While these two sets may appear to be diametrically opposite impressions at first blush, all of these may in fact be considered equally applicable to this ride. In his online write-up, Bill astutely observes that the difference may be in whether you're pedalling at a competitive race pace or not, which I'd agree with.

With a ride that's hyped up as much as this one, one might be tempted to ask, "is it really that much better than all other options one might find in the Peninsula and elsewhere?" I would say that, in some segments and in certain moments, yes it is. But, for the vast majority of it, no. So, what's all the fuss about? As you might be able to tell by the fact that the ride takes its name from one particular road, it goes without saying that it's King Ridge Road (more accurately, its portions in its highest elevations) that's the big deal here. This is a narrow and nearly deserted road that snakes through the backcountry of the coastal hills in the rural western Sonoma County. Somewhere around the 17-mile mark of the ride route shown on this page, King Ridge Road emerges out of partial tree cover and into a fully open playground where it follows a chain of scenic ridgetops in a never-ending series of twists and turns, across a velvety, grassy, and diverse landscape. This stretch of the ride is easily a contender for being the most gorgeous stretch of cycling road I've ever been on.

King Ridge Road is included in a number of cycling events, starting with its regular inclusion in some Levi's Granfondo routes, as well as occasional inclusion in the longer courses of other races. That does not necessarily include all of the mileage of this particular loop, though, and the return on the coastal side of this loop via Seaview Road and Meyers Grade Road is just for the convenience of making this a manageable loop. In fact, along with that divine segment of King Ridge Road, I would say that the last few miles of this descent back toward the coast is easily one of the main highlights of this ride. Pointing out one particular tidbit might express the significance of this descent quite clearly: The cover photo of Bill Oetinger's 75 Classic Rides, Northern California book that I rave so much about is shot at a spot on the descent back to the coast of this particular route. In fact, I would add to the list of the ride's highlights even the short part of the route you cover on Highway 1 after you complete that scenic descent to the coast. The part of Highway 1 that you cover includes a segment that's apparently nicknamed "the corkscrew" for the sequence of switchbacks that the road takes in order to descend to the level of Russian Gulch and its beach before climbing back out again. This along with most of the distance you subsequently cover through Jenner and the mouth of the Russian River are all gorgeous stretches set in postcard-worthy surroundings that add greatly to the appeal of this ride.

One other thing Bill emphasizes is the ride's difficulty and remoteness. He wisely recommends the ride only to the fully self-sufficient riders who are fit enough to pull it off. You do spend hours in parts of remote backcountry often without any residences or facilities of any kind in sight for miles and well away from cellphone coverage most of the time. So you need to be prepared for that idea as well as being prepared with the gear and supplies you bring with you. As for the physical difficulty, the route does have its fair share of serious climbing spells that you would expect of a ride with nearly 5000 feet of elevation gain. What I would consider the ride's big climbs come in three installments. These stretches add up to no more than about 3 miles of total distance but account for about 1800 feet of the elevation gain. All the rest of the ride's remaining climbs are spread across much smaller bursts or more moderate slopes. But, with numbers like this, it should go without saying that one needs to be in good physical shape to pull off the ride without being tortured.

For the record, Kings Ridge is marked on USGS topographic maps as the name of merely a 4- or 5-mile ridge that starts around the 12-mile mark of this ride route. Incidentally, you may find the ride referred to as "King Ridge Loop" in some sources and "Kings Ridge Loop" (or "King's Ridge Loop") in others. The most sense I can make of it all is that "King Ridge" appears to be the name of the road and "Kings Ridge" is that of the actual ridge, though this is probably an unintentional distinction. I choose to call the ride "King Ridge" based on how the road is labeled, since you spend a lot more time on the road on this ride than on the specific ridge.

Since this is a pure loop, one question that naturally comes to mind is the direction in which to do it. There's a clear preference for that one, which is counter-clockwise. For me, the whole point of this is to be able to experience the wonderful descent in the final portion of Meyers Grade Road toward the coast in the return. It also doesn't hurt that you traverse the scenic portions of King Ridge Road's higher elevations with more descent than climbing when the loop is done counter-clockwise, as well as covering the craziest steep stretch of Hauser Bridge Road as a descent rather than a climb.

For the starting point of the ride, I've picked Duncan Mills. There's a decent sized parking lot by the display of some historic railroad structures and artifacts there that is also shared by a number of shops and one cafe. Monte Rio would also work at least as well as Duncan Mills as your starting point, though it would add about 5.5 miles to your total distance. If you look for other options for your starting point on the loop itself, Jenner could be one possibility if you can find a reasonable place there to park. You'd have a few eateries there at the end of your ride (if you'll make that part of your plan) along with a gas station. One other thought could be to use Cazadero as your starting point. A glance at the map may lead one to assume that this town may not be an intuitive starting point due to being part way up "the climb" of the loop, but there's actually no real climbing before Cazadero. This sweet little town has a main street with a few shops, a general store, a post office, and a fair amount of usable roadside parking spaces. Cazadero would also be the only sensible option as a starting point for doing a particular shortened versioned of the ride that covers only part of this loop. (More on that below.)

Nearly the first 11 miles of the ride is covered on roads that closely follow a creek and, consequently, are effectively flat. Nearly all of this stretch is under redwoods or other dense tree cover. Well after you leave the town of Cazadero behind, shortly before you complete the route's 11th mile, the ride's attitude turns into a serious climb for the first time. While a pretty serious effort at 9% average grade, this first uphill stretch is actually a bit of a false start since it lasts for less than half a mile before you return to some flat and downhill parts for another mile or more.

You get started on King Ridge Road just as you're leaving Cazadero, but the serious climbing effort doesn't begin until around 12.5 miles from the ride's beginning, when King Ridge Road reaches its namesake ridge and starts to move away from the creek bed by starting a climb up the "nose" of this ridge. This marks the beginning of a 1.2-mile uphill stretch with a very consistent average grade of 11% and I consider this the ride's hardest climb. Over the course of this climb, you also transition out of the dense cover near the valley bottom into more sunshine and slowly opening grasslands, beginning to catch an increasing amount of scenery along the way.

For the next four miles after that first tough climb, the road continues to follow the spine of the clearly identifiable (looking at the map) extent of Kings Ridge. Included in this stretch is another bout of tough elevation gain with nearly the same 11% average grade and complete with another couple of switchbacks along the way, but for a much shorter distance of about half a mile this time.

What seemed to me like the part of King Ridge Road that must have earned most of the hype is a roughly 6.5-mile stretch of the road that starts in my estimation at a spot where you find a picturesque abandoned house and its abandoned pickup truck (somewhere around the 17.5-mile mark from the beginning of this ride) and ends where you turn from King Ridge Road onto Hauser Bridge Road. As I've already described a bit above, this nearly abandoned stretch of road is at the highest elevations of the route and has the narrow road twisting incessantly through some high meadows in an ever changing landscape sprinkled sparsely with clumps of oak trees mixed in with a judicious selection of pretty, rocky outcrops, and allowing frequent open vistas in all directions. Not surprisingly for such a varied lanscape, this segment of the ride isn't very flat. For the first mile and a quarter that you cover in this portion, you gain more than 250 feet of net elevation. That portion even includes a steep spell where the average grade hovers above 15% for nearly 400 feet (of distance), which is worse than anything else on the entire route, despite its very short length. The road's attitude turns downhill after this uphill beginning, allowing you to better enjoy your gorgeous surroundings, though this descent isn't uninterrupted at first. The elevation loss becomes steady only around the midpoint of this scenic stretch. For the first mile or so as you head downhill, you'll still need to pedal a bit as you take in the scenery. In the next mile on your way down, the slope becomes a lot more substantial (roughly -7.5% on average) and allows you to glide down with some real speed. Finally, your last mile on King Ridge Road before connecting to Hauser Bridge Road will involve uphill work again, but usually over slopes that don't even reach 5% grade.

Your turn onto Hauser Bridge Road is impossible to miss because King Ridge Road ends at a T-junction here. Hauser Bridge Road is a road that I can call very "purposeful", I suppose, since the road does nothing but immediately starting a steep descent toward the bridge from which it gets its name and terminating soon after the tough climb away from the bridge ends on the other side. All of this takes about 5.5 miles. The descent part of this is a touch over a mile in length. The end-to-end average grade of this descent comes out to be an already very steep -13%, with the slope somewhat variable during this plunge. But what's even more striking is the fact that the slope slowly begins to get more intense over the second half of this descent, terminating with a 150-yard final stretch where the grade gets well beyond -20%. (My computation by my ride's GPS data comes to at least -23.5%!) I certainly wouldn't want to try this stretch in the uphill direction. It's also worth noting that, while Bill Oetinger describes the bridge at the bottom of this descent as being a one-lane of iron-grate construction, the bridge I found there at the time of my ride was a spacious (two-lane) concrete structure.

Thankfully, the climb back out of Hauser Bridge is considerably more merciful. The first mile of the climb back out sticks pretty closely to its end-to-end average grade of 9.5%. That's not exactly a walk in the park either, but it's worlds better than 13%. The remainder of the climbing portion does include one fleeting moment where the slope appears to exceed 10%, but the road levels out before you get much of a chance to curse about it.

The scenery conditions change quite a bit on the leg of the ride that's on Hauser Bridge Road. About two thirds of your descent on Hauser Bridge Road takes place in still quite an open setting. That makes this even more fun, as you fly down to the valley bottom against the views of the neighboring slopes around you. After this point, you enter tree cover that doesn't break until well after you leave Hauser Bridge Road behind. Meanwhile, one other stand-out feature of the Hauser Bridge Road descent are the cattle guards. These aren't limited to just this road, though. In fact, if my count is correct, there are something like 14 of these that you encounter over the course of this ride. It's just that, at the higher speeds of the extra-steep descent on Hauser Bridge Road, they might deserve a bit more of your attention.

What follows next is a 6.5-mile stretch on Seaview Road. This name may raise expectations about the scenery quotient of this segment of the ride, but Seaview Road is a misnomer. Maybe the properties on the coastal side that are accessed via this road might have some views of the sea but, for the majority of the mileage you cover on this road, the road itself does not, because of the tree cover. You get to catch your first glimpse of the sea from this road after covering 2.5 miles on the road and this doesn't become very common even after that. This road traces the top of a ridge paralleling the coast and that is open to the ocean on one side and. While the road only gains a little more than 500 net feet from beginning to end, you actually incur about 1000 feet of your cumulative climb in this segment because of the alternating ups and downs on the road. The uphill stretches of this road are not very strenuous, though. Even the steepest spots don't exceed 8% grade by very much, except for maybe one specific place that's closer to 10%.

The portion of the route that subjectively feels the most like the real descent back toward the coast begins when you're finished with Seaview Road. From here, not counting a half-mile stretch where you're considered to be on Fort Ross Road, you follow Meyers Grade Road. In this segment of the ride, the tree cover essentially disappears and views of the sea become more consistent (initially off to one side as you're on the ridgetop, but then wide open all in front of you). There's still some 250 feet of elevation gain to complete on Meyers Grade Road, but that doesn't feel enough to break the sensation that this is your descent back to the coast. For nearly its last two miles, Meyers Grade Road doesn't look back as its descent becomes unbroken and the open views of the ocean become ever-present. In fact, a one-mile stretch of this portion is quite a dip with the average grade hovering beyond -12%. Here, it's hard to decide whether what's more exhilarating is the fast descent or the grand views facing you. This stretch is also where the spot of Bill Oetinger's book cover photo arrives.

Meyers Grade Road terminates by handing you off to Highway 1 after cooling its slope to a near-flat level for the last quarter mile of its length. Once you're on Highway 1, you'll probably be greeted with plenty of traffic and, within seconds, find yourself in the stretch nicknamed "the corkscrew" where the road crosses Russian Gulch, as I've already explained. The tiny coastal town of Jenner arrives about 2.5 miles after you complete the climb back out of Russian Gulch and constitutes a perfectly placed opportunity for a rest or snack stop at a point where you've left 90% of the ride's mileage and all of its most exciting portions behind you and where you're left with nothing more than a breezy, pancake-flat, and pretty cruise along the Russian River for five miles before you make it back to your car. As I've already explained, the beauty of those few miles on Highway 1 and of most of the stretch along the Russian River are nothing to sneeze at even in comparison with the most scenic parts of the ride's thrilling descent toward the coast. This is a route without any tedious return leg that could feel like a chore that you merely need to tolerate to get back to your car.

The pavement quality of most of the roads that you cover on this ride are on the poor side. I would put especially Austin Creek Road and King Ridge Road in this category. They're not bad enough to cause any bother when you're climbing, but I would not want to do any extended descent on road surfaces like those. Meanwhile, Cazadero Highway an Seaview Road are in slightly better shape. Of course, the busier roads on the route, Highway 1 and Route 116, are an exception to this. Those roads feature a first-rate asphalt surface.

The traffic density on the route is fairly easy to predict. The more minor the road, the less traffic it carries. Highway 1 and Route 116 are the heavy hitters in terms of the amount of traffic, with Highway 1 easily winning the top spot. Cazadero Road and Seaview Road have what I would describe as light rural traffic. Austin Creek Road and Meyers Grade Road are a notch or two below those, and King Ridge Road and Hauser Bridge Road are nearly deserted altogether. I have to add, though, that these impressions are based on a ride that I did on a weekday, which is unusual for me. So I'm not really sure what the weekend traffic conditions might be like.

There aren't very many secondary points of interest on the ride. You do go through the quaint town of Cazadero near the beginning of the ride and the even smaller Jenner near the end. The proximity of the route to Monte Rio and the fact that it starts at Duncan Mills might allow you to shop or eat at the small businesses in these tiny towns too. You pass close to a major quarry right at the beginning of Austin Creek Road, though I'm not sure who would consider that a highlight. There's a Buddhist retreat near the end of your climb on Hauser Bridge Road, but you don't get to see much of it other than its entrance gate. Beyond these, the scenery and the road will have to be your main source of entertainment.

Fort Ross Road is a connection situated like a belt line across this loop, allowing two ways to shorten this ride. The first of these would be to do just the lower portions of the loop on this page, effectively using Fort Ross Road as a shortcut to connect early to the loop's return portion. Some might argue that this would leave out the wrong part of the loop from the ride, because you'd be missing essentially all of King Ridge Road. Taking that shortcut would leave you with only the descent toward the coast and the little portion on Highway 1 and the Russian River that I count among the highlights of the ride. This would be a nearly 32-mile ride with 2500 feet or so of total elevation gain. The other possibility that Fort Ross Road affords is to cover only the King Ridge Road portion of the loop. To do this, you could either start directly from Cazadero and do a pure loop or still start near Russian River and follow a lollipop-shaped route. In fact, the King Ridge Road ride route shown on the website Jay's Essential Bike Rides is that latter lollipop-shaped option, which adds up to 49 miles and 3920 feet of elevation gain. The problem with this option is that it leaves out the fantastic descent on Meyers Grade Road toward the coast. I find that trade-off especially unfavorable if you're going to end up with a ride that's only one-mile shorter than the full loop anyway (though the savings in cumulative climb is a lot more). According to Google, the pure loop starting directly from Cazadero should add up to only 37 miles, though that would save you only 600 feet off the total elevation gain of the full ride shown here.

© Ergin Guney


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