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Length 22 miles
Time 2.5 hours*
Total Climb 1750 feet
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* On a road bike

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Mount Veeder Road
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If you have even just a passing familiarity with cycling in the wine country, it's more than likely that you've already heard of Mt. Veeder Road. I remember reading that Mt. Veeder Road owes its popularity among riders to the fact that it has almost no traffic because it's closely paralleled by the more heavily used Dry Creek Road. While the first part of that statement must be true, I'm not sure the second part is much more than a minor contributing factor, because it's not like Dry Creek Road is a major artery either (at least not in its upper reaches).

You may have heard the name of Mt. Veeder Road mentioned as a tough climb. It's true that the ride involves some serious slopes, but there's really only one mile in the entire route where the climbing is seriously tough, which is not enough to enter the record books, if you ask me. Yes, for cyclists who are more accustomed to rides that take place on the flatter roads within Napa Valley, this is a major step up in difficulty. But I don't feel this ride would rank very highly in the overall list of tough rides in the Bay Area. As you can see, the total elevation gain of the ride (at least of this short version) isn't anything to shout about either.

By the way, if you're not already familiar with Mt. Veeder Road, don't let its name fool you. It doesn't take you very near the peak of the mountain from which it takes its name. The road traverses the slopes of the mountain, but the route's highest point has an elevation just under 1400 feet while the mountain's peak is at 2677 feet.

This loop is a fairly common way of riding Mt. Veeder Road, as far as I understand, though it's one of the shortest options for doing so. The loop itself is only 21 miles long, though your overall ride mileage may be substantially higher if you start from a location closer to center of Napa, the way many local riders are likely to do a version of this ride. Ordinarily, for most rides that are close to a population center, I like representing the ride with a starting point close to the center of that settlement, to approximate more closely the route a local might typically take when doing it as an out-the-door ride. For this ride, I broke that rule. While downtown Napa, at a riding distance of nearly four miles from the loop on this ride, would provide great opportunities for some post-ride food or refreshments, parking for more than a couple of hours at the town's center is not easy (or at least not free) and it would come at the additional cost of adding eight miles of "town riding" to the round-trip route. And once you start looking for an easier starting point that's more in the fringes of town in order to avoid those factors, those same fringes extend all the way to the edge of the core loop anyway, which is why I decided to park on Browns Valley Road, right by the beginning of the loop. Street parking on Browns Valley Road is not subject to any restrictions at all, as of this writing, and there seemed to be no shortage of it either.

I chose to do this loop in the clockwise direction, which is the most common way of riding it, as far as I can gather. I won't claim to know why this is the more popular direction with other cyclists, but I can tell you why I opted for it. For one thing, there are tougher climbs involved when doing the ride counter-clockwise. When doing the ride that way, Mt. Veeder Road would greet you almost immediately with a climb a little longer than half a mile and with an end-to-end average grade of 10.5% (with substantial stretches sustaining 13 or 14 percent). By comparison, the toughest stretch when doing the ride clockwise is nearly the same length but averages only 9% grade overall and is much more evenly sloped. Those are the not the only noteworthy climbs in either direction, though. The clockwise option will also throw another stretch at you a little longer than a quarter mile where the average grade reaches 9.5% and the counter-clockwise option will involve another climb nearly a mile long though with a grade of only 7% on average. On top of this, Dry Creek Road has noticeably better pavement quality than Mt. Veeder Road on average, and I'd rather do my fast decent on the smoother pavement if I can help it.

The loop actually starts on Redwood Road, which takes you through your first narrow (though short) canyon. Like most of the rest of the loop, Redwood Road is a narrow backcountry road. It takes you through the first of the three discernible phases of climbing on your way up, where the grade doesn't seem to exceed 3% very often. The second phase of the climb starts not long after you turn onto Mt. Veeder Road. As this road starts entering the narrowest part of its canyon, it begins a stretch where the slopes are a tick or two higher, but still not exceeding 5% with any regularity. I have to add, though, that these stretches actually have fairly uneven slopes and I'm talking about only the rough averages here. Otherwise, you encounter the occasional steep spots from the very beginning of the loop, it seems, as well as the less steep stretches and even some rare short descents on your way up. The toughest part of the climb that I've already explained above begins after this, right around the point where you pass by an entrance of Mount Veeder Winery. Other than a very brief respite just after the 6.5-mile mark of this particular route, you're not in the clear until you reach the junction with Lokoya Road. The steep climb ends there, but not all of the climb does. There are plenty of stretches in the rest of the ride that will require pedaling, including one brief moment on Dry Creek Road around 13.5 miles from the beginning of this ride where the grade seems to reach well above 10% but doesn't stay there long enough for you to start cursing, and another 120 or so vertical feet you'll have to cover (most of it within a quarter mile) before Dry Creek Road lets you out onto the flats near the end of the loop.

The road surface in the climbing half of the ride is rough. The quality of the original asphalt surface of the road actually seems to be quite good. But it's clear it's not getting much regular maintenance, which might be understandable given the very low usage the road sees. There are plenty of alligator cracks, both on the original surface of the road and on most of the patches on that surface, along with all sorts of other quality problems like cracks due to ground movement and subsidence. Some of these can be wide enough to catch a front wheel if you approach them at the wrong angle, so you'd be wise to pay attention. The quality of the pavement on Mt. Veeder Road was not bad enough to hurt my enjoyment of the ride, but it was close. On the way down, while Dry Creek Road has all the same types of quality problems, it has them to a lesser extent. The quality of pavement on Dry Creek is appreciably better, and around its intersection with Orchard Avenue, it changes almost to a different class of road altogether, becoming wider, smoother, and acquiring marked shoulder spaces that are well paved.

All the roads that make up the main loop on this ride are very lightly used by motor vehicles, with the notable exception of the southeastern corner of the route. Traffic on Redwood Road is very light and it's possibly even lighter on Mt. Veeder Road. Based on my experience on a Saturday morning with pleasant spring weather, I'd say this road's traffic is not so light that you should feel okay about forgetting about cars until you hear engine noise, but it's probably enough to not worry about sticking strictly to the right-hand edge of the road at all times. The upper reaches of Dry Creek Road is not much busier than this, if at all. Things change when Dry Creek Road emerges onto the flat bottom of Napa Valley and becomes a much busier place. That state, naturally, continues as you make your way back to your starting point through some suburban expanses in the last couple of miles of the ride.

Given the ride's location, it will surprise no one that you encounter some wineries along this route. It's worth noting, however, that not all of these are open to visitors. So, if your ride plan will include any wine tasting activities, makes sure you do your research about which of these allow that.

The ride is not a particularly rich one in terms of nice views. You catch few views on your way up (other than one or two glimpses to the opposite side of the canyon). More open views are available after you complete the ride's steep climb, and they're not bad. As for Dry Creek Road, it's also dry in terms of open views. On the other hand, sights of vineyards accompany you on-and-off throughout the entire ride.

Another thing that accompanies you almost throughout the entire ride is water flowing along the side of the road. This is not surprising on roads like these that follow the bottoms of a series of canyons. If you happen to do the ride at a time when there is flowing water in these creek (and I have been told that some of these are seasonal, if not all), this means that you will often have the calming effect of the sound of flowing water on this ride.

In terms of tree cover, I wouldn't call this a very shady ride overall. There is no shortage of trees around you and sometimes over you along this route, but the shade is often patchy and there are long stretches where the road surface receives direct sunshine. If you hope to have the protection of shade while doing the ride on a hot day, you will find plenty of occassional shade for temporary relief, but it won't be enough for you to stay constantly cool. Naturally, some of best tree cover is to be found in the stretches where the route goes through the narrow portion of a canyon. On top of that, perhaps a little interestingly, both Mt. Veeder Road and Dry Creek Road go through moderately shady patches of redwood trees in one or two spots.

One minor curiosity on the ride are the numbers you'll see painted on the surface of Mt. Veeder Road at seemingly regular intervals. During the ride, I had assumed that these were marking the increasing distance from a particular reference point on the road. I was puzzled for a while when I discovered after getting back home that the "distances" indicated by the numbers do not correspond to round values of any metric or US unit of length. Ultimately, I realized that the numbers correspond to the door numbers of street addresses along the road. I'm not sure if this is common practice in this area, but I don't remember seeing this anywhere else in the Bay Area.

© Ergin Guney


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