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Length 8.5 miles
Time 2 hours
Total Climb 1550 feet
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Old La Honda Road (trail loop)


Old La Honda Road is well-known to road bikers. I sometimes refer to some rides as a "benchmark climb". It appears that this particular road might be the mother of all benchmark climbs for road riders in this area. I don't think that's because it's a very challenging climb, since it is not. It must be because it's evenly graded, well defined, and convenient. I saw one web page that quotes a time even for Lance Armstrong's climb of this road, but I couldn't find any other evidence to substantiate it. There was also a race called "Low-Key Hill Climb Series" that used to be held along this climb, apparently.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the setting of the road is very pretty. The climb takes place on very rugged terrain enveloped in greenery from beginning to end; starting out in the sparse suburban setting of well-to-do Woodside in oak woodlands, with the density of residences diminishing gradually as you get higher, and occasionally snaking through redwoods groves at the higher elevations.


This is a short ride, mostly on paved roads. It's really just an "Old La Honda Road climb" with a return by the nearest trail descent option. This is one of the rides on my "weekday morning ride before work" list. It's one I prefer for this purpose especially when it has rained recently and I'd like to stay away from most trails. The only trail component of this ride is on a fire road without any tree cover.

This particular ride starts from the Windy Hill Open Space parking lot. The parking lot of this park is unlocked at sunrise, as of this writing. Parking here is free but the lot does fill up very quickly, especially on weekends. A sign at this lot announces that you can use the parking lot of the Portola Valley Town Center for overflow parking, which is only half a mile up the road. I've also seen cars regularly park on a strip of roadside directly across from the Windy Hill parking lot entrance, but the signage is a little ambiguous about the legitimacy of this. A sign inside the Windy Hill lot clearly says "do not park on Portola Road", while a sign on the actual roadside asks you to "park off pavement", seemingly legitimizing parking there. Perhaps this is to mean that parking is okay on the roadside but they don't want it hogged by park users. There is also a wide, gravelly, roadside area roughly midway between the Old La Honda Road junction and the start of Sand Hill Road. Of course, all of these parking suggestions assume that you'd like to do the climb first. If you're okay with descending first, then you can look for parking along the Skyline Boulevard stretch of the loop instead.

After a flat stretch of the ride on Portola Road (part of which is accompanied by a roadside trail), you turn onto Old La Honda Road. Once the "real" climb on Old La Honda starts (roughly at the first hairpin curve), it lasts for almost exactly 3 miles until you meet with Skyline Boulevard, and averages a grade that is a touch under 8%. Naturally, there are brief spots where it's considerably steeper than that, but all such spots recorded by my GPS receiver had a grade less than 14%. The climb will not feel like any special challenge to anyone who is used to doing road climbs, and it will feel even less so with the low gearing of a mountain bike, but it's a good workout. Like I said, it's suitable for being a morning ride, or a ride where you can return to time yourself to see how your fitness has progressed. The road is very narrow but its traffic is extremely light. There is a double yellow dividing line along the middle in the earliest stretches of the climb, but it soon disappears and doesn't re-emerge until you reach Skyline.

Upon reaching Skyline Boulevard, you turn left and the entrance to the trail portion of this ride in Windy Hill Open Space is only a short and moderate climb away. You take Spring Ridge Trail downhill through that park. This is a fire-road descent almost all the way to the parking lot. But, the views of the bay in front of you still keep you nicely entertained (that is, if the steeper portions of the descent don't).

I should point out that, while I did say this is a weekday morning ride that I prefer to do after rains in order to stay away from trails, there was at least one ride I did here two days after some rain and a couple of spots on Spring Ridge Trail were like waterslides! (To be fair, that was toward the end of a season that was very rainy in general, though.) A partial slide down the mud on a steep fire road may not match many people's notion of fun. In fact, my riding buddy slipped and fell off his bike in one of those muddy sections that day. Then again, for some people fond of adrenaline, that might count as bonus fun. In other words, while you may consider this ride after rains because it's mostly on pavement, don't take that as a guarantee that the trail portion of the ride will be completely dry.

If you like this basic ride route but are left wanting more mileage, extending the ride should be an easy matter. For additional road mileage, you can take your pick from any of the extension options I have listed near the end of the Old La Honda road loop description on this site. If trail mileage is what you're after instead, then your nearest good options will be a little further down Skyline Boulevard on Russian Ridge, or across the road from it on Alpine Road in Coal Creek Open Space Preserve. Skeggs Point isn't too far either, being a little over four miles northwest from the top of Old La Honda on Skyline Boulevard, though Skeggs is worth a full ride on its own, so it might be better to leave that for another time.

© Ergin Guney


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