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Length 11.5 miles
Time 3.5 hours
Total Climb 2550 feet
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Paradise Royale

Paradise Royale might be in the middle of nowhere, but it deserves to be on the radar of any self-respecting mountain biker in California. This part of the California coast is known as the "Lost Coast". That should be enough to tell you how out of the way this place is. Built as a trail system optimized for mountain biking from day one, I read that this loop opened to the public in 2008 as a result of work started in 2005 out of cooperation between the IMBA and the Bureau of Land Management. You'd have to admit the appeal of such a biking loop that is billed as being geared toward higher skill levels. IMBA explains that the motivation for this loop came about in response to the loss of biking trails due to the North Coast Wilderness Bill.

Speaking of being geared for mountain biking, I've seen one account of this ride mentioning that all other trail users need to yield to mountain bikes here because the trails were designed for bikes. I'm not sure if that's formally true, but I do remember noticing that some trail markers I saw during the ride feature only a bicycle logo under a heading that reads "trail open to:".

Some clarifications first. There is no shortage of sources that call this a 14-mile loop, including most official maps and written sources. However, it's not a 14-mile loop. It may have been planned that way initially, but the loop as it exists today is only 11.5 miles long. (However, it does feel like a 15-mile loop in terms of physical challenge by the standards of most Bay Area singletrack.) The only explanation for that 2.5-mile discrepancy that I can imagine is the possibility that the 14-mile figure might be including the length of the few short loops that make up the Tolkan Terrain Park. (More on that below.) In addition, some online maps and descriptions of the ride indicate that the two major crossings on the ride (across South Fork Bear Creek) have no bridges and will require you to carry your bike. That information is out of date. There are now sturdy bridges at both of those crossings.

All sources you'll find on Paradise Royale will also be calling this a "100% singletrack" loop. That's almost true. However, there is a roughly half-mile portion of Jester's Hat Trail that clearly follows the path of an old fire road. It's not unreasonable to consider even that stretch singletrack, because it's a very aged road and it's moderately narrowed by vegetation and accumulated organic debris, and even has sapling trees growing out of the old road surface whose trunks are already as thick as my wrist. However, I'd rather designate that portion as fire road anyway and explain the specifics in the ride description as I just have, because it's not only the situation of the trail but also the riding sensation on it that is closer to a fire road in that section than it is to singletrack—especially in the unfun (uphill) direction in which you ride it. Moreover, even if I hadn't included that half mile in the fire road category, the ride would still have added up to only 99% singletrack by my traditional calculation (i.e., every last feet of the GPS track should be counted), because the short, dirt-road approach portion from my parking spot to the trailhead and its repetition on the return round up to 1% of the route plot you see on this page.

As I've already touched upon, every source I've seen referring to the Paradise Royale loop places it at an advanced difficulty level. I think that's fair. However, it's not like the trails are covered in trail features like clusters of tree roots, steps, and rock gardens. There were a couple of root cascades that forced me to stop, as well as a virtually unridable spot that made me do a double take. Overall, though, the trail surfaces are relatively even. The technical difficulty arises mostly from the tight switchbacks, abrupt twists and changes in attitude, a few sections that feel exposed, the occasional steep and slippery descent, and the loose rocks that occasionally become a significant hazard. This is a fast and flowy route (on the descents anyway).

The "Tolkan Terrain Park" I mentioned above is a bike park next to the Tolkan Campground. It features a pump track and some stunts like several jumps, wall rides, etc. For those who enjoy it, this presents a handy option for prolonging the fun if you happen to start the ride from where I point out and are left wanting more when you finish the loop.

I've encountered a couple of instances where the trails on this loop were referred to as "flow trails". I can see where that's coming from. Most trails on this loop go over berms repeatedly and, in some places, the repeating pattern seems to consist of carrying momentum into a steep dip followed by a few revolutions of the pedals to climb the last split second of the hump that follows it. There are also several highly banked hairpin turns that are wide enough to maintain some speed through, as well as a few notable curves on Mad Queen's Tango that are meant to be attacked aggressively. However, if these are formally intended as flow trails, then they fall somewhere in between the highly specialized design of Endor Trail at Camp Tamarancho and the highly diluted flow trails at Crockett Hills.

There are at least three trailheads that would make reasonably good sense as the starting point for this loop. The first is at the southernmost point of the route. The advantage of this one is that it's the first one you encounter on your way in, so it seriously reduces the distance you need to drive on King Peak Road, which is a dirt road that's quite rough in some places at the time I write this. The disadvantage is that there isn't enough parking space for anything more than four or five cars there. The second one is the closest one to being the "main trailhead" for this loop, and that's not only because it's called the "Paradise Royale Trailhead". It has parking spaces for something on the order of 10 cars and you still save on the distance you need to drive on the dirt King Peak Road in comparison with how far it is to the Tolkan Campground. The third option is the one I've used for this particular ride, which is the Tolkan Campground. There are a few reasons this made good sense to me: (1) it's the trailhead pointed out in the Mountain Biking the Mendocino Coast and Beyond guidebook; (2) since it is at a campground, this better reflects how the loop would be done by somehow who does the ride as part of a camping trip, which might make the most sense for a ride location that's this much out of the way; and (3) it's right next door to the "terrain park". The only thing about the campground is that it doesn't have a large number of parking spaces either. So, we should probably be careful about not blocking or taking up the spaces for any of the camp sites when parking there. There's also the Horse Mountain Creek Trailhead available as a fourth option that's even further along King Peak Road. Frankly, I don't see the point in opting for it other than as a last resort if there are no spaces left in the earlier three, unless you are particularly fond of driving on rough dirt roads.

Paradise Royale is one of those loops that has a generally accepted "correct" direction of traversal, and that's clockwise. You might find people who claim that the loop was designed to be traversed in this direction, but I'm not so sure about that. The reason I say that is that the same types of berms and repeated dips that make the singletracks you descend during your clockwise traversal so much fun is repeated during your climb on Prince of Pain. If I'm correct that these trail features are aimed at the enjoyment of the descent of the trail and don't contribute much to the fun or the ease of climbing it, then someone must have thought about the enjoyment of the trail in the downhill direction when designing Prince of Pain. Those frequent up and down undulations are the main source of the "pain" that seems to give the trail its name. If this trail were built to serve only as the climb of a loop, I'm sure it could have been made a much more palatable climb by building it with a slope that sticks much more closely to the 8% grade that its top two thirds achieves as an end-to-end average. (Its lowest one third is brutal even in terms of overall average grade and is a different story...) What we have instead is a trail whose grade wildly fluctuates between 0% and 20%. It takes a toll.

The loop deserves a few notes about the naming of the "trails". Sometimes the end of one trail and the beginning of the next one isn't marked by a junction. I guess we're supposed to think of these as a cross between distinct trails with separate names and simply the named sections of one overall trail. Several trail name changes mark the beginnings and ends of major climbs and descents. I have to tip my hat to the inventiveness and the coherence of the naming scheme of the trails on this loop. Naming a trail loop "Paradise Royale" had sounded a bit presumptuous to me at first, and keeping up the royal theme in the naming of the trail segments seemed like an arbitrary flight of fancy. However, once you realize that the ridge traversed in the eastern half of the loop is named Paradise Ridge and that the road paralleling its western half is King Peak Road, the justification for the naming scheme becomes quite clear. It doesn't end there either. Fool's Paradise follows the spine of a ridge encountered on the way to Paradise Ridge but is not the proper top of it, in addition to being only a temporary relief before the tough climb resumes. There's little left unanswered about the inspiration for the name "Jester's Hat" once you see the shape traced by that trail on the map. The source of the name "Prince of Pain" is equally transparent, given the fact that this trail constitutes the ride's single tough climb. Mad Queen's Tango (also referred to as Mad Queen's Careen in some places) actually descends across slopes that are more or less below a local summit named "Queen Peak". I would even venture to guess that the name of Castle Moat must have something to do with the fact that it's the trail that most closely follows the creek for most of its length. That's quite witty.

At the beginning of the ride, the portion you cover on King's Frolic Trail is a nice, narrow, and twisty hillside singletrack. It lends itself to good flow, but isn't too remarkable. Castle Moat Trail that follows King's Frolic is where vegetation gets noticeably denser as you're closer to the creek. It's also marked by numerous berms that should serve as decent launch spots for those carrying enough speed to catch some air. Prince of Pain appears to be defined as the two-mile, almost unbroken climb out of your first crossing of South Fork Bear Creek. During my ride in August, some portions of this trail were made somewhat slippery due to a thick layer of fallen oak leaves, though it's not too much of a concern since you'll be climbing this trail slowly. You will know you have transitioned from Prince of Pain to Fool's Paradise when you encounter the first little sunny patch that the trail goes through at the end of the climb. A couple of larger grassy clearings follow, which are the only spots on the loop from which you can catch some limited views. Jester's Hat begins when the climb resumes, and ends when the long descent begins in earnest. To me, Jester's Hat is one of the more forgettable trails on this loop, mainly because a large portion of it is made up of repurposed fire roads, though it does include that one stand-out trail feature with the stairs. Mad Queen's Tango is a very fast and steep descent for most of its first half. This is one of the most thrilling singletrack descents I've seen anywhere. For a little while, the trail seems to consist of fast banked turns and sharp (and unfortunately loose) steep dips heading into creases in the hillside that follow aggresive lines on the way out, encouraging high cornering speeds. This descent runs out of steam more quickly than you might expect, however. After its first mile, the trail undergoes a pronounced transformation and covers about one mile that is level on average and more frequently sunny. You'll be doing a considerable amount of pedaling to get through this portion, before the trail turns into a quarter-mile dive toward the creek. The portion of King's Frolic you cover at the end of the ride starts out as a climb and keeps you pedaling for longer than you might expect, before becoming a fun and twisty, well, "frolic" closely paralleling the much straighter King Peak Road. Along the way, it features a number of spots where it squeezes through claustrophobically dense vegetation and, perhaps more significantly, attains a somewhat more aggresive flow as it gains a more pronounced downhill slope for a while, as well as sharper dips. The final stretches of the loop on this trail through the terrain park area once again require you to pedal quite a bit though.

An additional trail has already been added to Paradise Loop. This new 7.5-mile trail segment connects Shelter Cove Road (from a spot 0.7 miles before the King Peak Road intersection) to a spot roughly around the midpoint of the Mad Queen's Tango Trail. When you use Shelter Cove Road and King Peak Road as the return, this new segment makes up a second loop called "Frenchman's Loop". Doing both loops in their entirety would leave you with a ride that has roughly double the mileage of what you see on this page, which is not something I've tried firsthand but it sounds like it should be enough to satisfy most appetites.

© Ergin Guney


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