Some Southwest San Francisco Bay Area Climbs

Overall Review

Bicycle Climbing GraphicBicycle Climbing GraphicThe Santa Clara/San Mateo/Santa Cruz county area of California is loaded with twisting, tree-lined climbs which gain from 1000 feet to 2300 feet. In New England, most climbs (and descents) are straight. Here, though, there are switchbacks galore. Also, even on hot days the climbs can be enjoyed, as the redwoods along the coastal range provide generous shade and a beautiful riding environment. On the other side of the twisting climbs, though, are the twisting descents. There are few get-in-a-tuck-and-hit-50mph descents around here. Rather, a great deal of skill is needed to get down quickly and safely, as turn after turn is negotiated amidst the sometimes-careless, sometimes-hostile auto and motorcycle traffic.

In the listed climb descriptions the “distance” and “climbing” data reflect only the contiguous portion of the road which was judged to be part of the main climb. If the climb includes intermediate descents, they are included in the distance but don’t contribute to the net climbing. Thus the average grade may not in all cases accurately represent the characteristic grade of the climb.



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Skyline Blvd
distance: variable
climbing: variable

Skyline Blvd goes along the top of the coastal range. It has many short climbs and descents and several longer climbs of several miles. The notable climbs include from Highway 92 to Kings Mt Rd/Tunitas Creek, from Hwy 84 to Kings Mt Rd/Tunitas Creek, from Hwy 84 to Page Mill Road/Alpine Road, and from Black Road to Castle Rock State Park near Highway 9. From Black Road to Bear Creek Road, Skyline is a winding, rolling, 1.5-lane road through countless Christmas-tree farms and is quite enjoyable, except during December. As of Nov 1996, the northernmost section of this road seems to be in the process of an extended chip-seal job, so some care should be exercised. From Black Road north, especially north of Highway 9, it is wider and busier. There are some stunning views from Skyline, but the heavy traffic spoils them somewhat. The smooth, wide road makes for some fast descending, however.

South of Bear Creek Road, Skyline’s analog is Summit Road.

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Highway 92 (E)
distance: 1.8 miles
climbing: 500 feet

This road is typically used to get from Cañada Road to Skyline. The climb is nice with some worthwhile views, but the extremely heavy auto traffic ruins it for riders. Luckily, the wind often carries away the car exhaust, but nevertheless this road is best ridden only for its transportational utility.

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Kings Mountain Road, Woodside
distance: 4.2 miles
climbing: 1570 feet

This climb is a bit longer than Old La Honda, but not as pretty. Nevertheless, it is also quite popular. An alternative is to take Greer Road, from its intersection with Kings Mountain Road just below the start of the climb, to the Huddart Park service road. Take a right over the wooden bridge and you’ll eventually arrive back at Kings Mountain Road, having bypassed its lower third.

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Bear Gulch Road (E), Woodside
distance: ???
climbing: approx. 1750 feet

Bear Gulch is a beautiful, steep, narrow paved road from Highway 84 to Skyline Blvd above its intersection with Kings Mountain Road. Unfortunately, it is private, and access is blocked at top and bottom by gates.

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Highway 84 (E), Woodside
distance: 3.4 miles
climbing: 1000 feet

With its gentle, steady grade and modest elevation gain, this is the easiest route from Woodside to Skyline Blvd and on to the coast. However, it carries a considerable amount of auto traffic, and is thus rarely used by experienced riders for climbing. As a descent, however, it is quite popular; the sweeping turns, good visibility, and well-maintained pavement make for a fast, relatively safe trip down. Watch out for wet spots following recent rains, however.

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Old La Honda Road (E), Woodside
distance: 3.3 miles
climbing: 1260 feet

This is a classic, the benchmark climb in the region. It is neither terribly steep nor long, but its proximity to population centers and the beauty of its narrow switchbacks and generous shade make it extremely popular. Almost all local riders know their best times up this hill, from the bridge to the stop sign. Each Wednesday it is climbed by the infamous “Noon Ride”, often including national-caliber riders. It was recently repaved over 75% of its length, making it a bit faster.

Its narrow, blind corners make Old La Honda a terrible descent, and almost all rider opt instead to descend nearby Highway 84.

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Alpine Road (E), Portola Valley
distance: 4.1 miles of significant climbing
climbing: 1250 feet over final 4.1 miles

From Sand Hill Road to Portola Valley Road, Alpine Road has a significant amount of automobile traffic but is still quite ridable. In these 4.2 miles it gains approximately 400 feet. South of Portola Valley Rd, however, the road narrows, and enters the beautiful Corte Madera Open Space Preserve. After a relatively flat initial 1.3 miles, the grade steadily increases for another 1.6 miles. Here, just past the intersection with Joaquin Road, Alpine is gated and the pavement ends. It remains dirt for 2.5 miles, gaining approximately 950 feet, until joining the top of Page Mill Road. The dirt portion is popular with beginning mountain bikers but is also fun and quite doable on a road bike, climbing or descending, if it hasn’t rained during the previous few days.

Unfortunately, a landslide has taken out a significant section of Alpine Road, leaving it unpassable by bike. A single-track detour bypasses this section. However, 50% grades and exposed roots and rocks make this path unrideable for road bikes—a significant amount of walking must be done. Mountain bikes can handle most of it, however.

If one isn’t in the mood for dirt, a left turn onto Joaquin Road from Alpine Road 50 meters before the gate rewards one with a brutally steep, short-but-not-short-enough climb. From the top, turn right onto Old Spanish Trail, then left onto Vista Verde, then right onto Ramona. A right at the end, onto Los Trancos, will take you back to Alpine Road north of Portola Valley Road.

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Page Mill Road, Palo Alto
distance: approx. 7.5 miles
climbing: approx. 2050 ft (1800 ft in first 5.0 miles)

The climb of Page Mill Road begins approximately 1.2 miles south of its extended intersection with Arastradero Road. The grade is very inconsistent, with some sections well over 10% and two intermediate descents. Along the way are some excellent views of Silicon Valley (for what they are worth…). The final 2.5 miles, containing intersections with Montebello Rd and Alpine Rd, are rolling with a few short, steep climbs. Across from Skyline, Page Mill turns into Alpine Road (W).

As a descent, Page Mill is quite challenging and very popular, especially among experienced descenders. The road is narrow and steep with poor visibility in the corners, however, so riders must watch carefully for motor traffic. As of Nov 1996, there are several sections of quite rough pavement around corners, so don’t sit too heavily on the saddle.

Other routes which cut into Page Mill are Altamont Road and Moody Road, both from Los Altos Hills. Moody is especially notable, as it averages 12% over 0.5 twisting miles.

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Montebello Road
distance: 5.3 miles paved
climbing: 2020 feet paved

Montebello Road is a dead-end to cars through open space preserves and is thus an excellent cycling route, especially for climbing. It has extended sections at a 9% grade with an intermediate false-flat of approximately 0.7 miles. At the end of the pavement, the road continues beyond a gate as a semi-paved fire road for several rolling miles before connecting with Page Mill Road. This section and the paths which connect to it are popular with mountain bikes, but the route is quite fun and ridable for road bikers as well, if a little skill is exercised. Much of the rutted dirt which previously presented a hazard to road bikes has been cleared away, making what was once a challenging-but-ridable road slightly less challenging. It connects with Page Mill near Page Mill’s summit.

John Elgart claims Peacock Road off Montebello is one of the steepest roads in the region. Any takers? (ed. The road now dead-ends at a gate.)

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Highway 9 (E)
distance: 6.5 miles
climbing: 2090 feet

Highway 9 connects downtown Saratoga to Skyline Road. The grade is reasonably steady at an average 6.6%. Signs along the side of the road provide frequent reminders of the distance yet to ride. Car traffic can be quite heavy on this wide 2-lane road, and it is thus perhaps better for descending than climbing.

For those riding to climb 9 from the north, common connections are either Mt Eden and Pierce roads or Redwood Gulch Road. Pierce Rd intersects Hwy 9 approximately 5.6 miles from the summit while Redwood Gulch connects a bit more than 3 miles from the top. Pierce and Mt Eden are a pair of short climbs with following descents, with Mt Eden intersecting beautiful Stevens Canyon Road. Further south on Stevens Canyon is Redwood Gulch, which has no intermediate descents but is brutally steep (more than 15% in sections).

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Black Road
distance: 4.6 miles
climbing: 1820 feet

Black Road climbs away from Highway 17 (near Lexington Dam) at a steady 10% grade. It levels out at its intersection with Gist Road, passes a school (a good water stop), then continues steeply on to Skyline Blvd. The light traffic is primarily residential. The only problem with this climb is one must ride along Hwy 17 to reach it, although the base of Montevina is just across the dam.

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Gist Road
distance: 1.3 miles
climbing: 650 feet

Gist provides an alternative to the top of Black, and provides a shortcut from Black’s midpoint to Skyline if one is heading south. It is relatively steep (9.5%) with tight turns and very light auto traffic. The landslide which previously took out a section of Gist Road to car traffic has been repaired, unfortunately. A sign at the bottom warns that Gist is for local traffic only, but since it is a public road this can be disregarded.

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Bear Creek Road (E)
distance: 3.0 miles
climbing: 1300 feet

The east side of Bear Creek Road is a steep, busy road between Highway 17 and Skyline Blvd. Summit Road begins approximately 0.7 miles and 170 feet of climbing from the intersection with Skyline, continuing south. The east side of Bear Creek Road sustains grades of near 10%. However, its relatively high traffic volume make nearby Black Road (possibly with Gist Road as a shortcut) more attractive.

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Highway 92 (W)
distance: 1.7 miles
climbing: 600 feet

This is a terrible climb and only marginally tolerable as a descent due to the extremely heavy auto traffic, but is often ridden anyway as it is a route between Skyline Blvd and Half Moon Bay at the coast.

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Purissima Creek Road:
distance: 4.7 miles (dirt)
climbing: 1680 feet (dirt)

Purissima Creek Road is paved from Hwy 1 to Higgins-Purissima Road, over which route it is mostly flat. Past a gate, it continues on, climbing to Skyline Blvd near the top of Tunitas Creek Road. It is said to be road-bikeable, but is fairly steep in places and thus may be challenging.

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Tunitas Creek Road
distance: 7 miles
climbing: 2000 feet

Tunitas Creek Road is a fantastic climb. It starts mostly-flat from Highway 1, passing farms, until near its intersection with Lobitos Creek Cutoff the grade starts increasing and the road gains dense redwood cover. Near the intersection with Lobitos Creek Road, the grade increases to its maximum of near 9%, averaging 8% for approximately 1.8 miles, but the environment is so pretty one hardly notices the effort. The last few miles flatten considerably. One can take Tunitas Creek Road all the way to Skyline across from the intersection with Kings Mountain Road, or one can turn right at Star Hill Road and then left on ultra-narrow Swett Road for a more interesting route to arrive at Skyline further south. The latter route is recommended if you are heading south.

Lobitos Creek Road is a shortcut to Tunitas Creek Road from the north, from Verde Road. It is also quite pretty, and although it is steep in places it isn’t too painful. Lobitos Creek Cut-Off is another connection between Verde and Tunitas Creek Rd, but is less notable.

Descending Tunitas Creek Road is also an interesting experience. However, bring padded gloves and keep your weight off the saddle, because with the rough pavement it’s a bone-shaking ride.

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Bear Gulch Road (W)
distance: ???
climbing: 2200 feet

As was noted in the listing for the portion of this road to the east of Skyline, this is a narrow but private road. It here also connects Highway 84 to Skyline Blvd south of Tunitas/Kings Mt Rd, but access is restricted.

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Highway 84 (W)
distance: 7 miles
climbing: 1150 feet

Highway 84 is the easiest access route to Skyline from the La Honda area, west of Skyline Blvd. Although the climb is quite long, the grade is steep enough to cause discomfort only between mile markers 10.0 and 12.2, where the top is at mile marker 14.8. It is thus a good route to take when one is tired near the end of a long coast ride. At mile marker 12.2 is a turn-off onto the west side of Old La Honda Road.

Highway 84 gets much less traffic on its western slope than on its eastern slope, and is thus much better for climbing, although the more difficult and nearby Alpine Road is much nicer. Its wide sweeping turns make it a fine descent, although the gentle grades prevent one from accumulating much speed without effort.

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Old La Honda Road (W):
distance: 2.6 miles
climbing: 580 feet

The west side of Old La Honda offers one of the best combinations of accessibility and beauty of any road around. It is only 1.5 lanes wide, and as it twists along the side of the ridge offers stunning views of the forests to the west and the ocean beyond. Near the top, it enters the redwoods for more excellent riding. The grade is moderate (near 5%), making it quite enjoyable even at the tail end of a long ride. Due to the accessibility of nearby Highway 84, auto traffic is very light.

The narrow and blind corners make it pretty poor as a descent, although the excellent views and light traffic make it a common shortcut from the top of Old La Honda’s east side to Highway 84 at mile marker 12.2.

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Alpine Road (W)
distance: 6.8 miles
climbing: 1900 feet

This road begins at Pescadero Road just near its junction with Highway 84.

It begins with approximately 1.8 miles of gentle rolling uphill through the redwoods, gaining only 250 feet or so. However, the effortless bliss is broken as the grade increases substantially, near 10% in places. It winds its way upward, passing first Camp Pomponio Road and then the Portola State Park access road, where it has a false flat. It seems as though one is almost there, but there’s plenty of riding left. After several false alarms in the remaining miles, it is a surprise when the summit is finally reached. A short, twisting descent brings the rider to Skyline Blvd, across from Page Mill Road. The climb actually isn’t difficult, but the gentle lead-in and frequent false summits give it a reputation for being seemingly interminable.

As a descent, the frequent turns and rough road surface (although the top portion has been recently repaved) make for slow going and numb hands by the bottom.

Portola State Park Road and Camp Pomponio Road are both quite steep and lead to the interesting network of road-bikeable (in dry weather) dirt roads in the park.

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Highway 9 (W)
distance: 7.4 miles
climbing: 1900 feet

Highway 9 follows a very gentle net uphill from Santa Cruz to Boulder Creek. Along the way, one is tempted by turnoffs to Felton-Empire Road and Alba Road to the north. East of these, in Boulder Creek, a detour along Highway 236 is recommended, through scenic Big Basin Redwood Forest. Past Boulder Creek, the grade is reasonably steep (up to 8%) for a few miles, where it levels out to approximately 5 percent. After the final, fairly flat, mile it intersects Skyline Blvd. The heavy auto traffic makes West Highway 9 unpleasant despite some nice views of the redwoods below, and to the tired cyclist it seems to go on forever. As a descent, its smooth, wide surface and gentle turns yield a fast and safe trip into Boulder Creek.

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Bear Creek Road (W)
distance: 9.5 miles
climbing: 1750 feet

Bear Creek Road connects Boulder Creek on Highway 9 to the southern extreme of Skyline Blvd. The listed stats are for the full climb, of which the bottom 4.5 miles is mostly flat. The grade is variable but mostly gentle. The road is 2-lanes wide and well paved. These features make it an excellent descent, but as a climb nearby East Zayante Road is much more enjoyable.

East of the summit, after 0.7 miles and 170 feet of descending, one reaches the intersection with the northern end of Summit Road. (Note: East Zayante Road is a very challenging climb.)

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Bohlman-(On Orbit)-Bohlman
distance: 4.3 miles
climbing: 2030 feet

This is really, really, hard on standard road gears. The listed stats show a steep average grade of 8.9%, but there is a considerable flat section at the top, so it is actually much worse than this. A low gear of 39/28 or lower really helps here. On Orbit Dr is an alternate route which bypasses a section of Bohlman. To capture the full effect of this climb, On Orbit should be taken, as it includes significant sections at near 20%.

From the top of Bohlman, if you survive, there is a 0.9-mile dirt road to the right (bear right on the dirt) to the top of Montevina Road, which can be descended to Highway 17. A short trip to the right along Hwy 17 brings one to Black Road, which can be climbed to Skyline Road. After B-O-B, the 10% grades of Black Road are cake.

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Montevina Road
distance: 3.9 miles
climbing: 1800 feet

Montevina Road climbs from Highway 17 to a dirt road which connects to the top of Bohlman Road. It is very twisting and narrow, making for a fun climb but a slow descent.

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Haskins Hill (Pescadero Road)
  • distance:
    • 2.5 miles (Memorial Park—Summit, west side)
      2.9 miles (Hwy 84—Summit, east side)
  • climbing:
    • 810 feet (Memorial Park—Summit, west side)
      710 feet (Hwy 84—Summit, east side)

From the east, this is a moderately steep (peak 8% or so) grade with considerable tree cover. The sweeping turns and smooth surface make this a fast and fun descent. The west side is more exposed to the sun and has tighter turns and steeper grades (sections at approximately 10%). Near the top are a series of straightaways which offer false promise of being the end of the climb. In the summer, it can be quite hot, and nearing the end of a long ride, Haskins isn’t always a welcome encounter. The descent of the west side is slower than that of the east because of the rougher road and blind, tight corners.

Memorial Park, at the bottom of the western slope, provides a useful water stop.

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Empire Grade
distance: 12 miles (Santa Cruz to summit just south of Alba)
climbing: approx. 2500 feet

Santa Cruz County’s Empire Grade is analogous to Skyline Blvd. It runs along a ridge which extends from Santa Cruz to Big Basin State Park. The climb from University of California at Santa Cruz, where the road begins, is a sort of rolling-uphill, with short steep sections separated by shallower grades and intermediate descents. Its main intersections are Pine Flat Road, Ice Cream Grade, Felton-Empire Road, Alba Rd, and Jamison Creek Road. After Jamison Creek Road, it continues into rugged dirt roads leading into Big Basin. When heading north, most road cyclists descend Jamison Creek Road.

The descent of Empire Grade into Santa Cruz is fast and fun.

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Bonny Doon—Pine Flat Road (Ice Cream Grade)
distance: 7.4 miles to Empire Grade
climbing: 2110 feet to Empire Grade

Bonny Doon starts out hard, with the first mile at 9.5%. Also, unlike most climbs around here, it is exposed to the sun. Combining this with the loss of the sea breeze as one travels inland from the coast yields rough going on a hot summer day.

One can continue on Bonny Doon, but the usual route is to turn right off of Bonny Doon at the poorly-named Pine “Flat” Road. While not as steep as its lead-in, Pine Flat continues on seemingly endlessly (3.7 miles) at a 4% average grade.

Approximately 1.5 miles up Pine Flat Road is its intersection with Ice Cream Grade, which first provides relief from the climbing via a 200 foot narrow, shaded descent, but then demands full payment plus interest with a 380 foot climb to Empire Grade, which it intersects across from Felton Empire Road. While not quite living up to its name, Ice Cream Grade does provide important refreshment—there is a school at the intersection of it and Pine Flat Road which has a water faucet, the only water between Davenport and Skyline Blvd for those taking the popular Bonny Doon, Pine Flat Road, Empire Grade, Jamison Creek Road, Hwy 236, China Grade, Hwy 236, Hwy 9 route. Entry into the schoolyard is a short distance into Ice Cream Grade. Those skipping China Grade on the above-mentioned route can also get water at the Big Basin Park Headquarters on Hwy 236. From the intersection of Empire Grade and Felton Empire and Ice Cream Grade, one can descend Felton Empire to Felton at Highway 9, climb north to Pine Flat and on to Alba, or descend Empire Grade to the right into Santa Cruz.

Continuing up Pine Flat from its intersection with Ice Cream Grade, one finally one emerges at Empire Grade, where a left-hand-turn rewards one with still more climbing, although at a lesser grade. The climbing is pretty much over when one reaches the intersection with Alba Road, after 2.0 miles and 350 vertical climbing feet.

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Felton-Empire Road
distance: 3.7 miles
climbing: 1530 feet

Although it averages 8%, like other climbs to Empire Grade the slope is highly variable, with an almost-sinusoidal variation about the mean value. Of the three main routes from Hwy 9 to Empire Grade, though, this is the easiest.

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distance: 3.8 miles
climbing: 2050 feet

Two-thirds from Hwy 9 to Empire Grade, Alba averages 10.2%, rather steep for something which gains over 2000 feet. The average grade doesn’t do it justice, however, as the grade is highly inconsistent, with sections near 5% intermixed with significant portions at 15% to 20%. With road gears (a low of 39/28 or bigger), surviving this climb is an exercise in pain. The steep sections aren’t so long that a fit rider can’t power through them, however. As a descent, it isn’t bad given its steepness.

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Jamison Creek Road:
distance: 3.1 miles
climbing: 1470 feet

Jamison Creek, the northernmost paved route from Hwy 9 (via Hwy 236) to Empire Grade, starts out steep, then gets steeper. Near the top it sustains grades over 10%, making the summit a long-overdue sight. It isn’t as difficult as Alba, however. Descending Jamison Creek isn’t too bad, since traffic is quite light, and the road is mostly two lane with a clear center stripe.

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Highway 236
  • distance:
    • 17.7 miles, full-length
  • climbing:
    • 1980 feet (south-north)
      1150 feet (north-south)

Highway 236 is a beautiful, well-paved, 2-lane road through the stunning Big Basin Redwood Forest. From south to north, it consists of a pair of shallow climbs separated by a 2.5-mile intermediate descent. In the trough is the Park Headquarters, which is a good place to stop for water. From north to south, there’s a steady climb of approximately 2.5 miles from Hwy 9.

The primary problem with Highway 236 is its high volume of too-fast weekend auto traffic relative to its width. Recommended detours off the main road include China Grade (which skips the intermediate descent and thus reduces net climbing, albeit with a price to pay in steepness), Lodge Road, and the amazingly narrow, paved North Escape Road. Despite the traffic, though, Highway 236 is a wonderful alternative to the lower portion of the climb up Highway 9 from the west.

North Escape Road is a northern parallel to 236 which connects at the park center and near the intersection with China Grade. From the park entrance, pass the park store, continue past the first gate, and you’re on North Escape Road; it’s labeled on a sign post near the gate. It is mostly gently rolling, with a steep final climb to the intersection with China Grade. It is barely wide enough for a single car, but auto traffic is extremely rare… It had better be, as there isn’t even enough width for one car, let alone a car and a bike. North Escape Road is 2.71 miles long, climbing approximately 611 feet south-to-north and 124 feet north-to-south. The northernmost 0.90 miles has the steepest climbing, with a 432 foot elevation change for an average grade of 9.1%.

Note: N Escape Road data are from Topo,which is accurate at total distance and net elevation change, but less accurate at determining net climbing on non-monotone profiles.

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Gazos Creek Road
distance: 11.9 miles (Cloverdale-Big Basin)
climbing: 1740 feet (S to N) 850 feet (N to S)

Gazos Creek Road provides a convenient connection between the Butano State Park region and Big Basin. From the south, it begins at Highway 1 for approximately 2 miles. From the point where Cloverdale Road turns off to the north, it becomes a dead-end to auto traffic and cars are a rare sight. It continues in a well-paved, gentle fashion until the pavement ends and one is faced with a virtual wall of dirt. During the summer the surface here can be quite loose and thus traction for a road bike is challenging.

The grade lessens in places, but there are more steep sections, and thus 28mm or wider tires and a low-gear of 39/28 (700c) or lower will be appreciated here. Once one reaches the junction at the top, however, the surface becomes firmer, and what remains is a rolling, mostly downhill, washboard-in places, dirt road. Finally, one emerges at the Big Basin Park headquarters, where water is available.

As a descent, the poor traction and extreme grade mean that road-bikers descending Gazos may well find themselves soon sampling the culinary qualities of the fine Northern California topsoil. It’s good for working on bike handling skills, though.

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China Grade
  • distance:
  • climbing:
    • 750 feet (steep part only)
      1030 feet total

China Grade provides a shortcut across a long section of Highway 236 in beautiful Big Basin Redwood Forest. It starts out innocently enough, going on for several miles through a quiet, flat, residential area. However, one is rudely awakened as the road turns upward for a steady, twisting, 11-percent climb. The area is so pretty, however, that it passes quickly, returning the rider to Highway 236. China Grade continues on to climb several hundred feet at a reduced grade, but it terminates into dirt roads and thus isn’t as commonly ridden above Highway 236.

China Grade is steep, but by climbing it one gets to avoid the added climbing imposed by the intermediate descent on the bypassed portion of Highway 236. The only problem is the water stop at the Park Headquarters is also bypassed.

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Hicks Road (North side)
  • distance:
    • 5.1 miles from Camden to Guadalupe Creek
      1.0 miles from Guadalupe Creek to Mt. Umunhum Rd.
  • climbing:
    • 420 feet from Camden to Guadalupe Creek (1.7% avg)
      740 feet from Guadalupe Creek to Mt. Umunhum Rd. (14% avg)

This is tough… the opening rolling miles, including the short and steep climb to the dam, hardly prepare one for the steep grades which follow. A cattle grate partway up the steep section is threatening, but can be survived if conditions aren’t too wet. Doing this climb in a 39/24 is a struggle—even with such gearing, fit riders will be wishing for more on the steepest slopes. Once at the summit, a very short (50 meters, approximately) descent brings one to the unmarked intersection (to the right) with Mt. Umunhum Road. This out-and-back sidetrip is highly recommended. Mt. Umunhum Road effectively combines with Hicks to make a single, extended, and quite difficult climb—of those listed in this document, only Bohlman-On Orbit-Bohlman is tougher to those with typical road gearing.

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Hicks Road (South side)
distance: 1.6 miles from Alamitos Road to Mt. Umunhum Road
climbing: 700 feet from Alamitos Road to Mt. Umunhum Road

The south face of Hicks isn’t as terrible as the north side, averaging only 8.6% (9.8% over the steepest 0.8 miles). Nevertheless, when combined with Mt. Umunhum Road, it makes for a challenging total climb. There is a cattle guard at the base of the climb, considerably less daunting than the one on the north grade.

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Mt. Umunhum Road
  • distance:
    • 1.7 miles from Hicks to gate
      1.2 miles from gate to “No Trespassing” sign
  • climbing:
    • 910 feet from Hicks to gate (10.1% avg)
      530 feet from gate to “No Trespassing” sign (8.4% avg)

Mt. Umunhum Road, following the difficult climb of Hicks, presents a considerable, but worthwhile, challenge. The grade is quite non-uniform, with a section from approximately 0.5 to 0.9 miles approaching a 20% average grade. There is a cattleguard part way up, although it is quite passable. Another cattle guard is right at the gate. The public road continues for 1.2 miles further—riders are encouraged to climb over the gate and make the extra effort, as the views from the end of the public road are spectacular. The end of the public section is quite clearly marked, with signs on the side of the road and large warnings painted across. It is unfortunate the remaining road is off limits, as the undulating, steep grades and awesome views make it quite tempting to continue. The trails which follow, on Umunhum, eventually connect with Soda Springs Road.

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Soda Springs Rd
distance: 5.7 miles
climbing: 2250 feet (7.5% average)

This is unpopular because it is basically a dead-end, but is nevertheless a challenging and worthwhile climb. The views from Umunhum are worth the effort. The top is gated, and the private road/path which follows eventually connects with Mt. Umunhum Road.

Soda Springs is accessible from Alma Bridge Road, between Old Santa Cruz Highway and the Los Gatos Creek Trail.

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East Dunne Avenue
distance: 10 miles, from initial start of climbing
climbing: 2900 feet

Dunne Avenue south from Monterey Road in Morgan Hill crosses Highway 101 and becomes East Dunne Avenue. It is flat and developed for 2 miles, when it becomes residential and the climbing begins with a mile at 8%. After this, the development ends, and the road becomes quite pleasant. A 2 mile descent over a bridge and past a picnic area next to the reservoir takes one to the main portion of the climb, which is much like Page Mill Road in character, with steep sections intermixed with lesser grades and intermediate descents, although even the steep portions are quite manageable. The climb effectively ends at the entrance to Henry Coe State Park, which is worth a visit after all the effort.

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Quimby Road
distance: 5.1 miles
climbing: 2100 feet

Quimby is a short cut which bypasses the section of Mount Hamilton Road to the first intermediate descent, eliminating 8 miles and 1500 feet of climbing. It starts off innocently, but the grade increases steadily, until with 1 mile to go one is assaulted with a series of vertical switchbacks and an extremely steep, final straight which, with the help of the pitiless sun, will sap any remaining strength from the legs. Following the climb is a 1-mile descent to Mount Hamilton Road, losing 600 feet. After surviving this, climbing the remaining 2800 feet of Mount Hamilton Road seems trivial.

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Mount Hamilton Road
distance: 19 miles
climbing: 4300 feet

Mount Hamilton Road climbs from San Jose on Alum Rock Avenue to Lick Observatory at the Mount Hamilton summit. It is actually three climbs, with three climbing sections separated by moderate descents of 2 miles and 1 mile. As is clear from the distance, the grade is shallow, but the climb seems to go on forever. When one gets sight of the summit, and the end seems near, there is still five miles of climbing to go. Each year there is a famous USCF race over the top, down twisting San Antonio Valley Road, and on to Livermore. There is also the popular “Mount Hamilton Challenge” recreational ride every year, which also passes over the summit.

Mt Hamilton Road offers some wide views of the San Jose area below, which is impressive if one likes unfettered urban sprawl. All the climbing pays off, however, when from the summit, on a clear day, one can see all the way to the Sierra.

The descent of Mount Hamilton Road is neither especially bad nor good. The shallow grade limits speeds, and one must keep a constant watch for auto traffic, but it isn’t nearly as challenging as the descent of San Antonio Mountain Road to the east. The lower portion of Mt Hamilton is riddled with slick patchwork on the pavement, and thus care must be exercised here, especially in wet conditions.

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Sierra Road
distance: 3.6 miles
climbing: 1800 feet

Sierra Road climbs from busy Piedmont Road into the residentially-populated hills over Milpitas. The grade is steady near 10%. At the top, it continues as a rolling, twisting, narrow road to Felter Road, rewarding riders with some excellent views. Unlike climbs on the coastal range, Sierra Road has significant sun exposure, and thus can be extra challenging during hot summer days.

Short and Steep

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This section is a listing of some of the not-so-obvious roads in the region which, while not long enough to qualify for the main listings, are of sufficient steepness and general difficulty that they merit mention here.

These are the roads which cause you to dig deep—to really ask yourself how badly you want to keep moving. An inner voice is urging, pleading with you to pull out of the pedals, put a foot down, stop, before the cruel grade brings you to a halt and sends you toppling to the tarmac. But you ignore the voice, focus on the next pedal stroke, and eventually the top arrives. Victory…at least until the next hill.

They are listed here, roughly ordered from north to south, without statistics or extensive comment. Their inclusion in this list has been suggested by a variety of sources, not listed here. Check ’em out… explore… accept the challenge.

In the following list, click on the street name, if underlined, for the Yahoo or Google map.

Last updated February 4, 2007.