Popular Bike Itineraries: Cycling through Wine Country

Cycling in Sonoma County.
Cycling in Sonoma County.
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There’s a reason that so many prominent cycle races, including Amgen Tour of California, take place in Sonoma County: Diversity. From paved rides along former railroad tracks and vineyard-laden valleys to steep mountain passes and knife-edge roads that edge the ocean—and plenty in-between—there are rides here to suit everyone.

Here are three itineraries for bicycle rides to suit casual riders and families with children, fairly experienced cyclists with a yen to tour classic wine country, and weekend warriors seeking a true challenge. You’ll also find tips for things to do along the ride. Here is more info about bike rentals and organized tours: Bicyling Sonoma County and bike rentals and tours listings.

 

Easy: West County Regional Trail

This 5.5-mile trail is suitable for everyone, including families with fledgling cyclists. Built along the route of a former railway line, the trail is flat, paved and exceedingly scenic (gorgeous vineyards, beautiful red barns, rising hills). Most of the trail is also car-free, and you can make interesting stops along the way.

The entire loop is 11 miles, but of course you can turn around at any point and return to your starting point. You can also shorten the route by starting in Graton rather than Sebastopol.

The trail officially starts near the intersection of Mill Station Road and Hwy 116 in Sebastopol (you’ll find parking on Hwy 116 and nearby streets—see the Trails Map). It’s easy to follow and marked all the way.

Take a rest stop in the picturesque village of Graton, picking up a snack at Willow Wood, a popular general store/café, or browse galleries and check out the work of local artists. Hallberg Butterfly Gardens, a 9-acre non-profit wildlife sanctuary that provides habitat for dozens of colorful butterfly species, is a definite treat for nature lovers. The Gardens are only open certain days from April-October, so be sure to make an appointment ahead of time.

Continuing on for a few miles, you’ll come to Forestville. Despite its small size, the tiny town has numerous eateries to tempt your appetite, including popular coffee shop hangout, Tiny Town Cafe, wonderful Mediterranean-style dishes at Backyard, and the delicious, imaginative cuisine at Twist Eatery. And you’re bound to love the incredible wood-fired bakery treats at Nightingale Breads.

When you’ve had your fill of gustatory delights, turn your bikes around around and peddle slowly back the way you came.

For more information: West County Regional Trail.

 

Moderate or Easy: Dry Creek & Alexander Valleys

This 30-mile loop, starting in Healdsburg, is arguably one of the most famous wine country bike routes in the world. The scenery alone—vineyard-covered valleys backdropped by rising hills and mountains, well-kept wooden barns and outbuildings, bright blue skies (much of the time, anyway)—is reason enough for this ride. But add in the possibility of hopping off your bike now and again to sample award-winning wines, perhaps stretching your legs on a flower-bedecked winery patio while taking in killer views…experiences like that become shiny jewels of memory.

For the most part this ride is flat, though you’ll occasionally have to peddle uphill for short distances. If you’re a warrior bicyclist, you’ll eat up this loop without raising a sweat. If you usually don’t cycle more than a few miles, don’t worry. You’ll do fine. Just take it nice ‘n easy.

The ride starts near Healdsburg’s historic plaza on Grove Street at City Hall (easy parking nearby). Start off going south on Grove and then take a right on Mill Street, which soon becomes Westside Road. In a mile you’ll turn right onto West Dry Creek Road, where you’ll enjoy expansive views and great natural beauty.

One of the wine country sights you’ll enjoy as you peddle along: tall signposts directing you to nearby wineries. Each winery has its name on its own perpendicular slat attached to the post—and sometimes you’ll see posts with slats from tip to ground. When it’s time for a tasting break, head off and explore a winery of your choice.

After about ten miles, turn right onto Yoakim Bridge Road which crosses over Dry Creek. A few miles northwest, the creek has been dammed to create massive Lake Sonoma.

Turn right—briefly—onto Dry Creek Road; then left onto Canyon Road and a gradual uphill climb. From the top you’ll descend into Alexander Valley. Turn right onto Geyserville Avenue and into the small town of Geyserville, which hasn’t changed much since the late 1800s. If you want to stop here, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy. Grab coffee and a fresh-baked pastry at Geyserville Mud, delve into excellent Italian/California cuisine at Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, shop for a gift at Bosworth & Son General Mercantile, or sample wines at one of the town’s tasting rooms (Meeker Winery, Ramazzotti Wines, Route 128 Winery, and Mercury Geyserville).

Head south out of Geyserville on Hwy 128 until you come to the 1895 Jimtown Store, a popular destination for cyclists and everybody else. You can refill your water bottles here (for free), buy a cycling map, order a sandwich in the deli (or advance order a boxed lunch), grab a cup of really good coffee, chat with other cyclists, or just sit on the old wood porch and enjoy the country setting.

Continue along Hwy 128. When it turns north, head straight onto Alexander Valley Road, cross the Russian River and eventually turn right onto Lytton Station Road. Turn right a mile later onto Lytton Springs Road, and you’ll travel beneath  Hwy 101 and begin a small uphill climb. At the top, turn onto Chiquita Road. Two miles later you’ll enter Healdsburg. Chiquita ends at Grove. Turn right and soon you’ll be back at your starting point.

For more information, the Santa Rosa Cycling Club offers a detailed description of a similar route, along with a route map and turn-by-turn instructions.

 

Expert: Jenner/King Ridge/Meyers Grade Loop

At 55-miles and a 4,500’ elevation gain, this ride—which winds along the Pacific Ocean, through redwood forests, and beside the Russian River—is a dream for cyclists who are truly experienced, extremely fit, and aiming for a challenge.

You’ll start your ride in Jenner, a miniscule community that overlooks the ocean slightly north of the Russian River’s mouth. Then you’ll head south and turn left onto Hwy 116 (also called River Road), following the river past a one-time lumber town, Duncans Mills, until turning left onto Austin Creek Road. This is a lovely stretch, with few cars and thick growths of redwood trees.

About six miles along, turn right on Cazadero Hwy, and cruise into another former lumber town, Cazadero, where you’ll find a café, general store, and bakery—good places to replenish water, snacks, and other necessities.

Continue along Cazadero Hwy to a three-way junction, where you can take one of two routes:

  1. King Ridge (the middle fork), which is very steep and tough; or,
  2. Fort Ross Road (the left fork), 19 miles shorter and somewhat easier than King Ridge (the two eventually reconnect at Meyers Grade). So instead of completing a tough 55-mile trek in total, you’ll end up doing a still-pretty-tough 36-mile ride. You can read about more intricate differences between the two routes here, and you can see both routes on this map.

Whichever route you choose—King Ridge or Fort Ross Road (and both are awesomely beautiful)—you’ll eventually wind up at Meyers Grade. You’ll be very high above the ocean, with views that seem to go on and on to the end of the earth. This is a good time to pause and relax.

Back on your bike, get ready for an amazingly steep downhill ride to Hwy 1 (depending on your capacity for exciting thrills, you either be ecstatic or jamming on the brakes).

Soon enough you’ll arrive at Jenner, owning bragging rights for a major ride, well ridden. Consider celebrating with an overnight in Jenner. You’ll spend your time soaking up ocean views from a room at Jenner Inn & Cottages and watch the sun set over a great meal at cliff-top restaurant River’s End.

Thanks to the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, which provides a detailed description of a similar route (we changed the starting point to Jenner), along with a route map and turn-by-turn instructions. Be sure to visit British bicyclist Kirby James, whose biking website offers visitors many photos, and a wonderful ride description, of this route.

You can find even more rides by visiting the Santa Rosa Cycling Club’s website. More ideas: Biking Events in West Sonoma County. Info for bike rentals and organized tours: Bicyling Sonoma County and bike rentals and tours listings.

 

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