3 Popular Bike Routes Through Sonoma County Wine Country
There's a reason that so many cycling events take place in Sonoma County: diversity of both terrain and challenge.
There are rides here to suit everyone, from paved routes along former railroad tracks, through vineyard-laden valleys, up and down steep mountain passes, and along knife-edge roads that follow the coastline — and plenty in-between.
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.
Traveling from Sebastopol to Forestville, this 5.5-mile trail (one-way) is suitable for everyone, including families with fledgling cyclists. Built along a former railway line, the West County Regional Trail is flat, paved, and exceedingly scenic (think gorgeous vineyards, beautiful red barns, and rising hills).
Most of the trail is car-free, and you'll find plenty of places to stop and stretch along the way. The trail officially starts near the intersection of Mill Station Road and Highway 116 in Sebastopol (you’ll find parking on Highway 116 and nearby streets — see the Trails Map). It's easy to follow and marked all the way and you can shorten the route by starting in Graton rather than Sebastopol.
Take a rest stop in the picturesque village of Graton, picking up a snack at Willow Wood Market Cafe, a popular general store/café, or browse galleries and check out the work of local artists.
As a definite treat for nature lovers, the Hallberg Butterfly Gardens is a nine-acre non-profit wildlife sanctuary on the southern edge of Graton that provides habitat for dozens of colorful butterfly species. The gardens are only open certain days from April through October, so be sure to book an appointment so you don't miss out on the calming sight of fluttering butterflies.
Continuing on from Graton, you’ll come to Forestville. Despite its small size, this tiny town has a big food scene that is sure to tempt the appetite you've worked up pedaling. The popular coffee shop hangout Tiny Town Cafe is known for flaky croissants, breakfast sandwiches, and coffee. And you’re bound to love the incredible wood-fired bakery treats at Nightingale Breads, perfect for replenishing carbs.
Once you've refueled, simply head back the way you came to complete your journey!
Level: Easy or moderate
This 30-mile loop, starting in Healdsburg, is arguably one of the most gorgeous Wine Country bike routes. The scenery alone — vineyard-covered valleys backdropped by rising hills and mountains, well-kept wooden barns and outbuildings, and an abundance of bright blue skies — 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 pedal uphill for short distances. If you’re a warrior cyclist, you’ll eat up this loop without raising a sweat. If you usually don’t cycle more than a few miles, just take it nice and easy.
The ride starts near Healdsburg’s historical plaza on Grove Street at City Hall (easy parking nearby). Head 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 pedal along: Tall signposts directing you to nearby wineries. Each winery has its name on its own perpendicular slat, and sometimes you’ll see posts with slats from tip to ground. When it’s time for a tasting break, head off and explore the winery of your choice.
After about 10 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 for 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. Delve into excellent Italian-meets-Californian cuisine at Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria. Chill out on the patio — bedecked in lush climbing greenery and colorful umbrellas suspended in the air — and refuel with white pizzas, roasted-beet salads and salami and cheese boards that star house-cured meats, local veg, and, domestic and imported cheeses.
Head south out of Geyserville on Highway 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 Highway 101 and begin a small uphill climb. At the top, turn onto Chiquita Road.
Two miles later you’ll be back in Healdsburg. Chiquita ends at Grove. Turn right and soon you’ll be at your starting point. And if you want to make this charming town your home base for a longer visit, you'll find wineries, tasting rooms, boutiques, museums, Michelin-starred restaurants, and so much more. Find things to do in Healdsburg.
For more information, the Santa Rosa Cycling Club offers turn-by-turn instructions for a similar route, with a link to a GPS map.
Bonus ride: If you're looking for a route that's closer to the moderate side in terms of challenge, try the Valley of the Moon. Ride through a lovely landscape, charming villages, moderately steep mountain roads, and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. The ride begins and ends at the Glen Ellen Village Market in the tiny northern Sonoma Valley town of Glen Ellen. Follow back roads out of town and around Sonoma Mountain, then circle through the nearby village of Kenwood. From here there's an optional out-and-back route up Adobe Canyon Road to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (7 miles round trip), and then follow a different route back to Glen Ellen. Check out the Santa Rosa Cycling Club's Valley of the Moon route map.
3. 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. If you feel most at peace in a helmet and cycling kit, this route is for you.
You’ll start your ride in Jenner, a cozy community perched on an oceanside bluff that overlooks the Pacific, just slightly north of the Russian River’s mouth.
Head south and turn left onto Highway 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. As you ride, you'll pass thick growths of redwood trees that soften breezes and filter the sunlight as their massive trunks reach toward the sky.
About 6 miles along, turn right on Cazadero Highway, and cruise into another former logging town, Cazadero. Raymond's Bakery is a family-run hidden gem where you can refuel with pastries, breads, and coffee. Or pop into Cazadero General Store to snag fresh fruit, juices, and made-to-order sandwiches that get rave reviews.
Once you're recharged, hop back in the saddle and continue along Cazadero Highway to a three-way junction, where you can take one of two routes:
- King Ridge (the middle fork) if you're looking for something steep and an extra challenge.
- Fort Ross Road (the left fork), is 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.
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 — taking in the spray from waves crashing into hulking sea-stack rock formations, looking for whales breaching the water's surface, and just soaking up the moment.
Back on your bike, get ready for an amazingly steep downhill ride to Highway 1; depending on how much of a thrill-seeker you are, you'll either be ecstatic or jamming on the brakes.
Soon enough you’ll arrive at Jenner, owning bragging rights for a stunning ride. Give your legs a much deserved rest by spending a few days at the Jenner Inn, where you'll be treated to ocean views right from your room. In the evening, watch the sunset at River’s End while enjoying the seasonal delights of Sonoma County's impressive produce scene. Past menus have showcased Creole-inspired crab bisque, lamb lollipops, and fresh oyster and wine pairings.
And if you need some time out of the saddle, you'll find Jenner offers a wealth of attractions, from guided kayaking eco-tours and state park exploration to hiking and wine tasting. Find more things to do in Jenner.
The Santa Rosa Cycling Club provides a detailed description of a similar route (we changed the starting point to Jenner), along with a route map, info on water stops, and turn-by-turn instructions. British bicyclist Kirby James' biking website offers photos and a wonderful ride description of this route.
Find more info about area bike routes courtesy of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club's website.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriquez.