Biking at Fort Ord National Monument

Biking at Fort Ord National Monument

Top 10 Bike Rides

"There's some good, good riding in Monterey County," says cyclist Skip Latham. And he should know - when he's not out riding his bike around Monterey County, Latham is the Expo Services Director for the world-renowned Sea Otter Classic bicycling event.

One of the strengths of cycling in Monterey County, says Frank Knight of bike and kayak rental shop Adventures by the Sea, "is that it has something for everyone." From the rugged challenges of mountain biking at Fort Ord Public Lands to the cliffs of Big Sur and the gentle, paved coastal Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, there's a ride in Monterey County for every level of cyclist.

Almost anywhere you go in Monterey County, you'll see a biker taking in the sights from a bike lane or off-road trail. Monterey County's natural beauty seems more intense when you slow down and experience it from two wheels instead of four. Cycling is one of the area's most popular activities.

Here's the top 10 bike rides in Monterey County, including notes on the level of difficulty.

1. Fisherman's Wharf to Lovers Point

(Beginner) "A simple ride along the bike path that runs from Fisherman's Wharf out to Lovers Point and back is definitely very family-friendly," says Knight. The bike path, officially known as the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, extends from Castroville in the north to Pacific Grove in the south, but the stretch between Fisherman's Wharf and Lovers Point is hands-down the most popular section. The path is separated from street traffic, providing a safe environment for children still learning to balance on two wheels and nervous adults returning to cycling after a long time away. The ride provides fantastic views of Monterey Bay and plenty of great places to stop as it winds past the Coast Guard Pier, Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the harbor seal beach at Hopkins Marine Station.

2. Parker Flats Loop, Fort Ord National Monument

(Beginner) Once an Army base, the Fort Ord National Monument has several paved roads that are a perfect spot for children and adults seeking a more challenging ride than the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. "There are so many different terrains that if someone isn't in very good shape they can stay in the flatter sections," Latham says. "Someone who wants a little more challenge can ride in the steeper areas." A good beginning ride is the 5-mile Parker Flats loop, which has just enough short climbs to add a little challenge. Park at 8th and Gigling, the last spot where cars are allowed. Then bike on 8th Avenue south to Parker Flats Road. Take Parker Flats southeast to Eucalyptus. Turn right on Eucaluptus. You'll have a short but strenuous climb on Eucalyptus. Take Eucalyptus to the next segment of Parker Flats, which runs between Welch Ridge and Artillery Hill. Turn right on Normandy, then left on Eighth to complete the loop and return to the parking lot.

3. 17-Mile Drive

(Beginning-Intermediate) "When people come into our shop, most want to ride into 17-Mile Drive," says Knight. And Pebble Beach's scenic road isn't just popular with tourists. "My favorite ride is doing the morning ride out to the Lone Cypress and back," Knight says. One of the reasons this ride is so popular is that it's easy to navigate. "Keep the water on your right on the way out and keep it on the left as you come back and you won't get lost," Knight advises.

The traditional route begins at the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail at Cannery Row. After a little over a mile, the trail ends, and riders cycle through Pacific Grove on Ocean View Drive past scenic Point Pinos. Riders then continue on Sunset Drive past beautiful Asilomar State Beach, where they'll catch their first views of Pebble Beach, to 17-Mile Drive. "There's a lane for bikes, so it's very, very safe," says Knight. Riders follow 17-Mile Drive down to Point Joe and around to Seal Rock. "It's a nice place to stop because they have restrooms and picnic tables," Knight says. About a mile further is Cypress Point, which is "a vista," Knight says. In spring, cyclists can see pupping harbor seals. "As you continue on," says Knight, "it turns into an intermediate-advanced ride because you're riding with cars from there on in - there's no bike lane."

Knight says the best time to do the ride is in the morning. "There's basically no traffic," he says. "The locals are going through the upper roads to go where they want to go, and the tourists driving will go in the afternoon." The round-trip from Cannery Row is 18 miles to Cypress Point and back, and 24 miles to the Lodge at Pebble Beach and back.

4. Monterey to Marina on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail

(Beginner-Intermediate) For a different perspective on the Monterey coastline, Knight recommends this ride. "It's more of a bay view," Knight says. It's also a great workout. Riders can choose to tackle the steep hill up the sand dunes at the Monterey/Seaside border, with its reward of a sweeping view of Monterey Bay all the way to Santa Cruz, or opt for the flat cutoff that winds around Laguna Del Rey. Both trails meet up again at the Seaside parking lot for Monterey State Beach, and continue along the dunes and bluffs for miles. "When you get on the bluff out in Sand City it's a grand vista," Knight says. Once riders pass Sand City, they'll reach four miles of open, cypress and sand-dune-lined trail up to Marina, with only other cyclists and pedestrians and the occasional gull or hawk for company. Because the ride becomes so remote, Knight recommends that riders bring a tire repair kit; a flat could lead to a very long walk home.

From Monterey, just take the Rec Trail north to enjoy this ride. Keep the water on your left to head toward Marina, and on your right to head back to Monterey.

5. Hennekens Ranch Loop, Fort Ord National Monument

(Intermediate) "Fort Ord is so big - I think they have over 10,000 acres," says Latham excitedly. "You can ride out there all day!" This eight-mile ride packed with thigh-burning climbs includes sweeping views out to Toro Park and the Salinas Valley.

From the parking lot at Eighth and Gigling, take Eighth south to Normandy and turn right. Take a sharp left onto Parker Flats and follow east onto Eucalyptus Road for two and a half miles of tough climbs interspersed with downhill glides. You'll pass mossy oak trees and may catch glimpses of deer or other wildlife. Turn left onto Hennekens Ranch, where you will climb for well over half a mile. Take a breather at the top to admire the sweeping views, then enjoy the long, fast coast down the hill - you've earned it! Turn left at the bottom of the hill on Gigling, where you'll ride over low, rolling hills for the last mile and a half back to the parking lot.

6. Cachagua Loop

(Intermediate) "Another favorite ride," says Latham, is the 30-mile loop from Carmel Valley Village through Cachagua. "Start in Carmel Valley at the village, ride east on Carmel Valley Road and turn onto Cachagua," Latham says. "It's about a two-mile climb, and then it drops down into the main parts of Cachagua, where there's a lot of new grape-growing regions." There's a number of places to stop and admire the view or get a drink. Continue on Cachagua to Tassajara and take a left onto Carmel Valley Road to get back to your starting point.

7. North single-track loop, Fort Ord National Monument

(Intermediate) "My recommendation for Fort Ord would be to get a trail map from the Bureau of Land Management and then just follow the map," says Latham.

If you're overwhelmed by choice, start with the popular mountain biking loop on the north side of Fort Ord. Park at the Creekside Terrace parking area just off Reservation Road. Take Trail 31 to Trail 02 to Oil Well Road. The thigh-punishing Oil Well Road will take you uphill several miles to the aptly-named Skyline Road, where you'll turn right. You'll see Trail 44 on the right after a half mile. Ride Trail 44 to Trail 41 back to Oil Well Road; turn left on Oil Well Road, right on Station One Road and take Trail 01 back to your car.

8. Ollason Trail, Toro Park

(Intermediate-Expert) "Ollason Trail is one of my favorites," Latham says enthusiastically of Toro Park's best trail ride. "You can climb all the way up to Ollason Peak, which is 1800 feet above sea level. Considering that the entrance is about 200 feet above sea level, it's a climb of about a mile," he says.

Cyclists begin this arduous but rewarding 9-mile loop right at the park entrance. The ride has semi-hardpacked dirt roads, with some soft dirt and sandy patches. Throughout the climb, riders will encounter roller-coaster hills. From the park entrance to the Environmental Center, hikers and cyclists are on parallel paths; once past the Environmental Center, the two share a trail. Looking for an even tougher challenge? Continue on the trail past Ollason Peak to Simas Peak, 2129 feet above sea level with sweeping views of the Salinas Valley and Monterey Bay.

9. Monterey Loop, Salinas Valley/Carmel Valley

(Intermediate-Expert) Latham describes this ride as "one of the most popular long routes for local cyclists." This scenic route, roughly 100 miles, starts at River Road in the Salinas area. "You have 40 or 50 miles of farming as you go through Salinas Valley," Latham says. Then riders turn west on Arroyo Seco Road, and follow it to Carmel Valley Road. "As you go through Arroyo Seco and Carmel Valley you see a lot of grape growing and a lot of cattle ranching as well," Latham says. Riders can "either head straight into Carmel or come over Laureles Grade back to where you started," depending on the length of ride they want, he says.

It's so popular, in fact, that it's been selected as the Gran Fondo Long Ride for the 2010 Sea Otter Classic. Latham explains "The term is Italian...it means ‘big ride.' They're all very long, over 100 miles, and they're very competitive. You bring your friends out there and you try to beat them to the finish." The Sea Otter's Gran Fondo "will be timed, so all the riders will get their times from start to finish." The ride includes sponsor gifts and a great lunch at a scenic vineyard, as well as dinner. "At the finish of the ride there's a really nice meal provided to each participant. We pamper them." There's also shorter 30 and 45 mile Gran Fondo options; see the Sea Otter Classic website for more information and to register.

10. Highway One through Big Sur

(Expert) "You've got to be a very, very expert rider just to ride down to Bixby Bridge," says Knight, who recommends that riders tackle the road in the morning to avoid sharing the road with motorhomes. But the rewards are worth it. "Going down to Highway One can be the greatest ride in the world," he says. Hundreds of riders each year cycle Highway One, which is both a State Scenic Highway and an All-American Road. It's been named one of the top road trips in America, and the breathtaking vistas are even better from a bicycle. Much like the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail and 17-Mile Drive, navigating this ride is easy - just keep the ocean on your right if you're heading south to Big Sur or Hearst Castle, and keep it on your left if you're heading north to Monterey. For the expert cyclist, Highway One through Big Sur may be the best ride you will ever take.

For more information on bicycling in Monterey County, visit Bicycling Monterey.com.

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