Best Road Cycling Routes in Northern California
Cycling in Northern California will make you glad all over again that this outdoor adventure is your passion. You’ll ride along miles and miles of quiet roads past redwood forests, stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, and through lush vineyards. Here are some of the best cycling destinations in Northern California with suggestions for a few places to stop and rest and rejuvenate along the way.
San Francisco and Marin
San Francisco is a good starting point for cycling into scenic Marin County. Before heading northward, check out the 1,500-acre Presidio National Park’s 25 miles of routes. You’ll enjoy views of San Francisco Bay, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and the city’s famous skyline. Part of the regional Bay Trail, the 4.3-mile Golden Gate Promenade is an easy route that will eventually lead you to the Marin Headlands after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge. You can also choose to turn southward and connect with the California Coastal Trail to enjoy impressive views of the Pacific Ocean.
Don’t miss cycling through the Golden Gate Park on the loop. It’s a 6.3-mile stretch with a 400-foot gain. Take a break and stop by the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden, two of the area’s most popular attractions.
For an excellent place to stay, check into the Monte Cristo Inn. The historic inn has been around since 1875. It’s located at the junction of the Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, and Laurel Heights neighborhoods. A more affordable choice is the beautifully restored Stanyan Park Hotel directly across from Golden Gate Park.
Cycling doesn’t get any better than in Napa Valley with its long stretches of country roads flanked by rows and rows of vineyards. Cyclers who prefer flat, well-paved roads won’t be disappointed, and those looking for more of a challenge will appreciate the winding, valley-hugging roads.
For a family-friendly route, head down the 47-mile-long planned Napa Valley Vine Trail. It connects the entire Napa Valley region to the greater Bay Area and is a smooth and easy ride with very little car traffic. The Skyline Loop Trail down to Lake Marie is a little more difficult. The 6.4-mile-long trail has an elevation gain of 1,292 feet. The views of open grassland and oak forests are stunning and serene.
For a place to stay, check into the Cottages of Napa Valley, once a secret hideaway for Hollywood stars. Another good choice is Lavendar, a bed & breakfast inn only two blocks from the famous French Laundry restaurant.
Humbolt County and the Redwood Coast are a paradise for cyclists and nature lovers with immaculate beaches and huge, ancient redwood trees. Begin with an easy ride along the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants. It’s an out-and-back route with an elevation gain of 1,780 feet that takes you past the oldest and largest trees on Earth and through forest ferns and beds of redwood sorrel.
The trail passes through Humboldt Redwoods State Park but traffic is minimal. For a bit more of a challenge, head for the Adventure/Gravel Route that runs along the Eel River. It takes you to farming and orchard terrain and then back to the Avenue of the Giants.
For an adrenaline-pumping ride, it’s hard to beat the Paradise Royale Loop Trail. Listed as one of California’s 30 best trails, the 11.6-mile long route has an elevation gain of 2,229 feet and was designed solely for a mountain biking experience. The highlight of the trail is a white-knuckle descent that seems to go on forever.
You’ll find a variety of accommodations on the Redwood Coast from the quaint Inn of the Lost Coast in the little fishing village of Shelter Cove to Benbow Historic Inn, an elegant hotel located above the banks of the Eel River.
While California provides a plethora of amazing cycling experiences, you should always explore with safety at the for front of your mind. While there was a decline in California in serious death and injury due to bicycle accidents from 2017-2021, sadly there were still 108 tragic cycling accidents in 2021. Before exploring the Golden State on your bike, familiarize yourself with local cycling laws, ride defensively, make yourself visible to drivers with reflective clothing, and always wear a bike helmet.
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