Overnight nirvana on the edge of Silicon Valley

Back when I lived in San Francisco, I pulled together an overnight bike trip with three key objectives in mind: hot tubbing on the Pacific Coast; enjoying a mix of on-road and dirt cycling; and grabbing some of the best olallieberry pie in the world.

Fourteen of us started near the train station in Saratoga, on the edge of Silicon Valley, all on mountain bikes with light panniers (or backpacks) and sleeping bags. We’d be sleeping inside and would have kitchen facilities, which kept our loads light. We headed up curvy Highway 9, a busy but not unsafe highway (especially on a Saturday) into the Santa Cruz Mountains.

At Skyline Ridge, we savored the views and then headed down a ways before turning into Big Basin Redwood State Park, the oldest state park in California (established in 1902). At first, we were on narrow paved roads but then we hit Gazos Creek Road, which turned to dirt -- and we were off on a wild car-free descent to the coast!

Near the water, the road turned back to pavement and then joined Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). We turned right and in a matter of minutes, we were at our overnight destination: Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel. Perched above the crashing waves, the lighthouse and bunkhouses make for a spectacular and secluded overnight stop – all we needed were our sleeping bags, food … and bathing suits! Pigeon Point has one of the coolest hot tubs around, right on the edge of the Pacific. It’s so popular, you need to reserve a time slot, so make sure you do that when you check in.

The old kitchen was a great place to hang out and make a meal together. It was going to be simple (spaghetti, salad, wine and sourdough bread) until one of our friends (a chef, of course) pulled out a huge bag of fresh chanterelles, which he sautéed in butter and pepper – and passed around to our famished crowd.

The next morning, we did a variety pack ride back to Saratoga. We rode a few miles north on PCH, then turned right, heading to the little town of Pescadero. There, we found famous Duarte’s Tavern, a restaurant known for its seafood, artichoke soup, and pies. A late breakfast of olallieberry pie was perfect and then we headed toward Portola Redwood State Park. We turned off onto car-free Old Haul Road (now a trail) deep into the redwoods before climbing steeply up Alpine Road, with stunning views unfolding all around us.

Eventually, we got to Skyline Ridge, found our single track trail at Upper Stevens Creek, and yipped and skipped down the hill to Canyon Trail, following a beautiful creek lined with oaks. Eventually, the trail came to a gate and the low-traffic Stevens Canyon Road which took us further down the ravine before a moderate climb over a ridge and back down to Saratoga by early afternoon.

(Current) per person hostel cost: $23. Per person food cost: about $15 (excluding the pie). Overnight Nirvana experience: Priceless!

Get more information about bike overnights.

5 responses so far ↓

Cathy Haagen-Smit - Apr 25, 2011 at 9:49 PM

Must put on our to-do list! Am thinking that it would be neat when it's 100 degrees in Auburn and the cool coast beckons.

Dale - Jul 13, 2011 at 10:58 AM

Sounds like a great trip. If you have extra time, it can easily be extended by riding south to Santa Cruz, then Monterey. You can take the Amtrak back to San Jose, from Salinas about 10-15 miles east of Monterey.

Ron Grandia - Dec 9, 2011 at 7:41 AM

I've been eyeing Old Haul Road for a while. Looks like a little slice of heaven. Caution to anyone considering this ride: Highway 9 is treacherous- especially at the base of Saratoga heading up. No shoulder, blind curves and traffic in both directions. Great care is also recommended at Duarte's, where one could easily scuttle the day's ride by over-eating!

Anne Paulson - Dec 19, 2011 at 10:35 AM

Gazos Creek is hairy on the way down, but one could do this route in the other direction on a touring bike.

My club rides on Highway 9, and I ride there alone. It's not generally regarded by local cyclists as particularly treacherous, though of course everyone has his own tolerance for traffic. I don't hesitate to recommend it, except the part between Felton and Santa Cruz.

Jenny Peters - Jan 7, 2012 at 3:09 PM

Nice ride description. I will forward this one to my brother who lives in San Jose. I grew up in Cupertino, so am quite familiar with all the roads and tails you describe. Now I live in Chicago and do my bike overnights from here.

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