This is a beginner ride for someone who is ready for a longer ride. It has a little bit of everything. Some climbing and lots of descending. The first 5 miles is a climb followed by another 6-7 miles of descent. The ride finishes off with a taste of ocean bikeway on West Cliff drive.
There is also some flowy descending through oak forest for good measure!
The ride starts and ends at the Santa Cruz Corporation yard at the corner of River St. and Golf Glub Dr. You can park in the city parking lot on the weekends, otherwise park on the street. Parking at the top of Golf Club Dr. can get tight.
You can also park on the other side of the bike bridge the crosses the San Lorenzo River just south of the Hwy 1 bridge and start the Loop from there.
Circle Loop starts out on Golf Club Drive. Head up until you connect to the Emma McCrary Trail
. This first leg is an easy (~7% max) climb through a redwood forest. This climb features bridges, flowy trails, berm, and switchbacks. The climb is interspersed with rolling sections that breaks the ride up nicely.
At the intersection of U-con Trail
, Rincon, and Emma McCrary Trail
you'll continue up the climb on the U-con Trail
. This is the hardest part of the climb (~7-12% pitch), but it only lasts a mile. Continue through lush forest as this trail winds similarly to Emma McCrary Trail
, but with a somewhat steeper climb.
At the top of U-con Trail
is a kiosk where you can connect to either Rock-And-Roll or a fire road. Continue on the fire road upwards until you connect with Chinquapin Rd (fire road). Along Chinquapin there are numerous side trails, but you want to continue to follow the general direction of Chinquapin Rd.
Follow Chinquapin Rd to Four Corners (open area with 3 large tanks). You can either follow Chinquapin Rd. to Twin Gates or take the Pipeline trail which parallels Chinquapin Rd. The trail map provided here takes Pipeline and pops out at the beginning of the Meadow trail before it connects to Twin Gates. This trail is a gentle climb that follows the pipeline up.
At Twin Gates cross Empire Grade and then stay on Chinquapin until it intersects with Long Meadow Trail
. Descend Long Meadow Trail
, but watch your speed!
Eventually, you'll come to a four way intersection - To the left is Engleman's Loop, to the right Wild Boar Trail. Proceed straight onto the left fork of Engleman's Loop. A ways down, Engleman's Loop will be detoured, and the new trail will head off to the right. This is very flowy singletrack with two switchbacks that descends through oaks on the edge of the large meadow.
Connect back with Engleman's Loop and descend into Wilder Ranch. Go through the tunnel under Hwy 1 and turn left onto the Wilder Ranch Bike Path. It is paved and essentially flat. From here you'll continue into town. There are various little excursions off to the left that can be fun, but stick to the ride for now. In town, turn right onto Shaffer Rd., cross the railroad tracks and at the end of the road turn left towards Natural Bridges State Park.
You'll go through the park and then connect with the West Cliff Drive Bike/Pedestrian path that runs along the coast. It's flat but on the cliff above the ocean and continues into town.
When you hit Bay Street, continue straight ahead until you see the old train trestle. You'll cross the trestle and then continue on West Cliff Drive towards the traffic circle. Connect to Pacific Ave., then Front Street. Turn right onto Spruce where you'll climb up to the South Levy bike way. Ride along the Levy, under bridges, etc. past the various bridges including the bike/ped bridge just south of Hwy 1. Cross under Hwy 1 until you come to the Tannery and continue behind the Tannery Art complex.
The ride finishes by crossing Hwy 9 and returning to the Santa Cruz Municipal yard parking lot where you started.