May 24, 2017
by David Abbott
I moved to Sonoma County in 1998 after realizing this is one of the most beautiful places on Earth to ride a bicycle. In fact, cycling a main reason I decided to move here and call the place my home.
For the road cyclist not put-off by a close traffic on narrow roads, there are hills, flats, off-the-beaten-trail wineries, culinary delights and, of course, the best beer on the planet for post-ride rehydration.
The following is one of my favorite rides in the county. It can be cut into sections for anything from a short, 9-mile outing to a 41-plus-mile solo ride through pines, oak trees, vineyard-studded river bottoms.
The Sebastopol to Forestville section is mostly on the West County Trail, a Class I bike path, but once the rider leaves the safety of the path, the roads can be dangerous and connectors like River Road can be congested with tourist traffic. Wear safety gear, have lights on your bike and take being part of the flow of traffic seriously.
The ride begins in downtown Sebastopol and follows the West County Trail along Highway 116 to Occidental Road, which has a very wide shoulder for a fast descent to the trailhead to Graton and Forestville.
Sebastopol offers all the amenities one expects from a modern American city. Andy’s Produce Market is near the midway point and features an ample selection of fresh and prepared foods, as well as port-a-potties for those who forgot to go in Sebastopol.
Graton is about 4.5 miles from Sebastopol, featuring a one-block downtown with opportunities to sit for a meal and relax or just walk around and check out art galleries and shops.
The trail resumes at the intersection of Graton and Ross roads and continues 3.5 miles to Forestville via Green Valley Road and a short westward jaunt on the road to get to the next section of trail.
The section from Green Valley to Forestville begins with a narrow wooden bridge and a winding, hard-packed dirt trail that goes past the Graton Community Services District sewage treatment plant. Past that, it is paved, but caution is needed, as the trail is quite popular and has several crossings and stop signs.
At Ross Station Road, the trail jockeys to the right and then left for a fast descent to Forestville. Exercise caution in this stretch, as it is mostly downhill and ends abruptly with a sharp and well-marked right turn onto Pajaro Lane. Take Pajaro and turn left onto Forestville Street, then left onto Railroad Avenue, which will turn right to Main Street, AKA Highway 116. Forestville has coffee shops and restaurants and with a little time and effort, the Forestville Youth Park on Mirabel Road is a fine place for a picnic before the return to Sebastopol.
For those going on, Forestville is a good place to refuel and pit stop before getting onto the beautiful back roads of the wine country.
From Forestville, connector roads are busy, but the rewards are worth it to get to the more quiet side roads. The route follows Highway 116 past Mirabel to Martinelli Road and over the Hacienda Bridge to West Side Road.
The road out of Forestville is always busy. At Mirabel, a right turn lane by the Rotten Robbie gas station can be stressful, but once you are up over the hill, be prepared for a fast half-mile downhill that takes you onto what looks like a set for a movie about Sonoma County wines.
Turn right onto Martinelli for a 2.5-mile leg to River Road, through redwoods, oaks and vineyards with little to no traffic. This is my favorite stretch of road in the entire county. The only problem is that it is far too short and River Road is at the end of it.
After Martinelli, the route goes left for about 1.5 miles along Old River Road, a windy predecessor that parallels busy River Road. Enjoy the quiet of Old River, as it unceremoniously dumps into traffic near Hacienda Bridge, a narrow structure that is often packed with RVs in the summer season. There are sidewalks for the faint of heart, but it is important to be aware of your surroundings, no matter how you cross the bridge.
Past the bridge, take a sharp, steep right turn onto Westside Road, for a few hundred yards and a great view of the Russian River before an undulating 3-mile ride to Wohler Road and Wohler Bridge, a one-lane historic bridge built in 1921.
Continue along Wohler one mile to Eastside Road, through a beautiful valley dotted with vineyards and oak trees. Eastside climbs about one mile to Trenton-Healdsburg Road. At the stop sign outside Shone Farm, turn right and take an almost immediate left onto Mark West Station Road, through dairy land and vineyards for a little over two miles to Slusser Road. At Slusser, one has the option of heading due east to Windsor Road toward Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, or south on Slusser to River Road and back to Sebastopol.
From Slusser, it is about 4.5 miles to the park via Windsor and Shiloh roads. From Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, there is a great view of the Santa Rosa Valley and the hills to the west and a great opportunity to picnic and rest before heading back to Sebastopol via Shiloh, Windsor and Slusser roads, or Faught Road and Airport Boulevard to Mc Laughlin, which meets up with Slusser at the southwest corner of the Sonoma County Airport.
Whether taking the side trip to Windsor, or heading back to Sebastopol, Slusser meets up with River Road for the return trip.
Go west on River for a mile to Trenton Road, which turns right at the entrance to Woodenhead Wines and circles down below the bridge before heading west to Laguna Road. At Laguna, turn left and go two-tenths of a mile to veer right onto Vine Hill Road. Vine Hill winds about 3.5 miles back to Highway 116. The climb will get you out of the saddle, but will not kill you. At the top of the ridge, you are treated to another beautiful view of the vineyards and valleys and after crossing Guerneville Road, take a left at the light for a 3.5-mile ride to Occidental Road, where you can get back on the West County Trail and ride it all the way back to Sebastopol.
No matter which option one takes, this loop offers the best Sonoma County has to offer, from scenic hilly roads in the west to relatively flat, wide-open space in the central part of the Santa Rosa plain. As cell service is spotty in most parts of West County, it is a good idea to pick up a Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition map for $12 at the SCBC website at www.bikesonoma.org. The map contains information about roads and services and also helps support the Coalition in its efforts to make Sonoma County a better place to ride.
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