We enjoyed a 17.3 mile Camp ‘n Ride on a warm September day in the Clarkdale area of Northern Arizona. Clarkdale is near the towns of Cottonwood and Jerome, about 20 miles west of Sedona. We staged from the Rain Spirit RV Park, situated along the main road of Broadway on the southeast edge of town. The ride encompassed historic Clarkdale, Tuzigoot National Monument, and the paved first 5 miles of scenic Sycamore Canyon Road along the Verde River. On another day we continued on the dirt road for a few more miles.
Clarkdale is known to most northern Arizona visitors as the place to catch the scenic Verde Canyon Railroad ride. We experienced that excursion once in late November, a good time of year with fall foliage usually peaking in the area. The depot is accessed off a side road from Broadway near downtown, over a narrow bridge.
The small historic town of Clarkdale founded in 1912 was originally a company smelter town created by William A. Clark for his copper mine in nearby Jerome. The photos below show Jerome in the hills above, a smelter, a slag pile next to the Verde River, and a facility that recovers and repurposes the slag.
Clarkdale was an early example of a planned community, with telephone, telegraph, electrical, sewer and spring water services, making it very modern for its day, and the central part of town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The mine and smelter closed in 1953, and the town fell on hard times, though a Portland Cement company revitalized the economy somewhat.
Currently there are not many dining options in Clarkdale in contrast to booming Old Town Cottonwood and historic Jerome, each just a few miles away. An exception is Violette’s Bakery Cafe, in the center of Clarkdale in an old railway car serving delicious French-style breakfast and lunch on their outdoor patio, which made for a wonderful bike and brunch for us. Across the street is Arizona Copper Art Museum in the old High School building, and around the corner the central Clarkdale Park featuring a circa 1915 bandstand.
Adjacent to the southeast of Clarkdale is Tuzigoot (which means “Crooked Waters”) National Monument, a well preserved pueblo on a limestone hilltop built by the Sinagua people between 1125 and 1400 CE, overlooking an extinct oxbow in the Verde River. Admission is charged to walk around the ruins, but there is a free paved path with interpretive signs leading to a view deck near the oxbow, which is now an important wetland.
The Verde River flows through Clarkdale year round, and Sycamore Canyon Road, accessed off of the Tuzigoot access road, follows the river and leads to access points where many people set in with their river kayaks to float downstream to the south. The road is little used except for warm weekends by people driving to the river accesses, and on weekdays with some trucks that use a facility midway. There is one substantial hill en route and a few gradual hills. E-bikers will be happy to have some options on those, as we did with our Class I Townie Go’s. We stopped at the end of the paved section in about 5 miles at a cattle guard.
On another day we continued onto the unpaved Forest Service road past the cattle guard, which is not a 4WD road, but was still bumpy for our e-bikes. We found good paths though and it worked out fine. We felt like we were in the old west, with just chaparral and red rock cliffs beyond. We turned around in about 2.5 miles, but you can ride much farther and also explore scenic side roads.
Connecting the Tuzigoot access road and central Clarkdale is Broadway, the town’s main thoroughfare with bike lanes and an ample paved sidewalk/bike trail alongside it. In the other direction, toward Old Town Cottonwood, the sidewalk and bike lanes disappear for 0.8 mile.
During the Covid-19 summer of 2020, the Grand Canyon trams weren’t running. These free trams run throughout the park, including along the main 7-mile scenic Hermit Road that is closed to cars, transporting hordes of tourists from around the world to Hermits Rest, stopping at all of the famous spectacular lookout spots, including Maricopa Point, Hopi Pt, Mojave Pt, and others. The tourists swarm the viewpoints, jockeying for position to take photos, then fan out to hike between them. We cyclists can still find some solitude along the route, but rarely close to tram stops. The Hermit Rd bike ride is a spectacular opportunity to experience some of the most scenic portions of the Grand Canyon on a closed road, a 14 mile round trip piece of paradise. Due to some hills it’s not the easiest ride when combined with the ~7,000 ft elevation, but most acclimated to the altitude should be able to handle it with a multi-geared bike. When the trams go by, about every 15 minutes, cyclists are required to pull off the road and let them pass, which doesn’t happen all that often on a typical ride, but is a pain when it does. The bike-carrying trams can come in handy for cyclists though, in case they get tired or suffer a mechanical problem, which could result in a long walk back to the village otherwise. Also, the first hill up Hermit Rd from Grand Canyon Village can be daunting for those on non-electric bikes not used to the altitude, and a lift up with the tram can remedy that. The roadway eventually descends downhill to its terminus at Hermits Rest, so if cyclists are not up for the ride back over the hill they can hop on a tram with their bike.
With no trams running during our visit in late August, ending before Labor Day weekend, the road was only open to bikers and hikers, so the farther down Hermit Rd we went, the fewer of either we encountered, especially hikers.
Most cyclists rent their bikes at Bright Angel Bicycles, a well-respected concession located at the main Visitors Center complex, about 5 miles from Hermit Rd via the Greenway Trail system, which allows bikes. When they began operations in 2010 it was a game changer, turning Grand Canyon National Park into a biking destination. They currently rent 7-speed cruiser style bikes, but National Parks prohibits them from renting e-bikes. They also offer guided tours. In past years, tourists from all over the world rented bikes from them resulting in hordes of cyclists on wide Hermit Road, which could easily accommodate them. This summer there were still quite a few cyclists, always great to see, but with so few foreigners, the numbers were significantly less, and in the mornings and late afternoons, the road was virtually deserted, how wonderful for us.
This was our first time riding Hermit Rd with e-bikes; we had done the ride many times over the years on regular geared bikes, most recently our 21 speed Townie comfort bikes. We now have Class I TownieGo pedal-assist models; Steve rides the 7D and me the 8D, and we both love them. The first substantial hill up Hermit Rd required significant pedaling, but it wasn’t a taxing experience at all on our senior bones and muscles. The rest of the route is hilly as well, but more gradual, which is a piece of cake for pedal-assist bikes, even at this altitude. We had spent the rest of the summer in Big Bear Lake, California, at 7,000 feet, so we were already acclimated.
E-bikes are allowed in Grand Canyon National Park as follows per the NPS website:
E-Bikes: The term “e-bike” means a two-or three-wheeled cycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.). E-bikes are allowed in Grand Canyon National Park where traditional bicycles are allowed. E-bikes are prohibited where traditional bicycles are prohibited. Except where the use of motor vehicles by the public is allowed, using the electric motor to move an e-bike without pedaling is prohibited.
The biggest difference this year was that most of the famous viewpoints were empty, we had them to ourselves! It was like having our own private National Park, shared with a few friendly cyclists, and hikers along the first few miles. Private picnics on shaded benches overlooking the canyon were easy to accomplish, and we enjoyed many moments of Zen contemplating the amazing sequence of geological events that created the canyon. Our rides were like something out of a biking fantasy, a once in a lifetime opportunity ironically created by the most horrible of pandemics. Most of the other cyclists were smiling widely as well, save for a few on rental bikes struggling up the hills.
Of the main Hermit Rd viewpoints, our favorite is the wide ranging Hopi Point, where you can see the Colorado River in five places. We had it to ourselves most of the times we stopped there, or other times with just a few cyclists. Besides the main viewpoints, several pullouts offer equally classic views of the canyon, some all the way down to the Colorado River. Those tend to be less crowded than the main viewpoints when the trams run.
About 2.7 miles before Hermits Rest is an isolated 1.7-mile section of Greenway Trail where bikes are allowed. The trail runs on the rim side of the road through a mixed piñon forest, and offers several idyllic pullouts with shaded benches overlooking the canyon. It’s a bit hillier than Hermit Rd through here, but a worthwhile option. We selected one for a picnic on Steve’s birthday ride; what a way to spend a birthday.
On our last day I did a last minute solo ride in the late afternoon. I was virtually alone on Hermit Rd, a bit risky if I had a breakdown but well worth it. I had the place to myself, an amazing solo experience in the Grand Canyon. I would stop at many of the viewpoints and pullouts, and just gaze, mesmerized. That was my fourth time riding Hermit Road that week. Steve had joined me the first three times, and was equally enthralled with it.
We stayed at Trailer Village RV park near the center of the developed area of the park, in the forest about a mile from the rim. It’s nothing special, except for the location accessed by the Greenway Trail system and the fact that elk wander through it, which all campers love seeing, although during the fall rut one needs to be careful of the rowdy bulls. The campground was full, which made sense given the popularity of Covid-safe RV-ing during the pandemic. Mather Campground, which caters to tenters, was not open yet.
The Greenway bike trail system runs mostly through the forest passing both campgrounds, so that visitors can hop on their bikes and ride to the nearby Market Plaza with its general store in a few minutes, or to Grand Canyon Village, the hub of the park with its hotels and restaurants including the historic El Tovar hotel and restaurant. It was open but we don’t like the idea of indoor dining during the pandemic. The tourist train from Williams stops there, and the rim along this section is the most crowded with tourists. From the campgrounds and Yavapai Lodge area it’s about a 3 mile, or 20 minute ride gradually downhill to the village. When trams are running there is one that can take you and your bike back up to the campgrounds, but not this year during the pandemic. Hermit Road begins at the west end of Grand Canyon Village and rises to the west.
Heading east from the campgrounds on the Greenway trail system leads through the forest to the main Visitors Center in a couple of miles, where the bike rental concession is located. There’s plenty of car parking there if you need to rent a bike.
The trail veers off and reaches the rim east of Mather Point. Bikes are not allowed on the typically crowded Rim Trail to the west of there, all the way to the Village, and adjacent to Hermit Road except the one section of Greenway Trail near Hermits Rest mentioned above. However, heading to the east from this point on the rim begins a section of Greenway Trail that bikes are indeed allowed, making it one of the most scenic two miles of bike trail anywhere. It darts between low forest and rim-side panoramas. Since it’s only about a 15 minute easy cycle from the campground to the rim at this point, we rode it at least once a day to be able to gaze at the canyon in different lights.
The Greenway Trail along the rim here skirts a couple of road pullouts where car parking is allowed, so peds are sometimes milling about at those spots, but besides that it’s pure biking heaven. As it bends around along the rim to the north, different angles of the canyon come into view with a choice of rim-side viewpoints. We’ve frequently encountered elk along this section of trail as well.
The path winds around the rim some more until reaching the restricted parking lot for the South Kaibab Trailhead, my personal favorite trail into the canyon. I’ve hiked down a mile or two many times, and in my earlier foolish years all the way to the river and back. In recent years I’ve kept to the rim on my bike instead, being satisfied with the past memories.
From the S. Kaibab trailhead parking lot, where there is a water fill station and restrooms, you can turn right down the access road, then turn left on the closed-to-cars road to scenic Yaki Point to get in an extra mile each way. Typically a tram brings hikers to the South Kaibab trailhead, and also up to Yaki Point, but not this summer. This ride to the east is much easier than the Hermit Rd ride, as there is very minimal topographical change. From the campgrounds to Yaki point is about 4 miles each way.
We left on the Friday before Labor Day, and watched cars streaming into the park. Trams were set to resume the next day, but only at 1/4 capacity, and only servicing the closed roadways of Hermit Rd and the South Kaibab/Yaki Pt. route. Expect to see more people at the viewpoints with the trams running, but most likely a fraction of the usual for this peak season of summer/fall, due to the absence of foreign visitors.
We never tired of cycling along the rim this past week, around 140 miles total. The weather was fantastic, even with afternoon monsoons the first couple of days, which freshened the air. Temperatures began to rise during the week, but the skies and canyon became clearer as well. Once we arrived, we didn’t need our vehicle at all, it was all about the bikes.
All in all, this was one of our most memorable and enjoyable weeks in recent years.
Here’s a fun Camp ‘n Ride, or an option if you are cycling around San Diego Bay (enCYCLEpedia Ride SD7 Option 2) and want to explore some new territory.
Sweetwater Summit Regional Park is located east of the southern San Diego suburb of Chula Vista. This San Diego County Park has a large spacious campground on top of a hill with RV hookups, adjacent to the Sweetwater Reservoir, which is not accessible to the public. A series of packed sand trails meander through the park, and down to a pedestrian bridge over the SR 125 toll freeway. This is the only hill involved in the route, and the return back up to the summit campground may be strenuous for some. The bridge leads to wide packed sand paths popular with cyclists, strollers, and equestrians, running adjacent to Bonita Golf Course and Chula Vista Golf Course, and past the town of Bonita where there are lots of restaurants. There is only one street crossing along the entire path to the sea. Road bikers stick to the main roadway, Bonita Road.
After crossing under Willow Street the path veers away from civilization and becomes a bit narrower and more isolated but also more scenic with riparian riverbottom vegetation, and resting benches. At about mile 5 this “Sweetwater Riverbottom Trail” meets a paved path. To the left leads to Bonita Road, and straight ahead continues to San Diego Bay. It emerges at Plaza Bonita Road in front of the Plaza Bonita Mall with several restaurants, where it becomes a painted path on a wide sidewalk. It veers off onto the Sweetwater Bikeway that follows the channelized Sweetwater River for 2.5 miles to San Diego Bay at National City’s Pier 32 Marina, crossing under several roadways en route including I-805 and I-5.
Near the end it crosses and becomes part of the 26-mile Bayshore Bikeway route that encircles San Diego Bay by way of the San Diego-Coronado ped/bike ferry, discussed in another blog post. The Waterfront Grill at the marina is a popular spot for cyclists with its large patio, open for lunch and weekend breakfast. At this point you’ve cycled a little under 9 miles.
Safety note: Except for the section between the campground and Bonita, this seems to be a “ride with a friend” trail because of the isolated sections in the thick brush, and homeless encampments as you get closer to Plaza Bonita. The path along the Sweetwater River has a lot of graffiti and abandoned shopping carts, and the section between the freeway and the river has no exit options. I rode it solo on a summer Saturday morning with no issues.
Big Bear Lake sits about 7,000 feet above the urban valley floor in the spectacular San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. Long known as a year round recreation playground with winter ski resorts and summer lake activities, cycling has mostly been of the hard-core variety, with little to offer to the more casual cyclist… until now.
The long-established Alpine Pedal Path runs ~2.4 miles along the northeast shore of Big Bear Lake, connecting campgrounds to the Stanfield Cutoff that leads to town. It’s not flat, but is easy enough, with plenty of gorgeous lake views and forest scenery. On warm days the pines emit a delightful aroma, and summer wildflowers can abound. A beautiful but hilly 1-mile spur leads through the pretty forest to the Discovery Center. In summer 2017 the main path was widened and re-paved making it much better for bikes and peds to coexist. Still, weekdays are much preferred in that regard. Meanwhile, the City of Big Bear Lake has developed a system of bike routes through serene residential streets, leading to the quaint Village, the hub of dining and tourist shopping. A bike path runs parallel to Pine Knot Ave.
Projects are underway to make a better connection between Alpine Pedal Path and the rest of the city bike routes. A separated bike path across Stanfield Cutoff will be completed in October 2020, and a path replacing Big Bear Boulevard’s south sidewalk between the Cutoff and the Sandalwood bike route is expected mid 2021. Future plans also include a bike path from the Bear Mountain ski area all the way down to the lake along the Rathbun Creek corridor (a small portions is already completed), connecting to the existing bike routes. Bike lanes have been constructed west of Stanfield Cutoff along westbound Big Bear Boulevard, with sharrows painted on the road heading eastbound. It’s best to take the alternate bike routes away from that busy roadway though. Several agencies, including the US Forest Service, CALTRANS, Riverside County and the City have been coordinating all of these projects.
The other option for casual cyclists with fat tires is the Sky Chair lift at Snow Summit ski resort that leads to a choice of a fire road or the new Skyline Trail east down the mountain, as well as other options, depending on ability.
We’ve spent a month RV camping near the lake’s northeast corner every summer since July 2017, and enjoyed near perfect weather (high 70’s – low 80’s, sunny, with an occasional fun monsoon thunderstorm) while the valley below was baking. We rarely needed our truck; we just hopped on our bikes to explore the paths and new routes, which I mapped out for enCYCLEpedia’s 2nd Edition.
At the east end of Los Angeles County, at the junction of Pomona, San Dimas and La Verne, lies Puddingstone Reservoir, a flood control and groundwater recharge facility that for decades has been a draw for its fishing, boating and swimming. It is surrounded by Frank Bonelli Regional Park and the huge Raging Waters water park, while the LA Fairgrounds (Fairplex), and Bracket Field small plane airport are adjacent.
Bonelli Bluffs (Formerly East Shore) RV Resort) has around 500 sites, although half of those are long term. They also have some tent sites. Built in the hills above the lake, many sites have panoramic views of the lake and the San Gabriel Mountains.
At the lower, or “Unit F” Loop, two trailheads lead to our main attraction, a fairly easy bike route around the reservoir, with only a handful of manageable hills. It is a combination of paved lakefront promenades along the north and south sections of Bonelli Park, a scenic novice mountain bike trail, and a long easy scenic cruise across Puddingstone Dam. It is a 5-mile loop, or 8-9 miles if you opt to cycle on Class I/III roadways around the airport, perhaps stopping at Norms Hanger cafe for breakfast or lunch, a popular thing to do with cycling groups.
Bonelli Park has a lot of trails throughout, and much of it is more challenging mountain bike singletrack. For those who like to stick to roadways, there are both easy and difficult hilly options around the lake. East Shore RV Park is expensive, and is full well in advance most weekends. We take advantage of the 3-for-2 weekday special.
Cape Disappointment State Park is a gem, situated at the southwest corner of Washington State near Long Beach, where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean. A jetty built in 1917 to aid in shipping navigation resulted in the formation of most of the land comprising the lowlands of the park, including the campgrounds and the beautiful sandy ocean beach. Dramatic Cape Disappointment and North Head lighthouses stand sentinel over the entrance to the Columbia and the region known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific” because of the over 2,000 shipwrecks that have occurred in this area.
This very popular park near the resort area of Long Beach contains a large campground for RV’s with hookups or tents. We explored the park by bike, riding along the firm sands of the beach, then up past “Waikiki Beach” and several installations of the Confluence Project, which features structures replicating those used by Native Americans. The return ride is through the idyllic park road for a total of about 5.5 very scenic and flat miles.
Following is a video of our experience from May 2016.
Those wanting more of a challenge can ride on the hilly roadways to the two lighthouses.
Nearby is the 8.5 mile Discovery bike/hike Trail, that runs mostly behind sand dunes and through forest between Ilwaco and Long Beach, skirting the State Park but not connecting to the park’s flat coastal section. We will be exploring that trail on our next visit to the area. In the meantime, here is a nice description of it: http://outdoorsnw.com/2012/escapes-long-beach-wash/
Perhaps the most popular cycling route in San Diego County is the coastal highway between Oceanside and Del Mar. On weekends and holidays hordes of cyclists zip up and down the roadway, enjoying the ocean vistas and breezes. Riding southbound, the blue Pacific is ever present on your right and wide bike lanes make the route fairly safe. The terrain is mostly flat except for a view manageable grades. Navigating through the coastal cities is a bit trickier, but they have all installed either bike lanes or sharrows to help you along, and you can often escape down side streets to get off the main road. We also tend to duck into the two State Park campgrounds that run for long distances parallel to the roadway.
Steve and I started the New Year by cycling from Oceanside to Encinitas, a casual 14 mile ride. We started by following the Rail Trail route, a 44- mile work in progress as a combination of trails and on-road bike routes. It served us well through Oceanside, however in South Carlsbad we opted to stay along the coast rather than heading inland to follow that route. We stopped at the South Carlsbad State Beach campground and watched from the seaside cliffs as dolphins surfed the waves next to the humans. Weather was sunny and brisk but perfect for cycling.
Dining choices are endless as you cycle through Carlsbad, South Carlsbad, and Encinitas, each with its own train station which is handy if you’d like to do a one-way ride. We love train travel, so it adds more fun to our bike trips. Farther along, Solana Beach has a station, but after that the next coastal station is downtown San Diego. Certain Amtrak Surfliner trains stop at all stations, but a free reservation is required to take your bike along. The local Coaster line welcomes bikes on all of its trains. Look for a car with a bike insignia, which indicates it has spaces for two bikes. The fare between Oceanside and Solana Beach is only $4 since it is considered one zone. Weekend and holiday schedules are reduced, so some advanced planning is required.
We met friends for an al fresco lunch at Lobster West in Encinitas, and started the New Year with their delicious lobster rolls. We then boarded a Coaster train and returned to Oceanside in about 20 minutes, in time for a spectacular sunset at the beach there. What a fantastic way to start the New Year!
Located in expansive grasslands at 4,900 feet elevation near Winslow, Arizona along I-40, Homolovi State Park preserves the 14th century ruins of the Anasazi people that thrived along the Little Colorado River. A scenic campground with RV hookups ($25) makes a great base to explore this lightly visited park by bike. Park roads provide inspiring vistas of the surrounding Colorado Plateau and the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff to the west. The gentle grades and wide open viewscapes create a template for an enjoyable easy ride of 10-15 miles. Expansion cracks found at regular intervals of the pavement will be better suited to those with wider tires, until repairs are completed. The two major sites are Homolovi I, about a mile ride from the campground, (followed by a 1/4-mile hike), and the more scenic Homolovi II, about 5 miles away followed by a short paved rideable trail to the sites. The ruins are not as well preserved as others in the region.
Long Beach is a SoCal star when it comes to bicycle advocacy and infrastructure, Silver-rated by the League of American Bicyclists. As far as easy scenic cycling goes, coastal Class I trails provide a ton of excitement, interesting vistas, and even some good exercise where bikes and peds are given their separate lanes. For more cycling fun connect via bike-friendly surface streets to the Belmont Shore district, the very Italian Naples Island with its canals, and the laid back beach town of Seal Beach, with the option of riding along Pacific Coast Highway to reach the great Huntington Beach trail along the sand. Also available for a good workout are somewhat less scenic river trails up the Los Angeles River (the LARIO trail) from Long Beach and the preferred San Gabriel River Trail from Seal Beach.
Of the places that I cycled while doing the research for enCYCLEpedia, Oceanside was one of the biggest surprises. In fact, for an easy scenic cycling destination, it had enough great features to earn a high 4 star rating. The highlight is the 9-mile San Luis Rey River Trail that mostly follows a levee along its banks. Reach it from Pacific Street just southeast of Oceanside Harbor, or from the northwest end of Cleveland Street (west on Neptune) downtown. Like most SoCal rivers you won’t see much water in the San Luis Rey most of the year except for the tidal delta, but it traverses a lovely riparian corridor through a low density residential valley.
There’s no speed limit on the trail, so you can get a great workout as long you’re careful around pedestrians. On-shore breezes can make your return strenuous, typically more towards afternoon. A highlight about halfway along the path is the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, the largest in California, accessed via a detour south on Douglas Drive.
Guajome County Park, just past the east end of the trail, has camping, dirt trails, lakes, and facilities. Both dirt trails and highway bike lanes connect to the river bike trail. Mance Buchanan Park at College contains the only other facilities.
The delta near the southwest trailhead is a beautiful tidal region with plenty of shore birds to watch.
Oceanside Harbor and its enticing nautical village is a great place to stop for a meal on your ride, and then perhaps cycle the 1.5 mile road around the harbor.
Saving the most scenic for last, you can take Class II Pacific Street south, and make a right on Breakwater that leads to The Strand along Oceanside’s beautiful beach and pier.
The 2-mile ride along the beach is best done when not crowded because of the odd mix of one way slow vehicle traffic and two-way bike lanes. On a beautiful day, though, the cruise is worthwhile, along the wide sandy beach, and under the pier.
From the beach you can take Surfrider or Seagaze up the hill to Pacific Street to access the downtown core with its restaurants centered around Tremont and Mission. Another important feature of Oceanside is its transit center, located downtown south of Seagaze. Four rail lines converge here – Amtrak’s Surfliner, LA’s Metrolink, and San Diego County’s Coaster and Sprinter, creating great opportunities for one way rides north to San Clemente or south along the San Diego County coast.