California Wine Country Bike Tours: Healdsburg

Apr 07 - 2011

Healdsburg in Sonoma County is a great base for bicycle touring. Below you’ll find California Wine Country Bike Tours for beginners, intermediates and aggressive riders.

But first … “from our sponsors”: We operate bike tours in the California Wine Country. If you tour with us we take care of all the logistical details and provide a support van. However, if you want to do your own thing, that’s cool too.  Here are some ideas for bike tours in the California Wine Country.

And now … the rides: Here are some ideas for bike tours in and around Healdsburg.

  1. Dry Creek Loop – a 10 to 20-mile gentle loop taking in both sides of the Dry Creek Valley before returning to Healdsburg.
  2. Graton Loop – a 30-mile loop that heads south across the Russian River to the small town of Graton.  Some of the riding is on a rails-to-trails bike path.
  3. Chalk Hill Loop – a 30-mile loop taking in the Alexander Valley, the Chalk Hill Valley and returning to Healdsburg via the not-so-old town of Old Windsor.
  4. Geysers Road Loop – a local classic that takes you up to the thermal springs in the middle of nowhere. With the option of a milder, less remote shortcut, via the town of Geyserville.
  5. Glen Ellen Loop – a challenging ride to Glen Ellen via Santa Rosa and back over the rollers of Sebastopol.

See below for more details of these Sonoma Bike Rides or click the link to see a bike map for Sonoma County.

Sonoma Cycling Map
Sonoma Cycling Map

OPTION 1 – Dry Creek Loop

You ride northwest out of Healdsburg along the east side of the Dry Creek Valley.  The Dry Creek General Store is a great place to pick up a picnic lunch if you’re planning on stopping at one of the wineries for lunch.  Alternatively, the Overlook at Lake Sonoma makes a pleasant lunch spot and turnaround point.  But be warned, the final 2½  miles up to the overlook is all up hill – and remember to turn around or you’ll end up on one of our classic century rides with no store for the next 60 miles!

You then switch to the scenic west side of the Dry Creek Valley – on the aptly named West Dry Creek Rd.  The west side is the quieter and closer into the hills.  This is also where you’ll find many of the wineries: from the homespun charm of Preston Vineyards to the biodynamic Quivira Winery.

If you make it all the way to the Lake, the loop is around 30 miles.  But you can easily shorten it by simply cutting short the ride and returning back down West Dry Creek Rd.  The ride Dry Creek Loop is on mostly flat and rolling terrain with no steep or extended climbs.  It’s also a great day to do a little wine tasting en route.

OPTION 2 – Graton Loop

You head south out of Healdsburg on the rolling Westside Rd – with vineyards to left and right and wineries every few miles.  After crossing the Russian River you join a rail-to-trails bike path that takes you on an almost flat route into the rural town of Graton.  After lunch and a mosey around the stores of Graton you return via the bike path then Eastside Rd to complete the loop.

Located in the heart of Sonoma County’s wine country, Graton (with only two stop signs) is an eclectic assemblage of professional artists, musicians, writers, teachers, craft artisans, students, farmers and day laborers.  There is a strong sense of community among the new and the old residents.  A former air raid siren enthusiastically announces each day’s noon arrival, courtesy of the fire department.  For such a small place, there’s a reasonable selection of places to eat.

One of the nice parts of this ride is that, for a portion of your route, you will ride along a true bike path; a dedicated rail-trail which passes scenic vineyards, historic mansions and beautiful parks.

A shorter version of this loop does not travel into Graton, yet enjoys a loop on both sides of the Russian River – offering a Russian River Valley discovery. This option offers the opportunity to visit the town of Windsor for lunch. The main route from Graton will also visit this area. This is a perfect 25- mile option if you’re looking for something very mild and a good string of wineries on the return route including J Vineyards. Rodney Strong, and Foppiano.

OPTION 3 – Chalk Hill Loop

You head north out of town along the side roads of Healdsburg and then climb into the countryside along the aptly named Chiquita Rd.  Indeed, most of the route is on very small roads with the exception being a short stretch along Highway 128 through the Alexander Valley.  However, there are several good wineries along this section of 128, if you feel you need a break.

The shady, rolling descent along Chalk Hill Rd is probably the highlight of the ride.  Almost forgotten as a wine growing area, Chalk Hill is an unspoiled treasure with the Chalk Hill Estate as its centerpiece. If you plan to taste wine, it is worth noting that, while the Alexander Valley Wineries are all open to the public, you will need to phone ahead to visit any of the four Chalk Hill wineries.

Windsor Old Town makes a convenient place for lunch.  Despite the name, the town has few buildings that pre-date the 1980s, but it does have several eateries that face out onto the pleasant “village green.”

After Windsor, you head down to the eastside of the Russian River.  You then meander alongside the river back up to Healdsburg.

The Chalk Hill Loop ride is mostly rolling terrain.  However, there is a climb out of Healdsburg and there are a series of short climbs  and one extended climb  (less than 2 miles) toward the end of Chalk Hill Rd.

OPTION 4 – Geysers Road Loop (with option for a milder shortcut via the town of Geyserville)

This ride is a local classic but only for suitable for strong, experienced rider.  The route is very isolated and should not be attempted solo.  The Geysers Road was built to support the construction and servicing of The Geysers – a complex of geothermal power plants that harness naturally occurring underground steam to generate electricity.  The facility claims to be the largest geothermal project in the world.  Most of the service traffic now accesses these facilities from the other side of the hills leaving this road all but deserted.

The ride starts easily enough, heading into the Dry Creek Valley and over a low rise to Cloverdale.  This plain town is a good place to restock on supplies – you won’t see another store (or much else human) until you reach the Alexander Valley.  After leaving Cloverdale, you begin a long steady climb up Geysers Rd alongside Big Sulfur Creek.  Apart for a short descent part way up it’s a steady 1000 feet of climbing before reaching Geyser Resort Rd.  After an optional side trip to the Geysers Vista Point    it’s a steep descent down into the Alexander Valley (though there is a nasty climb partway through the descent).  The descent is on a twisting road with a potholed surface.

Your reward for all this effort is a 25-mile rollercoaster of heart thumping climbs and heart stopping descents – some of the best cycling in the Wine Country with fantastic panoramas back down to the Alexander Valley, far below.  You will see very little traffic on the Geysers Road and hardly any sign of habitation.

NOTE: there are sections on the road where the surface has been removed by landslides.  This is such a quiet stretch of road that we do not expect them to be repaired any time soon.  The remoteness of this ride means that we advise only very experienced riders with a sense of adventure to attempt it and we strongly advise against anyone doing it alone.  Replenish in Cloverdale – you will need three!

OPTION 5 – Glen Ellen Loop

Head south past Old Windsor and on to Santa Rosa.  Santa Rosa is a large town but we help you find the back roads and bike paths.  You’re then following the route of the Tour of California to Glen Ellen.  This means a steady climb on the slopes of Mt Sonoma Mountain.  You’ll, likely, have lunch in Glen Ellen.  Glen Ellen is a small and peaceful town part way along the Sonoma Valley AKA the Valley of the Moon (a nickname made popular by Jack London and used as the title of one of his books).  After a life as a wanderer Jack London finally settled in Glen Ellen and his name can be found all over the town.

The ride back again takes you over the shoulder of Sonoma Mountain, this time much of it through the shade of mixed-tree woodland.  You’re reminded that you’re in Northern California as you cycle past the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center.  The center was formed in 1973 to “continue the Soto Zen lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi and to make everyday Zen available to people in Sonoma County.”  It’s here that you reach the Nirvana of the summit of your climb and enjoy the inner peace known to all who have finished a six mile climb before enjoying a heavenly decent down to Cotati.

Cotati is famous for its hexagonal plaza.  You have to believe that a town that is famous for the shape of its plaza has little else to boast of.  And, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.  But the small main street has several options for refreshments or a late lunch from Italian to Japanese and a few points in between.

From Cotati it’s back to the hills but this time they’re large rollers with a patchwork of apple orchards.  You head back to the Russian River via Sebastopol – a pleasant town for a late afternoon coffee before the final push to Healdsburg.