Cycling Napa Valley: 6 Great Rides
Some visitors are mystified that anyone would want to ride a bike in Napa Valley where there are endless amounts of great food, wine, and drivers who have been “tasting responsibly” crowding the limited roads. Others plan their day or weekend around renting bikes and touring the wineries or taking a serious ride through vines, across the valley, and as far as the Sonoma Cost (and back). This blog goes out to all of you who are looking for the best two-wheel tours of Napa Valley from an amateur but competitive cyclist who loves to ride.
Before we talk trails, there are two very cool things that have happened to the Napa Valley biking community lately that you should know about. The first exciting development for bikers and walkers alike is the construction of the Napa Vine Trail. Still in the works, but well on it’s way, this easy, 44-mile trail will span from the Vallejo Ferry to Calistoga, which means no car needed coming from the city and a lot more exposure for you in your hot biker outfit.
Secondly, the Clif Family Winery (yup, same family that makes Clif Bars) opened Velo Vino, which is basically the spot for all things bike related ... plus they have wine tasting. They have an espresso bar, every energy-related Clif product, bike maps and gear, and trail mixes paired with darn good Clif Family wines. They’ll even set you up with a bike rental at St. Helena Cyclery, Napa River Velo or Calistoga Bike Shop depending on your desired ride. I also recommend checking out Bicycle Works if you’re in the city of Napa and looking for experienced and friendly help. Velo Vino is having a grand opening party on Friday, May 27th from 5 p.m.–9 p.m. with live music, wine, and food trucks and y’all are invited to join me there.
I sometimes trek to Napa to meet my riding partner and head up Mt. Veeder and over into Sonoma, or across the valley and up Atlas Peak, but my favorites are closer to my home in the northern part of the Valley. So, to keep easy, and to make sure you have a place to park and fill up your water bottles, I began all of my recommended rides at Velo Vino in St. Helena. But you can start wherever you please and amend the rides as you see fit. Keep in mind that there will almost always be traffic from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. weekends so morning and afternoon rides are recommended.
Pope Valley Loop (advanced): This 40-mile ride is not for the faint of heart. Although you’ll see some wineries, it’s more about the beautiful views, diversity of terrain and the exercise—it's an awesome feeling when you're done. It's a long ride with a bit of everything and my favorite in the valley.
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Cold Springs Loop (Advanced/Intermediate): Basically an amended version of the Pope Valley Loop, this 24-mile ride will get you a taste of hills, a little bit of flats and a good sampling of the vistas, while for the most part, keeping you off of the main highways. Make a right on Cold Spring Road to check out some beautiful farmland and add the finger in the middle of the loop up Ink Grade Rd to the advanced level.
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Old Howell Mountain Road (Advanced/Intermediate): A quick ride. You’ll power up the mountain and fly back down on this 11-mile crusade with beautiful views and sparse traffic, even the busiest times and seasons.
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Franz Valley Loop (Intermediate): A highly customizable, 41-mile ride that will take you past a ton of wineries on a steady ascent from St. Helena and through Calistoga and into Franz Valley. There is much to see on your way up the valley and you can always cut the loop short and stop for lunch in Calistoga or even cut back across from the Silverado Trail to Highway 29 if it’s the wineries that are of most interest to you. You’ll be on the main Napa Valley highways for the majority of this ride but at least you won’t have to wait with the cars if there is traffic.
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Nichelini Loop (Intermediate) This one's 30 miles and is another favorite of mine. There are some steep spots but overall it’s a nice mix of rolling terrain and short climbs. You’ll get some exposure to the wineries (and speeding cars on the Silverado Trail) but it will also take you out into the beautiful backcountry of Napa and Pope Valleys.
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Con Valley Lake Hennessy (Intermediate/Beginner): Although only 12-miles, this ride will be somewhat challenging for a beginner. It's worth it though -- you’ll get a little bit of everything, including famous wineries, beautiful views, picnic areas, rural roads, vines, lakes and tranquility.
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