View north from the top of See Canyon
 
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See Canyon, San Luis Obispo and Avila Beach

-- click on thumbnails for larger image --

Sign pointing to various vineyards Dean Howard's photo in Bicycling Magazine

This ride was inspired by a Dean Howard's brilliant photograph and description in March 2003's Bicycling Magazine (pages 18/19) outlining the pleasures of riding in See Canyon.

"Climb through the Irish Hills past old oak forests, dairy farms and apple orchards to a spectacular view of Morro Bay. On a clear day you can see the Nine Sisters volcanic peaks - almost pretty enough to make you forget the pain of the 5-mile climb"

See Canyon lies about eight miles south-west of San Luis Obispo (SLO) and around two miles north of Avila Beach.

Sign showing start of Bob Jones Trail

I chose to start my route from the head of the Bob Jones Bike Trail which can be found by leaving Highway 1 on Avila Beach Drive and then turning right onto Ontario Road. Parking is available at the Trail Head alongside some old railway trucks and engines.

The Trail follows an old railway track bed alongside the Obispo Creek and after a mile reaches San Luis Bay Drive. At this point I turned right and climbed gently to the entrance to See Canyon which is found on the left after half a mile.

The lower part of See Canyon

On entering the Canyon the valley sides rise gradually to 800' and provide welcome shade.

This part of California hadn't had any rain for over 180 days and much of the landscape was scorched. In contrast the enclosed See Canyon with its own micro-climate presented a welcome splash of green.

Sign advertising one of the many vineyards

The Canyon is home to dozens of vinyards and orchards - the signs advertising cider were a reminder of the West Country.

An old farm machine used as a notice board and a mailbox

Many of the farms have an old-world look which is enhanced by the quaint advertising signs and the display of old farm equipment.

The entrance to another vineyard

The road gently climbs and gradually views of the upper parts of the valley come into sight. This lower section has two lanes and a good surface and would be suitable for a family group.

Signs warn road users of the presence of cyclists

The Canyon is well used by cyclists and signs warn other road users of their presence.

After four miles of valley riding the Canyon Road steepens markedly with a two mile section having an average gradient of 10-12%. The road surface remains good until the road flattens out at around 1150'. At this point it becomes a dirt track and descends to the junction with Prefumo Canyon Road.

Altitude profile of the first part of the route

The enclosed atmosphere of the lower Canyon gradually gives way to a much more open aspect.

The track at the top of See Canyon

Some trees provide shelter for the cattle which seem to have a meager food supply at this time of year.

The track at the top of See Canyon

The track surface is fine for mountain bikes or hybrids having tires with a good tread - but would present a challenge for road bikes with narrow tires.

In the winter - particularly after wet weather - it is advisable to check the trail conditions before starting this ride.

Looking back just short of the top
The final climb

After a further mile the road turns to tarmac again and steepens for a final climb to the summit. Although steep (15-18%) this final climb is thankfully short (about 500 yards).

The final drag up to the summit
Truck drivers are warned about the steep slope Drivers are warned to look out for cyclists

The summit is about 1300' above sea level.

Signs warn traffic to keep speeds down on the loose dirt surface and to look out for cyclists.

Panorama to the north from the summit
Looking back up to the summit

At the top spectacular views to the north open up. Visible are the remains of nine extinct volcanoes - known locally as the Nine Sisters or Morros.

The most westerly of these is the famous Morro Rock which rises from the Pacific at Morro Bay.

Panorama to the north from the summit
The road zig-zags steeply downwards

The road then descends steeply into Prefumo Canyon. From the top the road can be seen zig-zagging away into the distance.

The road zig-zags steeply downwards

Within the Canyon the gradient levels out and the valley becomes more wooded. Finally houses appear and Los Osos Valley Road and the outskirts of SLO are reached.

I turned right along Los Osos Valley Road and rode over Highway 1 to reach Higuera Street where a right turn took me south away from SLO. Both roads have wide cycle lanes.

Higuera Street leads to a junction with Route 1 where a small road leads to the north end of Ontario Road which can be followed back to the start.

The Bob Jones Bike Trail

I chose to finish my ride by following the Bob Jones Cycle Trail to the sea.

The trail is shared by cyclists and pedestrians (and roller bladers) and follows and old railroad track-bed.

The trail is shaded and offers an easy level ride to the sea. It finally passes through a golf course before reaching Avila Beach.

Avila Beach

During the late 1900s Avila Beach suffered significant oil pollution from the Unocal plant. The beach area had to be decontaminated and completely reconstructed in 1998/99. After these considerable efforts the town and beach facilities are now returning to normal.

I chose to refuel at the beach side 'Old Custom House' before retracing my steps to the start along the Bike Trail.

 

Kirby James

 
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