Valley Center Bike Ride

Resting high above the city of Escondido, Valley Center is well on its way to becoming a rural suburb. As houses and country estates pop up on spacious lots, the area is bit by bit losing its agricultural identity. Yet, citrus and avocado orchards still drape the rocky hillsides, and plenty of oak-dotted pastures — replete with horses, sheep, and cattle — can be found on the flatlands. Valley Center remains nearly as good a place to tour on a bicycle as it was many years ago — at least that’s true for rides early on Sunday mornings, when traffic volumes are low.

This suggested ride, a looping 15 miles through the southern fringes of Valley Center, will give you ample opportunity to practice climbing in low gear as well as enjoy the beauty of a nearly hidden reservoir — Lake Wohlford. On the oak-shaded country roads hereabouts, you’ll feel as if you’re a long way from the 200,000-plus souls in the Escondido valley below.

A convenient place to start is on Valley Parkway at Las Brisas Drive (a minor residential street) in northeastern Escondido. This intersection is about 0.3 mile north of Bear Valley Parkway and 0.1 mile south of Washington Avenue. Ample curbside parking is available.

Cycle north on Valley Parkway for nearly a mile, and turn right on Lake Wohlford Road. Almost immediately, you begin a 750-foot-elevation climb on steep and winding pavement with little or no shoulder. Professional racers participating in last month’s final stage of the AMGEN Tour of California bicycle race labored up this hill — one of many challenges on the 97-mile, Rancho Bernardo to Palomar Mountain to Escondido route. You, however, can take your sweet time on the ascent. Most of the effort of the entire ride takes place on this two-mile uphill stretch.

Near roadside mile marker 2 and a crossing of Escondido Creek, Lake Wohlford Road begins to flatten out. Just ahead, you catch your first glimpse of the lake. In the following two miles, the gliding is easy as you curve gently along the north shore, passing the Lake Wohlford Cafe and the scattered cabins of a resort community. Ahead, on the right, you may hear the sound of water rushing through the Escondido Canal. It shunts water southward from the San Luis Rey River to feed Lake Wohlford, which lies on a separate watershed (Escondido Creek).

After a total of 6.7 miles, you enter the flatter landscape of Woods Valley. Turn left onto Woods Valley Road. On this fine rural road, you pedal easily through pasturelands, wild grasslands, and shade-giving canopies of live oaks. Palomar Mountain comes into view on your right, while steep Bear Ridge lies to the left. On the right after only a mile lies the entrance to Bates Nut Farm, where tourists go to buy nuts and nut-related confections.

Woods Valley Road ends at Valley Center Road. Turn left to complete the loop on this newly expanded, divided highway, complete with 4- to 8-foot bike lanes on both shoulders. After a 0.7-mile climb, you roll over a summit and start a fast, freewheeling, three-mile descent back toward Escondido.

Valley Center bike ride
Climb from Escondido to Valley Center — the scenic way.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 32 miles
Biking length: 15 miles
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

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Hello fellow cyclists! Having previously lived on the south side of Lake Wohlford for 9 years, I would like to give you some more detailed information. First, this first two miles on Lake Wohlford Road is gruesome!....even for experienced cyclists!....If you aren't in excellent shape, and your bike in top condition you should not attempt this route. This is a very heavily traveled road going to and from two of the most popular Casinos in the North County, The Valley View and Harrah's Rincon; both by personal vehicles and those huge busses that transport people from all over the county. I saw the traffic increase dramatically as the casinos were built and expanded. There are many places that if 2 vehicles(even cars)are meeting, the one behind you will have to wait to pass!....Yes the road is that narrow! So early Sunday morning is crucial to maximize safety....and even then it can be hazardous. No shoulder or bike lane, sharp blind curves, speeding(sometimes racing)cars, combined with tiredness, sleepiness, and potential intoxication from long hours spent in the casinos are some of the hazards. Boulders, rocks, gravel, and debris on the road are also quite common. Having driven that route hundreds of times I have personally had many close calls with cyclists. Pointers: ALWAYS stay single file! I can't count the number of times I have come around one of these blind curves and find cyclists 2 or 3 abreast causing me to slam on the brakes! NEVER wander, wobble, or drift from the edge of the shoulder....as often happens when tiredness sets in....and it will! AVOID this ride during the week if possible....And NEVER in the early morning or late afternoons as there are many working people that make this commute. ALWAYS stay alert for the unexpected. There have been numerous people killed on this stretch through the years[note the numerous memorial crosses and flowers along the way!]. I hope some of you find this information helpful. Michael Sawyer

Riding on city streets scares me, there are not enough bike lanes in San Diego and too many distracted drivers. These are great tips, musikman, thank you!

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