Rose Valley: A Climb Through The Pristine Santa Barabara Wilds

The Rose Valley climb is part of two routes in the Ojai Valley Century, the Hammer Head Century and the Double Metric Century. On these routes, you get a sense of rural California with light traffic, hawks overhead, and quiet riding, all while only about 40 miles from Los Angeles

Climb Start Hwy 33 & E. Ojai Ave.
Climb Finish Rose valley Recreation Area

The Rose Valley climb is the longest in Ventura county with 11 steep miles from the Ojai Quarry on the Maricopa Highway to Rose Valley Road. It starts just north of Ojai and directs you through the Los Padres National Forest. When you reach the Rose Valley sign, you are 3,400 feet above sea level, and on certain days, you can see the ocean and the Channel Islands. The climb takes you through tree-lined gorges with Matilija Creek bubbling next to you, towards an open treeless territories with an occasional hawk overhead. There are few houses along this route and few cars pass by.

Once you are on the Maricopa Highway, anticipate three miles of rolling hills. Climbing will begin near the Ojai Quarry and the start of the climb starts out at 10% to 12% for about a half a mile. It is intimidating, but short, and will be the longest steep section of the entire climb. Look ahead for a white guardrail, that is where the grade settles in between 4% to 8% the rest of the way.

AdobeStock_94944884You’ll go through three tunnels along the road. The first is the longest, about 100 feet. Listen for cars and pass through quickly to reach the sunshine on the other end. The last two are short and straight, and Wheeler Gorge Campground is just beyond the last tunnel. Though there is no running water at the campground, you can purchase bottled water from the Park Visitor Center on the right-hand side of the road. The road gradually climbs up the side of the hill and trees become scarce as you leave the campground.

There usually is a breeze going up the valley as a tailwind. Depending on the time of year, it could be 20 to 30 degrees warmer here than by the Pacific Ocean, 20 miles away. The highway is very well maintained by CalTrans, there are no potholes or patches. Rocks and gravel do occasionally fall on the road and you should keep an eye on the pavement coming back downhill at speed.

With a little over a mile to go, you will make your way to the end of the canyon and climb up to a nice vista point which will mark the last half mile to the top. Once you see a tree and an intersection you have reached Rose Valley Recreation Area turnoff. The Rose Valley Recreation Area itself is a few miles down the road to the right. Riding up here is a Category 1 climb.
To capture the best picture of the last portion of the climb, you have to keep going for another mile or so. You can look back down the valley and see the road, and in the distance you can see the Pacific Ocean when there is no marine layer. If you decide to keep going, Pine Mountain is 15 more miles away at 5,000 feet.

If you need a water refill, you have to go to the Ozena Station before Lockwood Valley Road. The Ranger station is after a 7-mile descent from Pine Mountain. It has the only free, portable water for miles. Beyond the station, at Lockwood Valley Road, you will see a road sign showing 35 miles to Maricopa and 37 miles to Ojai. From Rose Valley, the way back is easy, it’s all downhill. If the headwind is not too strong, then you can get back to the Ojai Quarry going 20 to 30+ miles per hour. The turns are sweeping and not hairpin and there are some straight sections, so it is easy to get back quickly. Watch for the last tunnel. Remember that it is curved. It is easy to fly into the tunnel doing 25 miles per hour, forget about the curve, and find yourself in the wrong lane in the dark. After the tunnel, it is just a matter of tackling the rollers back into Ojai.

Directions & Parking
You can start in two places; in Ventura for a 55-mile ride from the ocean to the mountains, or begin in Ojai for a shorter 25-mile ride. To start in Ventura, park near the beginning of the Ventura River Trail, either at the small free parking lot next to the Main Street bridge, or the free parking lot across from the San Buenaventura Mission. The Ventura River Trail begins at the end of Rex Street, which is the first left from Olive Street, two blocks west of the mission. At Foster Park, the Ventura River Trail becomes the Ojai Valley Trail. Once you reach Vons in Ojai, take Highway 33 (Maricopa Highway) west to Rose Valley. To start in Ojai, park at Libbey Park off of Montgomery Street. Head up Montgomery Street to East Ojai Avenue, turn left (bearing to the right at Cluff Vista Park) and turn right on to Highway 33.

For more writings by Charles Lindsey, visit his collection of posts at Gold Coast Cycling

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