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Silverado Canyon (with Santiago Canyon & Maple Springs Road)


A long, long while ago (about a year ago), when a flat, 40 mile ride was my idea of an epic ride, I rode a great loop in the Irvine area that included the length of Santiago Canyon Road. At the time, this was also one of the most scenic rides I’d done. A year passes, things happen, and you forget about some of your old, but great, rides. Santiago Canyon ended up being one of those forgotten rides for me, sadly. That is, until my mom (visiting for my brother’s graduation from college) ended up flipping through a book of rides in Orange County and asking me about Santiago Canyon. Memory sparked! So, going to mapmyride to show her the loop and the profile of the ride, I stumbled upon a ride that included Santiago Canyon and an interesting out-and-back on Silverado Canyon Road. An out-and-back that added a good 2,000+ feet of climbing. Now I was getting interested… A little more research (thank you bikeforums.net), and I was sold. Without further adieu, the actual ride report!

Given time constraints, I opted not to do a full loop. Portola Hills proved to be a nice place to park that would give me 6 miles along Santiago Canyon before heading up Silverado Canyon. Nice little area:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

After a quick, steep descent down Ridgeline Rd to Santiago Canyon Road, the climbing starts immediately. I suppose finding a few miles of flats beforehand would be nice, but at least this climbing is rather tame. Anyway, starting around here does keep the entire route along scenic roads. The roads southwest of Santiago Canyon Road are just nowhere near as scenic (not bad roads, just not as sweet). The nice thing about Santiago Canyon Road is that, to the west and south, you butt up against Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park and Limestone Canyon Regional Park, providing you with some spectacular scenes:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

Even the less striking sections of Santiago Canyon are still rather scenic (and note the generous shoulders as well):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

So after lots of rolling hills and 6.4 miles on the Garmin, the turnoff for Silverado Canyon appears (and does not seem to be marked all that well, so keep an eye out when you get near). A couple of hundred feet later, and Silverado Canyon intersects Black Star Canyon. Why the mention? Native American massacres. Ghost and haunting stories. Crazy residents and squatters along the road. Homemade “Private Road” signs to ward off the public. And also, apparently, a good mountain bike ride. A good page about the road can be found here. When I get a mountain bike, I will be riding that road. Anyway, back to the ride at hand. Initially, the road is decent with a gentle gradient. No real shoulder, relatively low traffic but slightly higher speed than I would prefer. That is nitpicking though. Here is the beginning of Silverado Canyon:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

After almost no time, you hit the beginning of the town of Silverado:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

Just big enough to have its own post office:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

A sad note as you climb. This is what remains of the Shady Brook County Market:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

In 2004, heavy rains loosened a huge boulder above the store and sent it through the residential portion of the building, killing a teenage girl.

As you wind along and up the road, the traffic speed decreases (25mph limit for much of it…nice!), and there are pleasant looking residences scattered about:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

While concentrated a bit around the main part of town, the density of the housing decreases pretty quickly. Continuing up, you get a mix of completely undeveloped sections mixed in with some very lightly developed sections (most of which seem to embrace the natural setting of their lot, thankfully).

A ranch or two can even be seen along the way (well, the entrances at least):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

Looks like a nice, steep road up to the ranch. I wish I could ride up it…

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

And one of the less developed sections along the road (looking back down on it):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

And, finally, we hit the end of the developed section (rather pleasant, no?):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

This last section was, most definitely, a pleasant climb through a rural, semi-residential canyon. And, an easy climb as well. The entire stretch averages just under 3%. Regardless, you have still gained nearly a thousand feet here. Not insignificant.

Also, technically, we have been in Cleveland National Forest for almost all of Silverado Canyon Road. However, this is the point where it will become obvious that you are in National Forest Land:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling
From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

This is also where Silverado Canyon Road turns into Maple Springs Road (and is also a National Forest Trailhead). If you want to start your climb at the bottom of Maple Springs, you can park in a small lot here (note that you will need a Forest Adventure Pass to do so..go buy one and support access to great places like this!). This is also the location of Historical Landmark No. 202 (Silverado):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

The picture is tough to read, I know. It was tough enough to read in person with the lighting and all as it was (click on it for a bigger version that is slightly more readable)! Anyway, cliff notes: Silverado was a booming mining town from 1878-1881. And it thrived. And stage coaches served it daily. That is about all (on the sign, at least).

The gate at this point is closed at times. When I was there, it was open to vehicular traffic. You can check to see if Maple Springs is closed on the Forest Service site here. Even when open, though, traffic is pretty light. When the road is closed, you should have no problem continuing up on bike (unless fun weather conditions block passage at some point) – and you will have the road all to yourself!

The road itself is one lane and paved from this point – 1900 ft or so – up until about 3000 ft where it turns to dirt. Maple Springs Road, from the “trailhead” start to the end of the paved section is 3 miles..so yes, you get some awesome climbing here. 3 miles of 7%+ climbing. Nice. Very nice. Initially, the road is not super steep, but is surrounded by some lush vegetation:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

Looking back down from that vantage point:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

As you can see, skinny road..but what a beautiful canyon! While Silverado Canyon Road was nice, Maple Springs is the sort of road that would keep me coming back time and time again. A little farther up, and some beautiful, open canyon riding:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

And watch the debris on the descent:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

One of many mini-creek crossings (well, practically a river by SoCal standards):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

So many beautiful hillsides you pass with many native shrubs and flowers:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

Heading up a bit more, some steeper sections (with some lovely yellow flowers on the hillside):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

The last few hundred steep feet before it turns to dirt (unfortunately, no perspective to really give you a sense of its steepness):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

Looking back down:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

The curve and bridge that leads you to dirt:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

And, the dirt road leading up to the over 5000 ft summit of Santiago Peak:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

I am actually tempted to do this subsequent part on my road bike. Mainly because it has already been done. Although a mountain bike might make it more pleasant! Another day though. For today, this was a great climb. I never knew such roads existed behind the Orange Curtain.

Well, time for the descent! Maple Springs Road is a slow descent, that is for sure. One lane, bumpy and lots of debris. Oh, and chilly too. Well, today at least. There had been clouds all day and the sky was looking a little unsettled. Luckily no rain on the ride, but the radio was reporting possible rain at night. Glad I had the arm warmers..just barely enough clothing to stay warm. But yes, a rather sucky road for descending, so watch yourself going down. Once you hit Silverado Canyon Road though, all is good. Minimal debris and mostly sweeping curves. Of course, the grade is rather shallow at times so you will never hit ludicrous speed either. But not a bad descent by any means.

Finally, back down to Santiago Canyon for a repeat of those rolling hills, just in the opposite direction. The brief downhills are nice (and, in this case, scenic):

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

And looking into Limestone Canyon Regional Park:

From 2009-06-15 – Silverado Canyon Cycling

29.4 miles and 2 hours, 20 minutes later and I am back to the car. Nice ride. I am definitely glad I did this one. Santiago Canyon is a good ride. Silverado Canyon, however, makes this great. Actually, just give me the Maple Springs section and I would be happy any day! A couple of stats on the paved portion of Maple Springs Road:

Length: 3 miles
Average Gradient: Just over 7%
Last Mile: About 9.3% average with some 15+% ramps
Last Half Mile: Almost 12% average

Progressively steeper? Yes, indeed! That road is awesome after having already climbed a thousand feet ;)

After all this, you might actually want the whole route map:

And, if you just want the Maple Springs Road paved section ascent, here you go (check out the elevation profile on this one!):

To wrap this long post up, here is the album link for all the pictures from this ride.

Cheers to cycling!

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