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