CA-130 | Mount Hamilton

  • Distance: 63.7 Miles (102.52 km)
  • Rating: 5-C, Spectacular mountain pass originally used by mules to build a bunch of observatories in the 1880s Ratings Explained »
  • Travel: Either direction for best results
  • Start: Patterson, CA
  • End: San Jose, CA
  • Fuel: Plenty of opportunities on either end
  • Along the Way: At the top, you must stop to enjoy the view and check out Lick Observatory
  • Highlights: Roads engineered with mules and donkeys in mind; do we need to say more?
  • Advisories: Please be quiet and respectful at Lick Observatory because the majority of the staff works at night and sleeps during the day.

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We would be remiss to say that Mount Hamilton is one of our very favorite roads in California and we go out of our way to take it in as frequently as we can. I can be ridden either direction, but we prefer riding it west to east because it puts Lick Observatory near the end of the route as a fun payoff for riding some epic roads.

We suggest stopping in Patterson to fill up your tank before setting out. Once riding, the road feels like an amusement park ride in Disneyland. The road follows the bottom of a narrow ravine past rotten fence-posts and, I swear, broken wagon wheels and scraggly vultures. Soon the road starts to climb steeply through an endless series of impossibly tight switchbacks. The asphalt is pretty beat up here, so stay sharp. The road will mellow, turn get technical and mellow out again before you come to an intersection.

Turn left to continue up over the top of Mount Hamilton and after a fast stretch, turns steeply uphill and gets gloriously technical again. Just when you think the road will climb all the way to heaven’s glory you will find yourself at the top of the mountain riding between a handful of bright white observatories. After such epic riding we like to take a break and enjoy the views, but please be quiet out of respect for the astronomers who work only when the sky is dark.

The next bit, that drops you back down to the valley floor, is pure gold. This is the part of the road that was built for Donkeys and Mules to carry supplies to the top of the mountain in the 1880’s to build the observatory.

The riding is nothing short of spectacular and can almost compare with the awesome pigtail bridges in South Dakota. Don’t rush things as the road will widen and narrow unpredictably and other autos and cyclists use this route frequently – keep an eye out for the mailman, that chica really scoots up and down that road with amazing precision. However, on a quiet mid-week afternoon, it is not uncommon to have the entire road to yourself.

If you are ever in the area, be sure to put this phenomenal road on your list.

Road Rating System

The first part of our rating describes how technical we feel that road is. Numbers one through five with five being the most technical and one being a more mellow road with few challenging corners. The second half of the rating is a letter grade. A rating of “A” would be a road that is in great condition and a grade-F would be a crumbly, slippery or degraded surface.

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