Flow Trail – like an amusement park ride

Flow Trail, a ribbon of single-track through Demonstration Forest.


Thanks to Soquel Demonstration Forest rangers and Santa Cruz mountain bikers for collaborating to create one of the most enjoyable off-road single-track trails in Northern California. And it’s legal.

The name Flow Trail evokes images of a smooth path with endless downhill, whoop de doos, and banked turns. I read about it online, so I had to find out for myself. Dream come true or fake news?

I headed off on the kind of day that makes Northern California weather nervana: Clear skies, temps in the 60s, a gentle breeze. My ride started six miles away so I could become accustomed to the wider tires, 26 x 2.0 nobby monsters. Talk about sluggish steering.

Riding on Highland Way is never a sure thing. In one place the road has caved, narrowing it to one lane. I’ve clambered over a huge slide on a vertical slope. But views sublime: The forest across from Soquel Canyon looks so three-dimensional.

Sulphur Springs Road, logging site and helicopter pad.


I arrived at the Demonstration Forest entrance on Highland Way and saw four parked cars. It’s a zoo on weekends.

Having ridden here since 1980, I knew the routine. I headed up Highland Way to Buzzard Lagoon Road and hoped for hard-packed dirt. It was so-so, plenty of dust. The grind up Buzzard Lagoon with eight to 12 percent grades tested my legs.

Not much has changed since 1980. The road is graded from time to time, which is a good thing because otherwise we’d be riding through a boulder field.

I turned right onto West Ridge Trail with fear and loathing. This ride conjures up the best and worst of off-road riding. Worst: the trail is Rut City with rocky sections that even a pro would find challenging. As for me, I’m not proud. I walked in places.

Tribute to a mountain bike trail builder.


I remembered little from my last trip here in 2007, just that it’s gnarly. My rides always took me down the oh-so-tame Aptos Creek Fire Road. However, I remembered the helicopter landing site cleared by loggers in the early 2000s or so. It’s also where Sulphur Springs Road heads downhill.

I continued on past more trailheads — Braille, Tractor Road, destined for Flow Trail. Sadly, or maybe blessedly, Sawpit Trail at the west end of the forest is closed for logging operations. This is still an actively logged forest, thus the name Demonstration Forest. I heard chainsaws in the distance.

In just over two miles I arrived at Flow Trail. Orange netting blocked the way to Sawpit Trail.

Start of Flow Trail. Sawpit Trail access cut off.


Did the videos lie? Would Flow Trail be manageable for an aging tenderfoot like me? My fears evaporated in a flash. I found myself gliding effortlessly on the well-designed trail. Many turns are banked.

Some steep drops of 35-40 percent left me screaming for joy, and fear. The trail has held up well since opening in 2015.

As for uphill, there isn’t any. The short segments of uphill were put there for your enjoyment, easily ridden with momentum coming off the steep stuff.

The trail is signed Segment 1 through 6, mostly at intersections with Tractor Road and other logging roads, not that you’d ever become lost since Flow Trail is all single-track.

Start of the long grind up Hihn’s Mill Road.


I arrived at Hihn’s Mill Road after 3.6 miles and headed back to the entrance. I had forgotten how steep it was, or maybe I was much stronger back then. It’s a grind, with grades of 8-12 percent. A few flat spots let you catch your breath.

I must confess I’ve ridden a few other trails that rival Flow Trail, but they shall remain nameless. Flow Trail is legal.

I measured the route using a pre-calibrated CatEye wireless bike computer. Note that GPS fails miserably on this route. Canyons and trees degrade the satellite signal. My Garmin Edge 500 clocked in 1.3 miles short.

CatEye Mileage:

Start ride at entrance to Demonstration Forest on Highland Way.
1.93 Right onto Buzzard Lagoon Road
2.47 Open gate
2.87 Keep right at junction, continuing climb on Aptos Creek Fire Road.
4.16 Gate.
5.08 Right onto West Ridge Trail at post. Kiosk visible from fire road.
5.7 Corral Trail
6.64 Sulphur Springs Road
7.15 Braille Trail
7.25 Right onto Flow Trail
9.3 Segment 4.
9.37 Logs across trail
9.62 Segment 5
10.11 Segment 6
10.88 Right onto Hihn’s Mill Road.
11.1 Keep left at junction with Tractor Road.
11.4 Braille Trail
12.34 Sulphur Springs Road.
14.63 Gate and toilet.
14.81 End ride at Demonstration Forest entrance.

Garmin GPS mileage:

1.88 Right onto unpaved Buzzard Lagoon Road
2.78 Keep right at junction, continuing uphill on Aptos Creek Fire Road.
4.91 Right onto West Ridge Trail at tall post. Kiosk behind bushes.
5.45 Corral Trail.
6.28 Sulphur Springs Road.
6.74 Braille Trail.
6.81 Flow Trail.
9.74 Right onto Hihn’s Mill Road.
9.92 Keep left on Hihn’s Mill Road at Tractor Road junction.
10.31 Braille Trail.
11.18 Sulphur Springs Road.
13.49 Gate and toilet.
13.51 End ride at Demonstration Forest entrance.

One Response to “Flow Trail – like an amusement park ride”

  1. Bob Landry Says:

    You are so good. And such a nerd. Thanks Ray. I’m your biggest fan on this side of the hill.

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