Bike California: from the High Sierra to San Francisco, from Big Sur to Santa Barbara.
California is big, and it is beautiful. The variety of its landscapes alone—from its snowcapped mountains to its deserts to its 800-mile-long coast—offers endless opportunities to explore.
And it’s not just a matter of size and scenery—California is also ideal for biking. Our bike ride starts with climbing in the mountains, crosses the Golden Gate and winds down the coast through Big Sur and Santa Barbara all the way to Santa Monica.
At each step of the way, we’ll bike as a group. Taking on a three-week bike trip is no small feat. You’ve got to be fit. You’ve got to be committed. But if you are, you’re in for a treat because you’re going to do all this, see all this and experience all this in a wonderful, warm, supportive, encouraging, enthusiastic Overland group with two rock-star leaders.
What’s your dream? See the Sierras? Cross the Golden Gate? Roll down the coast through Big Sur? It’s all here for you. In a giant, beautiful state that’s just waiting to be explored.
This was the best Overland trip I have ever done!
- Neil Coakley, Arlington, Virginia
Day 1: Trip Start
We’ll meet in Reno, Nevada, and take a shuttle to South Lake Tahoe. In the afternoon, we’ll build our bikes and learn how to load them, practice riding as a group and prepare for our journey.
Days 2-4: South Lake Tahoe to the Central Valley
Averaging 40 miles per day, we’ll grow comfortable riding with weight and as a group. We’ll climb out of the Lake Tahoe Basin, over Carson Pass and through the High Sierra. On our third day, we will descend out of the mountains and into Placerville and the Central Valley.
Days 5-7: Napa Valley and the Pacific
Continuing toward the coast, we’ll ride over golden hills and past the vineyards of Napa Valley. After a week on the road, we’ll reach the Pacific and turn our wheels south toward San Francisco.
Days 8 & 9: Marin County and San Francisco
Averaging 50 miles per day, the rolling hills of Napa Valley give way to the rugged cliffs of the Northern California coastline. We’ll bike through redwood forests and scenic grasslands, past Tomales Bay and across the Marin headlands, working our way toward the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Views of Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay will greet us as we cross the bridge.
Days 10 & 11: San Francisco to Monterey
We’ll take a scenic route through San Francisco’s hilly neighborhoods—views of the city contrasting sharply with Marin County’s open vistas. Back toward the coast, we’ll rejoin Route 1 south of the city—a coastal section renowned for its stunning beaches and bountiful wildlife. We’ll skirt around Santa Cruz watching surfers tackle big waves and pedaling past the famed Natural Bridge. The terrain levels off slightly as we ride through farmland and Monterey, famous for Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Days 12-15: Big Sur and Surfing
In the beautiful Big Sur region of California, we’ll see the Santa Lucia Mountains rising up to the east and a stunning shoreline to the west. We’ll cross hilly terrain, bike winding roads and take time to appreciate Bixby Creek Bridge, Hearst Castle and McWay Falls. Around San Luis Obispo, the terrain levels out, the hills become gentler and eucalyptus and palm trees provide welcome shade. Entering Southern California, we’ll take a break from biking for a morning of surf lessons.
Days 16-20: Southern California
After surfing, we’ll continue riding south through the Spanish-influenced city of Santa Barbara. We’ll marvel at the grand mountains of Los Padres National Forest and skirt around Oxnard before a final night on the coast. We’ll finish our ride at the Santa Monica Pier and enjoy a celebratory dinner before saying our goodbyes.
18 nights of frontcountry camping. All campgrounds will have flush toilets. Many facilities will include showers and laundry.
1 night in a hostel in Santa Monica. The hostel is a dormitory style accommodation. The rooms are divided by gender.
Things to know
- We travel light on Overland trips; please only bring items on your packing list.
- Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
- Please do not bring any electronics (including your cell phone). See FAQs for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
- Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
- A high-visibility outer layer is required at all times while biking. See packing descriptions for more details.
- If you are flying to your trip start, pack your sleeping pad and bike shoes in your bike box or checked bag. Take your helmet and sleeping bag with you on the plane as carry-on items, in case your checked luggage fails to arrive on time. Pack all remaining items in your checked duffel bag or in your checked panniers. You can tape or strap your panniers together to check them as one piece of luggage; see luggage description for more details.
- Please wear the navy Overland shirt that you will receive from the Overland office to your trip start location.
- Medium-Sized Duffel Bag or Pair of Panniers
Panniers are saddlebags sold in pairs that attach to either side of your rear rack. If you are renting panniers from Overland, pack your belongings in a collapsible bag (3,000-5,000 cubic inch/ 50-80 liters). We will have your bag available at the end of the trip for travel home. The cost of renting panniers from Overland is included in a bike rental (or they can be rented separately for $50). If you are bringing your own panniers you will want large panniers, 2,400-3,000 cubic inches (40-50 liters) total, designed for bike touring. One large pannier has internal dimensions of approximately 17" x 13" x 7". You should be able to fit all of your belongings, besides your sleeping bag and pad, into your two panniers and have some space for group gear. If flying to trip start, you can tape your panniers together so that they count as a single piece of checked luggage.
- Navy Overland Shirt (1)
We will send students an Overland shirt prior to their trip, and we encourage students to wear their Overland shirt to trip start. We highly recommend this for students flying to their trip start location.
- Synthetic High-Visibility T-Shirts (3) & Vest (1)
A high-visibility outer layer, preferably a solid color, is required at all times while biking (high-visibility is a neon or fluorescent color, typically yellow, orange or pink). On warm days a high-visibility T-shirt will be sufficient. The vest should be large enough to wear over warm layers while riding on cooler days. Please visit the Overland Store if you need to purchase these items. High-visibility bike jerseys are acceptable but not necessary.
- Bike Shorts (2)
Biking-specific spandex shorts with a padded seat called a chamois. Bike shorts fit snugly in order to reduce chafing and discomfort from sitting on a bike seat for long distance rides.
- Shorts (1)
Comfortable shorts to wear around camp.
- Athletic Socks (pair) (4)
- Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (1)
- Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
- T-Shirt (1)
Short-sleeve T-shirt or tank top.
- Long-Sleeve T-Shirt (1)
Lightweight for sun protection.
- Underwear (4)
- Winter Hat
- Swimsuit (optional)
If we swim, many students will wear shorts (and a sports bra for girls).
- Fleece Jacket or Pullover
Medium to heavyweight and reasonably compact.
- Waterproof Raincoat
Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Choose high-visibility if available (a high-visibility outer layer is required at all times while riding; if your raincoat is not hi-vis then you'll have to wear a hi-vis vest over your raincoat when riding). Raincoats provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. We recommend hoods and breathable materials. Gore-Tex is a well-known waterproof and breathable fabric, but there are many other quality fabrics. Ponchos are not acceptable.
- Waterproof Rain Pants (optional)
Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain pants provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer.
- Sleeping Bag
A lightweight, compact sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit or less. We recommend either synthetic or treated down material. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
- Sleeping Pad
Full- or ¾-length compact sleeping pad. We recommend closed cell foam that is thin and firm (e.g., RidgeRest) or self-inflating (e.g., Therm-a-Rest).
- Bowl, Mug & Utensils
6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
- Headlamp & Extra Batteries
- Water Bottle
A 24-ounce bike bottle is ideal (on arrival you will receive a second bottle from us).
- Hydration System with a 2- or 3-liter capacity
A small backpack with a bladder inside (e.g., CamelBak or Platypus) works well. If you bring a backpack, we recommend a high-visibility color; however, this is not necessary. The backpack should be designed primarily to carry water (if it is too big or filled with other items, it will be uncomfortable to wear all day).
- Touring Bicycle & Rear Rack
You may choose to rent a bicycle and rear rack from Overland to use during your trip or you can bring your own. Please note: the American Challenge, European Challenge and Canadian Rockies & Montana 2-week require specific bikes--keep this in mind if you are buying a new bike now and plan on doing one of these trips in a future summer. Please see the Right Bicycle for Your Overland Trip for more information about acceptable bikes and traveling with your bike.
- Clipless Pedals or Toe Cages
The bikes we rent come with flat pedals appropriate for biking in running shoes. If you are renting a bike from Overland, you should bring your own "clipless" pedals (and bike shoes) or toe cages to attach to the flat pedals.
- Bungee Cords
These should be 18-24" in length. Bungee cords are included with an Overland bike rental.
- Rear Bike Light
A rear bike light is required when riding in low light conditions. The light should be battery powered with a variety of mounting options (clipping on to a pannier or a rear rack, for example). The Portland Design Works Radbot 1000 and the Planet Bike LED Superflash turbo are two examples of bike taillights. Even if you are renting your bike from Overland this summer you will need to supply your own light for your bike.
- Bike Helmet
If you are flying to trip start, carry your helmet on the plane with you.
- Spare Bike Parts
The following are included with an Overland Bike Rental. If you are bringing your own bicycle you will need to bring: four spare spokes (two rear & two front); one spare tube (matched to the size and diameter of your bike's tires); one spare set of brake pads; one tire patch kit; and one set of tire levers.
- Water Bottle Cages
Attached to the bike frame. Some smaller-sized bike frames cannot accommodate two cages. If this is the case, you will be able to strap additional water bottles to your rack with your other gear. All Overland rental bikes come with two water bottle cages.
- Chamois Cream (optional)
Special cream to put on your bike shorts chamois to reduce the risk of chafing and saddle sores. Some popular brands are Chamois Butt'r and Assos. You can purchase chamois cream at any bike shop.
- Bike Gloves (optional)
Well-padded for comfort
- Shoes for Biking (pair)
Bike touring or mountain biking shoes with bottom treads and "clipless" recessed cleats. A popular style of clipless shoes and pedals are SPDs. You may also ride in running shoes and bring toe cages to attach to your pedals. Please do not bring racing shoes as they have hard soles that are uncomfortable to walk in.
- Sandals (pair)
Flip flops or Crocs work well
- Photo Identification
A current school or other kind of photo identification (if you have one).
- Pre-trip Training Calendar
Please bring your completed and signed calendar to trip start.
- Synthetic Camping Towel (1)
A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
- Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (10)
To organize and waterproof your gear and small items.
- Large Trash Bags (5)
To waterproof your gear.
All items should be travel size (if necessary, you will be able to restock during the trip).
Polarized sunglasses that wrap around to protect from glare are ideal.
- Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
- Personal Journal or Book (optional)
- Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
A digital or disposable camera and, if necessary, a charger and large enough memory card to accommodate your pictures (4 to 8 GB).
- Spending Money
$30 per week in cash or a debit/ATM card.
- Health Insurance Card
Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
- What is the weather like on California?
The weather in California is diverse and variable. Expect hot days and cool nights in the mountains. In the Central Valley and Napa Valley temperatures are regularly in the 90s and can exceed this on hot days. Near the coast, temperatures are more moderate, ranging between the 60s and 70s and often cooler at night. San Francisco is chilly during the day, but the fog burns off rapidly, leaving plenty of blue skies and sunshine. Our packing list takes these variables into consideration.
- What are the arrival and departure airports for my child’s trip?
You will need to arrange transportation for your child to Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) at trip start and from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) at trip end. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a program.
- How often will my child have access to showers and laundry?
While we have regular access to showers, most students will shower once or twice a week. Groups will do laundry once a week.
- Please tell me about safety at Overland.
Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent and other risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.
- Does my child need to have previous experience?
While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific program and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready–and excited–to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.
- Please tell me about Overland’s admissions process.
For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
When we receive child’s application, if the first choice is available, you will receive a phone call and an email containing a link to our Overland Portal where you will find our Admissions Review Forms. We will accept your deposit to hold your child’s place in the program pending a favorable Admissions Review. If the first choice is not available, we will call you to confirm that the second choice is acceptable. If neither the first choice nor second choice are available, we will call you to discuss options. For those students placed on our waitlist, we will notify you as soon as a spot becomes available.
We seek to admit students who have demonstrated that they possess the personal qualities and experience necessary to succeed on an Overland trip. While Overland is always supportive and nurturing, an Overland program is unlike a traditional camp in that our small groups–12 students and 2 leaders–travel, live and work as a group, making all of their own meals, helping each other and cooperating in ways big and small, and they do all of this far from home. As a result, every student must be able to thrive in an environment that places equal emphasis on:
1. Teamwork and Shared Responsibilities.
2. Independence and Self-Reliance.
3. Support of Others and Consideration for Others.
- What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?
To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers (the exceptions to this are: your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency). If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send him or her with an expensive smartphone; instead bring an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss to phones, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.
Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).
We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer (outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage). Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with their child.
Bike from California’s Sierra Nevada to Santa Monica and surf the Pacific.
Students going on California should prepare for:
- 16 days of biking with an average of 50 miles per day
- Travel to and from the trip
- An Overland experience
We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.
Preparing for Biking
Daily rides on California average 50 miles over varying terrain. There are six days over 60 miles and the longest day is approximately 70 miles (exact mileage may vary by group). The itinerary also includes one buffer day to allow for delays en route (most groups will find that they spend this day partially or completely off of the bikes) and a second day off the bikes to go surfing.
Overland bicycle tours are self-contained—there is no van support. You will carry all of your belongings, plus some group gear and food, on a sturdy rack mounted over the back wheel of your bike. You will hang panniers (these are saddlebags, pronounced “pan-yers”) off the rack and attach gear like your sleeping bag and sleeping pad to the top of the rack using bungee cords. On average, you will carry between 30 and 40 pounds of equipment on your bike (not including the weight of the bike).
While there is always a range of physical ability and fitness in each group, it's important that you follow our training schedule and that you take the time to gain confidence on a bike—mounting and dismounting, shifting gears, braking and making turns. We expect you to prepare adequately so you can keep up physically and participate in all of your group’s activities.
- 5 weeks before your trip: two rides of 8 to 12 miles.
- 4 weeks before your trip: one ride of 8 to 12 miles and a second ride of at least 20 miles.
- 3 weeks before your trip: two rides of at least 20 miles.
- 2 weeks before your trip: two fully-loaded rides. One of 8 to 12 miles and a second of at least 20 miles.
- 1 week before your trip: two fully-loaded rides of at least 20 miles. You should also complete one ride of 50 miles or greater (the average daily mileage for California).
All training rides that are unloaded (i.e., without your panniers, sleeping bag, etc.) must be at an average speed of between 10 and 14 miles per hour (or greater); all loaded training rides must be at an average speed of between 8 and 12 miles per hour (or greater).
Groups typically average between 8 and 12 miles per hour while riding (although pace varies by group). You will take multiple breaks throughout the day—for water, snacks, lunch, to adjust panniers, etc.
Please refer to the Pre-Trip Training Calendar where you will record your training in the weeks leading up to trip start.
Preparing for Travel to and from the Trip
Families are responsible for arranging flights to and from the designated airport during a specified window (please do not purchase flights until you have received an email confirming our review of your health forms and school reference). Overland staff will be at the airport to welcome you at the start of your trip and to assist with your departure. You may also be dropped off and picked up at the airport. If you are flying to and from your trip, we will have you call home upon arrival and before departure. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed you on a program.
Preparing for an Overland Experience
Overland programs are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be supportive of your trip mates and your leaders, enthusiastic, positive and helpful. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. You will have the opportunity to send letters and receive mail at designated mail stops, which are shared in the spring.
All trips have a range of challenges. You should come prepared and recognize that some days will be more difficult, more challenging and longer—both in terms of miles and hours on the bike—than others. Delays occur due to a wide range of variables beyond the control of you, your group or your leaders. Weather patterns change and road conditions vary. You, or someone in your group, might get a flat tire or encounter another issue that could delay your group. On some days your group will arrive in to camp in the early afternoon, with plenty of time to explore the area or go swimming, while on other days your group will spend more time on the bike.
Arriving ready for a challenge—and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland program.