The ultrafast photoinduced ring-opening of 1,3-cyclohexadiene constitutes a textbook example of electrocyclic reactions in organic chemistry and a model for photobiological reactions in vitamin D synthesis. Here, we present direct and unambiguous observation of the ring-opening reaction path on the femtosecond timescale and sub-Ångström length scale by megaelectronvolt ultrafast electron diffraction. We follow the carbon-carbon bond dissociation and the structural opening of the 1,3 cyclohexadiene ring by direct measurement of time-dependent changes in the distribution of interatomic distances. We observe a substantial acceleration of the ring-opening motion after internal conversion to the ground state due to steepening of the electronic potential gradient towards the product minima. The ring-opening motion transforms into rotation of the terminal ethylene groups in the photoproduct 1,3,5-hexatriene on the sub-picosecond timescale.