Spring Gap/Beardsley Reservoir Loop

View toward Beardsley Reservoir along the "Peeled Onion" on Forest Route 4N88

View toward Beardsley Reservoir along the “Peeled Onion” on Forest Route 4N88

This bike ride combines a couple of east-west unpaved Sugar Pine Railway segments with fairly steep connectors at each end–paved Beardsley Road on the east end and unpaved Forest Route 4N88 in the west. Including the railroad grades and the Spring Gap PG&E  facilities, this route presents a tour of historic forest and river infrastructure. The Stanislaus Forest has a photocopied handout for the loop, but the handout is pretty awful. See the Stanislaus Forest page for better map options. Excepting 4N14 the roads for this loop are full-width access roads.

There are several good parking areas for the ride: Fraser Flat, the Crandall OHV area, the Beardsley Campground, or Beardsley Road will all work. There are camping opportunities at Fraser Flat, Beardsley, Crandall, and Sand Bar Flat with pit toilets and piped water at best. Dispersed camping is available everywhere except near the campgrounds and with setbacks from the river.

As mapped, the ride starts at the South Fork Stanislaus bridge on Fraser Flat Road, and the loop is described counter-clockwise. Head north across the bridge on Fraser Flat Road (4N01). The pavement gives way to dirt past the Fraser Flat Campground and the road gradually climbs on converted railroad grade until splitting to 4N42 and 4N01. Turn right at 4N42 to continue on the railroad grade uphill to Spring Gap.

Philadelphia Ditch entering Spring Gap

Philadelphia Ditch entering Spring Gap

Worlds collide at Spring Gap. The railway passed through the PG&E facility, and 4N42 continues on the other side of the locked gates. The Philadelphia Ditch enters a penstock at Spring Gap. To the right and past the ditch there are two dirt roads. Cross the cattle guard onto the one on the left that enters the woods. This is 4N14, a Sugar Pine branch line which rambles for about 4 miles to the east. The riding is good on 4N14. It’s shady, winding, and not too wide. There always seem to be cows on this road, and it tends to have drainage issues in the early spring.

Forest Route 4N14

Forest Route 4N14

Beardsley Reservoir Road, Forest Route 5N02

Beardsley Reservoir Road, Forest Route 5N02

The end of 4N14 comes at Beardsley Reservoir Road (5No2); turn left and enjoy a long winding descent on pavement. Before the dam look for a gravel road to the left past a locked gate. Hop the gate onto 4N88, which starts with a segment of the Sugar Pine mainline heading west above the Middle Fork Stanislaus toward Sand Bar Flat.

Before Beardsley Dam was built, the Sugar Pine crossed the Middle Fork on a trestle and continued along what is now 5N02 to logging camps stretching as far north as near the current boundary of Big Trees State Park. The crossing of the Middle Fork was no small feat as evidenced by the long steep cut of 5N02 across the canyon, the former trestle and dam crossing, and the massive blasted cut of the “Peeled Onion” which 4N88 travels along for about 1/4 mile.

Gate across 4N88 at Beardsley Dam

Gate across 4N88 at Beardsley Dam

The Peeled Onion viewed from 5N02 across the river

The Peeled Onion viewed from 5N02 across the river

Steam donkey above 4N88

Steam donkey on hillside above 4N88

After the Peeled Onion, watch for a bridge over the penstock and old tramway from Spring Gap down to the powerhouse on the Middle Fork. The tramway was used to deliver people and supplies to the powerhouse, and the penstock is still in use today. Heading further west, 4N88 barely starts gently climbing before the junction with 4N85 which heads out to Sand Bar Flat. Watch for a large stockpile on the right and bear left to stay on 4N88 to leave the railroad grade and start a reasonably steep climb up to 4N01.

Tramway at 4N88 bridge

Tramway at 4N88 bridge

Tramway and penstock after PG&E vegetation removal project

Tramway and penstock after PG&E vegetation removal project

Stockpile at intersection of 4N88 and 4N85

Stockpile at intersection of 4N88 and 4N85

About two miles into the climb, 4N86 branches off on the left–take 4N86 to climb up to Spring Gap and connect to 4N42, or remain on 4N88 to head “straight” back up to 4N01. Taking 4N86 shows off more of the tramway and penstock and also visits the other side of the PG&E Spring Gap facility. At Spring Gap, switchback onto 4N42 and rejoin the Sugar Pine back up to 4N01. To the west, 4N01 continues on for miles as increasingly narrow and zippy railroad grade. From either 4N42 or 4N88, turn left on 4N01 to return to Fraser Flat.

4N86

4N86

Tramway at 4N86

Tramway at 4N86

Tramway at Spring Gap

Tramway at Spring Gap

View east toward the Dardanelles

View east toward the Dardanelles

Construction for improvements at the Sand Bar Flat Campground may affect this ride. I haven’t had problems getting through, but there’s potential for trucks and equipment on 4N88, and the road has been “improved”. 4N85 and the campground are closed. The Beardsley Campground will also be getting a makeover, so check with the Forest Service when making plans for the next year or two (2014–2015).

Click on “View Larger Map” to allow selection of alternate trail segments.

Spring Gap/Beardsley GE map
Download the Google Earth bike map featuring this loop

Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—wide roads and potential for light traffic on Beardsley Road and 4N01 and 4N88 to Sand Bar Flat.
  • Upside—Cool stuff everywhere, one good climb and the rest is easy, forest and river canyon, more of the Sugar Pine Railway, convenient access from popular camping areas.
  • 23 miles, about 2,500 feet of climbing.
  • roads: 17.8 miles dirt and gravel and 5.2 miles pavement, as mapped.
  • terrain: level to moderately steep.
  • tires: cross to mountain, most will prefer mountain.
  • seasons: Beardsley and Fraser Flat Roads are closed during winter (Dec 16–April 14). Winter snow, spring mud.
  • current weather
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Pinecrest to Columbia on Sugar Pine Railway and Ditch Trails

Frosty morning in Strawberry

Frosty morning in Strawberry

This bike ride is about as easy as an almost forty mile long unpaved ride can get since it’s a shuttle and return on descending railroad and ditch trails. But it’s still a long haul with lots of nature and the thumbprints of history along the way. Finish up in Columbia with coffee or a beer and reflect on your day–nobody needs to know it was (almost) all downhill.

The trails for this ride form an unpaved east-west corridor parallel to the South Fork Stanislaus and Highway 108, so they are handy for all kinds of connections for loops between the Middle Fork Stanislaus and the North Fork Tuolumne.  The Sugar Pine Railway segments along the South Fork are of particular note both as parts of the “off-road highway” and as popular individual short rides. The Sugar Pine from Twain Harte to Lyons Reservoir has been covered previously; this post will address the two other Sugar Pine segments along the river prior to discussing the long ride from the mountains back to civilization.

PDF file maps for the Sugar Pine segments are available on the Tuolumne County Transportation Council Trails page.

Sugar Pine Railway, Lyons Reservoir to Fraser Flat

The least popular portion of the Sugar Pine Rail Trail is the part in the middle–from Lyons Reservoir to Fraser Flat Road. The trail passes through multiple jurisdictions including Stanislaus Forest, PG&E, and Sierra Pacific Industries, so there are multiple gates (with bike/ped access provided) and the quality of the trail varies from quite good to pretty funky. What it lacks in ease, it makes up for in adventure.

Gate at the bottom of Lyons Dam Road

At the bottom of Lyons Dam Road look for the trail heading east past a green metal gate opposite the parking lot. The railroad bridges are gone, so the trail has a bypass over a creek and a hill before resuming along the lake.

Trail adjacent to Lyons Reservoir

Trail adjacent to Lyons Reservoir

Just past the end of the lake watch for a large meadow and a shallow ford of the river. The Sugar Pine  had a crossing in this area.  The original mainline ran along the South Fork toward Fraser Flat, the Strawberry Branch, Cow Creek, Bumblebee, and Herring Creek. When Pickering Lumber decided to cross the Middle Fork at Beardsley to log areas to the north, it built the crossing and re-routed the mainline with a switchback to the west on the north side of Lyons Reservoir. The re-routed mainline remains as minimally improved railroad grade with some pretty difficult single-track volcanic soil sections and lots of rocks. Continue on along the south side of the South Fork.

Chunky gravel in spots

Chunky gravel in spots

One of several gates

One of several gates

The rail trail rambles on along the south side of the South Fork with short patches of chunky two-inch gravel, generally loose material, and sand with cobbles.

Cobbles on 4N90

Cobbles on 4N90

As the trail enters the Stanislaus Forest, it transitions to Forest Road 4N90. The road widens and the surface degrades due to vehicle access. The railroad also crossed the river at Fraser Flat; the footings of the trestle can be seen from the Fraser Flat campground. There’s a short trail out to the trestle site from 4N90. Look for the trail at the bottom of the hill where 4N90 leaves the railroad grade and heads uphill to Fraser Flat Road. Since the the bridge is no longer, the Sugar Pine trail continues on 4N90 up a steeper and more eroded path up to Fraser Flat Road. After the climb, the route descends on paved Fraser Flat Road to the South Fork Stanislaus and the start of the Strawberry Branch.

SPRR trestle footings viewed from Fraser Flat campground

SPRR trestle footings viewed from Fraser Flat campground

Lyons to Fraser Flat: Nine miles one-way and about 1,000 feet of climbing.

Sugar Pine Railway Strawberry Branch

Strawberry Branch

Strawberry Branch

The Sugar Pine Railway Strawberry Branch is maintained as a rail trail by the Stanislaus National Forest and has an interpretive guide keyed to numbered posts along the trail.  The gently sloped trail along the South Fork Stanislaus is a very popular multi-use trail and scenic bike ride.

The Strawberry Branch trail extends three miles from the South Fork bridge on Fraser Flat Road to Old Strawberry Road. Even with some single-track, it’s an easy ride, but it climbs about 500 feet from Fraser Flat to Strawberry. If you have small kids, starting east from Fraser Flat is a good idea, so they’ll have a downhill ride going back.

Parking is available at both ends of the trail, but the parking areas on Fraser Flat Road and at the Fraser Flat trailhead have much more room. Better yet, there’s camping near both ends at the Fraser Flat Campground or Pinecrest Lake. Riding to the trail from Pinecrest adds two miles and uses roads open to vehicle traffic including a crossing of Highway 108.

Fraser Flat Road trailhead

Fraser Flat Road trailhead

Old Strawberry Road trailhead.

Old Strawberry Road trailhead

Philadelphia Ditch flume. PG&E manages flow in the ditch based on water levels at Pinecrest Lake.

Philadelphia Ditch flume. PG&E manages flow in the ditch based on water levels at Pinecrest Lake.

Rail Trail above the South Fork and flume

Rail Trail above the South Fork and flume

Rail Trail above South Fork Stanislaus

Rail Trail above South Fork Stanislaus

The main attractions along the trail are the river canyon and the Philadelphia Ditch flume and diversion dam. The Philadelphia Ditch diverts water from the South Fork Stanislaus along the north side of the canyon to a penstock at Spring Gap. The penstock drops the water 1,900 feet to a powerhouse on the Middle Fork Stanislaus. A stay at the Fraser Flat Campground provides an opportunity to hike the ditch and flume as well as ride the rail trail. Follow the road across from the campground entrance uphill to catch the ditch where it crosses the road. Hike west to Spring Gap or east to the flume and diversion dam. The Fraser Flat Campground itself is a former railroad lumber camp, and  4N01/Fraser Flat Road on the north side of the river is mostly built on railroad grade.

Single-track through meadow.

Single-track through meadow.

Closer to Strawberry the trail climbs away from the river on gentle single-track. Finding the start of the trail from Old Strawberry Road can be a challenge. The official signage is small, but a neighbor has posted more conspicuous signs pointing toward the trail in an attempt to reduce use of the road on their property, the former Boy Scout Camp Bray and, previously, Strawberry Camp 1 of the Sugar Pine.

To ride from Pinecrest to the trail, ride out from the lake/campground to the Ranger Station on Highway 108 and turn right onto the highway. Look for a dirt road across the highway just barely east of the Ranger Station. Cross onto the dirt road (4N51Y) and continue as it changes to pavement (Pine Ave.) and eventually ends at Old Strawberry Road. Turn left and look for the trail on the right after 1/2 mile.

Strawberry Branch: Six miles out-and-back with 600 feet of climbing. Ride to the trail from Pinecrest Lake: Add four miles out-and-back and 500 feet of climbing

Pinecrest to Columbia

Pinecrest Lake at winter draw down

Pinecrest Lake at winter draw down

The two Sugar Pine segments in this post along with the Twain Harte to Lyons Dam segment  form part of a pretty impressive string of railroad and ditch trails that stretch from Strawberry to Twain Harte and onward to Columbia with a minimum of climbing or riding on paved roads with vehicle access. Throw in the short piece from Pinecrest to the Strawberry Branch and you’ve got a long shuttle ride from Pinecrest to Columbia. It’s usually not that hard to talk someone into going to Pinecrest. If they could just haul some bikes and riders…

Strawberry Branch

Strawberry Branch

Old Oak ditch segment

Old Oak ditch segment

After leaving the Sugar Pine at Confidence South Fork Road, the mapped ride follows paved roads in Twain Harte to the Mt. Elizabeth/Cedar Ridge ditch segment and continues on the ditch to Old Oak Ranch Road. I prefer to ride lightly traveled Old Oak Ranch Road to the next ditch segment starting on a small single-track trail starting at the intersection of Old Oak Ranch and Northridge Road. That segment is narrow with numerous obstacles, and it ends at the Big Hill Water Treatment Pond. Continue through the pedestrian gate past the pond to descend to Big Hill Road and either descend on paved Big Hill Road or on mostly unpaved Five Mile Creek and Yankee Hill Roads (mapped). See the Yankee Hill/Five Mile Creek post and ride it backwards.

Be aware that the ditch trails do not have formal trail easements for public access. They have been used by the public for years for fishing, hiking, and riding, but use of the trails involves crossing private property. Please be quiet and respect private property.

Top of the descent on Yankee Hill Road

Top of the descent on Yankee Hill Road

Yankee Hill descent

Yankee Hill descent

Riding along contours gets very windy, especially on the ditch. Adding a little climbing on pavement can reduce the obstacles and shorten/speed up the trip considerably. Middle Camp Road has moderate traffic, and upper Big Hill Road usually has very little.

Sunset on Big Hill Road

Sunset on Big Hill Road

These photos are from a ride in November. I love the colors and lighting of fall, and I don’t mind the cold, but keep in mind that most of this ride is on the north side of the hill. It is cold in the shadows. Lunch on a sunny picnic table at the seasonally deserted Fraser Flat campground was welcome.

Pinecrest to Columbia: 39 miles, approx 3,500 foot net drop with 800 feet of climbing.

Connections and Alternate Rides

Sierra Village to Columbia transit shuttle–Lyons Dam Road to Lyons Reservoir, Sugar Pine Trail to Twain Harte and the ditch/roads to Columbia or onward to Sonora.  See the schedule for Tuolumne County Transit Route 2 which terminates at Sierra Village and Columbia. There are three daytime buses Monday-Friday. The buses only hold two bikes, so start early and have an alternate plan.

Paved Road to Nowhere Plus–try the Paved Road to Nowhere with return via Dodge Ridge Road and the Sugar Pine to Lyons Reservoir. Get back to Long Barn on Lyons Dam Road and a short trip on Highway 108 on a segment with good shoulders.

Click on “View Larger Map” to allow selection of individual trail segments.

pinecrest columbia GE map
Download the Google Earth bike map featuring this loop

Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—Excepting the Columbia end of the ride, it’s kind of flat.
  • Upside—Historic and scenic routes, good range of options for varied abilities and interests, lots of lodging and camping options.
  • roads and trails: mostly dirt, some gravel, very little paved.
  • terrain: mostly level riding on contours.
  • tires: cross to mountain, most will prefer mountain.
  • seasons: Lyons Dam and Fraser Flat Roads are closed during winter (Dec 16–April 14). Winter snow, spring mud.
  • current weather
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Rim Fire Closure

I’ve uploaded a Google Earth file showing how the Rim Fire and closure order affect the rides I’ve posted for the Stanislaus National Forest. The most recent closure order runs through November 18, 2014, but that date can change. See the Stanislaus Forest website for the most recent and official information.

View the Google Earth file with the fire perimeter and overlays of the closure area map and burn severity map and the Tuolumne Bikes map at the same time to see the loops that are affected. The closure area is huge, but since I haven’t mapped much in the south Stanislaus, there aren’t too many mapped loops in the closure area.

Stanislaus Forest Rim Fire closure area--boundary in yellow

Stanislaus Forest Rim Fire closure area–boundary in yellow

The Westside Rail Trail, Clavey River segment extends into the burn area. The burn severity map shows that parts of the interpretive trail area burned with high intensity. Much of the area on the longer loop is outside the closure area. The Basin Loop and Paved Road to Nowhere include roads along the border of the closure area; the Paved Road to Nowhere can easily avoid the closure by using a dirt road detour. I won’t really know what a road on the border means until I get a chance to go out there. Since there’s plenty else to do, I’m inclined to stay out of the way of the work that’s happening out there. Assuming that it does snow soon, what’s open in that area won’t matter too much until spring.

Loops with Burn Severity Map

Loops with Burn Severity Map

The posts for the affected loops will be revised and this post added as a Stanislaus Forest page.

The good news is that there’s plenty of unburned forest in the Stanislaus, and eventually there will be a remarkable rebirth to witness in the burn area.

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Google Earth Map Overlays (for map geeks)

This post is about options for improving on the default aerial imagery in Google Earth by providing various maps beneath the data. This post will also be added to the “Using Google Earth” menu.

I’ve previously provided a link for Google Maps and other map overlays for Google Earth. These maps are usually an improvement over the aerial imagery, but they aren’t always that clear, and often the roads are labelled incorrectly, especially in the Forests.

Detailed Stanislaus Forest Quad Maps

I usually use the quad maps from the  environmental review of the Motorized Travel Management Plan to plan rides in the Stanislaus because they are very detailed. They include minor trails, and they are reasonably up to date. I’ve started making a (fairly) seamless Google Earth overlay of the maps including the index sheet, and I’m making the overlay available for download as a .kmz file. Just download and open the file with Google Earth to make the quads available as overlays.

USFS Stanislaus Quad Maps

USFS Stanislaus Quad Maps as a Google Earth map overlay

Stanislaus Quad Maps Index. Cherry Lake North Quad is selected.

Stanislaus Quad Maps Index. Cherry Lake North Quad is selected.

I set these up using the crudest of approaches–they don’t auto-load as you pan around. Given the limited region they apply to, this is fairly acceptable. Selecting all the quads at once will slow things down considerably, so use the index to choose the quads you need. The quality of the overlay images is not as good as the pdf files available on the Stanislaus Forest web site, but the overlay will get you oriented and let you know which pdf file to look at if you need more detail.

The transparency slider can be applied to any layer in the map.

The transparency slider can be applied to any layer in the map.

Use the transparency slider at the bottom of the Places panel to adjust the transparency of the maps or index.

For more information on these maps please see the Stanislaus Forest page. I’ll finish converting the rest of the quads eventually and will post an update.

High Quality Map Overlays from CalTopo

CalTopo is a web mapping application created by Matt Jacobs to support his work with Search and Rescue operations. CalTopo can display gpx and kml files, but it doesn’t support all kml features. I’ve been able to display simple tracks, but it doesn’t work with the Tuolumne Bikes map. Where CalTopo really shines is in displaying and blending map layers, and the map layers available on CalTopo are remarkably clear. Fortunately, he has made the maps available as Google Earth overlays with image tiles or as network links.

The maps that caught my eye were very clear USFS topographic maps, USFS Visitor Maps, USGS topographic maps, and two age ranges of historic USGS topographic maps.

Caltopo Overlays

CalTopo Overlays for Lyons Reservoir

To try the overlays visit www.caltopo.com and click the KML link opposite “Layers” in the panel on the left. There are two options: custom downloads and Superoverlays.

The Superoverlays at the bottom have network links and cover the 50 states–the map tiles are loaded as needed when panning or zooming in Google Earth. I have found that they work fine as long as a single Superoverlay is opened in Google Earth first and is allowed to load before opening another kml file (such as a Tuolumne Bikes map). The Superoverlays do not appear to work if moved to “My Places”; they have to be loaded each time by opening the file. Mr. Jacobs is not Google, and it’s safe to assume he can’t afford to run a wide open map service with unlimited access for the entire US.

To make a custom overlay on CalTopo, choose a map type at the upper right corner of the screen, choose a zoom level and the extent on the map, and click to download a kml file with network links or a kmz file with image tiles. If you intend to use the overlay more than once, the kmz will reduce demands on CalTopo and will be the most dependable, but the download will be large and the map won’t be updated if changes are made to the source. Please read the CalTopo “about” page, and if you become a user, consider making a donation.

QUADS

QUADS is a free web application for “visualizing USGS quadrangle boundaries in Google Earth that provides an easy-to-use framework for retrieving georeferenced PDF topo maps from the USGS Store.” There’s good documentation for QUADS on the website of Metzger + Willard, Inc, it’s creator. I’ve found QUADS to be useful in two ways.

First, QUADS provides seamless USGS topographic map coverage, and it’s not restricted by the limitations for the CalTopo Superoverlays. Just download the file, open it and select “Layers” in the “Overlays” folder. Save it to “My Places” and turn it on when you need it. It’s a little bit slow, but dependable. The maps are good, but not as clear as the CalTopo maps.

QUADS USGS map, Lyons Reservoir

QUADS USGS map for Lyons Reservoir

The second way QUADS is useful is for its primary intended use. When I’ve tried to use the USGS Store to download pdf maps, I’ve usually had browser problems. QUADS works and really is much simpler because Google Earth has an interface that is more suited to the task than the browser interface on the USGS Store site. Download the White Paper on the QUADS website for a good explanation of how to use the “Search Results” folder in QUADS to find and download various versions of USGS maps from the USGS Store.

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Rim Fire Update

As the fire activity has decreased, smoke is more a nuisance rather than an acute health hazard now in Sonora. There’s usually a smoky smell in the mornings, but the air is reasonably clear, and conditions improve as the day warms up. The Inciweb site has provided links to daily air quality reports, and those reports have been “replaced with situational updates posted as necessary if the forecast indicates smoke impacts from the Rim fire are likely.” I think that’s good.

The Forest Closure Order remains in effect for the Groveland Ranger District and the part of the Mi-Wuk Ranger District south of Highway 108 and west of Pinecrest. See the Stanislaus Forest website for the closure order map and the Bald Mountain Webcam.

Bald Mountain Webcam (Little Sweden) toward Dardalles 9/14/13

Bald Mountain Webcam (Little Sweden) toward Dardalles 9/14/13

The webcam looks pretty good this morning. There’s plenty of riding north of 108. Pinecrest Peak and Herring Creek are not in the closure area, but have an alternate plan in case it’s smoky.

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The Rim Fire

I’ve been assuming the fire situation to be well-publicized and haven’t addressed it. But I am seeing traffic on the site, so here are some pointers for people who are from out of the area.

There are Forest Closure Orders in effect for large parts of the Stanislaus National Forest. See the Stanislaus website for details on the fire and the closure areas. With the smoke plume heading generally to the northeast from the fire, I don’t think there is anywhere in the Stanislaus that you would want to be right now.

The smoke travels downhill overnight and blankets the lower areas of the County. As the day heats up, the smoke plume turns uphill into the Forest. If you really want to exercise outdoors in Tuolumne County, plan for late afternoon in the lower elevations (2,000 feet or less). It’s not healthy air, but it doesn’t look and smell like smoke.

When the fire is fully contained, I’ll add the final perimeter to the Google Earth map for reference. A good time to visit the coast–please come visit when we are once again presentable.

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Herring Creek Loop

Ridge along Madhatters Rim Trail

Ridge along Madhatter Rim Trail

There are not a lot of complete loops to choose from at the higher elevations in the Stanislaus. Excepting the highway corridors, most of the high country is designated as Wilderness with no bikes allowed. The Herring Creek Loop is a well-known Forest Service unpaved road loop that ranges between 7,400 and 8,400 feet. The basic loop is 13 miles with pretty reasonable climbing and great views of an ever-changing panorama of surrounding eroded lava peaks. Adding on some more challenging OHV trail options provides access to some pretty interesting lava formations and a 8,800 foot peak. There are even some single-track options. It’s a great bike ride for when it’s just too hot down below,  and it doesn’t require exceptional skills or remarkable conditioning. There are two small campgrounds (no water, pit toilets) along Herring Creek and plenty of informal camp sites along the loop.

Main Loop

Find the start of the loop on Herring Creek Road (Forest Route 4N12) near the Trail of the Gargoyles. Herring Creek Road intersects with the south side of Highway 108 about 2.5 miles east of Strawberry; the Trail of the Gargoyles is approximately 6.7 miles from Highway 108. Look for a sign saying “Gargoyles” on the right and a trail on the left. It’s well worth the short side trip to go see the Gargoyles.

I put this loop in “casual and kids” with some reservations. It’s not easy and flat, and the elevation is a challenge. Think of it as “stout of heart casual and kids” I did this ride with my wife and kids when my kids were 11 and 13, and we all did fine. I would not consider the OHV trail side route options as “casual and kids”.

Wall of signs at start of loop on 4N12

Wall of signs at start of loop on 4N12

Rocky start

Rocky start

Just past the Gargoyles 4N12 splits to a loop–look for the “wall of signs” from the Forest Service. For more reasonable climbing, ride the main loop clockwise starting from the split. The road is generally wide and graded, but is rough and rocky in spots. The most rocky part is right at the beginning. The loop climbs steadily through forest and volcanic hill sides covered in mule’s ears flowers. For the base loop, there are no turns to make; at the top of the climb the road rambles a bit past some very nice meadows and vistas and then descends steeply and fairly roughly (with some washboard) to the campgrounds and the start of the loop.

Base loop on 4N12: 12.5 miles, 1,500 feet total climb.

4N12 apens

4N12 aspens

4N12 meadow

4N12 meadow

19EV114

19EV114

 

 

Lava Ridge on 19EV114

The first alternate loop branches to the left off of 4N12 about 4.2 miles from the start of the loop (traveling clockwise). There are two dead-end roads on the left before the turn off. Look for signs showing a fork to Forest Routes 5N74 and 19EV114. 5N74 is a dead end, but 19EV114 is an OHV trail that climbs to the top of the ridge that parallels the north side of the 4N12 loop. There are a couple of steep parts, some loose material, and the usual OHV cross-slope all of which often combine to make OHV trails challenging to ride. But the detour is short (3.7 miles) and the reward is great. The ridge is lava in varying stages of wear: there’s solid rock with tire tracks and occasional ducks for guidance, pebbly gravel and sand, and a large expanse of hilltop covered in mule’s ears.

Climb on 19EV114

Climb on 19EV114

On 19EV114 there are two side opportunities to catch striking views. The first appears as eroding lava bluffs on the right of the trail about 1.5 miles from 4N12. There’s a trail for hiking to the top to take in a lava landscape with views to the east, south, and west.

Bottom of bluff

Bottom of bluff–look for trail on right

Lava ridgetop

Lava ridge top

The second is further up the trail past a wide expanse of mule’s ears. Follow the trail up the lava to the top of the hill marked with a pile of rocks and take in a full 360 degree panorama. There are also numerous “gargoyle” formations along the edges of the ridge.

Approach to lava ridge

Approach to lava ridge

Lava ascent

Lava ascent

Lava ridge panorama 1

Lava ridge panorama 1

Lava ridge panorama 2

Lava ridge panorama 2

Lava ridge panorama 3

Lava ridge panorama 3

Return to the trail by backtracking and watching for wheel tracks continuing off to the left. The trail passes a junction with another OHV trail out to Eagle Peak before doubling back and descending to 4N12.

OHV trail 19EV114 side trip: Add 1.5 miles to 4N12 loop, add 500 feet of climbing.

Hammill Canyon Trail

The second alternate is the Hammill Canyon Trail. Look for the start of the trail on the right of 4N12 just before the trail to Bloomer Lake (about 5.6 miles from start of the loop traveling clockwise). It’s kind of hard to find. Once on the trail, watch for a large granite formation on the left before descending a steep hill in loose soil. There are multiple tracks. At the bottom of the hill the trail consolidates as a clean and moderately challenging single-track parallel to Herring Creek as it descends to Herring Creek Reservoir and the campground. There are some obstacles and mountain bike ramps on the way.

4N12/Hammill Canyon loop: 10.7 miles, total climb 1,200 feet.

Madhatter Rim Trail

Another side loop is Forest Route 5N67, the Madhatter Rim OHV Trail. 5N67 intersects 4N12 on the left (10 miles from start of base loop, traveling clockwise).

5N67

5N67

This trail has some fairly miserable sections with very steep, deep, and loose volcanic sand/dust, but a short scramble off of the trail accesses a peak with panoramic views. There is also an area just past the parking lot with tortured junipers and views out over the upper South Fork Stanislaus, the Emigrant Wilderness, and across to Dodge Ridge Ski Area. Ride it because you love the challenge and you want to see what’s out there, but allow yourself some extra time.

Madhatter hillside

Madhatter hillside

Madhatter steep

Madhatter steep

Madhatter ridge

Madhatter ridge

Peak view

Peak view

5N67 ends at the Waterhouse Lake trail head where you can head back to the main loop by turning right on 5N31 or head out to Pinecrest Peak on 5N55Y or 5N31.

5N67 with return on 5N31: Add 2 miles and 550 feet (hard) climbing to 4N12 loop.

Waterhouse Lake trailhead August 2010

Waterhouse Lake trailhead August 2010–a small fire left to burn as a managed burn.


Roads out to Pinecrest Peak

Pinecrest Peak has more great views and is the start (end) of the Pinecrest Peak Trail which descends to Strawberry. The Pinecrest Peak Trail is a multi-use trail that is a popular and challenging downhill ride for mountain bikes. Also see http://ogrehut.com/trails.php/Sierra-South/Pinecrest for more.

5N67 and loop to Pinecrest Peak: Add 4.5 miles and 900 feet climbing to 4N12 loop.

Out and back to Pinecrest Peak on 5N31 and 5N55Y: Add 3.75 miles and 575 feet of climbing.

Pinecrest Peak

Pinecrest Peak

Pinecrest Peak

Pinecrest Peak view toward Emigrant Wilderness

Click on “View Larger Map” to allow selection of individual loops.

herringcreek GE map
Download the Google Earth bike map featuring this loop

Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—Remote roads and trails, elevation can be a factor–dial back expectations for speed and distance and check weather for potential summer thunderstorm/lightning activity, volcanic soils can be challenging on the alternate trails, area and campgrounds get crowded when deer season opens (mid September).
  • Upside—Striking scenery, good range of options for varied abilities and interests, lots of camping options.
  • Dispersed camping sites all around–observe Forest Motorized Vehicle Use restrictions.
  • Good maps for these loops are the Stanislaus Forest Motorized Travel Management DEIS pdf file maps. Use the Pinecrest, Donnell Lake, and Dardanelle quads.
  • roads: dirt and gravel.
  • terrain: moderate on main loop to very steep on OHV trails.
  • tires: cross to mountain, most will prefer mountain.
  • seasons: Closed during winter (Dec 16–April 14).
  • current weather
Posted in casual and kids, high country, unpaved | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Bald Mountain Heliport Webcam

I’ve been meaning to get this on the site, and today is the day. When there’s a question about whether there’s fire, smoke, or thunderstorms, it can be handy to check the Bald Mountain Heliport Webcam on the Stanislaus Forest site.

Bald Mountain Webcam

Bald Mountain Webcam

It’s not too often that it’s pointed straight at a fire, but, as I said, today is the day. Save riding at Beardsley for another time, and think positive thoughts for the firefighters and pilots. Be aware that there are other Bald Mountain Webcam views on the Forest Service site; the others appear to be in the southern Sierra.

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longhorn village less sugar bike

The blog comes with a fairly comprehensive report of statistics. Things are good and the traffic is steadily increasing. But let’s face it, if I was expecting to set records for web traffic, it would be time to throw in the towel. My best month is nowhere near a worst day for many blogs, but many blogs are not about riding bicycles out in the boonies.

I committed myself to getting this site up and running with a good representation of the most popular rides in the area before making any judgements. I’m still not there. Still, last month had almost as much traffic as the whole first year (2012). There is a growing awareness of the site, but much of the growth in traffic has to do with having more content for Google to make matches to.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • About 1/3 of the hits on specific pages (not the homepage with the posts strung together) are for the Sugar Pine Rail Trail-Twain Harte to Lyons Dam. The rest of the Sugar Pine branch from Lyons to Strawberry is coming soon.
  • People search for some odd stuff, hence the title of this post. Hope they found what they were looking for. I get some interesting searches with “glory hole” in them.
  • Since I started adding links with a map image showing a profile, people are using the Google Earth maps. About 1/4 of the click on links on the site are for the maps. I haven’t set up stats for my Google Sites page, so I don’t know how much the maps are used without the blog.
  • The “mixed” category is more popular than “paved” and “unpaved”. This is somewhat self-fulfilling since there are more posts for mixed loops, but there is strong interest in the longer “all roads” or “gravel grinder” rides. Got many of those yet to post and even more yet to ride.
  • “Casual and kids” is third behind “mid-elevation” and “mixed”.
  • Hardly anybody leaves comments. Ultimately I want this site to be a trustworthy resource for the public. Anything I have written up or mapped is something that I have ridden, but I have my biases. I am far more exceptional for having the will to put this all together than for my skill as cyclist or my expertise on the area. If you know more about a ride or area that you can share, or if you really enjoyed or had problems on a ride, please leave a comment so the next poor slob can benefit from your experience. Thanks!

 

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Westside Rail Trail, Clavey River

New rail tunnel

New rail tunnel

The area of this ride is affected by the Stanislaus National Forest Rim Fire closure order. See the Rim Fire Closure Area page and the Stanislaus Forest website for details.

The Tuolumne Westside Rail Trail gets most of the attention, and it deserves it for its easy access, better than average state of preservation, and proximity to the historic Westside Lumber Mill site. Its a great local recreation trail, and it tells a story. But there’s so much more to tell.

wsrrThe Clavey River section of the Westside mainline is maintained as an interpretive trail by the Stanislaus National Forest and has connections to an extensive network of lightly-traveled roads and trails which are mostly on old Westside Railroad alignments. These trails are a find for riders looking for a bike ride on mountain roads that are not too steep and a good deal of fun to bomb around on. Look for the rail trail interpretive pamphlet at the Mi Wuk Ranger Station on Highway 108.

This post is tagged “casual and kids”. The two out-and-backs included will work for many, but they are not flat bike paths. They may not be casual enough for some grown-ups and may be overwhelming for small kids. There are no facilities at all on the shorter rides; the closest are pit toilets at the Hull Creek campground on 3N01 and a piped spring at the entrance to the campground. Milk shakes will have to wait for the return trip on Highway 108.

The area and rail trail itself are open for OHV use, but realize that a rail trail is probably not a big draw for the hard-core thrill-seekers of the OHV world. I have met a few OHVers on the trail, but I have not had anything close to a problem with out of control OHVs. We should probably thank them for helping to keep the trail clear.

I’ve mapped four rides for this post; I’ll go through them in order of increasing length and difficulty. Access to all is via Highway 108, Merrill Springs Road,  and Forest Route 31 (3N01) south of Long Barn. The first three start at the intersection of 3N01 and 3N86 about 1 mile west of the 3N01 Clavey River bridge.

Westside Rail Trail Clavey River Segment and Clavey Trestle Site Out-and-Backs

3N01 mileages

3N01 mileage sign

Wide track at start of rail trail

Wide track at start of rail trail

Look for 3N86 across from 3N10 and next to the mileage sign. 3N86 starts as a road and narrows after it passes some informal campsites. There are places to park, but be aware of the Forest Motorized Vehicle Use restrictions. 3N86 works it’s way downhill for two miles until reaching a crossroads of dirt trails after descending a short but steeper than usual hill. Keep the initial downhill in mind when planning an out-and-back with kids. (Note that trail segment of the rail trail has various trail designations on USFS maps: 17EV299, 17EV51, and 17EV14. It is signed as 3N86 at the road segments on both ends, so I’m sticking with 3N86.)

Junction of rail trail and Clavey Trestle out-and-back

Junction of rail trail and Clavey Trestle out-and-back

Stacked rock abutment of Clavey Trestle

Stacked rock abutment of Clavey Trestle

At the crossroads the decisions start. Turn to the left for the Clavey Trestle out-and-back, a short  ride on a narrow trail out to the remaining stacked rock abutments and concrete footings of the Clavey River trestle. At the end there’s a steep hiking trail down to the river for exploring.

Clavey Trestle footings

Clavey Trestle footings

Clavey Trestle out-and-back: 5.4 mile total round trip from 3N01 with about 400 feet of climbing, 1.2 mile round trip from the rail trail junction  with negligible climbing. All dirt.

Turn right at the junction for the interpretive rail trail. The rail trail out-and-back travels the most open and accessible part of the interpretive trail. The rail trail is missing all of the railroad bridges, so the creek crossings create challenges.

Rail Trail drainagendetour

Rail Trail drainage detour

The first few miles of trail are easy, but it gets tougher further out. The bridge bypass trails get more challenging, and with the decrease in traffic, the obstacles on the trail multiply. Choose your turn around spot according to distance and the skill and  determination of your group. I mapped the end of the out-and-back at the first of the more difficult creek crossings just past Forest Route 3N83. Bring the interpretive guide, but expect to work a bit to find some of the sites referenced in the guide.

Rail Trail out-and-back: 11 miles round trip from 3N01, about 600 feet of climbing, all dirt.

Westside Rail Trail Clavey River Segment with Return on 3N83

If you don’t mind some climbing, there is a 13-mile-long loop returning via 3N83 and 3N01. The climb up from the rail trail is steep and dirt, but eventually the road transitions through gravel and deteriorated pavement to a paved road mostly on a railroad alignment. 3N83 eventually meets 3N01 and a short paved descent to the starting point. Ride this loop counter-clockwise for easier going on the dirt, but plan to shuttle (very short) or be prepared for a steep climb on 3N01 to close the loop.

Short/3N83 loop: 13 miles, about 1,200 feet of climbing, about 1/2 paved.

Westside Through-loop including 2N07 and 3N08

There are a lot of options for a longer loop in this area. The Forest Service has signage posted on 3N07 for the Westside Rail Tour–the Rail Tour down to and including part of the rail trail is wide and buried in a sometimes deep layer of gravel. It’s not as bad now as when the gravel was first put in, but the wide road is less interesting and the deep gravel makes for unpleasant riding in spots. This road was designed as a motor vehicle experience. 3N08 is the real deal for bikes, so I used it to make a longer and much more fun loop. I don’t like driving out further than necessary, so this loop starts at the intersection of 3No1 and 3N08.

After finding 3No8 on the right after the climb out of the North Fork Tuolumne River canyon on 3N01, park where convenient and head out clockwise on 3N01. I chose clockwise and will describe the loop that way, but there’s no real reason to choose one direction over the other.

3N09 sign

3N09 sign

The mapped loop uses 3N09 to cut down on pavement, but 3No1 works well too. The paved road cuts out about one mile and 400 feet of climbing; 3No9 has a little stretch with  solid but rocky volcanic surface. Both have parts on old railroad alignments.

Private property on 3N09; stay on the road

Private property on 3N09; stay on the road

Obstructions

Obstructions

Arriving at 3N86 via 3No1, proceed as per the rail trail out-and-back–but don’t stop. There’s nothing horribly difficult out there, but as the number of obstacles increases, the riding slows down.

Creek crossing

Creek crossing

Snow plant

Snow plant

View over the Hull Creek Drainage

View over the Hull Creek Drainage

Eventually the trail transitions to a wide gravel road. As the view opens up watch for the cut of the mainline across the way to the southwest and a concentration of railroad detritus at Camp 24. The blocked turn off for the mainline is evident on the left just past the Hull Creek crossing. 3N86 continues on a branch line.

Looking back along 3N86 and across Hull Creek to mainline

Looking back along 3N86 and across Hull Creek to mainline

Tank

Tank

Water for engines

Water for engines

Junction at Camp 24

Junction at Camp 24

Enjoy the meadow on the left as 3N86 joins 3N07 at a T-intersection. Turn left on 3N07, right on 2N07, and right on 3N08 to complete the loop. 2N07 and 3N08 are narrow, zippy roads on Westside branch lines. 3N08 gets quite narrow in spots, but never quite single-track. The Wright’s Creek crossing on 3N08 takes some rock-hopping or wet feet if the creek is high in the spring. Enjoy the views out over the North Fork Tuolumne and peeks out to the Dardanelles on the home stretch of 3No8.

Wright's Creek crossing on 3N08

Wright’s Creek crossing on 3N08

3N08

3N08

Long/3N08 loop: 33 miles, about 2,400 feet of climbing, 7.5 miles paved. With 3N01 instead of 3N09, 32 miles, 2,000 feet, 11 miles paved.

Not long enough? Combine with the Basin Loop out of Tuolumne and/or the Paved Road to Nowhere with return via the Strawberry branch of the Sugar Pine Rail Trail and Frasier Flat Road (not mapped yet).

Click on “View Larger Map” to allow selection of individual loops.

wsrrclavey GE map
Download the Google Earth bike map featuring this loop

Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—Lack of facilities, remote roads and trails.
  • Upside—Varied length routes with reasonable climbing for average riders, scenic and historic, free Stanislaus Forest interpretive guide, roads generally well-marked.
  • Dispersed camping sites all around–observe Forest Motorized Vehicle Use restrictions.
  • Smaller trails abound, expect OHV-steep slopes and loose surfaces.
  • Several cell sites are painted on 3N01–test before relying on them.
  • The best maps for these loops are the Stanislaus Forest Motorized Travel Management DEIS pdf file maps. Use the Hull Creek and Twain Harte quads. The labeling of the rail trail segment on maps is not consistent. The Forest Service has signed it 3N86 at both ends–I’m inclined to call it 3N86. It’s not hard to follow because it looks like a rail trail–level and windy.
  • roads: paved, gravel, dirt.
  • terrain: moderate to very steep with railroad grade roads and trails.
  • tires: cross to mountain, most will prefer mountain.
  • seasons: Closed during winter (Dec 16–April 14).
  • current weather
Posted in casual and kids, mid elevation, mixed | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Basin Loop

2N07 Bear

Forest Route 2N07

The area of this ride may be affected by the Stanislaus National Forest Rim Fire closure order. See the Rim Fire Closure Area page and the Stanislaus Forest website for details.

The Basin is a descriptively named forested basin in the Stanislaus National Forest east of Tuolumne. This loop uses dirt and gravel roads and paved Cottonwood Road which encircle the Basin, and it’s a good starting point for exploring the network of  Forest Service routes located on the main and branch lines of the historic Westside Railroad. This area is remote and there are no facilities at all, so carry food and plenty of water.

I’ll be gradually adding more bike rides on the Westside. The mountain logging railroad grades were far from flat. The slopes generally max out at about five percent which is good for more moderate climbing and occasional zippy descents on the curving alignments. The Westside roads show more of the charm and history of their narrow-gauge railroad heritage than many of the roads on the standard-gauge Sugar Pine Railroad to the north along the Stanislaus River. The Sugar Pine branches are more commonly converted to wider and higher use logging roads. Eventually I hope to get both railroads well mapped with a good selection of loops.

With that said, this ride requires significant climbing. The difference between riding this loop clockwise and counterclockwise is notable. The climb from the river to the highest point on the loop on Forest Route 2n07 is steep: 8.5 percent average slope for six miles. Traveling counterclockwise to climb on Cottonwood Road and some of the railroad grades, the same climb takes fourteen miles.

I started this loop at the Westside Rail Trail trailhead. From the end of the rail trail take the short single-track down to Cottonwood Road and proceed past the North Fork Tuolumne River uphill to Forest Route 2N07. I like hard climbs, so I rode the loop clockwise, and I was rewarded with an encounter with that curious bear on 2N07. I saw him (her?) and stopped to get out the camera, and he saw me and started walking down the hill toward me. I got a couple pictures and decided I really didn’t need to see him too close. A “Hi Bear!” reminded him about noisy humans and inspired him to bolt into the woods.

2N07 at Cottonwood Road

2N07 at Cottonwood Road

Climb on 2N07

Climb on 2N07

View southwest from 2N07 toward the North Fork Tuolumne

View southwest from 2N07 toward the North Fork Tuolumne

Through cut on 2N07

Through cut on 2N07

Logging cable on 3N07

Logging cable on 3N07

After the summit, 2N07 transitions to rail alignment with narrow through cuts and the telltale consistent grade. This continues on 3N07 until reaching the intersection of the mainline at 2N52 just before the cattle guard and gate. After that, 3N07 is a logging road until its end at Cottonwood Road. Cottonwood Road descends quite uniformly until crossing the river. There’s an additional decision to either return via the rail trail or on the paved road with some extra climbing.

Dogwoods on 3N07

Dogwoods on 3N07

3N07

3N07

Private property on 3N07

Private property on 3N07, stay on the roads

To shorten the loop by cutting out the rail trail, park off the road at the intersection of Cottonwood Road and 2No7.

Extend the ride and add some climbing by adding in 2N06, 2N54, and 2N52 (not included in the loop, but mapped on the Google Earth map). An out and back to the north on 2n54 eventually dead ends in a thicket, but it’s part of the Westside main line, and there’s some nice views out over Hull Creek and the Clavey River toward the end.

basinGEmap
Download the Google Earth bike map featuring this loop

Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—Long hard ride on remote roads, no conveniences, roads closed in winter.
  • Upside—More to the railroads than the well known rail trails, parking at Westside trailhead, lightly visited area of the Forest, could ride straight out from the new hotel at the Black Oak Casino.
  • roads: 13.5 miles paved, 16.5 miles gravel and dirt; 30 miles total with about 4,500 feet of climbing (18 miles/3,500 feet without ride out from rail trail).
  • terrain: moderate to very steep.
  • tires: cross to mountain.
  • seasons: Closed in winter.
  • current weather
Posted in mid elevation, mixed | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Changes

Sunset approaching on North Fork overlook trail, American Camp

Sunset approaching on North Fork overlook trail, American Camp

Some updates to note:

  • Revision of Tuolumne Westside Rail Trail post.
  • Revision of American Camp Fire Lookout post.
  • Addition of labels to loops on Tuolumne Bikes Google Earth map–makes it easier to navigate the blog using the map.
  • Updates to the Using Google Earth page to reflect changes in the Tuolumne Bikes maps.
  • Added links for The Logging Road Cyclist and Steve Litt’s Guide to Transportational Cycling. I like what these sites represent for the world of cycling. Virtually everything on the web comes with an ad, membership, or worst of all, content that is advertising. These sites are cyclists sharing their vision for free, the way the web used to be. They each have a pretty unique point of view.

TLRC is a kindred spirit as far as taking the bike out to nowhere. A fun site.

Steve Litt’s site is a throwback in web design to the Strawberry Pop Tart Blowtorches era. I don’t quite buy his theory on chain wear, but I like his graphics and attitude. Bikes (and riders) don’t always need to be so precious or fashionable. Pretty much the MS-DOS of bikes in the iPhone era. I especially like the story about his daughter and the rusty chain.

The truth is, what passes for cycling these days is more diverse than ever, and the web has had a lot to do with that. I appreciate all of it and even the ad-blogs come in handy when I want to find out about a tire or some other bike gizmo.

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Italian Bar Road to Jupiter and Back

Ain’t no joke, you can ride your bike to Jupiter. This is a long gravel road bike ride to  remote areas between the South and Middle Forks of the Stanislaus River in the  Stanislaus National Forest. Choose this loop if you like an adventure and want to get out on the open road and ramble–if you want technical or single-track, it’s probably not for you. Much of the road is wide and fairly smooth although there are some steep, bumpy, and washboard areas. The main loop is almost all unpaved and there are options for returning on pavement, a shorter all unpaved loop, and ways to extend if 45 mostly unpaved miles with 6,000 feet of climbing is just not enough. Riding the loop as mapped, there are no facilities outside of Columbia or a detour into Twain Harte, so carry food and plenty of water.

St. Charles Saloon, Columbia

St. Charles Saloon, Columbia

Italian Bar Road with ditch

Italian Bar Road with ditch

Descent to Rose Creek

Descent to Rose Creek

The journey starts and ends on Italian Bar Road at the St. Charles Saloon in Columbia. Ride north from Columbia and follow Italian Bar Road clockwise to its end at the South Fork Stanislaus north of Twain Harte where it turns into South Fork Road.

The descent into and climb out of the river canyon north of Columbia start the ride with the steepest and roughest part of the loop. After leveling out past Grant Ridge Road (Forest Route 3N11), the climbing isn’t over, but the terrain is more moderate and you can pick up the pace. The forest is mostly black oak, grey pine, and ponderosa pine with some areas of blue oaks or chaparral. There are descents and climbs for Rose Creek and Eagle Creek before arriving in Jupiter.

When Mrs. Tuolumne Bikes and I were shopping for a house around here, we asked our realtor about a decent looking and very cheap house in Jupiter. She told us all about how dangerous it is out there with meth cooking and dope growing and baby eating blah, blah, blah. If you’re inclined to believe such things, don’t go out there. There are people who don’t mind living off the grid and enduring a long ride to town on a pretty funky road in exchange for peace and quiet and being left alone. Stay on the road and they aren’t likely to worry much about you. Nobody has ever bothered me.

Knight Creek Bridge

Knight Creek Bridge

Honestly, excepting cabins and one spot that looks like the place where the tornado dropped the trailer park, you’d hardly know you’re in Jupiter but for a smattering of driveways  and roads branching off Italian Bar. Jupiter was a big deal when the mines were hopping, but there’s not a lot to see except some abandoned ditch segments and the great outdoors. Jupiter Road (gated and posted) travels east through a corridor of private property shaped like a chain of old mining claims and rejoins Italian Bar.

Jupiter Ditch

Jupiter ditch

Decaying Fencepost

Mother Nature’s fencepost

Moving on, there are a series of fine meadows leading up to more homes at the other end of Jupiter Road.

Meadow

Meadow

Meadow

Meadow

Meadow at Hess Mill site

Meadow at Hess Mill site

Barn at Hess Mill site

Barn at Hess Mill site

A rough road

A rough road

Another creek, another bridge

Another creek, another bridge

On the climb past the eastern end of Grant Ridge Road and descent to the Deer Creek OHV area the road widens and shows the signs of heavier traffic. The surface is mostly tighter and washboarding comes and goes. Especially on weekends during OHV season the remaining ride out on Italian Bar and South Fork Roads can be dusty as the OHVers drive in and out with trucks and trailers. Think off-season, off-peak times, or extend the ride per the add-ons below to avoid this section.

Deer Creek OHV area

Deer Creek OHV area

The descent to the South Fork and climb out on South Fork Road are comparatively gentle grades.

Ditch above South Fork Road

Ditch above South Fork Road

There are many ways to work back to Columbia from South Fork Road. Where the pavement starts there is a short and steep dirt road/trail leading uphill from South Fork Road to the ditch trail. The ditch trail is dirt and runs parallel to the road–you can alternate along the ditch and road as you see fit. The ditch trail is nearly level, so if your legs are shot it will cut down the climbing. Riding the ditch involves a fair amount of maneuvering around and over flumes, stairways, etc which can be a bit slow at the end of a long ride. Ride a suitable combination of roads and the ditch to the intersection of Middle Camp and Mt. Elizabeth Roads.

Return Options

Maximum unpaved loop: For an unpaved return, turn right and ride up Mt. Elizabeth Road to rejoin the ditch and proceed through Cedar Ridge to Old Oak Road (paved). Descend Old Oak Road to Big Hill Road and ride up Big Hill to Five Mile Creek Road. Use the first half of the Yankee Hill/Five Mile Creek ride in reverse to return to Columbia. About 45 miles, 11 miles paved, about 6,000 feet climb.

Maximum paved loop: For a paved return take Middle Camp to Longeway to Big Hill and return to Columbia on Big Hill via Yankee Hill Road/Jackson Street. About 42 miles, 18 miles paved, about 6,500 feet climb.

Hobbling home: Ride the ditch to Old Oak Road and descend on Big Hill Road to minimize climbing if you’re running out of gas.

Grant Ridge loop:  Another alternate is a loop of Italian Bar and Grant Ridge Road. It’s easy to look at a map and conclude that Grant Ridge is a shortcut (ha!). Grant Ridge is a beast from west to east, not as bad traveling downhill (net) to the west. Expect very steep exposed climbs and some loose rocky areas. A ride on Grant Ridge straddles that uneasy divide between proving that you are either a remarkable stud or something of an  idiot. It may depend on how hot it is and how much water you have. 19 miles, 4,000 feet of climb if driving out and parking at American Camp Station, 44 miles, 5 paved, 7,000 feet of climb riding from Columbia.

Add-ons (not mapped):

The Two Towers–Add in an out-and-back to American Camp and replace the Cedar Ridge ditch segment with the Mt. Elizabeth Cedar Ridge Loop. Plan on beefier tires or some hike-a-bike for the Cedar Ridge descent.

The Two Forks–Combine with the Camp Nine Ibar Loop.

Avoid Deer Creek OHV Traffic–Take 4N01 to Fraser Flat and return on rail trail and ditch as per Pinecrest to Columbia. Look for 4N01 spray painted on a tree at the northernmost point on Italian Bar. Adds a climb on 4N01 and miles, but cuts out final climbs on Italian Bar and South Fork. Return from Fraser Flat is mild but long.

Avoid Deer Creek OHV Traffic II–Connect to rail trails via 4N16 or 4N17 and cross Lyons Dam to the Lyons Dam/Twain Harte Sugar Pine segment. Requires some scrambling and rocky trail riding on the Sugar Pine mainline to get to Lyons. See Sugar Pine North of Lyons (coming soon).

The Two Forks II–Combine with the Camp Nine Ibar Loop and take 4N01 to Fraser Flat. Could be an overnight camping loop. Watch for private property–no camping there. Could also use 4N17 to connect from Italian Bar to 4N01 at Schoettgen Pass.

The Two Forks II (a) aka Ibar with no Ibar–Combine Camp Nine Ibar Loop and take 4N01 to Fraser Flat, but use 4N04 to bypass 3N03 and Italian Bar. Cuts out brutal 3N03 and replaces it with more reasonably brutal climb on 4N04. Reduces up and down considerably.

The Two Forks III–Combine with the Camp Nine Ibar Loop and Avoid Deer Creek OHV Traffic II.

ibargemap
Download the Google Earth bike map featuring this loop

Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—Long hard ride on remote roads, potential for late summer dust from vehicle traffic, summer heat, winter snow and spring mud are possibilities.
  • Upside—Challenging adventure, very little traffic, beautiful country, easy to combine with other loops to extend.
  • roads: paved, gravel, dirt.
  • terrain: moderate to very steep.
  • tires: cross to mountain.
  • seasons: All with precautions for summer heat and winter snow.
  • current weather
Posted in mid elevation, mixed | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Columbia Airport-College Loop

Church of the 49ers, Columbia

Church of the 49ers, Columbia

The Airport-College Loop is a useful road bike ride for riders who are not used to hills, who are working on getting back into shape, or for anyone visiting Columbia who wants to include a short and not too demanding ride in their day. I’ve included this one in the “casual and kids” category; this ride includes short stretches on potentially busy roads, so this may be more casual than kids. There are several variations for this ride; I’ll present a main loop with some alternatives.

Columbia Mercantile

Columbia Mercantile

The basic loop starts from Columbia State Historic Park and heads north on sometimes busy Parrotts Ferry Road for 0.5 mile before turning left at North Airport Road. North Airport starts a series of lightly-traveled residential roads around Columbia Airport. After one mile turn left at Chili Gulch Road and climb the longest hill on the loop.

Chili Gulch Road

Chili Gulch Road

The road changes to Bennett Road at the top of the hill. Enjoy the descent and watch for the rocky Table Mountain area as you approach Horseshoe Bend Road. In the springtime there are pools and wildflowers to admire.

Table Mountain in springtime

Table Mountain in springtime

Turn left at Horseshoe Bend and do a short and gradual climb before bearing left into a sharp descent to the Airport runway area. Bear right at the bottom of the hill and continue to Springfield Road. Turn right onto Springfield Road and immediately bear left onto Shaws Flat Road. After 0.5 mile, Shaws Flat leads to a left turn onto narrow Union Hill Road. Another half-mile brings you back to Parrotts Ferry Road.

Valley Oak at Sawmill Flat Road

Valley Oak at Sawmill Flat Road

The Union Hill/Parrotts Ferry Road intersection can be tricky if traffic is heavy. Cars come quickly onto Parrotts Ferry from the Highway 49 ramp. Turn left onto Parrotts Ferry and take the first right onto Sawmill Flat Road. Sawmill Flat leads to the main entrance to Columbia College, so during class transitions traffic can be heavy. The road is narrow with minimal shoulders. After 2.2 miles Sawmill Flat circles around to Yankee Hill Road. Turn left at Yankee Hill and roll through a couple short hills back to Columbia.

Alternates:
The bare minimum (not mapped). Instead of turning right from Horseshoe Bend Road onto Springfield Road, turn left to return to Parrotts Ferry Road. Turn left on Parrotts Ferry to return to the park–watch for traffic. Cuts total to 4.6 miles with about 400 feet of climbing.

Add on Mt. Brow Road. After turning right onto Springfield Road and bearing left, turn right to stay on Springfield Road for another  0.8 mile.  Turn right onto Highway 49 and then take a quick left onto Mt. Brow Road. Take Mt. Brow to Jamestown Road (left) to Shaws Flat Road and turn left. Cross Highway 49, and turn right onto Union Hill Road to continue the loop. Adds 2.7 miles, 200 feet of climbing.

Springfield Road

Springfield Road

Mt. Brow Road

Mt. Brow Road

Old Sonora Aggregates Plant

Old Sonora Aggregates Plant, Shaws Flat Road

Howser Lane (gravel and hilly). Instead of turning right from Horseshoe Bend Road onto Springfield Road, turn left to return to Parrotts Ferry Road. Proceed across Parrotts Ferry onto gravel Howser Lane. Climb Howser Lane to the College emergency egress road and proceed through the campus and out the main entrance onto Sawmill Flat Road. Turn left to rejoin the loop. Avoids Parrotts Ferry and College traffic on Sawmill Flat, cuts to 8 miles, adds 150 feet of climbing.

Add on Yankee Hill (gravel and very hilly). If you want more and very steep climbing, turn right at Yankee Hill Road (paved) and climb to Cattle Drive Trail. Turn left to travel on gravel and dirt down to Italian Bar Road. Turn left onto Italian Bar to return to the park. Adds 3.4 miles, 850 feet of climbing.

Yankee Hill Driveway

Yankee Hill Driveway

Italian Bar Road

Italian Bar Road


 
airportcollegegemap
Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map

Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map files
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—More exposure to traffic than many rides on this site, some alternates include gravel.
  • Upside—Short and less climbing than usual for foothills, easy access from town, flexible to accommodate your needs and abilities, see the community and not just the park, can be a warm-up loop for some of the more challenging rides out of Columbia.
  • Main loop 8.3 miles, about 800 feet total climb.
  • roads: Main loop paved, gravel segments on some alternate loops.
  • terrain: moderate.
  • tires: road to cross.
  • seasons: All, but can be very hot in summer.
  • current weather
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Elizabeth Peak

Elizabeth Peak from Forest Route 3N99

Elizabeth Peak from Forest Route 3N99

This is a pair of short loops that share a climb up Elizabeth Peak in Twain Harte. Each makes a fine close-to-civilization mountain bike ride on its own, or they can be combined as a figure eight or joined with adjacent loops for a longer ride. Both loops include paved/dirt/gravel Mt. Elizabeth Road, which climbs the south side of the mountain, and a much steeper and more challenging trail on the back of the mountain. Because the trails are steep, it’s recommended to climb on the road and descend on the trails. One trail descends to the west to the back side of the Cedar Ridge subdivision; the other descends eastward to Forest Route 3N99 which leads to South Fork Road near the South Fork Stanislaus.

The trail sections of these loops are off the radar for most Forest Service maps. The best maps for these loops are the Stanislaus Forest Motorized Travel Management DEIS pdf file maps. Use the Columbia SE quad for the Cedar Ridge loop and the Twain Harte quad for the South Fork loop.  Zoom in on the area you will need and choose “Current View” in the Adobe Reader print dialog box to print a map with sufficient detail. The descriptions below and the Tuolumne Bikes Google Earth file will help, but there are more roads than I can fit on my map, and the quad maps have everything on them. A backpacking GPS is a good idea for this area–not because it is remote but because it is heavily used and some of the routes are not signed. The Forest Service areas that these rides access are close to town and show the wear of easy public access.

Start either ride at the ditch crossing at the top of the hill on Kewen Mill Road in Cedar Ridge. There is a parking area with a split rail fence.

Parking area on Kewen Mill Road at ditch.

Parking area on Kewen Mill Road at ditch.

Ride the ditch east to the next road crossing which is Mt. Elizabeth Road.

Ditch Trail

Ditch Trail

Short flume section on ditch

Short flume section on ditch

Turn left to climb on pavement which soon turns to dirt.

Paved start on Mt Elizabeth Road

Paved start on Mt Elizabeth Road

There are some turn offs, but it’s pretty easy to identify the main road. The road keeps climbing to the fire lookout and antennas at the peak.

2N03Y

2N03Y

The South Fork ride starts at a turn off at a clearing on the right of Mt Elizabeth Road well before reaching the peak. The road turns right and transitions from gravel to dirt. Look for the 2N03Y sign on the right. After a short straight stretch look for the clearing on the right as the road turns left. There is a sequence of landings and skid roads that lead downhill to a well defined dirt road as you travel east and north. Bear to the right more than left. Look for a single-track trail leaving the road on the left just past a fallen pine tree and a group of stumps.

Descending skid roads

Descending skid roads

Turn off to single track trail on the left just past the stump

Turn off to single track trail on the left just past the stumps

Descending single track

Descending single track

3N99

3N99

From there the trail is well defined but narrow and steep. The trail has limited visibility and is open to hikers and equestrians, so use caution. The trail ends with a steep and eroded section at the western end of Forest Route 3N99. Take 3N99 to South Fork Road and turn right to return to the start. The mapped loop uses more of the ditch trail–the ditch in this area runs along  South Fork Road, so ride the road if you prefer. The gated road opposite 3N99 at South Fork Road leads up to the ditch and Sugar Pine Rail Trail, so you can also do all the climbing at once and avoid the potential for vehicle dust on South Fork Road. I did not map this option.

Narrow ditch segment

Narrow ditch segment

The ditch segment through the Golf Course includes a long flume and leads to a section through a narrow steep cleft that’s not really appropriate for bikes. Even if you can ride this without getting wet, think about what you’re putting in the water. The loop follows the surface streets in this area: South Fork Road merges with Middle Camp Road, look for Mt. Elizabeth Road on the right to climb back to the ditch for the return to the parking area or to climb again to start the Cedar Ridge loop.

To do the Cedar Ridge loop, look for a wide open road/clearing on the right at the hairpin turn just before the final ascent to the tower. Ride up to the tower just to see it, beat on your chest, and to confirm where you are. It’ll be clear which switchback it is on the way back down.

Landing at start of Cedar Ridge trail

Landing at start of Cedar Ridge trail

The trail starts on the far side of the clearing.

Start of Cedar Ridge Trail

Start of Cedar Ridge Trail

The trail is a former OHV trail along a ridge which has been closed to motorized use by placing boulders across the entrance. Parts of the trail are any or all of quite steep, eroded, or rocky and there is often a significant cross slope. Visibility is good and moderately skilled rider can do a pretty speedy descent. About two-thirds down the ridge there is a steep trail turning off on the left. The left turn is out of control steep and amazingly eroded, so stay on the trail to the right. Toward the bottom, the ridge trail gets steeper.

Zig zag back to civilization on Forest Routes 3N09Y, 3N15Y, and 3N02. The signage is poor, but the roads are shown on the Google Earth map and the quad maps. If you take a wrong turn it’s likely that you will very shortly face a ridiculously steep hill or it may occur to you that you are descending into deeply shaded river canyon. The roads you want to follow back to Cedar Ridge are pretty reasonable and work back to the south. After the gate, a  very short section of Keltz Mine Road leads you back to Kewen Mill Road and a steep climb on pavement back to the parking area at the ditch.

The ditch trails do not have formal right of way but the public has used them for years. Be aware that you are on private property and that the utilities do not consider their easements to cover recreational users. Please treat property owners and other trail users with respect. I started these loops from Cedar Ridge; for access to bathrooms and water they could just as easily be started from Eprosen Park in Twain Harte by riding surface streets to get to Mt. Elizabeth Road.


 
mtlizgemap
Download the Google Earth bike map featuring this loop

Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—Steep climbing, navigating on  poorly marked and seemingly remote roads and trails, winter snow and late spring mud are possibilities.
  • Upside—Easy access, good short fast rides, easy to combine with other loops to extend.
  • 9 miles, about 2,000 feet total climb for each loop.
  • roads: paved, gravel, dirt.
  • terrain: moderate to very steep.
  • tires: mountain.
  • seasons: All but winter.
  • current weather
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News of Record

Sonora Union Democrat March 19, 2013

News of Record for Sat. March 16 9:03 am

“A driver of a pickup truck yelled at people riding bikes on Algerine and Algerine-Wards Ferry Roads and shoved one of them. The truck driver apparently became frustrated when trying to pass the group.”

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Rock River Road

Rock River Road is an ultra-rural County road that can be ridden as an out-and-back bike ride via Willms Road from Knights Ferry. There is a 2.5 mile unpaved section in Stanislaus County with some drainage issues. The unpaved section has a firm surface and passes through gentle terrain–it probably won’t work out if you’re fussy about your road bike, but a less precious rig with tires wider than 23c should be fine.

Big Puddle

Big puddle or vernal pool?

rockriverlarkspur

Larkspur

rockrivercreek2

Springtime Creek

When the wildflowers are blooming in the spring, Rock River Road is awesome. The skinny old road climbs through remote agricultural land with nary a car in sight and the hills sing with water, green, and flowers.

Tuolumne County has a long-held dream of a rail trail along the Sierra Railroad right-of-way from Oakdale to Sonora and on into the mountains along the various old logging railroads. The rail trail from Stanislaus County to Sonora is in the County bike plan and the full length is included in the California Recreational Trails Plan as part of the Tuolumne Complex trail corridor. See the Tuolumne County Transportation Council  for more information on local bike, trail, and transportation planning.

Regardless of the lure of rail trail accessibility, acquisition of right-of-way and construction of 36 miles of trail along an active rail corridor is beyond a dream for Tuolumne County at this time. Rock River Road is the real world alternative if you don’t mind doing some climbing.

Parking and bathrooms for this ride are available at the Army Corps recreational facility at Knights Ferry.

Horse side

Horse side of the road

From Knights Ferry, take Sonora Road south and turn left at Kennedy Road. Cross SR 108 and proceed south on Willms Road. Look for unpaved Rock River Road on the left about 6.7 miles south of SR 108. The road sign at the intersection is missing. Turn left and ride out as far as you choose.

Rock River Road rambles

Rock River Road rambles

I appreciate that the horses are kept on the north side of the road, and the cows on the south–very tidy. There’s a good long climb before the road ends at Green Springs Road, the old highway. Turn right onto Green Springs to go see the old highway bridge and the railroad crossing at La Grange Road.

Rock River Road fenceline

Rock River Road fence line

Oak Shadows

Oak shadows with Red Hills in background

Green Springs Road Bridge

Green Springs Road Bridge

Unfortunately, there’s no way to make a loop without using La Grange Road or SR 108. La Grange Road is probably the worst road in Tuolumne County for bikes. It was always bad–narrow with considerable traffic and trucks bound south for Merced. But it was made worse a couple years ago when it was repaved and rumble strips and paddles were added to the narrow shoulders.

La Grange Road

La Grange Road–rrrrrrrrrrrrOW!

My wife found me an 1980’s Gold County cycling guide book at a thrift shop, and it includes a loop with La Grange Road. I suspect it would have been a rough trip even back then. Read the blog, download the map, save the price of the book, and stay off La Grange Road.

SR 108 westbound from the other end of Green Springs Road has decent shoulders in many places but plenty of traffic. There’s a stretch with little to no shoulder and rumble strips too. At one point there’s nowhere but the travel lane to ride.

If the rail trail were ever built, the railroad west would take you to Cooperstown Road to close the loop.

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Upside—Beautiful and green in springtime, free parking and facilities at Knights Ferry.
  • Downside—Out-and-back, unpaved section.
  • Out-and-back: 33 miles; about 2,000 feet total climb.
  • roads: 28 miles paved, 5 miles gravel (round trip).
  • terrain: gentle to moderately steep.
  • tires: All but the skinniest road.
  • seasons: All, but very hot and exposed in summer.
  • current weather
Posted in lower foothills, mixed | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Glory Hole Recreation Area, New Melones Reservoir

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operates recreational facilities at Glory Hole Recreation Area at New Melones Lake. In addition to the campgrounds, Marina, and launch ramps, Glory Hole has about ten miles of well-maintained single-track trails. All are popular with hikers and open to bike riders.

Angels Creek Oak

Angels Creek Oak

Angels Creek Undulates

Angels Creek Undulates

Glory Hole is hot in the summer, and the trails will not overly excite hard-core mountain bikers looking for technical challenges or those looking for long epic rides. But during the winter and the shoulder seasons, Glory Hole is inviting and available to get the blood pumping when the high country is snowed in. While the terrain is hilly, with the exception of the Tower Climb, the trails generally undulate along elevation contours . The hills are short and not steep, and the trails are mostly smooth and hard packed ground.

Granary Oak

Granary Oak  on Carson Creek Trail

Combine all that with bathrooms, and you have a good place for family biking. Use judgement with  small kids; I used to take my five-year-old daughter on the Angels Creek Loop on the Trail-a-Bike. She wasn’t ready to pedal the ups and downs on her own, and she didn’t like some areas where the trail cuts across steep hills descending to the lake, but she enjoyed the ride.  I have ridden the Angels Creek Loop with eight-year-olds on BMX bikes and they did okay with only one gear. They had to do some pushing, but not too much. There are short loops that join up, so it’s easy to put together a ride of an appropriate length and difficulty for your group. There are additional short trails at the Tuttletown Recreation Area on Reynolds Ferry Road in Tuolumne County.

Entrance Sign

Entrance Sign

Access to Glory Hole is via SR 49 and Whittle Ranch Road  south of Angels Camp in Calaveras County. Day-use and camping fees can be paid at the kiosk at the park entrance. The trail map is available to download, or a free paper map is available at the New Melones Visitor’s Center across the Stanislaus River (lake) on the Tuolumne County side. Look for the Visitor’s Center driveway on the east side of SR 49 about 1/2 mile south of the Stevenot Bridge. Annual passes are also available; the inter-agency pass can be used at other federal parks like Yosemite.

With the map, it’s pretty hard to get lost at Glory Hole. One point to note is that the Tower Climb and water plant road complete the Carson Creek Trail loop. Both climb a steep hill–the Tower Climb has very tight switchbacks, and the water plant road is extremely steep and rocky. The paved access road can be used to close the loop instead of the water plant road.

Tower Climb Panorama

Tower Climb Switchbacks

Be aware that rattlesnakes are a significant issue near the lake in the summer–in my experience especially so along the Carson Creek Trail. Use extra care, or come back when it’s cooler, the lake is quieter, and the snakes are less active.

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Upside—Green and lovely in the winter, parking and restrooms, family friendly, excellent for fighting spare tire growth in the winter.
  • Downside—Heat and rattlesnakes in the summer, day-use fee.
  • All trails as shown on map–11.4 miles; about 1,000 feet total climb (Google shows 1,600 feet, but I’m very skeptical. The Tower Climb  is 400 feet).
  • paths: dirt.
  • terrain: gentle to steep.
  • tires: cross to mountain.
  • seasons: all, with precautions for heat and rattlesnakes in summer.
  • current weather
Posted in casual and kids, elevation, mid elevation, road surface, unpaved | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Columbia, Sonora, Tuolumne, and Twain Harte Road Loop

Excepting Groveland, the most densely developed areas of Tuolumne County are oriented east to west along Highway 108, and to a lesser extent north to south along Highway 49. The best low-traffic paved roads near Sonora are either south of 108 or east of Columbia and Highway 49. This bike ride connects those two areas with trips through Columbia, Sonora, Tuolumne, and Twain Harte along some of the more reasonable or best available roads through the developed areas. Please realize that these roads have narrow shoulders and, though they should have reasonable traffic on weekends and off hours, they can be quite busy during commute times. Sonora is always busy.

This loop makes for a good long ride with ample opportunities to stop for food or coffee. There are lots of ways to extend or shortcut this ride to suit your needs. I’ll spell out some alternatives for both below.

Starting in Columbia, take Parrotts Ferry Road south and turn right at Springfield Road. After the sharp left on Springfield Road, continue straight onto Shaws Flat Road. Cross SR 49 and bear left at the turn-off for Jamestown Road to stay on Shaws Flat. Continue bearing left at two more intersections to reach SR 49 (Washington Street) at Sonora High School. Turn right to proceed south through Sonora either on Washington Street (the main drag with food and shops) or Stewart Street, one block to the east. The traffic is slow on both streets. Washington Street has car doors; Stewart Street specializes in stop signs.

Turn left from Washington Street onto Restano Way and make a quick right onto Mono Way, or continue straight from Stewart Street onto Mono Way as you pass the Grocery Outlet. Climb a short hill and turn right at Sanguinetti Road, then right again at Greenley Road/Old Wards Ferry Road. Prepare to leave Sonora as you pass Lowes and Walmart and pass over SR 108.

Ward Ferry Road Barn

Wards Ferry Road Barn

Old Wards Ferry winds and descends with bumpy pavement on the way to Wards Ferry Road. Turn right and continue on to find Yosemite Road on the left. Yosemite Road climbs east to Tuolumne, continuing through scenic countryside. There’s a three-way intersection at Woodhams Carne Road–turn right to stay on Yosemite Road.

Ward Ferry Road

Wards Ferry Road

Yosemite Road

Yosemite Road

Tuolumne Memorial Hall

Tuolumne Memorial Hall

Tuolumne Church

St. Joseph’s Church, Tuolumne

As Yosemite Road enters Tuolumne it changes to Main Street. Tuolumne is an old lumber mill town with a basic grid pattern of streets. It has some very charming qualities including the park and Memorial Hall but a down and out business district. When the mill closed, Tuolumne lost its economic base. The construction of the Black Oak Casino and other proposed Tribal projects in town foreshadow better economic times ahead for Tuolumne. It’s worth a loop or two around town with an eye toward understanding how it’s industrial past defined the layout of the town. Move two blocks east to exit Tuolumne on Carter Street, and turn right onto Tuolumne Road North. After the casino, you will begin climbing to Twain Harte.

Tuolumne

Tuolumne

Tuolumne Road North

Tuolumne Road North

After six miles and 1,200 feet of climbing on Tuolumne Road North, turn left at East Avenue and climb some more to pass under SR 108. Watch for the recently completed segment of the Sugar Pine Rail Trail on the right just past the underpass. It doesn’t do much yet, but it will when more of the trail is constructed. Descend on East Ave. to Twain Harte and turn left at Twain Harte Drive and right at Joaquin Gully (at the arch).

Twain Harte Arch

Twain Harte Arch

Sierra Glen Apple Ranch

Sierra Glen Apple Ranch

Proceed north out of Twain Harte on Joaquin Gully to Middle Camp Road, and turn left. Bear right to stay on Middle Camp at the odd triangular intersection with South Fork Road. Continue west to eventually meet up with Longeway Road and Big Hill Road. Turn right onto Big Hill Road and then a quick left at Belleview School to stay on Big Hill. Big Hill climbs, rambles, and then descends back to Columbia.

Upper Big Hill Road

Upper Big Hill Road

Close the loop by turning right at Sawmill Flat Road and a quick left at Yankee Hill Road.

In the winter, think about the possibility of snow in Twain Harte. It’s not uncommon for the lower elevation parts of this loop to be clear but for the snow to persist up in Twain Harte or on Big Hill.

Longeway Road at South Fork Road

Longeway Road at South Fork Road

I’ve included an alternate short cut through Soulsbyville and Mono Vista that cuts 5 miles and 650 feet of climbing from the main loop. It also cuts out Tuolumne and Twain Harte. The shortcut heads north from Yosemite Road on Woodhams Carne Road prior to crossing Tuolumne Road and continues onto Black Oak Road on the north side of Tuolumne Road. Black Oak leads to Soulsbyville Road which leads to Mono Vista, a community on the north side of SR 108. Turn right onto Longeway Road and follow the many turns on Longeway to reach Big Hill Road.

To extend the ride, head south from Sonora on South Washington Street and continue across SR 108 to Lime Kiln Road. From there you can add Campo Seco Road, Algerine Road, Jacksonville Road to Twist Road etc.–there are lots of options to add miles with very little traffic.

Since this ride is about touching base in the communities along the way, here are some suggestions for the comforts of civilization along the way.

Columbia:
Columbia Kate’s Teahouse has very good sandwiches, baked goods and tea. There are tables out back if you’re stinky and self-conscious. Kate’s has expanded to take over the both the northwest and southeast corners of Columbia Street and State Street.
Brown’s Coffeehouse on Main Street has coffee, sandwiches, ice cream, and goodies.
Columbia has three bars to choose from. The Jack Douglas has Guinness on tap.
There are two water fountains on Main Street and public bathrooms. The Mercantile on Main Street at Jackson Street has groceries and a small deli.
Columbia Nursery on Parrotts Ferry Road has lunch and coffee. The Nursery is recommended, Parrotts Ferry Road is not.

Sonora:
There is a full selection of restaurants on Washington Street and many more elsewhere.
Sonora Joes, just north of the Sonora Inn on Washington, has non-corporate coffee. Starbuncles is available next to Walmart.
The Bagel Bin is on Washington between Elkin and Dodge Streets.
The Lighthouse Deli has excellent sandwiches.
Schnoogs has coffee, pastries and sandwiches in the Savemart/Ross shopping center on Mono Way just east of Greenley Road.
There’s a water fountain in Courthouse Square and water and bathrooms at Coffill Park on Green Street between Linoberg and Stockton Streets. There’s also water and bathrooms at the playground next to the library on Greenley Road.
The Taco Truck in the Grocery Outlet parking lot is a big local favorite.
The farmers market is Sat. am 7-12 in the summer for breakfast options before a ride heading south out of Sonora in the morning.

Tuolumne:
There’s a new coffee house in town and the Longhorn Saloon.
There’s a small market on Tuolumne Road.
Cover’s on Cherokee Road is an apple ranch with baked goods, breads, and lunch. Closed on Sunday.
If you’re really hungry, there’s the buffet at the Casino. Not sure where the bike racks are.

Twain Harte:
An assortment of restaurants and a coffee shop right by the arch.
The Twain Harte Market is the nicest independent market in the area, a bit pricey.
Look for water and public bathrooms in Eprosen Park on Meadow Drive right in town.
Miniature golf in the summertime.
Ride 5 miles east and 700 feet up on Middle Camp/Sugar Pine Road to Alicia’s Sugar Shack on Highway 108  in Sugar Pine. Alicia’s has the best baked goods and coffee in the area.

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—Roads through developed areas can be busy.
  • Upside—Mix of open rural roads and access through mid-foothill communities. Never far from town.
  • Main loop 39 miles; about 4,500 feet total climb.
  • roads: paved.
  • terrain: moderate to steep.
  • tires: road.
  • seasons: All but after low-snow winter storms.
  • current weather
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Columbia Ridge Loop

There’s no such thing as Columbia Ridge, but if you look at a topographic map there is a (backwards) C-shaped ridge wrapping around the east side of Columbia. Big Hill Road zig-zags up the middle of the C. This bike ride is notable for the perspective it gives of the area. The views gradually evolve from the southwest to the east to the north and then back to the west as you work around the loop, and on a clear day the views are great. This is a combination of the first halves of the Covington/Big Hill and Yankee Hill/Five Mile Creek rides–see those posts for additional details and caveats about steep climbs.

This ride anticipates riding on gravel, so I’ve changed the route to Covington Road to use a more interesting gravel connection from Parrotts Ferry Road to Columbia College.

Howser Lane at Parrotts Ferry Road

Starting in Columbia, head south on Parrotts Ferry Road for about 0.5 miles and turn left at Howser Lane where the “Howser Lane” street sign used to be. Street signs come and go, but so far the Leti’s Fruit Stand sign lives on. Turn left at the narrow road adjacent to Leti’s former fruit stand and climb on alternating pavement and gravel to the Columbia College emergency egress gate.

Columbia College emergency exit gate

Go around the gate to ride the paved road, and go around the next gate to the Columbia College Oak Pavillion (domed building). The electronic gate will open as you ride up (slowly). Turn left and then a quick right to follow the main College access road out of the campus to Sawmill Flat Road. Turn left onto Sawmill Flat and then a quick right onto Covington Road.

Ride up Covington as per the previous post. The loop on the map uses the dirt option around the west side of Telegraph Peak. At Big Hill Road turn right and ride east to the end of the Hatler Mill, the expansive former lumber mill on the north side at the top of Big Hill Road. Turn left at the wide gravel road opening with many mailboxes and watch for signs for Five Mile Creek Road.

This area is visually challenging with dirt/gravel roads and driveways branching off in all directions. Two important facts will get you through: all the other roads are private roads or driveways, and Five Mile Creek Road is always the downhill option. After a short stretch you’ll be on a steep gravel descent on Five Mile Creek Road–watch out for moderate washboarding especially in the late summer. After a level stretch and another steep descent, watch for Yankee Hill Road doubling back on the left (no sign).

Yankee Hill bear prints

The rest of the ride continues as the Yankee Hill/Five Mile Creek loop, backwards. The only real chance of going off the loop is missing Cattle Drive Trail when descending on the paved section of Yankee Hill Road. If that happens, just continue down the hill to return via Yankee Hill. Yankee Hill Road is very narrow, so watch for cars coming up.

I’ve been running into bears lately: one last month on Cattle Drive Trail on a night ride and a mother with two cubs up by Beardsley Lake a couple of weeks ago. All were good bears that ran away, but I didn’t wait up to chat with the mama bear. These prints are from Yankee Hill Road out over the river canyon.

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free: http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file
Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS

  • Downside—Steep to extremely steep climbing along exposed ridge, rough pavement, gravel and dirt, navigating on  lightly traveled and seemingly remote roads, may not work out in winter weather.
  • Upside—Short loop and an intense workout, never gets terribly far from civilization, great views.
  • 14.6 miles, approximately 2,800 feet total climb, 7 miles dirt/gravel.
  • roads: paved, gravel, dirt.
  • terrain: moderate to extremely steep.
  • tires: road to cross to mountain.
  • seasons: All but winter.
  • current weather
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