Marshes Flat/Priest-Coulterville Roads

This set of rides with three options extends south into Mariposa County. There are large pullouts on SR 120 near Jacksonville Road or at the intersection of SR 120 and SR 49 at Moccasin for parking. If you’re up for more distance and climbing, link with the south of Sonora loops for a long bike ride out of Sonora.

The ride starts southbound on SR 49 and quickly turns right onto a steep climb on Marshes Flat Road. Marshes Flat rambles through beautiful ranch country and has the Mystery Spot effect of seeming to have a much higher climb from SR 49 than the descent back to the level of Lake Don Pedro as you wind through the back country. I always figure this is the uphill part of the lake. As Marshes Flat Road enters the Lake Don Pedro subdivision, the name changes to Blanchard Road. Blanchard ends at a T-intersection at Granite Springs Road. Turn left and proceed eastward to Penon Blanco Road.

hot tub cow trough

California Cattle Trough

old cattle fence and pavement

Marshes Flat Fence and Penon Blanco Pavement

At Penon Blanco you need to decide–steep and funky old road with no traffic, or modern pavement on SR 132 to Coulterville. SR 132 is not horrible, but expect traffic and a long stretch with narrow shoulders. There are fine views either way.

Penon Blanco Road

Penon Blanco Road Climb

Either turn left onto Penon Blanco Road (Options 1 or 3) or continue on Granite Springs to SR 132 (Option 2). If choosing 132, turn left and continue to Coulterville. If proceeding on Penon Blanco, the road starts climbing gradually but gets quite steep before it’s over. The pavement is rough and appears to be ready to give way to gravel in spots, but the road is paved all the way through. On the oldest parts, the pavement on Penon Blanco looks like it could be some of the oldest exposed asphalt in the state. With conspicuously large chunks of milky white quartz mixed in and the occasional piece of bedrock showing through, it’s remarkably smooth compared to the more heavily patched areas. After descending eastward to SR 49, turn right to continue to Coulterville (Option 1), or turn left to return to Moccasin (Option 3).

Enjoy a break in Coulterville–there are restaurants, a small grocery store, and a little park with less shade than Coultervillans and their visitors deserve. Greeley Hill Road heads east, and Priest-Coulterville Road is a left turn to the north. There is plenty more climbing on Priest-Coulterville. The pavement is good, and there is little traffic. Keep your wits about you turning left onto SR 12o to descend new Priest Grade. The crossing traffic for Old Priest Grade can be fast, visibility is poor, and the intersection confuses all but the most familiar. The descent on SR 120 is somewhere between a thrilling winding descent and slightly boring in it’s precise engineering of grade and curves. The pavement is new and smooth as a baby’s butt. Experienced cyclists can easily outrun the RVs; you may find you need to ride the brakes.

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

puncture vine along Granite Springs Road

Goathead along Granite Springs Road

  • Downside—Watch out for goathead (puncture vine) along Granite Springs Road, lots of climbing, very hot and exposed in summer.
  • Upside—Lots of climbing, nice countryside, historic Coulterville, little traffic except on State highway segments.
  • Options 1 and 2, 34 miles; Option 3, 24 miles
  • Options 1 and 2, about 5,000 feet total climb; Option 3, about 3,400 feet total climb
  • roads: paved
  • terrain: mountainous
  • tires: road
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat and summer/weekend traffic
  • current weather
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4 Responses to Marshes Flat/Priest-Coulterville Roads

  1. Tom says:

    At the top of Priest Coulterville there is an intersection with an old railroad grade that easily leads at a low and steady grade up to Big Oak Flat. It can be ridden carefully by 23-25 mm tires. This is how you can avoid going up 120 if you are connecting with Wards Ferry.

    • Thanks Tom! I don’t know South County as well as I’d like, so it’s good to get some feedback. That stretch of 120 from Priest to BOF is the worst–it seems like you’re done with Priest Grade but then the road gets narrower and steeper. I’ve been looking at trying some gravel/mixed loops south of 120.

  2. Tom says:

    Though north of 120, the Ferretti to 1N10 (across Lumsden Bridge) up to 1N04 to Cherry Lake Road to 120 is a classic mixed loop. Another good one though mostly dirt is Coulterville to Dogtown to Greeley Hill to Bull Creek to the Old Yosemite Road which pretty much goes all the way to Foresta (there is a key left turn onto a different forest road at Little Nellie Falls), and then back again. You can make a nice loop of Old Yosemite Road and 2S02 and Bull Creek starting from Bower Cave.

    • Thanks Tom, these sound great. The list grows faster than I can ride and post them. At some point I need to post my todo list of routes just to get them out there until I can write them up. There’s many I’ve ridden but didn’t record, I took lousy pictures, or I don’t remember well enough to describe properly. Anyway, your suggestions are on the list.

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