The Paved Road to Nowhere

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.

Nowhere may be an exaggeration, but most Forest Service Roads, even to well-traveled destinations, are gravel and usually have some tortured dirt sections with rocks and ruts to threaten oil pans and wheel alignments. This 34 mile loop includes about 24 miles on Forest Service Roads with as little traffic as you are likely to find and only 3 miles of gravel travel. If you can bring yourself to ride on touring tires, you’ve got a long stretch of pavement with nary a car in sight. You pay for the privilege with eight miles on SR 108 to close the loop. Do an out-and-back or shuttle if you’d rather avoid the highway.

I like to start this bike ride at the day use area on Merrill Springs Road at the North Fork of the Tuolumne River. There’s parking and the return from both directions is a coast downhill to the car. Turn off SR 108 at Long Barn and take Merrill Springs Road to the parking area. If you want to do the full loop, consider your ride on SR 108–if it’s Friday or Sunday afternoon, and it’s obvious that the traffic is predominantly going east or west, you may want to choose your direction around the loop to avoid the parade of vehicles. If the traffic direction is not a factor, I prefer to do the loop counter-clockwise with a gradual climb eastward on multiple Forest Service Roads and a long winding descent on Crabtree Road.

Forest Route 31 (3N01)

Traveling ccw from the day use area, take Forest Route (FR) 31 (3N01) across the river and start climbing. You may want to stop at the entrance to Hull Creek Campground (at 7 3/4 miles) and get some cold water from the spring. At 8 miles, look for a paved road to the left with a sign for Trout Creek Overlook (1 mile) and Dodge Meadow (6 miles) and a sign post for FR 4N09. After 2 miles on 4N09, there will be an intersection splitting to gravel roads. Take 3N11Y to the right and downhill. The 3N11Y signpost is not in great shape, but it’s there. After a short (1/4 mile) and moderately steep descent, look for FR 3N10 (gravel) to the left. 3N10 is alternately gravel or crumbling pavement for 3 miles until reaching another intersection with 4N09. Proceed right on 4N09, and look for 4N25 (paved) on the left.

Fahey Cabin on FR 31 (3N01)

Fresh water from spring at Hull Creek Campground entrance

Forest Route 4N25

FR 4N25 is the real road to nowhere on the loop. It’s a great paved climb with nothing but the trees and peeks of the granite to the east to distract you. Take 4N25 5 miles to the intersection with Crabtree Road (4N26)–Look for the Kerrick Corrals Horse Camp and large directional signs for Aspen Meadows, Crabtree Trailhead, and Giannelli Cabin. Ignore all of those directions, because you are headed to the left, back toward civilization. Enjoy a long descent (6 1/2 miles) on Crabtree Road before arriving at SR 108. Turn left and return to the North Fork day use area via the Long Barn turn off and Merrill Springs Road.

View to the east from 4N25

Alternates:

  • Instead of return on Crabtree Road, proceed to Dodge Ridge Road and descend to Pinecrest to visit the store, get coffee, or relax by the lake.
  • Close the loop on unpaved roads and trails. Descend Dodge Ridge Road to Pinecrest and take the Sugar Pine Rail Trail to Lyons Reservoir. Take Lyons Dam Road to Highway 108 and return to Long Barn on a segment with good shoulders. See Pinecrest to Columbia on Sugar Pine Railway and Ditch Trails.
  • Shuttle–get family or friends to drop you off at Long Barn on their way to Pinecrest and ride up to meet them.

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—Out in the boonies, lots of climbing, stretch on state highway.
  • Upside—Out in the boonies, lots of climbing, very scenic pine/fir forest, spring at Hull Creek, mostly paved with almost no cars.
  • Bring a Forest Service map–Google maps and others are lousy on Forest Service roads. GPS is a good idea. More on the Stanislaus Forest.
  • In general, no cell coverage. See cell spots painted on 3N01.
  • About 4,200 feet total climb
  • roads: 33.6 miles total, 3.25 miles gravel, 8 miles on SR 108
  • terrain: mountainous
  • tires: touring or wider
  • seasons: late spring to first snow. 3N01 is gated at North Fork Tuolumne for winter closure.
  • current weather
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One Response to The Paved Road to Nowhere

  1. Lucas says:

    Did this today on a tandem on 28s. Went super slow on the gravel, but otherwise a great loop!

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