This bike ride is near and dear to me; this is my standby for when I can’t get further from home to explore. If you don’t mind mixing pavement, gravel, and dirt, this ride packs a lot into 13 miles including some strenuous climbing, and there are a couple of good options for modifying or extending the loop. I am blessed to have this as my “old dependable”–good for a quick retreat from the world and a darn good workout too.
Start the ride in Columbia; proceed up Italian Bar Road about two miles to Cattle Drive Trail. Cattle Drive Trail is on the right just before the descent into the river canyon and is marked by a sign for the Bramble Hill Christmas Tree Farm. After a short climb on gravel the road veers left and becomes less steep. As the trees clear on the left, look forward and left to spot the American Camp fire lookout tower on the hilltop across the river canyon. Shortly afterward at the local totem, the road turns to the right and begins to climb.
Cattle Drive Trail crests and descends a short dirt segment before climbing once more to Yankee Hill Road. Turn left onto Yankee Hill and begin a steep climb on narrow pavement to Blewetts Point, aka beer can corner–you’ll know it when you see it because of the expansive view and maybe a beer can or two. Try to ignore the sofas down slope contributed by Tuolumne County’s finest citizens.
Continue climbing until the slope eases at the ditch crossing. This is the same ditch you saw multiple times coming up the hill, and it supplies much of Columbia’s water. When the road forks past the “Pavement Ends” sign, take the left and proceed onto the dirt and gravel segment of Yankee Hill Road.
Yankee Hill starts a winding ramble along the north side of the ridge between Big Hill and Five Mile Creek. There are a few driveways at first. The general rule is that the road stays in the middle and takes the more level course. The exception is the last driveway–the road shifts right and uphill and becomes a bit rocky. The driveway in question has a water bar/ditch at the entrance and is signed, so it’s easy enough to tell if you’re going off-course.
The scene is gradually transformed to take in a great sense of space to the north out over the canyons of Five Mile Creek and the South Fork Stanislaus. This isn’t Yosemite freak show stuff–just Mother Nature going about her daily business. Whether you want to stop to take it all in or absorb it on the periphery as you roll, it’s a fine ride out on the edge. There is almost never anybody out on this road, but keep in mind that it is a County road open to vehicles, walkers, and equestrians. Trim your speed accordingly and be aware of increasingly rocky conditions.
Yankee Hill descends gradually at first and then steeply, and the vegetation becomes more dense from the increased shading on the north slope and a couple of creeks.
As Yankee Hill meets Five Mile Creek Road, the forest is rich with black oak, dogwood, and big leaf maple. Five Mile Creek Road is more consistently gravel and features two moderate climbs with a good break in the middle on the way up to Big Hill Road. At Big Hill Road, turn right and enjoy the long winding paved descent. At the bottom of Big Hill, turn right onto Sawmill Flat Road and bear left onto Yankee Hill Road/Jackson Street to return to Columbia.
Because this ride includes both rock/dirt conditions and a long winding descent on pavement, tires can be an issue. Small knobs with a uniform distribution work well for dirt road traction without rumbling on the pavement. I’ve done this ride with touring tires and been fine, but that’s me.
The unpaved part of Yankee Hill and Five Mile Creek can have persistent snow and ice in the winter. It snows on Big Hill, and during winter the roads are deep in shadow. There are a couple spots out at the end of Yankee Hill Road that puddle across the full width of the road and usually don’t clear until spring. The seasons also bring out the best of this ride with rich fall colors.
Use common sense about mountain lions on this loop. The outer reaches are just below where the last corrals and goat pens interface with the wide open spaces. Avoid dawn and dusk or ride in a group. I have never seen any signs of mountain lions, but I have found bear tracks among the berry patches.
Extend this loop by combining with Old Oak Road, Covington Road, or the Airport-College 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
- Downside—Steep climbing, navigating on lightly traveled and seemingly remote roads, may not work out in winter weather.
- Upside—Close in but far out, great views, awesome October colors, short loop with a great workout.
- Loop 13 miles; about 2,400 feet total climb.
- roads: paved, gravel, dirt.
- terrain: moderate to very steep.
- tires: cross to mountain.
- seasons: All but winter.
- current weather