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.
Ride the ditch east to the next road crossing which is Mt. Elizabeth Road.
Turn left to climb on pavement which soon turns to dirt.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The trail starts on the far side of the clearing.
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.
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