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.
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.
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.
Moving on, there are a series of fine meadows leading up to more homes at the other end of Jupiter Road.
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.
The descent to the South Fork and climb out on South Fork Road are comparatively gentle grades.
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.
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.
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