The Basin is a descriptively named forested basin in the Stanislaus National Forest east of Tuolumne. This loop uses dirt and gravel roads and paved Cottonwood Road which encircle the Basin, and it’s a good starting point for exploring the network of Forest Service routes located on the main and branch lines of the historic Westside Railroad. This area is remote and there are no facilities at all, so carry food and plenty of water.
I’ll be gradually adding more bike rides on the Westside. The mountain logging railroad grades were far from flat. The slopes generally max out at about five percent which is good for more moderate climbing and occasional zippy descents on the curving alignments. The Westside roads show more of the charm and history of their narrow-gauge railroad heritage than many of the roads on the standard-gauge Sugar Pine Railroad to the north along the Stanislaus River. The Sugar Pine branches are more commonly converted to wider and higher use logging roads. Eventually I hope to get both railroads well mapped with a good selection of loops.
With that said, this ride requires significant climbing. The difference between riding this loop clockwise and counterclockwise is notable. The climb from the river to the highest point on the loop on Forest Route 2n07 is steep: 8.5 percent average slope for six miles. Traveling counterclockwise to climb on Cottonwood Road and some of the railroad grades, the same climb takes fourteen miles.
I started this loop at the Westside Rail Trail trailhead. From the end of the rail trail take the short single-track down to Cottonwood Road and proceed past the North Fork Tuolumne River uphill to Forest Route 2N07. I like hard climbs, so I rode the loop clockwise, and I was rewarded with an encounter with that curious bear on 2N07. I saw him (her?) and stopped to get out the camera, and he saw me and started walking down the hill toward me. I got a couple pictures and decided I really didn’t need to see him too close. A “Hi Bear!” reminded him about noisy humans and inspired him to bolt into the woods.
After the summit, 2N07 transitions to rail alignment with narrow through cuts and the telltale consistent grade. This continues on 3N07 until reaching the intersection of the mainline at 2N52 just before the cattle guard and gate. After that, 3N07 is a logging road until its end at Cottonwood Road. Cottonwood Road descends quite uniformly until crossing the river. There’s an additional decision to either return via the rail trail or on the paved road with some extra climbing.
To shorten the loop by cutting out the rail trail, park off the road at the intersection of Cottonwood Road and 2No7.
Extend the ride and add some climbing by adding in 2N06, 2N54, and 2N52 (not included in the loop, but mapped on the Google Earth map). An out and back to the north on 2n54 eventually dead ends in a thicket, but it’s part of the Westside main line, and there’s some nice views out over Hull Creek and the Clavey River toward the end.
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, no conveniences, roads closed in winter.
- Upside—More to the railroads than the well known rail trails, parking at Westside trailhead, lightly visited area of the Forest, could ride straight out from the new hotel at the Black Oak Casino.
- roads: 13.5 miles paved, 16.5 miles gravel and dirt; 30 miles total with about 4,500 feet of climbing (18 miles/3,500 feet without ride out from rail trail).
- terrain: moderate to very steep.
- tires: cross to mountain.
- seasons: Closed in winter.
- current weather