This bike ride combines a couple of east-west unpaved Sugar Pine Railway segments with fairly steep connectors at each end–paved Beardsley Road on the east end and unpaved Forest Route 4N88 in the west. Including the railroad grades and the Spring Gap PG&E facilities, this route presents a tour of historic forest and river infrastructure. The Stanislaus Forest has a photocopied handout for the loop, but the handout is pretty awful. See the Stanislaus Forest page for better map options. Excepting 4N14 the roads for this loop are full-width access roads.
There are several good parking areas for the ride: Fraser Flat, the Crandall OHV area, the Beardsley Campground, or Beardsley Road will all work. There are camping opportunities at Fraser Flat, Beardsley, Crandall, and Sand Bar Flat with pit toilets and piped water at best. Dispersed camping is available everywhere except near the campgrounds and with setbacks from the river.
As mapped, the ride starts at the South Fork Stanislaus bridge on Fraser Flat Road, and the loop is described counter-clockwise. Head north across the bridge on Fraser Flat Road (4N01). The pavement gives way to dirt past the Fraser Flat Campground and the road gradually climbs on converted railroad grade until splitting to 4N42 and 4N01. Turn right at 4N42 to continue on the railroad grade uphill to Spring Gap.
Worlds collide at Spring Gap. The railway passed through the PG&E facility, and 4N42 continues on the other side of the locked gates. The Philadelphia Ditch enters a penstock at Spring Gap. To the right and past the ditch there are two dirt roads. Cross the cattle guard onto the one on the left that enters the woods. This is 4N14, a Sugar Pine branch line which rambles for about 4 miles to the east. The riding is good on 4N14. It’s shady, winding, and not too wide. There always seem to be cows on this road, and it tends to have drainage issues in the early spring.
The end of 4N14 comes at Beardsley Reservoir Road (5No2); turn left and enjoy a long winding descent on pavement. Before the dam look for a gravel road to the left past a locked gate. Hop the gate onto 4N88, which starts with a segment of the Sugar Pine mainline heading west above the Middle Fork Stanislaus toward Sand Bar Flat.
Before Beardsley Dam was built, the Sugar Pine crossed the Middle Fork on a trestle and continued along what is now 5N02 to logging camps stretching as far north as near the current boundary of Big Trees State Park. The crossing of the Middle Fork was no small feat as evidenced by the long steep cut of 5N02 across the canyon, the former trestle and dam crossing, and the massive blasted cut of the “Peeled Onion” which 4N88 travels along for about 1/4 mile.
After the Peeled Onion, watch for a bridge over the penstock and old tramway from Spring Gap down to the powerhouse on the Middle Fork. The tramway was used to deliver people and supplies to the powerhouse, and the penstock is still in use today. Heading further west, 4N88 barely starts gently climbing before the junction with 4N85 which heads out to Sand Bar Flat. Watch for a large stockpile on the right and bear left to stay on 4N88 to leave the railroad grade and start a reasonably steep climb up to 4N01.
About two miles into the climb, 4N86 branches off on the left–take 4N86 to climb up to Spring Gap and connect to 4N42, or remain on 4N88 to head “straight” back up to 4N01. Taking 4N86 shows off more of the tramway and penstock and also visits the other side of the PG&E Spring Gap facility. At Spring Gap, switchback onto 4N42 and rejoin the Sugar Pine back up to 4N01. To the west, 4N01 continues on for miles as increasingly narrow and zippy railroad grade. From either 4N42 or 4N88, turn left on 4N01 to return to Fraser Flat.
Construction for improvements at the Sand Bar Flat Campground may affect this ride. I haven’t had problems getting through, but there’s potential for trucks and equipment on 4N88, and the road has been “improved”. 4N85 and the campground are closed. The Beardsley Campground will also be getting a makeover, so check with the Forest Service when making plans for the next year or two (2014–2015).
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- Downside—wide roads and potential for light traffic on Beardsley Road and 4N01 and 4N88 to Sand Bar Flat.
- Upside—Cool stuff everywhere, one good climb and the rest is easy, forest and river canyon, more of the Sugar Pine Railway, convenient access from popular camping areas.
- 23 miles, about 2,500 feet of climbing.
- roads: 17.8 miles dirt and gravel and 5.2 miles pavement, as mapped.
- terrain: level to moderately steep.
- tires: cross to mountain, most will prefer mountain.
- seasons: Beardsley and Fraser Flat Roads are closed during winter (Dec 16–April 14). Winter snow, spring mud.
- current weather