Covington Road

Covington Road is the poor (and more sane) person’s Old Priest Grade. While Old Priest Grade is something to ponder for those who like the challenge of a bike ride with an intense climb, it is narrow and windy with heavy vehicle traffic. Covington Road is no less ridiculously steep, but  you may not encounter a car on the way up the hill. Your wheezing will sound much the same, and at the speed you’ll be climbing, you probably won’t care that the pavement is pretty funky. If you can handle 0.6 miles of gravel to connect to Big Hill Road, you can descend on Big Hill and do it all over again.

Comparing numbers (average slope and taking Google with a grain of salt):
Covington Road: 1.3 miles @ 16% (steepest stretch)
Covington Road: 2.3 miles @ 13% (climb to top)
Old Priest Grade: 1.9 miles @ 15.4%
Marshes Flat Road: 1.4 miles @ 14%
Yankee Hill Road: (paved): 2.3 miles @ 12%
Big Hill Road: 3.2 miles @ 9%
Sonora Pass: 8.5 miles @ 7.6% (Kennedy Meadows to Pass)

I’m presenting two loops including Covington Road–this one with maximum pavement; another about 50/50 paved and unpaved will be posted next as the Columbia Ridge Loop. Descending on Covington Road is not much fun–too steep, bumpy, windy to enjoy much speed, so the ride works best in the counter clockwise direction.

All the sign you get on Sawmill Flat Road

Start in Columbia and head east on Jackson Street/Yankee Hill Road for approximately 1.3 miles. Turn right onto Sawmill Flat Road at the intersection with the hydraulic mining monitor which looks like a huge hose nozzle (because it is a huge hose nozzle). Ride south about 0.75 miles to Covington Road and make a left to start climbing. If you’ve reached the College entrance you’ve missed Covington Road. Turn back and look on the right a couple hundred feet back. Watch the signs to stay on Covington Road and, eventually, Columbia Crest Drive.

Continue north on the paved road until it forks in three directions. The right turn is paved and proceeds to the east around Telegraph Peak. The center option is someone’s driveway, and the left road eventually turns to dirt and heads up the west side of Telegraph toward the peak. Since this is the paved loop, take the road to the right.

Go the way the bike is pointed.


Fork at Telegraph Peak

Enjoy the wide paved road and the view to the east of the Phoenix Lake basin and Big Hill. The dirt road and paved road rejoin on the north side of Telegraph Peak and the road turns to gravel for 0.6 miles before meeting Big Hill Road. The gravel surface is pretty decent, though there are a few whopper potholes. Turn left on Big Hill and descend to Sawmill Flat. Return to Columbia via Yankee Hill Road/Jackson Street.

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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 to extremely steep climbing along exposed ridge, rough pavement, short gravel segment, navigating on  lightly traveled and seemingly remote roads, may not work out in winter weather.
  • Upside—Short loop and an intense workout, great views.
  • 10.3 miles, about 2,200 feet total climb, 0.6 miles of gravel.
  • roads: paved, with gravel segment.
  • terrain: steep to extremely steep.
  • tires: road to cross.
  • seasons: All but winter during or after storms.
  • current weather
Posted in mid elevation, mixed | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Yankee Hill/Five Mile Creek Loop

Cattle Drive Trail community folk art

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.

Upper Cattle Drive Trail

Switchback at Beer Can Corner

State of the art in pavement–Yankee Hill Road

Columbia Ditch on Yankee Hill

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.

Canyon view toward Melones

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.

Yankee Hill Road

Yankee Hill Road

Five Mile Creek Road

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.

Old orchard reclaimed by the forest–Five Mile Creek Road

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:
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
Posted in mid elevation, mixed | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Westside Rail Trail:Tuolumne

This is a  short level trail that is suitable for casual riders or families with kids as an out-and-back bike ride or for more ambitious riders as a loop returning via Buchanan Road. The trail is about 4.8 miles long, and the loop returning on the road is 9 miles.  You are likely to see a few walkers and runners on this trail. See the Tuolumne County Transportation Council trails page for more information on this trail.

The ride begins at the trailhead on Buchanan Road at Mira Monte Road. It is well signed, and access is easy.

The sign says pedestrians and equestrians, but bikes are also allowed.

The railroad grade is carved into the hillside above the North Fork Tuolumne River on the north side of the river canyon. Most of the trail is exposed, so this may not be the best ride for very hot days. There are a couple places to take a break for snacks in the shade including one with a picnic table. There is some poison oak, so watch out if you bring children. Some areas have a somewhat steep drop on the downhill side of the trail which may be scary for very small kids. I used to ride this trail with my kids still on trail-a-bikes, and we didn’t have problems.

River canyon with Buchanan Road and the North Fork Tuolumne River at lower right

Portions of the trail still have the rails, and there are a few exposed ties crossing the track now and then. Occasionally the track shifts from one side of the rails to the other, so care should be taken when crossing the rails especially with kids who may not know how to safely cross.

Intact rails help tell the story

At 2.4 miles there is a washout in the trail that has been nicely bypassed. After the bypass, the trail gets less use and narrows a bit. At the end, a short steep single-track section connects the trail to Buchanan/Cottonwood Road. The ride back on the road involves climbing. The return trip can also use Old Buchanan Mine Road which connects the trail to the road about half way out.

Look for single-track on right at rails laid perpendicular to trail.

Look for single-track on right at rails laid perpendicular to trail.

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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—Takes some effort for small kids–not a paved trail through a city park, crossing over rails is a boo boo in the making for little ones who haven’t been shown how, very hot when it’s hot.
  • Upside—Easy to get to from Tuolumne, adventure builds character and family cohesion, RR grade is a real-life history lesson and nature is all around, a step up from wide flat paths in building bike handling skills, you will not get lost on this trail.
  • 9.6 miles out-and-back. Elevation change is minimal.
  • 9 mile loop with return on paved road, about 800 feet of climbing
  • surface: dirt trail
  • terrain: very mild on RR grade.
  • tires: cross to mountain, most will prefer mountain.
  • seasons: Open year round, occasional snow at this elevation.
  • current weather
Posted in casual and kids, mid elevation, unpaved | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Twain Harte to Lyons Dam Loop, Sugar Pine Rail Trail: Twain Harte to Lyons Dam

I’m posting two loops for this bike ride–one for a 15-mile loop out of Twain Harte that connects Forest Route 4N02 on the north side of the South Fork Stanislaus to a five-mile segment of the Sugar Pine Rail Trail on the south side, and another for ten-mile out-and-back on the rail trail that is a great casual/kids ride. First, the longer loop. Also see Pinecrest to Columbia for more on the Sugar Pine Rail Trail along the South Fork Stanislaus River.

Twain Harte to Lyons Dam Loop

I started the longer loop at Eprosen Park in Twain Harte. You could just as easily park at the start of the rail trail on Confidence South Fork Road in order to cut out some climbing and travel on surface streets, but there are restrooms and far better parking at the park. From Eprosen Park find Joaquin Gully, climb up to Middle Camp Road, and turn right. At 1.3 miles (from start of ride), look for South Fork Road branching off to the left. I don’t have any preference for direction on this ride; I’ll present it going clockwise.

Turn left at South Fork Road and proceed to the South Fork Stanislaus taking note of the ditch crossing and the change to gravel. There are ditch segments suitable for riding, but this one turns to a flume not far upstream–great for hiking and fishing, not for bikes.

PG&E Main Canal at South Fork Road

South Fork Stanislaus River

Immediately after the South Fork bridge there are two roads branching off to the right. One is a private driveway along the river, and the other is a paved road heading uphill with a sign for “Heavenly Hills”. Take the road to Heavenly Hills. After a climb, the road levels out and branches. First there are driveways to the left, then Heavenly Hills down to the right; pass both and keep going uphill onto Forest Route 4N02.

Forest Route 4N02 at Heavenly Hills

There are numerous private cabins along the road and private property/no trespassing signs. Respect private property by staying on the road. 4N02 gets a bit chunky with loose rock, but not for too long. Eventually the road branches in three directions: left has a marker for 3N35, straight is unmarked but is 4N02 which proceeds along the north shore of Lyons Reservoir, right is unmarked and goes over a small hill before descending to Lyons Dam. Take the road to the right to cross the dam to the Sugar Pine Railroad grade.

Fork in 4N02 north of Lyons Dam

Crossing the dam has some issues which may prevent some from doing this loop. First, the descent to the dam is a rather gnarly but short scramble down a rocky eroded hill. I just walk it down to avoid needing services at the second impediment–the helicopter landing pad at the north end of the dam. I’ve never seen a helicopter there, but it’s possible that access could be blocked.

Descent to dam and helicopter pad on north side of Lyons Dam

Be prepared to lift your bike

Third, the path along the dam is blocked by the controls for the dam gates. You need to be able to lift your bike above the railing to get by. Fisherpersons like to hang out by these control boxes because they provide a flat surface for their stuff. Don’t be shy about coming through–it happens all day long, I’m sure. Be polite and thankful.

At the top of the stairway from the dam, go right to return to Twain Harte on the railroad grade, or left to check out the facilities. There is a pit toilet, garbage can, and a parking area at Lyons and not much else. Water contact is prohibited, so it’s pretty much fishing, picnicking, hiking, and biking. If you want to pollute the water with your body, you’ll have to do it in the river upstream of the lake. The lake is under PG&E jurisdiction but is open to the public for day use. The rail trail also continues to the east along the river.

Lyons Dam

The rail trail back to Twain Harte is wide and flat and easy. Expect springtime mud and summer/fall dust. At the Lyons end, the trail starts down in the river canyon and the vegetation is lush on the north side of the canyon. Look for dogwood and big leaf maple for springtime flowering and fall color. As the river canyon descends towards Twain Harte, the trail is more open and exposed. Look for views across the canyon to the north.

Through cut on Sugar Pine RR Grade

There are some logged areas along the trail. Most of the trail is on land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, and public access is allowed by SPI. Though the stumpy hillsides aren’t so pretty, keep in mind that the railroad was built for logging. Please stay on the trail and respect private property.

To complete the loop, turn left on exiting the rail trail onto Confidence South Fork Road and then turn right onto Middle Camp Sugar Pine Road. Take Middle Camp Sugar Pine back to Joaquin Gully and backtrack to Eprosen Park.

Twain Harte to Lyons Dam Out-and-Back on the Sugar Pine Rail Trail

The railroad grade itself (see above) makes a fine ten-mile out-and-back for families or casual riders. Don’t look for helpful signage at either end of the trail–there is none. For a formal parking area and restroom, start at Lyons Reservoir. Access is via Lyons Reservoir Road off of SR 108 in Sierra Village. Follow the road from the parking area to the dam; the road turns into the trail as it continues past the dam.

From Twain Harte, look for the start of the trail on the east side of Confidence South Fork Road just north of the intersection with Middle Camp Sugar Pine Road. There are a few parking spots scattered along the edge of Confidence South Fork Road and additional parking on the shoulder of Middle Camp in front of the  substation just west of Confidence South Fork. Look for the following sign and gate. Welcome! This is it!

Twain Harte entrance to Sugar Pine Rail Trail

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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—Some rough road on 4N02 and access issues at the dam will make the longer loop too much for some riders, limited parking and signage at the Twain Harte end of the rail trail.
  • Upside—Short quick rides out of Twain Harte, RR grade alone is a great trip for kids with lake and dam to explore, elevation takes the temperature down a notch in summer heat.
  • Bring a good (better than Google) paper map of Stanislaus Forest Roads. See the page of Stanislaus Forest tips. Ride is in the Twain Harte quad.
  • Loop 15 miles; about 2,400 feet total climb. RR grade out-and-back 10 miles maybe 300 feet total climb. (Google says 750, but I don’t believe it.)
  • roads: paved, gravel, mostly dirt.
  • terrain: moderate to steep on 4N02 and surface streets, very mild on RR grade.
  • tires: cross to mountain, most will prefer mountain.
  • seasons: Winter closure gates on 4N02 and Lyons Reservoir Road.
  • current weather
Posted in casual and kids, mid elevation, mixed | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

American Camp Fire Lookout

American Camp Fire Lookout Tower

The American Camp Fire Lookout is located on top of a peak between the North Fork and South Fork of the Stanislaus where they join at the east end of New Melones Reservoir. The tower is no longer used, but what’s left of it is still standing. There are no 360 views from the ground, but the peak has great views especially to New Melones and the river canyon. The tower is visible from points along the ridge to the east and north of Columbia.

The tower is at the end of Forest Road 3N15 north of Columbia. It’s convenient to start the bike ride at Columbia State Historic Park; there’s parking, restrooms, food, and water. This ride is an out-and-back, so the comforts of town await you at the end. (Also see short loop option for kids/casual below.)

Head north out of town on Main Street which turns into Italian Bar Road as you pass the St. Charles Saloon. Italian Bar climbs for about two miles before it starts descending into the South Fork Stanislaus River canyon. At 2.5 miles the pavement ends and gravel starts.

Italian Bar Gate

Italian Bar gets a moderate amount of traffic for a gravel road that seems to be heading out to nowhere. The trip down, across the river, and up out of the canyon on the north side has some steep parts. The road is fairly wide and maintained, but it has areas with loose gravel and washboarding. Watch your speed, and look for smoother traveling on the outside edges of the curves.

After crossing the river and passing the sharp switchback and the climb to the American Camp Station site look for Forest Route 3N03 on the left (~7.5 miles from start). All that’s left of American Camp Station are some large boulders on the right side of the road blocking the removed bridge and a clearing across the creek.

American Camp Station

3N03 at Italian Bar Road

After a short climb on 3N03, look for a hillside with lots of evidence of shooting and off-roading on the left adjacent to the start of 3N15 (~8 miles from start).

3N15 at 3N03


Forest Route 3N15 keeps on climbing with a couple of short level sections. The higher it goes the better it gets with some nice meadows and an area of blue oak woodland that seems out of place for the elevation. There are usually cows out there clanging through the brush.

3N15 Meadow

New Melones Overlook

Eventually the road comes upon a clearing with a great view out over the lake and the Blue Mountain Minerals quarry. The photo doesn’t come even close to doing it justice. Maybe I’ll get a better picture some day.

The tower is up a last steep section of the road. Your cell phone may work at the tower. If you’re so inclined, try to give someone a call to let them know where you are and they aren’t.

Don’t forget about the climb back out of the river canyon on the way back. Once you hit the pavement, it just gets steeper. This ride always seems longer than it really is when climbing up Italian Bar on the way out.

Shorter ride for casual/kids: drive out Italian Bar, park at American Camp Station, and ride out to the tower and back. This shorter ride might work for more mature, adventurous, and somewhat studly kids (and grown ups) if you bring lots of treats and they bring some off-road skills and a good attitude. (About 7 miles round trip, 1,300 feet climbing.) Keep in mind this is still a good bit of climbing!

Sometimes people go out to shoot along this route. If they’re close enough to be of concern, a good loud holler of “On the road” couldn’t hurt.

Looking back up at the tower from the overlook trail

Looking back up at the tower from the overlook trail

There’s also a very nice trail out past the tower to an overlook of the North Fork and Melones. It’s essentially a continuation of the road out to the tower, but it narrows considerably. From the tower, backtrack a hundred feet or so to find the trail on the east side of the road. There is also a trail continuing straight ahead from the tower, but it travels straight down the ridge and is quite steep. The two trails join up further out on the point.

Stacked rock on overlook trail

Stacked rock on overlook trail

The overlook provides a perfect bookend to the Melones Dam overlook on the Peoria Mountain post. There are fine views toward the high country, east along the river canyon including the Camp Nine bridge, across the river to Calaveras County, and west to Melones and the Blue Mountain Minerals Quarry. The tower looms overhead to the south.

The trip out to the overlook adds 2 miles roundtrip and 500 feet of climbing.

North Fork canyon and penstock for Camp Nine

North Fork canyon and penstock for Camp Nine

Camp Nine Road and bridge

Camp Nine Road and bridge

Old Glory and canyon wall

Old Glory and canyon wall

New Melones and Blue Mountain Minerals Quarry

New Melones and Blue Mountain Minerals Quarry

Mrs. Tuolumne Bikes and view back to tower

Mrs. Tuolumne Bikes heading back to tower

Sunset approaching

Sunset approaching

Download file to view the rides on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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—Out-and-back, some washboarding on the steep sections of Italian Bar Road.
  • Upside—Very scenic with a mix of pines, oak woodland, lake, river canyon, great views and tower at the end.
  • Bring a good (better than Google) paper map of Stanislaus Forest Roads. See the page of Stanislaus Forest tips. Ride is in Columbia and Columbia SE quads.
  • 21.4 miles out-and-back from Columbia to the tower
  • About 4,000 feet total climb
  • roads: paved 5 miles, dirt and gravel 16.4 miles
  • terrain: mountainous
  • tires: cross to mountain, most folks will prefer mountain
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat, possible winter snow.
  • current weather
Posted in casual and kids, mid elevation, mixed | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Salt Spring Loop

The Salt Spring loop is as well known as any bike ride in the foothills partly or maybe mostly due to its use for the Copperopolis Road Race in the early spring. It’s a lovely ride with varied terrain, great scenery, and very little traffic, but the pavement is very rough. If you can set yourself up with 28C (1 1/8″) or wider tires, you’ll be fine. With 23C road tires, you may feel a bit beat up afterward. Any questions? Google “Copperopolis Road Race” and review the complaints from the racers.

I wouldn’t usually think of doing this ride at this time of year since it’s a downhill drive for me and it’s starting to warm up. But we are having another miserably cold Memorial Day weekend, and Mrs. Tuolumne Bikes suggested we go ride. This ride is neither too long or horribly steep. It worked out very well with cool weather,  far more bird activity than I ever recall on this ride, and a remarkable sky and lighting. She likes to look for geocaches, so in trading time for my photos and her poking around in the bushes, I saw a few new things.

We started the ride on Hunt Road at the east end of the loop; start wherever you can find a place wide enough to park. The loop includes a climb and a descent to and from the lower foothills at Milton and a rolling ramble through the higher elevation Salt Spring Valley and around the Salt Spring Reservoir. The lack of modern development on this ride give it a real “back in time” feel. Credit the awful road conditions–to be honest, the degree of development here hardly warrants paved roads at all–and maybe the groundwater quality for keeping this place rural.

We proceeded west on Hunt Road, climbing before cresting and starting the descent to Milton.

Climb out of Salt Spring Valley on Hunt Road

The ride is bumpy; this is a great descent for easing up on the grip and enjoying some speed keeping in mind that vehicles can also use the road. At Milton, turn left for a very short segment on Milton Road before another left at Rock Creek Road. There’s not much new in Milton besides the County landfill, but there is history in various states of disrepair. We made stops at the Masonic Hall (hard to miss) and Masonic Cemetery (quick left at the start of Rock Creek Road).

Milton Masonic Hall

Odd Building in Milton

Milton Masonic Cemetary

Memorial Day

Some kind residents were cleaning up for Memorial Day, and the flags were in place for the veterans. On the lower stretches on Rock Creek Road we came across this somewhat disorganized family of killdeer.


The climb on Rock Creek Road transitions from roly-poly to steady to bearably steep. If ever a road were named appropriately this it. The stacked rock embankments on the steep sections are a treat.

Rock Creek Road

The creek was running and the buckeyes were in bloom. Near the top there is a rich area of “leaky ditch” habitat. Past the campground and lake, Rock Creek Road turns right; go straight onto Felix Road and left onto Salt Spring Valley Road to complete the loop. Enjoy the old schoolhouse and panorama of the valley and lake on Salt Spring Valley Road.

Salt Spring Schoolhouse and Valley

I prefer to do this loop counter-clockwise mainly because the most traffic you are likely to encounter will be RVs or pickups with boats climbing Rock River Road to the campground on the south side of the lake. I would rather not encounter them when descending.

Alternates: add the loop around the eastern end of Salt Spring Valley on Salt Spring Valley and Hunt Roads; ride to the loop from Copperopolis on Rock Creek Road or from SR 4 on Hunt Road (don’t ride on SR 4).

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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—Remote, some pretty rough pavement, very hot and exposed in summer.
  • Upside—Nice countryside, next to no traffic.
  • 19.5 miles; about 1,750 feet total climb
  • roads: paved, but rough
  • terrain: rolling to steep
  • tires: road, but consider width
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat.
  • current weather
Posted in lower foothills, paved | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Paved Road to Nowhere

The area of this ride may be affected by the Stanislaus National Forest Rim Fire closure order. See the Rim Fire Closure Area page and the Stanislaus Forest website for details.

Nowhere may be an exaggeration, but most Forest Service Roads, even to well-traveled destinations, are gravel and usually have some tortured dirt sections with rocks and ruts to threaten oil pans and wheel alignments. This 34 mile loop includes about 24 miles on Forest Service Roads with as little traffic as you are likely to find and only 3 miles of gravel travel. If you can bring yourself to ride on touring tires, you’ve got a long stretch of pavement with nary a car in sight. You pay for the privilege with eight miles on SR 108 to close the loop. Do an out-and-back or shuttle if you’d rather avoid the highway.

I like to start this bike ride at the day use area on Merrill Springs Road at the North Fork of the Tuolumne River. There’s parking and the return from both directions is a coast downhill to the car. Turn off SR 108 at Long Barn and take Merrill Springs Road to the parking area. If you want to do the full loop, consider your ride on SR 108–if it’s Friday or Sunday afternoon, and it’s obvious that the traffic is predominantly going east or west, you may want to choose your direction around the loop to avoid the parade of vehicles. If the traffic direction is not a factor, I prefer to do the loop counter-clockwise with a gradual climb eastward on multiple Forest Service Roads and a long winding descent on Crabtree Road.

Forest Route 31 (3N01)

Traveling ccw from the day use area, take Forest Route (FR) 31 (3N01) across the river and start climbing. You may want to stop at the entrance to Hull Creek Campground (at 7 3/4 miles) and get some cold water from the spring. At 8 miles, look for a paved road to the left with a sign for Trout Creek Overlook (1 mile) and Dodge Meadow (6 miles) and a sign post for FR 4N09. After 2 miles on 4N09, there will be an intersection splitting to gravel roads. Take 3N11Y to the right and downhill. The 3N11Y signpost is not in great shape, but it’s there. After a short (1/4 mile) and moderately steep descent, look for FR 3N10 (gravel) to the left. 3N10 is alternately gravel or crumbling pavement for 3 miles until reaching another intersection with 4N09. Proceed right on 4N09, and look for 4N25 (paved) on the left.

Fahey Cabin on FR 31 (3N01)

Fresh water from spring at Hull Creek Campground entrance

Forest Route 4N25

FR 4N25 is the real road to nowhere on the loop. It’s a great paved climb with nothing but the trees and peeks of the granite to the east to distract you. Take 4N25 5 miles to the intersection with Crabtree Road (4N26)–Look for the Kerrick Corrals Horse Camp and large directional signs for Aspen Meadows, Crabtree Trailhead, and Giannelli Cabin. Ignore all of those directions, because you are headed to the left, back toward civilization. Enjoy a long descent (6 1/2 miles) on Crabtree Road before arriving at SR 108. Turn left and return to the North Fork day use area via the Long Barn turn off and Merrill Springs Road.

View to the east from 4N25


  • Instead of return on Crabtree Road, proceed to Dodge Ridge Road and descend to Pinecrest to visit the store, get coffee, or relax by the lake.
  • Close the loop on unpaved roads and trails. Descend Dodge Ridge Road to Pinecrest and take the Sugar Pine Rail Trail to Lyons Reservoir. Take Lyons Dam Road to Highway 108 and return to Long Barn on a segment with good shoulders. See Pinecrest to Columbia on Sugar Pine Railway and Ditch Trails.
  • Shuttle–get family or friends to drop you off at Long Barn on their way to Pinecrest and ride up to meet them.

Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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—Out in the boonies, lots of climbing, stretch on state highway.
  • Upside—Out in the boonies, lots of climbing, very scenic pine/fir forest, spring at Hull Creek, mostly paved with almost no cars.
  • Bring a Forest Service map–Google maps and others are lousy on Forest Service roads. GPS is a good idea. More on the Stanislaus Forest.
  • In general, no cell coverage. See cell spots painted on 3N01.
  • About 4,200 feet total climb
  • roads: 33.6 miles total, 3.25 miles gravel, 8 miles on SR 108
  • terrain: mountainous
  • tires: touring or wider
  • seasons: late spring to first snow. 3N01 is gated at North Fork Tuolumne for winter closure.
  • current weather
Posted in high country, mixed | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Peoria Mountain

Peoria Mountain is at the south end of the New Melones Dam. The area is under the jurisdiction of the US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and is accessed from the end off Shell Road which in turn is accessed off of Rawhide Road just north of Jamestown. There is some street parking at the gate at the end of Shell Road, or proceed on the dirt road past the gate to a dirt lot used mostly by rock climbers and hikers using the Table Mountain Trail. A trail map is available from BOR.

The access road is dirt and starts as a wide tangle of tracks forged by vehicles trying to avoid the mud bogs of previous tracks. It’s a bumpy mess in a car, but rather like a mega motocross track on a bike. Past the Table Mountain lot, the gates are locked, so the bike ride is car-free. The road heads west along the south end of the lake and then turns north through another gate as the Peoria Ridge Trail toward Peoria Mountain. I used to bring my kids here when they were younger (seven +). The hills aren’t terribly steep or long, so if your kids are up to it, it’s a good place to work on basic mountain bike skills.

Table Mountain

South end of New Melones Lake

The terrain and trail conditions change as the road approaches Peoria Mountain. The Peoria Mountain trail gets steep with one rocky and eroded section on the way up, but the views of the lake and river canyon from the top are worth the work.

View west to Stanislaus River canyon

Trail out to overlook

Parking at dam overlook

New Melones Dam panorama

There are two potential loops at the end–the Peoria Mountain Trail continues and descends at a crazy-steep slope to an equestrian staging/ parking area at the end of New Peoria Flat Road. The trail is crossed by deep ditches instead of water bars. The trail is open to bikes, but it is really more of a horse trail. For most riders the Peoria Mountain Trail will make a better out-and-back with a turn around after the dam overview area.

There is another two-track road that descends from the Peoria Mountain Trail to the  Green Springs Trail. The upper end of this road is also very steep and badly eroded with lots of loose rock. If you decide to descend or scramble down to New Peoria Flat Road, the mostly single-track Green Springs Trail has a couple of challenging sections, and provides an alternate route back to the Peoria Ridge Trail and Shell Road.

Download file to view the rides on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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—Out-and-back unless you’re up for some challenging riding/scrambling to make a loop, very hot in summer.
  • Upside—Very scenic with a mix of oak woodland, lake, river canyon, and Table Mountain views.
  • 11 miles out-and-back to Peoria Mountain and dam overlook
  • About 1,800 feet total climb
  • roads and trails: dirt
  • terrain: rolling to mountainous
  • tires: cross to mountain
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat
  • current weather
Posted in casual and kids, mid elevation, unpaved | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marshes Flat/Priest-Coulterville Roads

This set of rides with three options extends south into Mariposa County. There are large pullouts on SR 120 near Jacksonville Road or at the intersection of SR 120 and SR 49 at Moccasin for parking. If you’re up for more distance and climbing, link with the south of Sonora loops for a long bike ride out of Sonora.

The ride starts southbound on SR 49 and quickly turns right onto a steep climb on Marshes Flat Road. Marshes Flat rambles through beautiful ranch country and has the Mystery Spot effect of seeming to have a much higher climb from SR 49 than the descent back to the level of Lake Don Pedro as you wind through the back country. I always figure this is the uphill part of the lake. As Marshes Flat Road enters the Lake Don Pedro subdivision, the name changes to Blanchard Road. Blanchard ends at a T-intersection at Granite Springs Road. Turn left and proceed eastward to Penon Blanco Road.

hot tub cow trough

California Cattle Trough

old cattle fence and pavement

Marshes Flat Fence and Penon Blanco Pavement

At Penon Blanco you need to decide–steep and funky old road with no traffic, or modern pavement on SR 132 to Coulterville. SR 132 is not horrible, but expect traffic and a long stretch with narrow shoulders. There are fine views either way.

Penon Blanco Road

Penon Blanco Road Climb

Either turn left onto Penon Blanco Road (Options 1 or 3) or continue on Granite Springs to SR 132 (Option 2). If choosing 132, turn left and continue to Coulterville. If proceeding on Penon Blanco, the road starts climbing gradually but gets quite steep before it’s over. The pavement is rough and appears to be ready to give way to gravel in spots, but the road is paved all the way through. On the oldest parts, the pavement on Penon Blanco looks like it could be some of the oldest exposed asphalt in the state. With conspicuously large chunks of milky white quartz mixed in and the occasional piece of bedrock showing through, it’s remarkably smooth compared to the more heavily patched areas. After descending eastward to SR 49, turn right to continue to Coulterville (Option 1), or turn left to return to Moccasin (Option 3).

Enjoy a break in Coulterville–there are restaurants, a small grocery store, and a little park with less shade than Coultervillans and their visitors deserve. Greeley Hill Road heads east, and Priest-Coulterville Road is a left turn to the north. There is plenty more climbing on Priest-Coulterville. The pavement is good, and there is little traffic. Keep your wits about you turning left onto SR 12o to descend new Priest Grade. The crossing traffic for Old Priest Grade can be fast, visibility is poor, and the intersection confuses all but the most familiar. The descent on SR 120 is somewhere between a thrilling winding descent and slightly boring in it’s precise engineering of grade and curves. The pavement is new and smooth as a baby’s butt. Experienced cyclists can easily outrun the RVs; you may find you need to ride the brakes.

Download file to view the rides on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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

puncture vine along Granite Springs Road

Goathead along Granite Springs Road

  • Downside—Watch out for goathead (puncture vine) along Granite Springs Road, lots of climbing, very hot and exposed in summer.
  • Upside—Lots of climbing, nice countryside, historic Coulterville, little traffic except on State highway segments.
  • Options 1 and 2, 34 miles; Option 3, 24 miles
  • Options 1 and 2, about 5,000 feet total climb; Option 3, about 3,400 feet total climb
  • roads: paved
  • terrain: mountainous
  • tires: road
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat and summer/weekend traffic
  • current weather
Posted in mid elevation, paved | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Cooperstown Loop—A Tale of Two Bridges

This ride explores the lower foothills in Stanislaus County, just southwest of the County line. The southern leg of the loop skirts Turlock Lake State Recreation Area (on the State park closure list) on Lake Road. There are multiple opportunities to park along the road, at the lake, or at the various access points to the Tuolumne River which snakes between Lake Road and SR 132.

Traveling counter-clockwise around the loop from Lake Road, turn right onto a two-mile section on SR 132 that is a bit hairy. The road is narrow with very little shoulder and cliff along the right. Visibility is poor, and there is nowhere to go but the travel lane. Be prepared to take the lane and pedal hard if needed. Because of this short segment, this is not a good bike ride for novices or busy summer weekends. Do this ride during the cool seasons. Turn left onto La Grange Road (J59) and travel north to Cooperstown Road. Most of J59 is no fun for bikes, but this short section has a good shoulder. Turning left on Cooperstown leads to 16 miles of open rolling ranch land including nine miles of dirt/gravel on Cooperstown Road and seven miles of pavement on Crabtree Road. Crabtree Road emerges onto SR132; turn right and ride a short stretch before turning left at Roberts Ferry Road. Continue south to turn left at Lake Road to complete the loop.

When I planned this loop I made note of the covered bridge at Roberts Ferry, and I figured I could feature it in the blog. It is a very nice reconstruction and a cool place to take a break. But when I got out on Cooperstown Road I found the real gem of the trip, the Rydberg Creek bridge.Rydberg Creek Bridge on Cooperstown Road

This bridge is real, old, and a real piece of folk art. I don’t generally want to be in the pictures, but the black and orange had to be captured, and no, I didn’t dress for the occasion. The last time I was out here, the Giants hadn’t won the World Series since 1954. If you want to make a pilgrimage, the photo is linked on the Google Earth map of the loop. The bridge is in Stanislaus County, but most of the background is in Tuolumne.

There is, no doubt, an interesting story behind this bridge, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this happened on Cooperstown Road. Even the arches in the railings are painted black inside. I did some Googling to see what I might find. Unfortunately “orange San Francisco Giants bridge” brings up stuff about some other orange bridge in San Francisco. Go figure. Maybe someone should go stencil 2010 World Champs on that bridge. Searching on “Rydberg Creek Bridge” brings up the sad fact that Stanislaus County intends to replace the bridge. So if you care about such oddities, go see it while it lasts and maybe epoxy your favorite bobble-head or souvenir bat to it.

Edit 2/15/2013: I rode this loop with a friend last weekend out of Knights Ferry via Willms Road. It adds about 14 miles to make about 45 miles total. We rode it clockwise, and I think that’s an improvement on the SR 132 segment near La Grange Road. It’s just as narrow–all the advisories above still apply–but there are better opportunities to bail off the road if needed. No 2012 World Series bridge yet.

Download file to view the loop on the Google Earth bike map
Download or update Google Earth for free:
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—Short but difficult section on SR 132, stinky dairy at Roberts Ferry.
Upside—Long stretches of gently rolling countryside with very little traffic, cool bridges.

  • 31 miles, as mapped
  • about 1,500 feet total climb
  • roads: paved, gravel and dirt
  • terrain: rolling hills to flat
  • tires: touring or wider
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat and summer/weekend traffic
  • current weather
Posted in lower foothills, mixed | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wards Ferry Road/Priest Grade

Wards Ferry Road crosses the Tuolumne River canyon at the east end of Lake Don Pedro  and connects Sonora to Groveland and Big Oak Flat. A bike ride on Wards Ferry is an adventure unto itself with steep descents on narrow pavement with almost no traffic and epic climbs out of the canyon in either direction. The descent from the Groveland side is especially fine. The low-tech historic road stands in stark contrast to the modern graffitti-plastered bridge over the river, built when the river was inundated by Lake Don Pedro.

The loop uses New Priest Grade, the long winding section of SR 120 between Moccasin and Big Oak Flat. Ride the loop clockwise to descend on New Priest Grade and minimize time on the heavily traveled highway, or do it counter-clockwise if you’d rather, but pick an off-peak time to avoid buses, boats, and RVs and the intermingled smells of overheating brakes and coolant as you climb the grade.

Old Priest Grade is the much straighter, narrower, and steeper road parallel to and to the south of the highway. South County locals depend on the old road to bypass the slower traffic on the highway, so it may be driven faster and with less attention to your safety than you might like. The locals will not expect bikes on this road. If you really can’t resist the pull of a ridiculously steep climb, look for a quiet time to conquer Old Priest Grade, perhaps very early on a Sunday morning. It would be great to close the road for a couple of hours per year to let everyone get a chance to suffer up the hill. For a slightly less ambitious but traffic free and still plenty nutso substitute, try Covington Road in Columbia.

The bike ride can be extended to Coulterville via Priest-Coulterville Road and Marshes Flat Road or SR 49. Return via Jacksonville and Twist Roads. The loop on the map was started from the shady spot at the intersection of Murphy Road and Lime Kiln Road, but the ride can be started in Sonora or Jamestown. Big Oak Flat has places to refuel. Moccasin has no store, but is an interesting stop to explore a piece of the Hetch Hetchy system supplying water and power to San Francisco. There is small neighborhood of modest employee housing reminiscent of similar public projects of its day like the Presidio and the older State Parks, and there is a historic Powerhouse. There is green, shade, and bodies of water (no swimming) on a hot summer day.

Combining Wards Ferry with Cottonwood Road out of Tuolumne, Cherry Lake Road, and SR 120 makes a loop worthy of training for the Death Ride with multiple climbs through the various forks and tributaries of the Tuolumne.

Download file to view the loop on the Google Earth bike map

Download or update Google Earth for free:
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

  • 32 miles, as mapped
  • about 5,000 feet total climb
  • roads: paved
  • terrain: moderately hilly to very steep
  • tires: road
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat
  • current weather
Posted in mid elevation, paved | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment


The lion’s share of the work on this project so far has been figuring out the technology and how to make it simple for the user. As it has evolved I’ve reworked the pages and post format to try to improve the maps and also to make the posts clearer on how to use the maps. There’s plenty more reworking to come, but once the format is worked out the posts will begin to flow. I have plenty of material.

One stumbling block has been how to update the maps from the old posts as more roads are mapped for the new posts. I figured it out, and it’s not hard, but it will require some more reworking of the site and the maps. It’ll be simpler and more intuitive because there won’t need to be a “big map” anymore–every map will be the big map with the current loop highlighted. I also should acknowledge that the layers of colors for the roads (red on black for instance) may not be something that Google Earth is really set up for. It works with an occasional glitch, but I don’t know for sure that it always will or how things will hold up as the size of the map grows. That’s another research project for me.

I have changed the blog settings to allow the search engines to index the site, so I’ll be working to get the bugs worked out before the real world starts to see it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

South of Sonora #1

The most easily accessible road bike rides in the County are in the agricultural area south of Sonora and Jamestown. There is a network of top notch country roads with very low traffic in this scenic area featuring open ranch land, old bridges, and creek corridors lined with oaks. Winter brings back the green, and spring time adds the wildflowers. Terrain is moderate, and loops of 15 miles and longer are easy to arrange. Extend loops south to Moccasin, Groveland, or Coulterville or east to Tuolumne for longer rides.Valley oaks on Algerine Wards Ferry Road

Starting in Sonora or Jamestown provides easy access to food and facilities on your return. In the summer, you can get an early start at the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market on Stewart Street in Sonora and then ride south.

Algerine Road bridge

This loop is a 28 mile long bow-tie shaped affair starting in Jamestown. Every road on this bike ride is a winner. I like the climb on Twist Road from Jacksonville Road and the downhill on Murphy Road, but there is no real reason to ride the loop in any particular direction. There’s parking in downtown Jamestown (not to be confused with the Jamestown suburbs) or at Railtown in the big lot on Sierra Ave.

Download file to view the loop on the Google Earth bike map

Download or update Google Earth for free:
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

  • roads: paved
  • terrain: rolling to moderately hilly
  • tires: road
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat
  • current weather
Posted in mid elevation, paved | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Big Map

The Big Map isn’t all that big, especially so far. It’s just a map to show the various loops on as the posts accumulate. Once the core of the county is on the Big Map, each loop and the road segments on that loop will be added to the Big Map as the posts are generated, so the Big Map will serve as a visual index to the posts on the site.

tuolumne county bike map

There are many roads I don’t ride on because they have lots of traffic or aren’t very interesting. If I were touring or commuting, I might feel differently about them. They also belong on the Big Map. The Big Map should eventually evolve into a useful  interactive county bike map.

Download bigmap.kmz to view the map in Google Earth
Download or update Google Earth for free:
Get help with using Google Earth to view the map file

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Orange Blossom/Warnerville Road

This is an approximately 30 mile loop near Knights Ferry in eastern Stanislaus County. About two miles are gravel, but the gravel connection allows the best riding in the loop to be included: Warnerville Road and Willms Road. The terrain is gentle by any measure with about 300 feet elevation change between the high and low points. Parking and facilities are available at Knights Ferry. This is a fine winter bike ride, but likely to be very hot in the summer.

Download file to view the loop on the Google Earth bike map

Download or update Google Earth for free:
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

Warnerville Road passes the site of the ever approaching train bearing the murderous Frank Miller from the classic film High Noon. Once you’ve seen that hill in person (looking to the west just east of the big turkey barns), it’s easily spotted in the movie.

I think the water tank is original, but the depot was built for the movie. All are gone now except the tracks. The movie featured the Sierra Railway Engine #3 from the Jamestown shops–now Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Watch the movie before you do the ride and you can almost hear Tex Ritter singing the theme song as you ride. (At least it’s not Blood on the Saddle.) The photos are also linked on the Google Earth map.

  • roads: mixed
  • terrain: flat to rolling
  • tires: anything but the skinniest road tires
  • seasons: all, with precautions for summer heat
  • current weather
Posted in lower foothills, mixed | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Camp Nine/Italian Bar Road

This is a long adventure bike ride straddling the Stanislaus River Calaveras/Tuolumne County line. About 19 miles of the ride is paved along Parrotts Ferry, Camp Nine, and Italian Bar Roads, though most of the nine miles of Camp Nine Road would be best described as “potholes holding hands.” The rest is gravel, dirt, and for a short stretch on Forest Service Road 3N03, chunky rock. In 34 miles there is more than 5,000 feet of climbing with two crossings of the North Fork Stanislaus and crossings of Knight Creek, Rose Creek, and the South Fork of the Stanislaus. This ride is very challenging especially during warm weather, so riders should be in excellent condition and well prepared with ample food and water. The Knight Creek crossing can be wet, especially in springtime.

Download file to view the loop on the Google Earth bike map

Download or update Google Earth for free:
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

It is best to do this loop clockwise, because Parrotts Ferry Road has truck traffic and very narrow shoulders on the Tuolumne County side of the Stanislaus. Traveling clockwise the trip is downhill in Tuolumne and uphill on the Calaveras side where there are wider shoulders. There are parking and amenities in Columbia. You could also start on the Calaveras side and visit Murphys or Angels Camp afterwards to refuel.

  • roads: mixed
  • terrain: challenging
  • tires: cross to mountain
  • seasons: all, with precautions for winter and summer weather and road conditions
  • current weather
Posted in mid elevation, mixed | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments