Many of the routes on this site involve Forest Service roads in the Stanislaus National Forest. The signs get vandalized, so Forest Service road aren’t always well-marked. Don’t head off into the Stanislaus without a decent idea of where you are going and a paper map.
Fortunately, there are good maps available. The Stanislaus maintains a page with links to pdf files for a variety of maps of the Stanislaus. Also see the Google Earth Overlays page for maps of the Stanislaus that can be used with Google Earth and the Tuolumne Bikes maps.
The Forest Service sells paper maps that look like this: I find this useful for the big picture, because the entire forest is on the map. But any particular ride you are likely to take will occupy a small portion of the map, and this map is big, clumsy, and kind of hard to read.
The best maps I have seen for the Stanislaus are very clear topographic quad maps that were prepared for the environmental review of the Motorized Travel Management Plan, and they are available for free download on the Stanislaus website. Be sure to check out the help guide–the maps have layers, and the guide shows how to access the layers in Adobe Reader so you can customize the maps. Print what you need for your ride. See the Google Earth Map Overlays page for more information on Stanislaus Forest maps.
The topo maps are comprehensive and easier to read, but they come with some caveats. They show several planning alternatives that were considered in formulating the Motorized Travel Management Plan. Do not use these as a guide for motorized travel. If you’re on a bike, you should be fine, but some of the roads on these maps have been made off-limits for various types of motor vehicles. The topo maps also show which roads have seasonal closures. The topos show some non-authorized road/trail segments that were surveyed for the environmental evaluation. Don’t make things worse–stay on the roads and authorized trails, please.
The Forest Service also sells an atlas of 8 1/2 x 11 quad maps for the Stanislaus for about $20. I like the free ones on the web better, because they have better contrast and more information about the roads. I can also print them at whatever scale I want, and they are more up to date.
The Forest Service is conservative in labeling roads through private property as off-limits. If they don’t have a documented right of way, they show the road segments as off-limits regardless of how many years the roads have been open for public access.
Since you may be driving into the Forest to get to your ride, be aware of the Travel Management Final Rule and the free Motorized Travel Use Maps which show the final approved routes for motorized travel.
Keep in mind that the National Forests are “The Land of Many Abuses”. They allow people to cut down trees, dig up rocks, collect firewood, harvest christmas trees, and graze livestock. People come from all around to hunt, ride ATVs, and shoot at stuff. It’s a good idea to check at the ranger stations for details about where timber harvests are taking place etc. People with private in-holdings in the forests are understandably defensive about their property. Carry an accurate map and respect private property by staying on the road. The Forest Service website is rather bare-bones about places to go and see. Try http://stanislaustour.com/index.html for more information and photos of common destinations.