Distance: 26 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2300 ft (north to south)
(Update: in 2021 the Caldor Fire started near Grizzly Flat, directly to the west of this ride. It spread east until it ended up threatening the Tahoe Basin. So North South Road was directly in its path and in all likelihood was devastated by the burn. In fact our route goes through the infinitesimal community of Caldor. I haven’t been back to the area since the fire.)
North South Road is a small back road that runs north and south (duh) between Mormon Emigrant Trail (which is actually a large two-lane road) and Omo Ranch Rd. It often lacks a center line, and some maps don’t even show it (AAA does). My friend Steve Cimini of the Sacramento Bike Hikers showed it to me. It meanders pleasantly up and down, never getting particularly taxing, through standard nice Sierra pine/cedar forest, but the thing that sets it apart is the solitude. Usually I measure traffic in cars per mile, a good road being a car or two per mile; on North South you measure traffic in cars per hour. The last time I rode it, on a fine Monday summer midday, I saw 3 vehicles, and I did 18.6 miles before I saw the first one. It has a good surface for a road this little used—only the most fastidious will be put off. Not a great ride but a very good one.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
To find North South Rd., go east up Mormon Emigrant Trail for 11 miles from the Jenkinson Lake dam. Check your odometer at the dam so you don’t worry you missed it, though there are two small but clearly visible road signs at the turn-off.
I’ve mapped the road from north to south, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t ride it in the other direction, and no reason why you couldn’t do it as a moderately taxing out and back. It’s more climbing heading north (3 substantial climbs instead of 1), so the elevation gain total will do much more than double on the out-and-back. There’s no road sign at the south end, though there are bold turn-off signs in both directions on Omo Ranch.
Once you’re on North South, you can’t get lost, despite the complexity of the route on Mapmyride—just stay on the main road at any intersection. From the north, it’s up and down, mostly down, all the way to the Cosumnes River crossing at 20 miles, then up and down, mostly up, to Omo Ranch Rd. The only climbing you’ll notice are the last 3 miles, and they’re moderate.
This road is so remote that there are stretches of road overgrown with shrubbery to the point where you can’t see the pavement’s edge. Having said that, I must admit that there’s a lot going on along this road, most of it in the last 6 miles: a developed campground at mile 7 (Capp’s), another at mile 20 (PiPi—and, yes, it has a bathroom, but it’s pronounced “pie-pie”), and several OHV playgrounds, which might be a strong argument for not doing this ride on a weekend. The road is also crawling with signage, so you’ll have little doubt about where you are. The only exception to that is, about 6.5 miles in there’s an unsigned fork in the road. North South, the slightly main-er road, curves L; Capp’s Crossing angles R. Some helpful soul has painted “NS RD” and “CAPPS X-ING RD” on the road with appropriate arrows.
Immediately after PiPi Campground (unmissable) the road makes a sharp turn across the Glenn Oviatt Bridge. But before you cross it, if it’s late enough in the year, go 100 ft. down the little dirt road that goes downstream right before the bridge and go wading or swimming in the Cosumnes River. I did this in August after a week of 100+-degree days, and it was heaven. While you’ve stopped, go over to PiPi across the road and look at the telephone booth—must be the last one in America.
Much as I like this ride, I don’t think it’s worth riding as an out-and-back, so here’s a very good 74-mile loop incorporating North South Rd.: From Somerset (which is little more than a grocery store and a couple of other buildings) ride north on Mt. Aukum Rd. (this involves you almost immediately in a serious climb, but it’s either do it now or at the end of the ride when you’re whipped). At Pleasant Valley go R onto Sly Park Rd. At Jenkinson Lake go R, cross the dam, check your odometer, and ride Mormon Emigrant to North South, ride to Omo Ranch Rd., and go R on Omo Ranch (a lovely long easy descent). Turn R on Fairplay Rd., and take it through Fairplay to Mt. Aukum Rd. Turn R on Mt. Aukum and ride back to your car. This loop has a lot of climbing, and there’s a nasty kicker of a climb in the last ½ mile, just when that’s the last thing you want.
Shortening the route: There is no particular goal to ride to on this road, except the Cosumnes River crossing, which is unfortunately near the end, so if I couldn’t loop it I’d just turn around when I reached half my desired mileage total. It’s all pretty much the same forest.
Adding miles: As with most Gold Country rides, everything around you is good. A third of the way down North South, at Capps Crossing, Capps Crossing Rd. takes off heading R/west, and you can ride it out to Grizzly Flat and take the Grizzly Flat Rd. west to Somerset, which I’ve never done but have heard good things about. Mormon Emigrant Trail, at the north end of North South, is part of the Carson Pass Plus ride. The Cream of the Sierra Century ride is right below you.
Afterthoughts: If you do the 74-mile loop, you’ll need water. You can fill up at Capps Campground or Pi Pi, assuming they’re open. At the south end of North South, turn L on Omo Ranch Rd. and in 1 mile you’ll hit Cooks Station, an outpost where you can resupply. There’s little on the loop after Cooks. You pass through five named “communities,”, but they’re all TINO’s (towns in name only), so don’t count on anything.