Author Archives: Jack Rawlins

South Round Valley Road

Distance: 12.6-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 425 ft

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

This is not a great or thrilling ride, but it’s perfectly pleasant, a short, flat stroll through the Owens Valley fields with nice Sierra mountains as a backdrop to the west. I include it because our Eastern Sierra riding is short on recovery-day rides, and this is an ideal one. If you want to add on to it, there are two harder rides at its turn-around point (see Adding Rides below).

Turn off Hwy 395 onto Saw Mill Rd.—yes, to my surprise, if you’re coming from the south you can cross the divided highway. Park in the large dirt parking lot at the intersection of South Round Valley Rd. and Saw Mill. Ride SRVR to its intersection with Pine Creek Rd. Return. Other than the prison you pass, there’s not much to talk about.

Shortening the ride: Not imaginable.

Adding Miles: Your turn-around point is on Pine Creek Rd., which is one of the better climbs in our By Regions list of area rides if you go left. If you go right on PCR, in a stone’s throw you hit the southern terminus of Rock Creek Rd., also in By Regions. Either will satisfy any climbing jones you may be having. If you want more easy riding, cross Pine Creek Rd. and continue on North Round Valley Rd., which will about double your mileage—see Robert’s comment below for details.

Horseshoe Meadows Road

Distance: 38.3-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 6015 ft

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

I also recommend you read this write-up in tandem with our Whitney Portal Road ride. They’re right next to each other geographically—in fact Horseshoe Meadows Rd. takes off from Whitney Portal Rd.,—and they’re almost identical in character, profile, rewards, and difficulty level. And so the write-ups for the two rides are identical as well.

I haven’t ridden either one of them. There are only three rides in Bestrides I haven’t ridden: these two and Bristlecone Pine Forest, a few miles north on Hwy 395. Because they’re too hard for me. But, if you like a grand climbing challenge, all three are bucket-list rides. Remember, the elevation makes all three rides much harder than the numbers would suggest.

Horseshoe Meadows is the longer of the two rides, by 15 miles, and it’s more overall gain, but the average pitch is a bit milder (though still nasty). One fan of Bestrides whose opinion I trust says Whitney Portal is better than Horseshoe Meadows. Tom (below) argues for Horseshoe Meadows. You’ll have to do both and decide for yourself.

Of all the rides that go west from Hwy 395 and climb into the Sierra (they’re listed in the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page), everyone agrees, these two are the best. What sets them apart from the others is that, while the others head up draws or canyons—essentially breaks in the cliff wall—these two switchback straight up the wall for a while, thus making the ride steeper, harder, and much more dramatic, with even grander views of the valley below and even faster descents. I would imagine that 45 mph would be easy to maintain, and, with no guardrails and a prodigious drop-off, I wouldn’t consider doing either of these rides without disc brakes (and zero acrophobia).

The switchbacks

Shortening the ride: I’m guessing, but I’d say for thrills, ride to the top of the switchbacks and return; for fewer thrills, drive to the top of the switchbacks and ride to the end of the road.

Adding miles: You’re kidding, right? For a few more miles, ride our Tuttle Creek Rd. ride, whose turn-around point you ride right past a couple of miles into this ride. For a lot more miles, ride our Whitney Portal Rd. ride—just ride to the start/finish of this ride and turn west.

Whitney Portal Road

Distance: 23.6 out and back
Elevation gain: 4610 ft

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

I also recommend you read this write-up in tandem with our Horseshoe Meadows Road ride. They’re right next to each other geographically—in fact Horseshoe Meadows Rd. takes off from Whitney Portal Rd.,—and they’re almost identical in character, profile, rewards, and difficulty level. And so the write-ups for the two rides are identical as well.

I haven’t ridden either one of them. There are only three rides in Bestrides I haven’t ridden: these two and Bristlecone Pine Forest, a few miles north on Hwy 395. Because they’re too hard for me. But, if you like a grand climbing challenge, all three are bucket-list rides. Remember, the elevation makes all three rides much harder than the numbers would suggest.

Horseshoe Meadows is the longer of the two rides, by 15 miles, and it’s more overall gain, but the average pitch is a bit milder (though still nasty). One fan of Bestrides whose opinion I trust says Whitney Portal is better than Horseshoe Meadows. Tom (in the comments after the Horseshoe Meadows post) argues for Horseshoe Meadows. You’ll have to do both and decide for yourself.

Of all the rides that go west from Hwy 395 and climb into the Sierra (they’re listed in the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page), everyone agrees, these two are the best. What sets them apart from the others is that, while the others head up draws or canyons—essentially breaks in the cliff wall—these two switchback straight up the wall for a while, thus making the ride steeper, harder, and much more dramatic, with even grander views of the valley below and even faster descents. I would imagine that 45 mph would be easy to maintain, and, with no guardrails and a prodigious drop-off, I wouldn’t consider doing either of these rides without disc brakes (and zero acrophobia).

Approaching the climb—note the switchbacks

For a death-defying drive to nowhere, Whitney Portal Rd. has quite a bit of traffic, because it’s the road everyone must take to reach Mt.-Whitney-area hiking and backpacking trailheads.

Looking down on the Owens Valley and Lone Pine from partway up the switchback

Shortening the ride: I’m guessing, but I’d say for thrills, ride to the top of the switchback and return; for fewer thrills, drive to the top of the switchback and ride to the end of the road.

Adding miles: You’re kidding, right? For a few more miles, ride our Tuttle Creek Rd. ride, whose starting point you rode right past at the start of this ride. For a lot more miles, ride our Horseshoe Meadows Rd. ride, whose starting point you rode right past near the start of this ride.

June Lake “Loop”

Distance: 32.4-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 1960 ft

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

This is the go-to easy, pretty ride on the eastern side of the Sierra—the one you take your partner or casual-cyclist buddy on. It’s also where you go in the Eastern Sierra for lush—If you find most of the riding in the area too open, rocky, and desert-y for you, this is your ride. It goes through very pretty aspen-filled woods, past three lakes and one unforgettable boulder, and through the town of June Lake, a bustling recreational village (think Mammoth Lakes but much smaller and less pretentious). The route is pretty built-up, but in an unobtrusive, one-with-nature sort of way. It’s a “loop” in quotation marks because the road is called “June Lake Loop” in all the literature, but it isn’t one—it’s a horseshoe. More on that in the ride directions.

The elevation gain is mild, but if you like to do your climbing first, then your descending, start at the northern terminus and ride south. On the other hand, the ride as mapped begins with the best scenery and steadily gets worse, so if you think you aren’t going to do the entire mileage, start at the south end. The riding is A-level up to about Reverse Creek, then B up to the end of Silver Lake, then C to the terminus on 395.

Start at the intersection of June Lake Loop and Hwy 395. There’s a large store there with parking, and a large, expensive sign reading “Welcome to June Lake Loop” telling you they want your tourist dollars.

June Lake

Ride June Lake Loop to its end at Hwy 395. The only significant pitch is the initial drop down to June Lake. Linger over the views of June Lake, because it’s the prettiest lake of the three on the route—Silver Lake is just nice and Grant Lake is barren.

Watch for a remarkable double boulder on your R. It’s so striking that both resorts on either side of it take their names from it: Boulder Lodge on one side and Big Rock Resort on the other.

June Lake, the community, is well worth a stroll.

Midway in the ride you cross Reverse Creek, so named because it’s flowing in the opposite direction from most of the watershed in the area. Not a big deal.

By Silver Lake you’re beginning to leave the woods behind, and the terrain becomes flatter, drier, and more barren. The last few miles are dead straight, through nearly flat, typical Eastern Sierra rabbit brush country. You can skip those miles if you want, but the distance is short.

The famous boulder

To ride this route as an actual loop, at 395 you would turn R and ride 395 back to your car. If you do this, you will have an long, unpleasant, tedious slog of a climb up the highway shoulder with little to look at among busy traffic. I strongly discourage it. Instead, turn around and ride back the way you came.

When you get close to June Lake, you can see new country by taking Northshore Drive to your L and going around the back side of the lake. The road is a bit rougher than the main road and the landscape more harsh (there are signs reading “bike route” and “rough road”), but it’s also much less built-up and less trafficked. I’ve mapped it that way.

The north-end terrain—Grant Lake

Shortening the ride: Turn around when you want to.

Adding miles: There is no other good riding in the immediate area. You’re a few highway miles from Mammoth Lakes and our Devil’s Postpile ride.

Devil’s Postpile

Distance: 16.2 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1970 ft

Warning: At the moment (9/23) this road is only open on weekends, and may soon be closed entirely for construction. When the road isn’t under construction, cars are often banned and car visitors are required to take a shuttle bus. Check road conditions and restrictions before heading out.

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

This is the only ride in Bestrides I don’t really like. But I want to talk about it, because it’s iconic, you’ll want to know what it’s like, and it might get much better soon (as of 9/23).

This ride descends from the Minarets Vista summit to Devil’s Postpile National Monument, then climbs back out. In RidewithGPS it looks pretty good—not much work (you can do 16 miles standing on your head, right?), some great views of the Minarets to the west, some fast, serpentine descending, some pleasant rollers through pretty woods, and a great destination at the turn-around. Devil’s Postpile is a wonder of nature that’s not to be missed. There is even a grand waterfall just past the Postpile, Rainbow Falls.

So what’s not to like? First and foremost, it’s much harder than the numbers make it appear, for five reasons: 1. Traffic—like most National Somethings, the place can be mobbed, and all visitors must travel the same, very narrow, very rough road. Many of them at 10 miles an hour. The road is so narrow that descending vehicles must pull off the road to let ascending vehicles pass, which means that your descent will frequently be interrupted by you having to stop behind the RV that has stopped to let the oncoming RV pass. 2. Road surface—the surfaces varies from OK to terrible, and it’s at its worst on the steepest part (the first 2.5 miles). I found it impossible to do the descent at any but the slowest speed. 3. Pitch—1970 ft. total gain doesn’t seem bad at all, but the bulk of the climbing is in the last 2.5 miles, and it’s truly tough. Made much harder by 4. elevation—the ride tops out at 9170 feet elevation, which means you’ll be gasping for breath in the thin air unless you’re acclimated to high elevation. 4. The hike—you can’t ride to the Postpile; the closest you can get is 0.4 miles from it, which means you’re in for at least an 0.8-mile walk on dirt to see anything, which is a little more than I want to walk in the middle of a hard ride and which means you have to bring walking shoes. 5. The construction—they’re reworking the entire ride, beginning 9/23, so the riding itself will be more awkward than usual and the road to the waterfall is closed entirely, so to see it you’ll have to walk a whopping 5 miles.

So why talk about it? Because if you’re fit for elevation, if you like hard climbs, if you have disc brakes and so can handle steep descents, and (most important) if you wait until the construction reworks and improves the road and opens up the road to Rainbow Falls, it might be a ride you’ll love.

As with all high-altitude Eastern Sierra rides, snow conditions are unpredictable here and can persist longer than you think. Apparently last year the road was still closed by snow on July 4.

An introduction to the geology of the Postpile and current road conditions can be found here.

Our ride begins at the parking area at the turn-off to Minaret Vista, a lookout at the summit of Minaret Road, which is the one and only road from the town of Mammoth Lakes to the Mammoth Mountain ski area. Drive past the ski area, turn off at the sign to the Vista, drive to the Vista to see the Minarets if you want (you’ll see them on the ride anyway), then return to Minaret Road and park in the copious parking dirt area around the intersection.

The Minarets, from the very start of the ride

If you’re worried that 16 miles won’t float your boat, you can ride from Mammoth Lakes, which will add 12 miles and 1300 ft. to the ride. It’s a not-unpleasant ride with possibly heavy traffic (the ski area is as attractive to mountain-bikers in summer and fall as it is to skiers in the winter) on a very manicured, wide road.

Pass the kiosk on Minaret Road and begin the descent. Views of the Minarets are immediately in front of you—look them over now, because you won’t see them again.

The climb out

You are instantly into the steepest leg of the ride, 2.5 miles of narrow, twisty, rough, unrelenting down. Watch for cars coming at you and stopping in front of you.

At 2.5 miles the road takes a hard 90-degree L, the pavement improves, and the pitch moderates. About 6 miles in, the ride turns mellow, and you do fun rollers to the end. First you encounter the overflow parking lot for the Postpile; continue on to the second and final (at the moment) parking lot and trailhead for the walk to the Postpile. There are bathrooms, a little shop, docents to answer questions, and probably scads of people.

Looking down into the Middle Fork San Joaquin River canyon from the top of the ride

Now ride out. First rollers, then moderate climbing, then the final 2.5-mile gasper. In those last miles you’ll notice nice views up and down the canyon you’re climbing out of, which you weren’t able to notice on the descent and which you’ll appreciate now because they’re good excuses to stop and catch your breath.

Shortening the route: Drive to the 90-degree L turn and ride to the Postpile from there.

Adding Miles: There is no other good road riding near this ride. If you brought your mountain bike, swap bikes and enjoy the outstanding downhill riding on Mammoth Mountain’s trails. Back in Mammoth Mountain, the ride to Mary’s Lake is pleasant, in a heavily developed way.

Bristlecone Pine Forest

Distance: 46-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 6700 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

This is one of the Eastern Sierra rides I drove in my car. But I want to talk about it anyway, so you’ll know about it. For a lengthier discussion of the issue, see the By Region‘s “Eastern Sierra” section. Odd that there’s a “Best of the Best” ride I haven’t ridden, but there it is.

This is a huge ride, bigger than anything I could do in one go. It’s easy to break into two rides, either one of which is a major ride by itself. If you do it all, I’m willing to bet it will be the hardest 46-mile ride you ever do in your life. It has a ton of climbing, made much harder by the elevation, which tops out at 10,000 ft. Even though I haven’t done it, I think it’s the best ride in the Eastern Sierra, for a number of reasons:

1) It has the most interesting road contour. The other big climbs around Hwy 395 are typically straight roads with monotonously unvaried pitch—this one climbs and drops and serpentines back and forth.

2) It has the most varied landscape—not necessarily prettier than, say South Lake Road, but at least 4 distinct ecosystems, including the world-famous bristlecone pine forest;

3) It has the best vistas. Like the other big climbing rides in the area, it has jaw-dropping vistas of the Owens Valley below, but the other rides have as a backdrop the White Mountains to the east, which are unprepossessing heaps of brown, while this one has as a backdrop the incomparable Eastern Sierra ridges to the west;

4) The thrill factor is unmatched. The last 4 miles of the ride out plus the first 4 of the return may well be the most electrifying (read: terrifying) riding I’ve ever seen—without doubt, this rides goes to 11.

Before doing this ride, make sure that the roads are all open and the Visitor Center at Shulman Grove is open. Also, ask yourself about your threshold for acrophobia and fear of falling, because you’re going to be doing some steep descending on narrow, twisting roads with world-class drop-offs and no guardrails.

To see the good bristlecone pines (and you want to), bring walking shoes, because there are no visually striking pines right by the Visitor Center—see below for an explanation.

This is the only ride of any interest in the 395 corridor that is on the east side of the highway. Start at the intersection of Hwy 395 and Hwy 168E. There’s a parking lot there, by the little kiosk with information about the bristlecone pines and other features of interest in the area. I encourage you to read the literature to get your bearings. You’ll be guided by signage to the bristlecone pine forest all along your route.

Looking down on White Mountain Road and ridges to the south

The first 13 miles are on a highway, and because it’s a major artery running east from 395 you’d expect it to be a large, busy, characterless shoulder ride. I don’t know how busy it is in high season (I drove in on a weekday morning in late September and saw a few cars only), but as to the other fears, at first you’re right (see photo at end of post). The first few miles are a dead flat dead straight boring slog across the Owens Valley flats. Then it gets better, and better, and better… As always in such cases, I give you permission to drive those first miles and start riding when the terrain and road contour interest you.

Looking west at Bishop, California, and the Eastern Sierra—double-click to appreciate

After the flats, you enter a canyon that is at first fairly uninteresting—dirt hills with scrub brush. But the further you go the deeper and more dramatic the canyon gets and the more serpentine the road contour, until finally (and absurdly, considering this is a “major” highway) you’re riding between wonderful rock walls on what is essentially a one-lane road. Just before our turn-off you pop out onto a kind of mesa and the road goes big again.

At mile 13, turn L onto White Mountain Road—there’s a prominent Bristlecone Pine Forest sign there. What has so far just been a good ride is about to get cosmic. By the way I don’t know anything about Hwy 168 past the turn-off.

Bristlecone pine

There is much confusion among sources about how much of White Mountain Road is paved. The answer is: for 10 miles, to the Shulman Grove Visitor Center. The road continues on for miles and miles, but it’s dirt beginning at a few feet past the Center.

White Mountain Road is a small, winding, steep road. Immediately upon turning onto it you find yourself in a new ecosystem, the pinyon-juniper woodlands. There’s an informative board in a turn-off on your L a stone’s throw from the intersection explaining what that means. You can pass the time during the next miles practicing telling the two kinds of tree apart.

The pinions and junipers are thick in here, and after a while it becomes a bit boring riding between walls of them, so you’ll be happy when you leave them behind and break out into a open hillside that gives you staggering views of the valley below and the Sierra ridgeline to the west. I can’t think of another vista on Earth that can beat it. Soon you pass a formal vista point, Sierra View Vista Point (clever name), but there is no need to stop because you’re going to get vistas that are as good or better for the next 4 miles and you can stop anywhere. The vista point does have one of those boards identifying the individual peaks on the horizon, but I found it incomprehensible.

Near the top of White Mountain Road

The last 4 miles, from here to the end of the road, is a truly extraordinary, and potentially terrifying, stretch of riding. The road clings to the open sidehill, constantly climbing steeply and serpentining back and forth, with a 5,000-ft drop on your L side and no thought of a guard rail. This is a good time to ask yourself, Do I really want to come down this thing? If not, turn around. I wouldn’t do it without disc brakes, at a minimum. Remember, on the ride up you’re on the inside lane, on the descent on the outside—much scarier.

Ride to the Shulman Visitor Center. It’s a classic Visitor Center, full of all the information you could possibly want about bristlecone pines, the oldest living things on earth. It’s spanking clean, because the old Visitor Center burned to the ground not long ago and was rebuilt. There are three loop hiking trails, and you will need to walk at least 1/4 mile on one of them to see any good pines—(ironically) the bristlecone pines around the Visitor Center are too healthy to take on the famous gnarly look we all think of when we think “Bristlecone pine,” because they’re in too protected a spot. Bristlecone pines need abuse to get gnarly. So come prepared to do a bit of walking.

Descending the top of White Mountain Road

The Forest’s mascot is Meth- uselah, the oldest known bristlecone pine, checking in at 4700 years old and constantly referred to by the Center staff as the “oldest living thing on earth.” If you google “oldest living thing” you’ll see there’s some controversy about that, but anyway, if you want to see it you’ll have to walk 4.5 miles from the Visitor Center (with significant elevation gain, at 10,000 ft elevation). I contented myself with looking at photographs.

Starting the ride: doesn’t look like much

The return ride is hard for me to imagine—46 miles of almost uninterrupted descending, much of it steep, much of it serpentining on a narrow road with a world-class drop-off and no shoulder or guardrails. Don’t do this unless you have complete faith in your brakes. If you do it, drop me a note and tell me how it was.

Shortening the ride: Do White Mountain Road only. Or if you don’t relish the dangers of WMR, do E Hwy 168 only.

Adding miles: I can’t even discuss it.

South Lake Road

Distance: 13.6-mile out-and-back
Elevation gain: 1930 ft

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

This is a fairly short, easy-for-the-area climb that starts 14 miles up W. Hwy 186 out of Bishop. People ride those first 14 miles all the time, and you’re welcome to, but I find the terrain dry and uninspiring (small rocks and brush), the road contour boring (straight, with unaltered pitch) and the road surface cursed with those horizontal expansion cracks filled with dribble tar every five yards, not a terrible surface but enough to turn descending into an endless refrain of kaTHUMP kaTHUMP.

Fourteen miles up the road there is a fork—Hwy 168 to the R and South Lake Road to the L. And if you take the L fork, magic happens. The road surface goes to glass and the contour takes on some character. The pitch moderates a bit, from phew to pleasant. And around 8000 ft elevation the aspens begin to appear. From then on, it’s as pretty a ride as I know, if the aspens are changing color (in 2023 they got serious on 9/28). Even if they aren’t, it’s a fine ride.

This is not a wilderness ride. Even though South Lake Rd. looks very small on some maps, it’s a manicured, wide two-lane with campgrounds, resorts, and guiding operations along the route, and you will see some traffic going to and from those places.

You’ll see from the figures above that this ride is, compared to the other climbing rides in our Eastern Sierra stable, shorter and flatter. For which I say, thank god. But if that disappoints you, there are steeper, longer rides all around you (see the By Region discussion of the area).

As with most Eastern Sierra rides, there isn’t much to say about this one. Drive up Hwy E. 168 to the South Lake turnoff on the L (unmissable). Ride to South Lake. Ride back.

The first couple of miles aren’t impressive—more loose rock and brush. But the canyon steepens and the woods begin the appear. Soon you’re riding alongside a substantial creek (South Creek, I assume), which you can hear but you can’t see. Not to worry. What’s blocking your view are beautiful aspens, and soon you’ll get closer and get good creek views. It’s a nice, tumbling stream. Google maps says there’s a falls on the route, but you’ll have to seek it out—it’s not apparent from the road.

Aspens

The pitch varies pleasantly from moderate to easy, until the last 1.5 miles, when things get more serious. The last half-mile or so is truly hard.

You top out at South Lake, a dammed lake with a resort, a boat launch, a dock, and the other signs of development. It’s not primitive, but it’s pretty. The road continues briefly, but I didn’t do it.

The return ride is a masterpiece of straight descending, with just enough curvature to keep you alert and that same glassy surface. Sustained 40 mph is easy. I took an hour and twenty minutes to ride to the lake and 19 minutes to return, and I didn’t push it.

Shortening the ride: Skip the last 1/2-mile pitch. If you’re really serious about making it easy, drive the first couple of miles, until the landscape gets good.

Adding miles: Ride the 14 miles from Bishop to South Lake Road, and/or the remaining miles on 168 above the fork. Hwy 168 deadends at Sabrina Lake, a particularly beautiful alpine lake that’s substantially prettier than South Lake, so even if you don’t ride up there you might drive there after your ride just to see it.

Tuttle Creek Road

Distance: 8 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 825 ft

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

Have you ever ridden a bike through a National Park or National Monument and thought, “Wow, the scenery’s great, but the road is wide as a freeway and straight as a stick, and there are people everywhere. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if just once I could ride through scenery as grand as this, but on a small road with a charming contour and have the whole place to myself?” Fantasy, of course—except the fantasy is real, and the place is called Tuttle Creek Road, just outside of Lone Pine, CA.

TCR runs through the heart of the Alabama Hills, a small region west and northwest of Lone Pine long valued by Hollywood western filmmakers for its camera-worthy rocks (watch Clint Eastwood’s movie Joe Kidd to see them at their best). The road with the most cinematic history is the Movie Road, which goes north from Whitney Portal Rd. just west of town, but it’s dirt and the rocks on Tuttle are much, much better.

It’s all of 4 miles long—probably the shortest ride in Bestrides—and it took me all of 50 minutes out and back, but it’s well worth the 2 hours I drove to ride it. Actually, the first 1.2 miles of the route is dead boring, so we’re really talking about just 2.8 miles of gold. If you doubt it’s worth it, look at the photos (click on them to appreciate).

You will do some work—note the not-insignificant elevation gain—but it’s that sort of work where you can see exactly how short the 10% pitches are so you can romp up them with a light heart.

If you want to ride more than 8 miles, you’re in luck—the turn-around point is a stone’s throw from Horseshoe Meadow Road and the starting point in on Whitney Portal Road, both of which are in Bestrides and either of which will give you all the work you crave.

Normally TCR sees no through traffic. But at the moment (9/23) the bottom of Whitney Portal Rd. is closed to all traffic and TCR is serving as the detour around the closure. Thus the road is temporarily crawling with through traffic. I still found it an unforgettable experience. Imagine how great it will be when WPR is open again.

Start at the intersection of Tuttle Creek Rd. and Whitney Portal Rd. Ride to the intersection of TCR and Sunset Drive, when it’s obvious that all the fun is over. Turn around and ride back.

Click on all photos to enlarge

The elevation profile on RidewithGPS is misleading, because it makes it look like a medium-steep 2.5-mile slog. It’s nothing of the sort—it’s constantly altering pitch, and it’s got several marvelous whoop-de-doos that break up the climbing. The serpentine contour makes the return descent a delight and a challenge, and you can roll the whoop-de-doos at 25 mph. It’s like Disney designed it.

This is a ride where you should consider getting off the bike. The boulders provide world-famous rock scrambling, and the road follows Tuttle Creek, which is a real, babbling desert creek full of actual water that is often just feet from the road, so foot-dabbling is easy and rewarding.

Back at your car, take the rest of the day to check out the Movie Museum in town, which is full of lore about the western movies of your youth…well, my youth.

Shortening the ride: Hardly.

Adding miles: Our Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal rides are adjacent. Of course the easiest way to add miles is to ride TCR 2 or 3 times, and it’s worth it.

Twin Lakes Road

Distance: 27-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 930 ft

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

Every ride doesn’t have to be exhilarating. Sometimes it’s a beautiful thing to just go roll a lovely road and see some pretty sights.

Such is the Twin Lakes Road ride out of Bridgeport. It’s dead easy—maybe the easiest ride in Bestrides (check that elevation total). It has no thrilling descents or challenging climbs and no bucket-list features. Still, it’s perfect—a few miles of flats through fields of picturesque cows, some easy climbing to open up the legs, a stroll along the shore of two lovely lakes, and some genteel 25-30-mph descending on the return, all on a manicured two-lane road with flawless pavement and with striking eastern Sierra ridges as backdrop. It’s the perfect recovery-day ride or ride to do with your less gung-ho buddy or partner. It’s also one of only four rides I know along the Hwy 395 corridor that don’t have a ton of vertical (it, South Round Valley Road, Tuttle Creek Road, and the June Lakes loop).

There is another selling point for this ride. If you travel Hwy 395, eventually you’ll end up staying in Bridgeport, because it’s the only real town you pass through between Bishop and Carson City (or Tahoe, depending on which way you’re going). When you’re there, you’re going to want to ride. This ride is it.

This ride has absolutely no shade until you reach the lakes, and very little thereafter, so I wouldn’t do it on a sweltering day.

The lakes are a popular recreation area, and Twin Lakes Road has several campgrounds along it, so traffic could theoretically be a problem, though it’s a wide two-lane road with effortless passing everywhere. I rode it at the end of September on a Saturday afternoon and saw very few cars, but it was off-season.

Start in downtown Bridgeport, a small town of considerable charm and hipness with lots of character-rich, inexpensive lodging—a perfect one-night stopover. Check out the bakery if you’re there between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when it’s open. Ride Twin Lakes Road to its end, then return.

The road begins with 4 miles of dead flat, dead straight riding through fields sprinkled with cattle. In the background is a striking, jagged ridgeline between two closer rounded hills. You’ll have that ridgeline in front of you for the entire ride out. If flat isn’t your thing you have my permission to drive the 4 miles, to a 90-degree right turn and a good gravel parking area at the entrance to the Circle H Guest Ranch, AKA Hunewill Ranch (clearly signed both ways). After that corner, the road is almost continuously up, but either so gradually you don’t notice or at a mild pitch you can easily spin without effort. The road begins to meander and pitch a little, just enough to give it some character, and the Sierra ridgeline continues to loom larger.

In these first miles you’ll probably see colorful groups of cowgirls on horseback. Give them a wide berth—many horses are terrified of bikes, to the point of becoming uncontrollable.

In exactly 10 miles you round a corner and the lake appears. Drink in the view—it’s the prettiest view of the lakes you’ll get, though views of the lakes will be constant. Soon you pass a typical little California mountain resort—cabins, deli, etc.—and you’ll worry that the entire lakefront is built up, but it’s surprisingly undeveloped, with only a spot or two of habitation, until you reach the end of the pavement at Mono Village, a large RV resort at the far end of Upper Twin, in 3+ miles. All lovely, untroubled riding with the water almost continuously at your elbow. There are two lakes, Lower Twin and Upper Twin, with a kind of dam between them, but unless you have a sharp eye you won’t see it and it will seem like one very long lake.

Ride home. The mild uphills on the ride out turn out to be surprisingly brisk descents on the return, but in keeping with the spirit of the ride it’s all effortless grace and you’re back to your car before you know it, or at least back to those 4 miles of flat I told you you could skip.

Shortening the route: Start at Hunewill Ranch and/or turn around when you reach the lake.

Adding miles: There’s nothing good that I know of in the immediate area. See the general discussion of the Hwy 395 corridor (“Eastern Sierra”) in the Bestrides By Regions page for more rides to the south.

Willow Valley Road Loop

Distance: 19.3-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 1900 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

There are four Bestrides rides in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area—Dog Bar, Red Dog/Pasquale, Willow Valley Road, and Lower Colfax Road.  They are all pleasant up-and-down strolls through nice woods—no grand vistas, no awe-inspiring crags, no waterfalls, nothing of the sort.  Each route has its virtues. Dog Bar has the best descent (on Rattlesnake), but it’s also the most built up.  Dog Bar goes to Grass Valley, a lovely town.  Red Dog/Pasquale and Willow Valley begin and end in Nevada City, a very lovely town, and both go through the prettiest woods. Overall the best of the four is Willow Valley, and I’d do it first, then any of the others.

This slightly odd-shaped lollipop introduces you to the fine roads to the east of Nevada City. The woodland scenery is choice, the road surfaces are good to great, the road contour is consistently interesting, and there is a pretty lake and an off-road dirt adventure in the middle of it all. Almost all of the roads are centerline-less one-lane plus or small two-lane, traffic is close to nothing, and all the climbing is mellow (unless you don’t want it to be—see below).

RidewithGPS does a poor job of navigating you through the off-road segment, so I’m going to lead you through it step by step. I encourage you to read that segment carefully, if only that segment.

Start at the corner of Willow Valley Rd. and Nevada St. in Nevada City. There is abundant street parking in front of houses. Starting here means the ride ends with a fairly fierce little climb up Nevada. You can put the climb at the start by beginning at the corner of Boulder St. and Nevada. It’s up to you.

Ride up Willow Valley Rd. At first it’s built up with friendly, small houses, but surprisingly soon you’re in woods, and the occasional house is set back from the road where it doesn’t interfere with the sense of being in the forest. The road also sheds some width, from a modest two-lane with dividing line to a sweet one-lane plus. Climb all the way to the end of the road at Hwy 20.

Scotts Flat Road

All this climbing is fairly mellow (you’ll see moments of 10%, but it doesn’t feel that bad), and if that disappoints you you can opt for more difficulty, thusly: At the intersection of Willow Valley Rd. and Scotts Valley Rd. (not Scotts Flat Rd.), our route goes L and stays on WVR. If you want to test yourself, go R onto SVR. The next mile+ is consistently 10+%, with plenty of 13%, and it’s hard. If you go that way, you’ll lop off the descent down Scotts Flat Rd. (see below), so I suggest that when you reach the intersection of SVR and SFR you turn L, ride up SFR, turn around at Hwy 20, and descend SFR, because it’s really sweet. But if the rigors of SVR have slaked your thirst for climbing, go R on SFR and continue on our route.

Assuming you stayed on Willow Valley Rd., as our map does, you deadend at Hwy 20. All the extended climbing is over—the rest is downhill or rollers. Go R onto 20 and ride the short stretch to the intersection with Scotts Flat Rd. Hwy 20 Is straight and busy but there’s plenty of shoulder so it’s no problem.

Scotts Valley Road (which we’re skipping)

At the intersection of 20 and SFR, there’s a lot going on. You’re at a hub where many mountain bike trails meet, so you should see lots of MTB activity. There’s a famous little store that’s been there forever and caters to riders (mostly mountain bikers), the Harmony Ridge Market. They have good freshly-made sandwiches, along with the other usual stuff. Across the street is a new, snazzy resort, and in the parking lot is posted prominently a large map of the trail system in the area, which will inspire you to return if you’re a MTB-er.

Ride down Scotts Flat Rd. It’s a mellow and sweet descent on another small road in pretty woods and with houses set back discreetly among the trees. SFR is the main route from Hwy 20 to Scotts Flat Lake, so it may see a lot of recreational and boat traffic on summer weekends—I don’t know. I was there on Tuesday and Wednesday after Labor Day, and the road, campground, and marina were deserted.

Casci Road

Stay on SFR past the first of two recreational areas with campgrounds (signed with a small “Gate #1” sign and an arrow pointing you down the road toward Gate 2), ride past most of Scotts Flat Lake, and when you get to Gate #2—the marina and day use area—find Casci Rd. heading off on the L (clearly signed) and take it.

Casci Rd. is an odd duck that I really like. It hugs the shoreline, so you get lovely views of the lake through the shoreline trees, it looks manicured, it’s absolutely barren of houses (except for one mansion), and it’s lined with signs prohibiting parking, so it’s deserted. There is in fact no reason for it to exist (signs say it’s a fire road, but that’s hard to swallow). Consider it a very expensive bike path.

Scotts Flat Lake Dam

Casci continues for several miles, but after it clears the lake it turns from flat to very steep and immediately turns to gravel, so at the unmistakable steepening our route turns around.

You may notice as you ride Casci that between you and the lake is a prominent parking lot. It’s the day use area for the lake, and you can access it by riding into the marina parking lot, riding through the campground via an unsigned, tiny road, and out the other side. It’s pleasant and adds perhaps a mile to your route, and you’ll want to do it if you want to get your feet wet in the lake.

hike-a-bike

Ride back to Gate # 1, a large and imposing campground with a large sign reading “Scotts Flat Recreation Area, Deer Creek Campground,” a very stout gate across the road, a guard station in the center of the gate, a large trailer for the campground host, and a lot of signage telling you you aren’t welcome. Believe it or not, you want to go in there.

Here begins our adventure. RidewithGPS glibly tells you to turn onto “Dam Rd.” There is no such thing. Instead, ride through the gate, through the large campground and out the other end, continuing south and downhill toward the water. Very soon you end up at a formidable gate across the lake’s dam. Here’s a map.

Pasquale Road

On the gate is the following remarkable statement: “Permission is granted for pedestrian or bicycle use for recreational purposes.” Thank you very much. Despite that spirit of accommodation, getting through or over the gate (you can’t go around) is difficult. Once over or through, ride across the dam on the rideable dirt dam top, enjoying the view of the lake. On the other side, several dirt roads set forth. Take the one uphill and directly in front of you (it’s rideable), and in 1/10 mile you’re at dam #2, the spillway dam. This one has fencing on the sides and a paved surface. On the other side, take the only dirt road, to the L. and along the shoreline. Eventually this road dead-ends at paved Pasquale Rd., but first you have to climb, at a pitch steeper than my tires could manage. I walked it. It isn’t painful—the woods are exquisitely beautiful in there, and the silence is delicious. At the end of the dirt road, climb over another stout gate with another “Permission to pass…” sign.

Back on Pasquale, we’re on the route of the Red Dog/Pasquale ride. Follow Pasquale to Red Dog, Red Dog (which turns into Boulder) to Nevada, and Nevada back to your car. Pasquale’s praises are sung in the other ride description. It’s one of my favorite bike rides anywhere, a uniquely charming contour through uniquely gorgeous woods. Red Dog, more developed, bigger, faster, is splendid in its own way, a 30mph+ ripper that’s the most exhilarating descending on the route.

If you’ve already ridden the Red Dog/Pasquale ride and don’t want to repeat yourself (which I frankly cannot imagine), when you get back to Gate #1 don’t turn into the campground, continue west on Scotts Flat Rd., ride either down Scotts Valley Rd. (short and steep) or up Scotts Flat Rd. and down Willow Valley (longer, mellower, with climbing), and back on Willow Valley Rd. to your car.

Shortening the route: Omit Casci Rd. Ride the Scotts Valley Rd. cut-off instead of upper Willow Valley and upper Scotts Flat. Ride to the Willow Valley Rd./Hwy 20 intersection and turn around. You can skip the Pasquale half of the route and ride back the way you came out, but I don’t think it reduces the mileage total.

Adding miles: You can add the other half of the Red Dog/Pasquale route. For other options, see the Adding Miles section of Red Dog/Pasquale. From Nevada City it’s about 3 miles to Grass Valley and the turn-around for our Dog Bar ride and the trailhead for our Lower Colfax Road ride.