Distance: 48 miles one way
Elevation gain: 3720 ft
I learned about this ride in the nicest way. I walked into a shop in Sutter Creek to do a little browsing, and I happened to be kitted out. The proprietor said, “You looking for a good route?” and pointed me to this one. I left the store and drove straight to the ride. It’s a classic climb and decent up into and back down out of the Sierra. Along the way you’ll meet 3 entrancing crossings of the Mokelumne River and 4 mountain towns that run the gamut from little city (Jackson) to nothing-but-general-store (West Point).
This route does a lot of climbing. Not one foot of it is especially steep, but there’s a lot of it. You will be climbing pretty much without a break for the first 17 miles, and there’s plenty of climbing after that. My computer recorded 6200 ft vert, so as always take Mapmyride’s elevation gain figures with a handful of salt. But it can’t be all up, and this ride features one of the fastest, smoothest slalom descents I know of.
Distance: 31 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2214 ft
Update 2018: a fire swept through this area in recent years, and much of Jesus Maria Road burned. What was lush woods is now mostly charred sticks with new green underbrush returning (see photo at the end of this post). It’s still a great road, but with a very different feeling. jr
This ride is not for everyone. It’s a steeper climb than our other Gold Country roads, and the road surface is often poor. The road surface means you can’t turn around at the top and ride it back down if you find you’re not up for a long day, because the road surface won’t let you. It’s often very narrow, hardly more than a paved animal track (ignore the AAA map, which shows it as a main artery). But the scenery is as good as the Gold Country gets, and if you’re feeling up for a bit of wildness and want to see the back back-country, this ride is for you. Like the Clinton Road ride, it’s a U-shaped course leaving you with an unpleasant stretch of Hwy 49 to close the loop.
I was introduced to this four-day tour by the Sacramento Bike Hikers, who used to do it every year, and for that I’ll always be grateful. The loop has enormous scenic variety and an iconic destination that amps up the drama from the first pedal stroke. Not every mile is rewarding. There’s some boring flat straight stuff, there’s some traffic dodging, there’s some rough road surface, and there are way too many people in the Park. Yet it remains a grand, bucket-list experience. Just say it with me: “riding my bike to Yosemite.” Right. You’re down for it, I know.
It’s not at all daunting. The climbing is mostly quite mellow, and there’s only one longish day, and that’s almost all downhill. For that and other reasons, I don’t recommend trying to shorten the ride. This is really one of those rides you want to keep epic. Try to talk a friend who wants to go to Yosemite into driving a sag wagon. But I’m a realist, so after we walk through the tour we’ll talk about ways to shorten it.
If you have a National Park pass of some sort, remember to pack it before setting forth. It does no good to remember it on Day 3 as you approach the Park entrance.
Distance: 49 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2630 ft