Forks of Salmon

Distance: 100-mile loop
Elevation gain: 10,570 ft (RWGPS)

(A Best of the Best ride)

This one is special.  It’s almost unknown, so you feel privileged and in on something, and the isolation is nearly absolute.  I found out about it in the best possible way: a friend told me about his favorite, secret ride.  It starts and ends in Etna, a tiny town with vitality, charm, cheap lodging, and its own excellent brewery.  The roads are mostly tiny and deserted—on the return leg of the loop, I rode for two hours before I saw a vehicle.  Yet the road surface is very good.  (I don’t know why—no car ever uses it.)   The scenery is grand California mountain primeval.  One of the 10 best rides in California, without a doubt.  The logistics are tricky, because services are sparse—for more on that, see Route Options later.

(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.)

You can ride the loop in either direction—the only difference is that in one direction the big climb is relatively moderate in pitch (up to 10%) and in the other it’s much harder (up to 14%).  I’ve mapped it counterclockwise, to avoid the killer hill.

Leave Etna on Sawyer’s Bar Rd. and ride to Forks of Salmon.  You’ll do a pretty big climb on a pretty straight road, but past the summit the road gets smaller, prettier, and windier and stays that way.  The drop down the back side touches 18%, so if you love steep climbs you’ll want to ride the loop in the other direction.   At Forks of Salmon (just an intersection—no services), turn left and take Cecilville Rd. to Callahan.

The return ride repeats the profile of the ride out in reverse—gradual climbing on a winding, very narrow road through a dramatic river canyon, ending in a long, moderate climb to the top of the ridge, then a long fast descent to Scott Valley.  You come out in Callahan, not quite a ghost town—it has a functioning mercantile for resupply (or did when I was there) and a hotel I don’t think is in operation.

Leaving Callahan, don’t take the big straight highway back to Etna—take the back road, East Callahan Rd., paralleling the highway north.  Take the Horn Lane connector L  to return to Etna.  East Callahan Rd. is a moderately interesting, rolling road just up the sidehill from the flat valley,  but it’s not in the same class as the rest of the ride, and I only include it because you have to get back to our car.  it’s shadeless, so it can get brutally hot on summer afternoons.  If someone can pick you up in Callahan, so much the better.


Early morning, leaving Forks of Salmon

Route  Options: This ride is a long, hard day—100 miles, 10,000 ft of climbing.  There is no lodging on the route, and there is water/food only at Cecilville (where there’s a little store), Callahan (a very small town), and Etna.  All of which means, if you ride the route you have to get from Etna to Cecilville self-supported.   Even houses are very rare out here.  One solution is to do the ride in two days—either ride loaded or talk someone into sagging the ride for you—and camping near Forks of Salmon.  There are creekside campgrounds in the first miles of Cecilville Rd.  The campground I prefer is oddly named Hotelling.  It’s tiny and sits by a beautiful swimming hole if you’re late enough in the year for the water to be warm (well, warm enough).    Another alternative is to do the Forks of Salmon Century, about which I know next to nothing, which is sagged but which seems to start in Forks of Salmon.

In an emergency, there’s a resort just off the route, a couple of miles northwest of Forks of Salmon on Salmon River Rd., the Otter Bar Lodge.  It’s a kayak school, and officially it doesn’t cater to other guests, but I asked and they told me they put up cyclists occasionally, if they aren’t full up. The only sign from the road is a large mailbox reading “Otter Bar” and a dirt road, but you notice the buildings deep in the trees on the river side.

This ride might be the one that inspires you to invest in a water filter.

CIMG9884Adding miles: The region surrounding the Marble Mountains is one of the best road riding regions on the West Coast.  This is only one of many excellent rides in the area.  For a review of the possibilities, see the Adding Miles section of the Scott River Road ride.

1 thought on “Forks of Salmon

  1. chicodavidrn

    Great description. Another nice ride in a remote area – somewhat south of there – is the road from Hayfork to Hyampom. I think it’s just called the Hyampom Rd. I don’t have precise data on it, but it’s around 20 miles one way and would have to be done as an out and back unless you were prepared to ride off pavement. At the west end of the town of Hayfork (various services available) Hwy 3 takes a fairly sharp turn and the road takes off right there. It would be easy to park nearby. Pretty sure it’s signed to Hyampom. There’s about a mile at the beginning through houses, then it comes out into countryside where it rolls gently for several miles. You’re following the north side of Hayfork Creek along here. Eventually it crosses the creek and shortly after that begins a sustained climb (maybe 2 miles?) followed by an equal descent and more rollers before Hyampom. Good surface, very light traffic. There has been an ongoing project to re-pave and improve the road over the last few years and that has sometimes resulted in closures of several hours – so it might be worth checking on that if you are going there just to ride it. The first time I rode it I saw a bear at the creek crossing. Once you get to Hyampom, the road forks and you can do a little riding around for short distances to explore the area. There is at least one small store and a couple of bar/restaurants. You won’t see this from the road, but folks who know tell me that marijuana is the main economic activity in Hyampom area – which seems highly plausible. There are also a couple of wineries – but not with open tasting that I know of. And, if the weather is warm, Hyampom is where Hayfork creek enters the South Fork of the Trinity. If you cross the bridge over the Trinity and take the first left it leads shortly to an informal parking area where swimming holes can be found.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.