Distance: 43 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6670 ft
This ride is hard work. It’s notorious for a 2.1-mile stretch of 12-15% that’s as hard as it sounds, and there is significant climbing after. The route is never flat, and much of the other climbing is 6% or more. But the road contour has great variety and character, and the woodland scenery is top-notch. See Afterthoughts for a way to cut the climbing in half and keep most of the fun. Perks include one large river crossing and one classic mountain store, but mostly this ride is about being in the woods.
(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.)
Iowa Hill Rd. takes off from a small road called Canyon Way running along the eastern lip of Hwy 80 in Colfax. You’ll ride through 1/4 mile of buildings, then drop dramatically down for 3 miles to a crossing over the North Fork of the American River. The scenery is already grand, there will probably be a car or two, and a few of the curves are truly dangerous. Take the “5 mph” postings seriously. There’s a campground on the river with decent bathrooms, but no public water—something to remember on the way back when you might be thirsty. Across the bridge the 12-15% climb begins. The summit of the climb is obvious. From then on the road rolls upward, 75% up and 25% down, through lovely, lush woods.
Iowa Hill is actually a town of sorts, consisting of a few small buildings, a school (!), and an odd little store/bar that has soft drinks and water but no ice (and apparently no lights). Immediately beyond the store the road forks, with a sign pointing L and reading “Foresthill.” Follow it. Much later, at an intersection the road changes its name to Sugar Pine Rd., but just stay on the main road until it dead-ends on Foresthill Rd. Turn around and ride back.
The ride back from Foresthill to the big drop is a delightful romp. Descending the drop itself isn’t. It’s so steep you dare not allow yourself to get up any speed, because unless you’ve got disc brakes you’ll never scrub the speed necessary to make the turns, so you (or at least I) have to do the whole thing clamping down on the brakes. Disappointing. I do it at 11 mph, pausing to cool my rims. The climb back up out of the canyon from the river is 3 miles of 6-8%, a lovely climb in other circumstances but a grind if you’re as tired as I am at this point.
Making It Easier: As I promised, there’s a way to keep most of the fun of this ride and skip the bulk of the work. Of course you could just drive from Colfax to the top of the big climb, but it’s laborious even in a car and there’s an easier way: just drive up Foresthill Road, which is a wide 60-mph road, to the intersection of Foresthill and Sugar Pine Rd and ride Sugar Pine/Iowa Hill to the top of the big drop (you’ll know it when you see it), then turn around. This will leave you with a ride of about 32 miles and 3000 ft of climbing through the prettiest part of the route.
Adding miles: The Dog Bar Road ride is just a stone’s throw to the west on the other side of Colfax. You can work your way south from Dog Bar by small roads paralleling Hwy 80 and after some nice riding reach the Lincoln Hills ride.
On the other end of the ride, you can make a large loop by turning R on Foresthill Rd and riding it all the way to Auburn, then working your way back to Colfax by those same small roads along 80. Foresthill is a bigger, straighter, busier road that’s popular with riders who like it open and fast. The scenery remains good throughout. Don’t be tempted to shorten the loop by taking the cut-off on Yankee Jim’s Rd.—a lot of it is dirt, despite what the maps say.
Afterthoughts: Because the big climb comes when you’ve barely turned a pedal, you might like to warm up by riding around the Colfax area before heading down Iowa Hill Rd. I typically park a few miles down Placer Hills Rd. and ride to Iowa Hill Rd.
Even with a refill at the Iowa Hill store, water is a problem on this ride. On a hot day you’ll need more water than you can carry in two water bottles. You can bum water from a camper at the American River campground, but to be safe I carry a third full bottle down to the river and cache it along the road for the last climb. A camelbak is another solution.
Some maps show Iowa Hill Rd. as dirt. It isn’t.