Distance: 50 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 5140 ft
A Best of the Best ride
This is another ride suggested by Friend of Bestrides Brian—thanks again, man.
This is one of the prettiest mountain rides in Bestrides.org. For the first 22 miles, you’re treated to views of a large river canyon on one side of the road and stunning multi-colored rock walls on the other. If you’re a rock lover, this and the Kings Canyon ride will be your favorite rides, ever. And the road is one continuous lazy serpentine—downhill, it’s 25 miles of buttery-smooth slalom course. The only thing that keeps it from being the ride of your life is that it’s also 25 miles of almost unvaried, fairly monotonous 4-6% climbing—never difficult, but a bit tedious. Luckily you can take your mind off the monotony any time by looking at the scenery on either side of you. No distractions here—no inns, no houses, no waterfalls—just you, the road, and the canyon.
(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.)
The route couldn’t be simpler: from downtown Foresthill, CA, a small ridge-top mountain town with all the amenities, ride down Mosquito Ridge Road to the turn-off to Big Trees Grove. Turn around and ride back.
Out of the gate you plunge into a joyous, easy 9-mile descent from the top of the ridge to the bottom of the American River canyon, with open views of the majestic canyon on your R and more and more colorful rock walls—red, blue, purple, yellow, gold, black—on your L. The scenery will steadily improve for the next 14 miles. The pitch is a consistent 4%, good for a descending speed of around 24 mph and mellow enough that you needn’t dread the climb back out.
Cross the big steel bridge over the river. Now you climb, without interruption, until the turn-around point, at a slightly steeper pitch than what you just came down—5-6%, which will give you a sweet 30-mph descent when you turn around. At 11 miles in, you reach a junction with a smaller road, named Blacksmith Flat Road (signed with a number, FR 23, but no name—there’s a sign on Mosquito Ridge Rd with the name after the turn-off, so you’ll see it when you’re descending), on the R. If you take the southern loop option discussed under Adding Miles, you close the loop here, or go R onto 23 if you’re going counterclockwise. But we aren’t doing that today.
Keep climbing up the south wall of the canyon, as the canyon vistas get grander and the rock walls get more varied and colorful. The best scenery is from around 12 miles in to 14 miles in, so if you’re out for a shorter day try to make it that far, or drive to the bridge and start there. At about 17 miles in, you reach the top of the ridge, swing R, cross the ridge into the canyon to the south, and ride along the northern wall of the new canyon. The varicolored rock displays are all behind you, but the new canyon is, if anything, grander than the first one.
About 21 miles in, you ride out of the canyon and into standard prime Sierra forest, no better or worse than any other pristine Northern California woods, and the pitch shallows to imperceptible climbing. Feel free to turn around—you won’t miss anything wonderful if you do. Pass the oddly named Interbay Rd on the R and in a few miles you’ll be at Big Trees Grove. The Grove has some nice giant sequoias, but you have to hike a 1/2-mile trail to see them, so unless you brought walking shoes there is little point in riding the 1/2-mile (paved) road to the picnic area, unless you need a drinking fountain or a bathroom—there’s one of each (but see Afterthoughts below).
Turn around and ride home. Soon you will notice something about the road contour if you didn’t notice it on your descent to the bridge: you don’t need brakes. There are no hairpins. Every curve, with the exception of one obvious 180 at 11 miles in, is rounded and lazy, so you never need to scrub speed. You can ride from Big Trees to the bridge—15+ miles—and never drop much below 30 mph (minding that one corner). You don’t have to brake, you don’t have to pedal if you don’t want to, you never speed up or slow down much—you just sit there, leaning the bike from side to side, carving esses. Dreamy.
There’s a reason for this. The road was built for logging, so it’s wide (for a two-lane), smooth, gentle of pitch, and lacking tight corners that would slow a logging truck down. The downside of all this is that, while the road is almost without other traffic, you may meet loaded logging trucks and other large equipment. But the road is roomy, the sightlines are good, and you can hear the trucks coming, so they aren’t a problem here, though having one pass you on the 10-mile climb back to your car, where the road can be narrower, does elevate the heart rate a bit.
Back at the bridge, you’re looking at 9+ miles of climbing, and if you’re tired that can seem daunting. But it’s not bad. It’s never more than 4%, so you can maintain 6+ mph even with tired legs, there are no soul-crushing straightaways, the rock walls are a constantly entertaining distraction, and there’s a sweet 1-mile descent right where you need it most, halfway up. The whole thing won’t take more than 80 minutes of leisurely spinning.
Shortening the route: The best scenery is around 12-14 miles in, so plan to go that far or drive to the bridge and start there.
Adding miles: If you want to ride on past Big Trees there is no reason not to. Eleven miles further down the road is French Meadows Reservoir. You can ride there and turn around, or you can do either of two loops, both more challenging that the ride I’ve mapped out here. Loop 1 forks L a few miles after Big Trees Grove and takes Road 43, Robinson Flat Rd, which was or is largely dirt, until 43 runs back into Foresthill Rd, which you no doubt took to get to the town of Foresthill. Just go L and follow Foresthill Rd west back to town and your car.
Loop 2 is tougher. Ride to French Meadows Reservoir, cross the dam, and immediately turn R at the fork onto French Meadows Rd. Follow it through some name changes back to its intersection with Mosquito Ridge Rd (by which time it’s named Blacksmith Flat Road, or Rd 23), which you passed 11 miles into your ride. Go L and return on Mosquito Ridge Rd to your car. This is a long, demanding ride with some fierce climbing, and is often done counterclockwise to cash in on that 15-mile descent after Big Trees. The good folks of the Sierra Foothills Cycling Club have provided a detailed ride log.
You are a few car miles down the road from the back door to the Iowa Hill Road ride, and if you want more miles after any one of these three options, my hat’s off to you.
Afterthoughts: Plan your water carefully on this ride, especially if you’re doing one of the bigger loops. There are only two water sources, Big Trees Grove at our turn-around and French Meadows Reservoir 11 miles further on, and both taps are shut down off-season. I take a third water bottle and drop it at the bridge for the return climb, but even this would be inadequate on a hot summer day.