Distance: 24-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3780 ft
This is a short, serious climbing route, the bulk of it on a small, dramatic back road. You plunge down to the bottom of the American River canyon, climb steeply back out the other side, roll up and down along the side of the canyon, do a fast drop on a moderately traveled mountain highway back down to the same river, and end with a challenging 1000-ft climb. Along the way you get some nice woods, some nice canyon vistas, and a lot of nice solitude. I recorded 5240 feet of gain in 24 miles of riding (which means 12 miles of climbing), so you’ll work. It’s the best ride in the Placerville area, and Placerville is too cool a town not to be represented in our list.
(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.)
Begin in downtown Placerville. It’s a town well worth some checking-out time. Don’t miss the hardware store, one of the oldest in the West and a bit of living history guaranteed to delight tool fetishists and non-fetishists alike. Ride east out of town on the main street and when you’re almost out of town take the L turn under the highway onto Mosquito Road. Climb steadily and moderately for 2.5 miles, until you’re at the lip of the South Fork American River Canyon. From here to Hwy 193 there should be next to no traffic. Plunge 4 miles down through thick, pretty Sierra Nevada foothill woods to the river. The pitch is often too steep to be ideal descending, but it’s still exciting. The last 100 yards are very steep and can be wet and treacherous.
Cross the river on a charming little bridge and begin the grinding climb up the other side. It’s very steep for 1/2 a mile, then just steep for another 2 miles. You’ll feel some pride when you get to the summit at mile 9.0. At the intersection with the unexpected cluster of mountain estate homes (the only sign of human presence on the off-highway miles), take the unmissable hard L onto Rock Creek Rd. and follow it as it rolls sweetly along the sidehill. Enjoy the striking vistas of the river canyon.
When you deadend at highway 193 (Georgetown Rd.), go L and delight in the all-too-short but smooth, fast, sweeping descent back down into the canyon. Cross the bridge and do a moderately challenging 2.5-mile climb back to town. You’re on the shoulder here, the traffic will be noticeable, and the pitch is unvaried, but you’re in pretty, dense forest so the scenery is good. On the outskirts of town you’ll merge with Hwy 49 (Coloma Rd.) but you won’t notice.
The route can be ridden in the other direction, but it will involve you in a 40-mph descent right off the bat, which I’d rather not do.
Adding Miles: All the roads north, northeast, and northwest of Placerville are good riding, and they’re all less vertical than Mosquito Road, though none is flat. You can literally wander and have a good time. Just make sure you’re aren’t headed for dirt (Bayne Rd. and Mt. Murphy Rd. are largely dirt), and stay off Shoo Fly Rd unless you want endless killer-steep rollers. Georgetown is a cute little village with a nice old general store and hotel, and Garden Valley has a wonderful plant nursery.
If you’re looking for something mellow, ride the loop through Apple Hill (so-called because every fifty feet of road there’s an apple farm). Begin at the intersection of Union Ridge Road and Carson Rd. Go Hassler Rd > North Canyon Rd. > L on Larson > L on Cable > R on Mace, then R onto Carson and take Carson back to your car. Carson is bigger, flatter, faster, and more trafficked than all those back roads, so stick to it if you’re really looking to avoid up and down. This is not a ride to attempt during apple harvest, when the area is mobbed with tourists.