Scott River Road

Distance: 55 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2650 ft

The land surrounding the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area is a rich area for cycling.  Almost every small road is pretty, interesting, mostly car-free, not killer steep, and paved, at least in the main.  Loops are easy to construct.  The only drawback is there aren’t many communities up there, so you have to plan overnight stops carefully, unless you’re self-supporting.  The area is represented in Bestrides by two rides, Forks of Salmon and this one, but they’re the tip of a very rich iceberg—see Adding Miles to see the big picture.

This ride is representative of the area: smooth-surfaced, lightly trafficked, very pretty, and surprisingly easy.  It’s one of the easiest 55-mile rides I know.  It accompanies the Scott River for its entire length, so it’s gently downhill going out and gently uphill returning, but the difference is negligible—I rode out the 40-mile version (see below) in 2 hrs and back in 1.5 hrs.  The only noticeable hill is the last mile or so descending into Scott Bar, our turn-around spot, so if you’re really into mellow you can skip that, leaving you with nothing but constant gentle rollers, just enough to vary the riding experience without ever making it laborious or tedious.  You climb 2650 ft in 55 miles, which is less than half our sport’s norm for a climbing ride (100 ft per mile) (RWGPS says it’s over 4000 ft of gain, the only time I know that RWGPS has gone completely mad).  You could almost leave the granny gear at home.

Begin in the town of Fort Jones, a pleasant little burg with several simple but worthwhile places to eat.  Ride out on Scott River Rd. through Scott Valley, a typical hay-farming region.  The road is mostly straight and flat, but it’s a pretty agricultural area, and if you aren’t familiar with Oregon-style hay farming you’ll marvel at the giant walking sprinkler systems.  The Marble Mountains serve as backdrop.  But honestly it’s just as interesting from a car seat, so if you want to drive to the start of the good riding, drive 7 mi. to the intersection of Scott River Rd and Quartz Valley Rd and start there.  There’s a perfect dirt turn-out for parking.

Irrigating in Scott Valley

Immediately after Quartz Valley Rd the river canyon begins, at first broad and almost unnoticeable, with the river hardly moving, but soon the canyon deepens and narrows and the water comes to life.  For several miles, you’re riding on the very lip of the river, with constant fine views of boulder-strewn rapids and deep pools perfect for swimming.   This is my favorite leg of the route.

The Scott River

All too soon the road leaves the river and climbs gently until the river is far below you, then drops back down to rejoin the river at Scott Bar, a community of a few houses, a post office, a ranger station, and an interesting historical marker 100 ft past the town proper—don’t turn around without checking it out.  Ride back to your car, marveling at how little work you’re doing despite the fact that the river is constantly climbing alongside you.

Above the river, with the Marble Mts in the background on a typically smoky summer day

This road is no one’s principal driving route.  The only significant community along it is Happy Camp, and Happy Campers when they want to go to the big city drive south on Hwy 3 to get to Arcata/Eureka.  I did the ride on a lovely Friday morning in August and saw 14 cars (once out of the busy Scott Valley).  Why the county keeps the road’s surface in such pristine condition I don’t know.  I saw deer, turkeys, herons, and a fox.

Shortening the route: Skip the first 7 miles, as discussed.  Then, turn around any time—the miles are pretty equally rewarding.

Adding miles: As I said in the beginning, the cycling riches nearby are extensive.  If you like riding in pretty valleys, you can take Quartz Valley Rd south and wander around until you get to Etna.  You can continue on Scott Valley Rd to Happy Camp.  From there you can ride northwest on Greyback Rd into Oregon and eventually to Cave Junction, or you can take the afore-mentioned Hwy 3 south and ride to Arcata, or branch off Hwy 3 to Forks of Salmon and pick up either half of our Forks of Salmon ride to either Etna or Callahan.  Just past Scott Bar you meet Hwy 96, and you can ride it east along the Klamath River all the way to Hwy 5.  It’s 32 miles of pleasant but not grand riding amidst rather stark terrain, slightly uphill all the way.  I’d call it the least exciting of the roads discussed here, the most developed, the biggest, the busiest, and the easiest.  From Seiad Valley you can ride Seiad Creek Road, reported to be an excellent ride until it turns to dirt.

There is a very big, multi-day loop that consists of Etna to Scott River Rd, SCR to Hwy 96, 96 west and south to our Salmon River Rd ride to the leg of our Forks of Salmon ride from Forks of Salmon back to Etna.  Obviously, much of the route is prime, since it encompasses three of Bestrides’ routes.  But the long leg on Hwy 96, while generally pleasantly scenic, is not great riding—shoulder riding on a big, wide highway with much traffic and car-friendly profile (straight, with long unchanging pitches).  It’s a good route for a touring mentality, but not for Bestrides.

Afterthoughts: The Marble Mountains seem to burn every summer.  Check smoke conditions before planning a trip to the area.

Scott River

12 thoughts on “Scott River Road

  1. Rhonda

    I’m not a biker—I’m a local mule packer here in Scott Valley—but I thought I should comment on the log trucks that sometimes/often use these same roads and which will take up the entire road and be quite a surprise as you round a corner and meet them. So be alert for oncoming traffic even though it’s far and few between. I drive a 1-ton truck with stock trailer full of mules on this road, so I know the logging truck hazard well. It’s a beautiful ride for sure, though! I think I’d enjoy it much more on a bike than in my big truck with stock trailer behind me.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      Thanks for the heads-up. In my experience the up-side of logging trucks is they’re very loud, so you can hear them coming. And having a loaded logging truck pass by you as you stand on the shoulder of a small mountain road is a thrill everyone should have at least once. It’s much like standing close to a passing train.

  2. James Thurber

    Several weeks ago I did the ride, sort of, from Yreka down to Highway 96 and thence to Scott River Road. Ultimately I ended up in Etna although I could have turned left on Highway 3 and returned to Yreka.

    It’s a spectacular region and riding along the Klamath River is awesome. Traffic, mid-week, was practically non-existent. Once in Etna I ran into hikers coming down off the Pacific Crest Trail to resupply and enjoyed a delightful community.

    One area I’d like to explore is the south side of the Klamath (parallel to Highway 96). It seems to go all the way to Scott River Road but am not sure. Definitely looks more appropriate for mountain bike riding but traffic would be zero.

    The Trinity Alps are a truly wonderful place to bike. Thanks for sharing.

  3. James Thurber

    I absolutely LOVE this road. However, I ride from Yreka down to the Klamath River, thence along Highway 96 to Scott River road. The trek up and over to Fort Jones is simply WONDERFUL. Then it’s onto Etna for the night. The next day I can ride back via Fort Jones and over the little pass to Yreka or, if I’m feeling brave, up to the crest on Sawyer’s Bar Road and down to Forks of Salmon and ultimately Sommes Bar.

    Thanks for sharing this thoroughly delightful exploration of Northern California.


    This ride is a great introduction to the Etna/Scott Valley area. A friend and I rode for a week in this area in October, 2018. This Scott Valley ride was the first one we did. Then we did the Marble Mountain Century and a ride over to Weed and back (which at only 80 miles had more elevation gain than the century). This is one of the best areas to ride in the US, period. It reminded me of riding in Europe in terms of the lack of traffic and the friendliness of the drivers and people. Even large pickups move over and wave at you. We saw 5 cars over 8 hours when we did the Century. The area saw the 7-11 team train in the 70s, so they are used to us.

    Also, Steve Potts has relocated his shop to Etna (from Petaluma), so that’s another draw.

    Highly recommend the Paystreak Brewing in Etna and the fancier place next door (sorry, am writing from memory and I’m not going to do the Google. You’ll find it easily—Etna is not that big). The Etna Motel is a good place to stay. And October is nice—no smoke. We had temps in the 70s the first two days, then cooled off to 60 for the high. Cold at night though—we had frost each morning.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      The “fancier place” might be the Denny Bar Company across the street.

      1. James P Thurber

        Do NOT eat at the Denny Bar Company in Etna—you will gain weight. Serious weight. Their food is without question some of the best I’ve ever sampled. Their in-house beers are likewise.

        Right across the street in a semi-unmarked building is Steve Potts’s titanium bike frame shop, and he’s delighted to show you around.

        If I wasn’t married to a Bay Area lass I’d move to Etna in half a heartbeat.

        1. Jack Rawlins Post author

          The Denny Bar Company calls itself primarily a distillery, so I assume the spirits are good as well.

  5. Robert Vogel

    Just finished most of this ride, starting from Scott Bar. 14 miles from Scott Bar on my way back down, several dozen thorns (from the goathead weed, I believe) flatted both tires – the rear tire twice. A friendly lady in a pickup truck gave me a ride back to my van.

    Time to try tube sealant.

  6. Paul Wendt

    GREAT ride! About the goathead comments by Robert Vogel—I saw no goatheads on the ride, so wasn’t on the lookout them. When I pulled off the road to take a photo I picked up a bunch without realizing it. I flatted both tires. So be on the lookout for them!


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