Backroads and Byways Part 2 – Two Wheeled Options

Looking West from Avery-Sheep Ranch Road

The Rough and Rowdy Tour  – Explore the winding canyon roads and the timber towns of northern Calaveras County on this two wheeled adventure!

Starting out from your base camp at Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill, head northeast on Hwy 26 along the north fork of the Mokelumne River to the town of West Point, home of our region’s first independent community radio station, Blue Mountain Radio.   From here it’s a turn southward on Railroad Flat Road for a nearly 40 mile curve-hugging tour through three river canyons. Follow Railroad Flat to Sheep Ranch Road, which brings you by the Pioneer Hotel in the historic town of Sheep Ranch, once a bustling mining town, now considerably quieter.  Drop into San Antonio Creek canyon and follow the signs for Avery/Sheep Ranch Road and you’ll soon be back on Highway 4 in Avery.  A quick left then right puts you on Moran Road in front of yet another historic lodge – the Avery Hotel, built in 1853 for travelers on the route between Murphys and the Calaveras Big Trees.

Moran Road, Avery | David Kotoff
Moran Road in Avery | David Kotoff

From here follow Moran eastward (you’re basically paralleling Hwy 4) past a beautiful working cattle ranch and into the woods until you rejoin Route 4 at the east end of Arnold.  A couple miles to the right is Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a couple to the left is the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum at White Pines Lake – it’s your immersion tour in our county’s timber industry and forest habitat.

Getting Back – not to worry if you don’t want to reverse the trip – nicely paved highways (4 and 49) will have you back on the other side of the county in no time.

Good Timing – do this trip the first Saturday in October for fall colors, cooler temps and Lumberjack Day in West Point.   Do it on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend to hit the Logging Museum’s annual Jamboree.

Mileage:  about 95 total, including return to Mokelumne Hill.   Link to Interactive Map.

Off Road Alternatives – If you’d prefer to spend the day finding your way through the labyrinthine dirt logging roads of Calaveras County, it’s totally possible to ride from Railroad Flat to Dorrington (look for Swiss Ranch Road just south of Railroad Flat) or Wilseyville all the way up to Black Springs Road (it meets Highway 4 just east of Cottage Springs).  You’ll need a good map of the Stanislaus National Forest, which will show you which routes are private with locked gates, and which will take you all the way through.  This is recommended only for off-road worthy vehicles and once you’re out there, you are pretty much on your own, though you may find cellular service from most ridges.  Have some food, water and a spare tire handy. Definitely a day-long expedition!

Vineyards along San Domingo Road near Murphys

Peddle Power – We’d be hard pressed to find a better route than this year’s Mr. Frogs Wild Ride, which begins and ends in the town of Murphys, taking in several backroads and the town of Angels Camp as well.  But let’s throw in a little variation to that route – beginning in downtown Murphys, ride up San Domingo Road toward Mercer Caverns and drop down into the San Domingo creek canyon.  Once at the bottom, you have two choices – you can veer left and follow the creek downstream, past the rolling vineyards of the Stevenot Winery, eventually coming to the junction with Dogtown Road.  Alternatively, if you fancy another climb and don’t mind a little gravel road adventure, ride up a short way to a left on Esmerelda Road, this will turn you back westward until you come to the Dogtown junction.  Head back toward Angels Camp, passing Mineral Wines, to Murphys Grade Road which brings you back east to Murphys.

If you’ve got it in you, try the French Gulch Road variation, which leaves Murphys Grade Road about 2 miles east of Angels Camp and offers a committing climb with a nice downhill reward that you can coast back into Murphys for some well earned refreshments.

Of course you can ride a bicycle on any of the backroads tours we’ve listed, so be sure to get out and explore some of the most picturesque parts of Calaveras.

Read Part One for more scenic drives.