TOP 10 Reasons
RIDE the Sierra Foothills
Highlights: Deer Valley Rd • Gold Hill Rd • Marshall Rd • Baine Rd • Prospectors Rd • Highway 193 • Singer Mine Rd • Spanish Dry Diggins Rd • Wentworth Springs Rd • Balderstone Rd • Darling Ridge Rd • Bear Creek Rd • Traverse Creek Rd • Spanish Flat Rd • Highway 193 • Rock Creek Rd • Mosquito Rd • Union Ridge Rd • North Canyon Rd • Snows Rd • Newtown Rd • Pleasant Valley Rd • Big Cut Rd • Coon Hollow Rd • Cedar Ravine Rd • Bucks Bar Rd • Mount Aukum Rd • Fairplay Rd • Slug Gulch Rd • Omo Ranch Rd • Shenadndoah Rd • Fiddletown Rd • Hale Rd • Charlestone Rd • Pine Grove Volcano Rd • Highway 88 • Clinton Rd • Tabeau Rd • Buena Vista Rd • Sutter Ione Rd • Stoney Creek Rd • Pardee Dam Rd • Paloma Rd • Mountain Ranch Rd • Railroad Flat Rd
Ever been out riding and come upon the ultimate combination of twists and turns, elevation change and scenery galore. All the while screaming inside your helmet, "I've got to tell someone about this road- this is a rip-roarin' hoot!"
While we talk with reverence about the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in our backyard, what no one is telling you is at its base- a band of delightful roads stretch 400 miles from north to south. One after the other. These were roads cut into The Foothills by miners and ranchers 150 years ago - laid over Indian footpaths, along creeks and deer trails.
Our brand-new tour focuses on a particular style of road found throughout these foothills that push off the floor of the Central Valley to elevations of 3000 feet. At lower elevations, these are rolling hills. At the 1000 ft level, the scrub brush starts, then 2000 feet, the deciduous leafy trees, then 3000 feet, the coniferous pines. Temperatures drop as much as 10 degrees within this quick climb into the mid-section of the Sierra Nevada Range.
These are roads surrounded by numbered highways - backroads really. And we are going to connect them together for hundreds of miles.
This tour begins at the very edge of The Foothills, in Cameron Park, a small community outside Sacramento. This region is an elevation band of rolling hills overlooked by the Sierra Nevada. And our ride starts off through the heart of rolling hills flowing past an endless spider web of enticing options to explore. It's the height of spring and the land is awash in a brilliant green. Our elevation climb begins up towards Georgetown, our first of several Gold Rush towns.
Sierra Nevada Foothill roads are a hoot. You're screaming up the hill, your left foot is getting a workout, your left hand is fondling the clutch- it's happening so fast- you even shift a few times without the clutch by blipping the throttle. Your boot is rubbing against the pavement. You're tossing the bike back and forth, manhandling it, working it. The bike is a toy, a thing, an extension of your mind.
You sense the front tire biting, the fork absorbing the bumps; you pick your line a long way off and revel in the rhythmic vibration of the motor transmitted through the handlebars. Yet it all takes place ina deliberate fluid motion with no sense of time.
All that matters is the next curve. It's a pace. Smooth. With grace.
The roar of the exhaust is a sweet, sweet song. The rush of wind creates pressure against your chest and legs. The helmet pushes against your cheeks. Relaxing in the straights, you watch the world go by as if it were a movie, and the seat is your theater chair. The next corner appears and you drop a shoulder, chest leaned into the tank.
El Dorado County is the center of the Gold Rush era of 170 years ago. It's regarded as the location of the catalyst for what is considered one of the largest mass migrations in modern history. While gold seekers in 1849 came from around the world to seek their fortune, the majority found nothing and returned home. However, about 10 percent stayed in California.
John Sutter hired James W. Marshall in 1847 to build a sawmill on the south fork of the American River about 50 miles east of Sacramento, now present-day Coloma. Marshall discovered gold flakes in the tailrace of the saw mill being built. At first, he was sworn to secrecy by the mill's owner, but word leaked out of the discovery. We'll spend some time in Coloma, originally the County Seat until 1857, checking out Marshall's reconstructed saw mill where the 1849 Gold Rush all began.
A few miles away, lies the tiny hamlet of Georgetown, unique for its main street, which is 100 feet wide and side streets are 60 feet wide - dimensions based on fire prevention. Many buildings of that era were built entirely of brick or local stone, with iron shutters able to cover the windows. Georgetown is small, but it sits atop a ridgeline surrounded by twisty roads. It all is the start of the one of the region's most beloved motorcycle rides, Wentworth Springs Rd, which we've ridden on the Mosquito Ridge Pashnit Tour in previous years.
The day has only begun and after assailing more Foothill roads, we blaze a trail to Rock Creek Road - one of the narrowest single lane paved goat trails for miles, possibly rivaling the Forks of Salmon. Barely one-lane wide in some places and zero guard rails, it clings to a curvaceous canyon wall, following the turns and motion of the South Fork of the American River in the canyon below.
There aren't many single-lane wooden suspension bridges left in the Sierra Nevada that are still in daily use. The Mosquito Road bridge is said to be one of the most spectacular bridges in California, but has been deemed functionally obsolete. A modern concrete bridge is planned and will span high above the river 650 feet ridge top to ridge top, connecting the communities of Mosquito/Swansboro to Placerville much like the Foresthill Bridge to the north which is the fourth-highest bridge in the United States at 730 feet above the river below. The planned modern concrete bridge marks the end of a 77-year era where the term “wooden one-lane-suspension bridge” will soon be a lost term our children will read about only in history books.
After the bridge, we'll head for Apple Hill. Numerous apple orchards pass by one after the other. Conceived in 1964, local apple growers needed a way to attract buyers to their apples. The Apple Hill Growers grew from 16 original ranchers to over 55 ranchers currently that offer apples, pears, wine and even Christmas trees. The roads are relaxed, covered in tree tunnels and endlessly twisty. At the center of Apple Hill is Camino, a small town at 3100 feet once known for the saw mill as the town's main employer that shut down in the 1990s like many other lumber mills in California.
A midday break in our day allows a relaxed visit to Main Street, Placerville transporting you back to the mid-1800s with buildings built of thick stone walls and fire-proof iron shutters. The hardware store on Main Street opened its doors in 1852. Placerville Hardware is the oldest continually operating hardware store west of the Mississippi. The same family has run it since 1952, and it is packed floor to ceiling with doohickeys, whatchamacallits and thingamabobs.
A fella named John Studebaker started building wheelbarrows for miners in Placerville, and eventually made cars your father may have driven.
Placerville is also the county seat of El Dorado County, with surrounding regions known as a center for wine production. It is also regarded as the gateway to surrounding gold rush history. Today, the county seat of El Dorado County is a quiet and bucolic small-town dripping of Argonaut history.
The word "Argonaut" originates from the ancient Greek. It comes from an ancient tale about a band of heroes who were said to be the bravest and strongest ever assembled in Greek Mythology. Those that came to seek their fortunes during the 1850s Gold Rush, who made the tough and arduous journey west to California by land and sea, were nicknamed "Argonauts" because they too were adventurers on a quest for gold.
Originally known as Dry Diggins, Placerville lies in the heart of the Gold Rush region of 170 years ago and gained the term 'Ole Hangtown' for the hangings, two, actually. The first being three men, the second being of Richard Crone aka “Irish Dick”.
The name stuck until the ladies of the town got involved and surmised a more pleasant-sounding name was required for their fair town rather than one originating from vigilante justice. The town got an upgrade in 1854 when it was incorporated and re-named Placerville. Placer refers to placer mining, a type of mining where dry gravel is mixed with water to extract gold flakes. At that time Placerville was the third-largest town in California and the hub of activity, functioning as a base for tens of thousands of gold seekers flooding into the surrounding hills and river canyons. As a raucous frontier town, it was once described as the 'perfect Babel' in 1850 referring to the biblical story of Babel in the Book of Genesis.
In the middle of town is a Bell Tower, still in operation today, that rings the alarm for the volunteer fire department. Dating as far back as Civil War times of 1865, the tower has seen numerous upgrades, but remains to this day. Placerville also sits at the edge of the snowline. During Sierra winters, the eastern portions of town may get snow, while the western half of town has none.
South of Placerville is a motorcycle nirvana where the population begins to thin as we bear down on Amador County, taking the twistiest route available past numerous wineries. Fairplay, Somerset, The Shenandoah Valley, this area is home to more than 30 wineries, often operated as small family farms and producing award-winning wines. The same terrain that gives us great wine, also produces terrific motorcycle roads. Remote, endlessly curvy, and scenic - all the things we love.
We'll roll into the tiny hamlet of Volcano, home to the landmark St George Hotel. At the end of the street rests a cannon, 'Old Abe, still at the ready lest any Civil War rebel sympathizers show up. The one time it was fired, it blew out all the windows on Main Street.
There's an area around Jackson we call the Holy Grail Triad. A region that quietly conceals some of the most enjoyable motorcycle roads in the state. It's ranch land, no towns, no main roads, no reason for anyone to even be out here.
Deep inside the Earth...
The immediate goal is to reach the gold rush town of Jackson, anchored by the Kennedy Mine on the north end of town. As placer mining began to slow, miners began to dig into quartz rock below ground following veins of gold in the quartz. The quartz rock was crushed in stamp mills, and the gold separated from the powdered rock with mercury, better known at the time as quicksilver. The Kennedy Mine pursued these veins of gold over a mile deep reaching a depth of 5912 feet.
This tour bases from Jackson and spends two nights there making an out-and-back for Saturday. Any direction is enjoyable and we'll start our day with a visit to Kennedy Mine and explore the surrounding roads on up to 2800 feet.
Swan Lake, the Nutcracker... Ever watched in awe as the ballerina’s flow in an effortless fluid motion during the performance? At times, they seem to boldly float on air in deference of gravity & logic. Every action of their bodies is deliberate. Nothing wasted or unnecessary. Only synergy, where every movement has meaning and purpose.
This is Highway 26. Afterwards, we pause and slap high-fives, drunken love of tires ablaze in pent up heat garnered from debaucherous side-to-side motion. Lean left. Lean right. Thank you, sir, may I have another... You may. But wait, there’s more.
Ever wondered to yourself- give me a fantastic curvy road with great pavement. No backroad stuff, not bumpy or in the middle of nowhere. Ready to dance? Sequenced curving arcs that meld into the contours of the land. This enthusiastic ride leads right to Murphys, billed as the 'Queen of the Sierra'.
A break in our day allows a relaxed stroll down the tree-lined Main Street of Murphys transporting you back again to the mid-1800s with buildings built of thick stone walls, fire-proof iron shutters and pastoral white picket fences.
John and Daniel Murphy who established the town in 1848 reportedly took two million dollars in gold ore from the Murphys Diggins in one year’s time, making them millionaires before the age of 25. A nearby 4-acre parcel yielded 5 million dollars in gold during early days of the Gold Rush. It's a cute town and worth a stop for our riders to unwind from the morning's enthusiastic ride!
We blaze a trail to Wards Ferry- one of the craziest narrow goat trails for miles. Barely one-lane wide and zero guard rails, it's a long way down into the canyon below. And the bridge across the Tuolumne River - it's famous for being covered end-to-end in ruffian angst: every square inch adorned in multiple layers of graffiti.
The one about the priest...
Old Priest Grade is one of the steepest roads in the foothills. The elevation climbs from 910 ft to 2450 ft in less than 2 miles, with grade steepness up to 18 percent, and the steepest stretch might be closer to 20 percent. It feels straight down! Brakes smoke, and large vehicles not allowed, its Priest to Moccasin in three blinks. Originally a wagon road up the canyon wall to Priest at the top, passengers in stagecoaches were made to get out and walk to save the horses laboring to pull the stagecoaches up the steep grade.
Priest Station at the top of the hill holds a small coffee shack that's expanded into a restaurant with great burgers. Old Priest Station Motel offers small 1940s motel rooms to rent overlooking the canyon known as Grizzly Gulch. At the top of the hill, Priest Coulterville Rd heads south and as the name implies, connects Priest to Coulterville.
And nearby if we have the time - sinuous Hwy 120 is a knee-drag ride on the opposing scrub-covered hill side. Priest marks the southern edge of our ride, as we've run out of pavement as we approach the northern borders of the China Peak Tour regions. Want to ride more foothill roads, make sure to sign up for the China Peak ride.
We're not done yet though, and we are intent on staying off the main roads. We've still got the afternoon to circle around back north into the Calaveras County foothills, and assail two of the Holy Grail Triad, Pool Station Road and then top it off with Stoney Creek Road. This is a region of reservoirs storing Sierra snowmelt and several large lakes pass by.
This tour also borders the Sierra Nevada tour regions to the south. Ride all three tours and you'll have a total immersion in the Foothill and Sierra Nevada riding regions. These areas are our local roads, and we can't wait to introduce you to our backyard.
One more set of tires burned off. One more high five. Smiles that make your face hurt.
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Tour: February 17-19, 2023
Meet: 3291 Coach Ln, Cameron Park, CA
Arrive: 7:00 AM, Safety Brief 7:30, Depart 8:00 AM
Cost: $460 per rider, $119 Passenger
This tour includes numerous narrow single lane paved mountain roads. The ride includes steep grades to 20% and negotiating tight hair-pin corners. All roads on this tour are paved.
EXPERIENCED RIDERS ONLY:
This tour is not recommended for beginner riders, cruisers or Very Large Motorcycles. Riders are expected to have at least several years of enthusiastic experience on their motorcycle riding remote challenging paved mountain backroads along with at least 5000+ miles of concurrent recent experience.
This tour is limited by the amount of rooms at our host lodging. We have booked rooms months in advance and our tours sell out by the end of January. Get on our mailing list to be the first to know about new rides. Tours are planned & announced in the late fall of each year.
Book early to ensure a spot on this new ride. Check with us to see if any available spots are open. Some of our rides may have waiting lists to be able to join the group.