Bike Vacation

Cycling from the Bay to the Sierras

by Doug Williams

One of the big advantages of living in the Bay Area is the close proximity of the Sierra Nevada, one of California’s most beautiful places. It’s a well traveled weekend destination for many, but not so many have taken advantage of that proximity and made the journey by bicycle. I live in Oakland, and my family lives in Sonora & Jamestown, so I’ve made the trip a few times, including riding over Sonora pass and back over Tioga pass on a month-long tour back in ’11. Here’s some notes on how best to bike from the Bay to the foothills, and from there to the Sierras:

Part I: Escaping the bay:

Wherever you live in the Bay Area, you’re not far from some gorgeous roads & trails for cycling, but to start our journey, we’ll need to make it to Livermore, so hop on your favorite road (Morgan Terrritory, anyone?) or catch BART to Dublin/Pleasanton and nip across town til you’re spitting distance from the Lawrence Labs. Now we have three choices for crossing the hills East of Livermore.

1. Altamont Pass Rd:

Paralleling the 580 Freeway to the North, Altamont Pass Rd. is your easiest option in terms of climbing. A very gentle climb and descent through a lovely valley, we’ll see a lot of windmills going this way. Those things are there for a reason though, so beware that this is often a windy route! Those of us who prefer a climb to a headwind may prefer:

2. Tesla Rd./Corral Hollow Rd:

The southernmost of our options for crossing the hills into the valley, this is in my opinion the most scenic route. About double the elevation of Altamont Pass Rd, but it’s worth it for expansive views of the rolling hills, especially in the Winter & Spring when they’re emerald green and you can understand how Dublin got its name.

3. Patterson Pass Rd:

The middle option is also the highest, but just barely, 100ft more elevation than option 2. Patterson Pass is also very scenic, until it sort of unceremoniously dumps you out at a big power station. It also tends to be the windiest of the three in my experience, this would usually be my last choice, but it’s good to have variety.

Part II: Crossing the Valley:

Once we’ve crossed the hills into Mountain House/Tracy, we’ll generally be following the 205/120 corridor towards Oakdale. There are two ways to go here:

1. The Northern Parallel:

If you’ve taken Altamont Pass Road into Mountain House, this is the most natural continuation, Altamont Pass Rd. turns into Grant Line Rd, which then meets Byron Rd. heading into Tracy. From there you’ll be on tiny farm roads through cattle feed lots and ag land. Warning: this part of the journey can be quite pungent!

After making your way through Manteca, Highway 120/Yosemite Rd. is the simplest continuation. It’s very busy with high-speed traffic, so not the most pleasant, but there’s plenty of shoulder, and a rumble strip separates you from traffic which provides some peace of mind. It’s also fairly well traveled by local bike commuters and recreational cyclists, which helps. Lone Tree Rd. and East River Rd. look to be interesting alternatives here which I’ve not tried – if you’ve ridden them let me know! Eventually you’ll come to 26 Mile Rd just before Oakdale proper, where you’ll turn left to get to Rodden Rd. and Orange Blossom Rd. These beautiful byways follow the Stanislaus river to Knights Ferry.

Knights Ferry is a gorgeous place to stop and get a bite to eat, or a hotel, or a campsite (There’s a little RV park that allows tent camping for cyclist at a discounted rate). If the weather is warm, a dip in the river can be very refreshing, although be cautious, as the current is VERY swift at times. Also don’t miss the chance to ride across the covered bridge before heading back to highway 108. There aren’t many covered bridges in the West, and this one has a lot of history, including some of the original timbers from the 1800s.

2. The Southern Parallel:

This follows more naturally if we take Patterson Pass or Corral Hollow Rd. into Tracy. Here we’ll cross the San Joaquin river on Durham Ferry Rd./Airport Way, pass by Caswell Memorial State Park, then continue to Ripon, crossing the Stanislaus river at Army Corps Park on a lovely, if brief, cyclepath. We’ll find our way to Claribel Rd, which can be a bit harrowing if traffic is heavy, as there’s not much shoulder. It leads us out of town into some beautiful farm roads, eventually connecting to Rock River Rd. Beware there are some unpaved roads here, which can be a bit sticky if it’s rained recently:

They’re very well maintained though and are mostly glassy smooth, no need to bother with knobby tires or anything. Rock River Rd. is a beautiful little climb, just enough to let you know you’re leaving the valley for:

Whichever route you take, crossing the valley is the least fun part of the trip, mostly just a long flat slog, so you have to use your imagination a bit to enjoy the scenery. Take this giant warehouse for example:

Can’t you just imagine it’s filled with cheetos? If you were to pull off the road and sneak in, you could swim in the huge pile of them that just sits in the middle of the concrete floor waiting to be bagged up and shipped off to gas stations and liquor stores.

Part III: The Foothills

After taking Rock River Rd. or Highway 108 from Knights Ferry, a short jaunt on La Grange Rd. takes us to Red Hills Rd. leading through the Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern (Try saying that ten times fast) which is always gorgeous.

It’s one of a few places in the world where ultramafic soils allow specially adapted ultra-rare plants to flourish. Great place to stop and take a hike if you’re not in a hurry. Red Hills Road leads you to Chinese Camp, then back to 49 and 108 (Unfortunately not much of an alternative through here). I like to hang a right on Bell Mooney Rd at Woods Crossing, then take Campo Seco Rd to Washington Street, which is the main drag into downtown Sonora. We’ll climb a bit more than 2000 feet getting up here from the valley flats, but the grade never gets too steep and the scenery is some of the best on the route.

Part IV: The Sierra

Once we establish a base camp in Sonora, or at least get a snack, there’s a plethora of gorgeous rides up into the high country, including Ebbetts Pass, Sonora Pass, and the many dirt roads in between. I’m very fond of the Sugar Pine RR Trail from Twain Harte to Strawberry, Donnell Vista Point and of course there are many miles of beautiful roads in the foothills around Sonora and surrounding towns, as highlighted elsewhere on this blog. Check in with the fine folks at Sonora Cyclery before you leave town for more suggestions!

Ride Map from Doug William Bike Vacation

Bike Valley to Sierra



Alpine County: Safety on State Routes

Alpine County is unique among the five counties of this study. It has the smallest population – less than 1,200 people per Census data – which more than triples each summer when the annual Death Ride brings cyclists and spectators to the area. While certainly a popular event, improvements along the rides’s many mountainous passes can improve safety for those seeking to cycle the roadways outside of the organized event, and create opportunities for additional road cycling events. Safety improvements along these corridors would also benefit the residents of Markleeville, Woodford, Bear Valley and other residential areas where State Routes commonly serve as “main street.

We want your feedback regarding Alpine County

Are these the popular bike routes you like to ride currently?

What bike destinations or routes would you like to visit/ride to in the future?

Do you have Safety concerns within any Showcase Area?

Do you have any ideas for supportive amenities (signage, repair services, bike racks, etc) that would encourage bike riding in the Showcase Areas

Send comments to

Caltrans District 10 Active Transportation Survey

The Caltrans Active Transportation Plan Survey is asking for your input.

TAKE a moment and SHARE your ideas to improve Bike Riding in Caltrans District 10.

Your survey response will help Caltrans plan for biking and walking. Please click through the following screens to identify concerns that you believe need to be addressed to improve walking and biking on and along State Routes near you.

Survey responses will provide specific data about the type and location of needed improvements, allowing Caltrans to evaluate these locations in developing future projects. Click thru to take the District 10 survey here >

Caltrans wants to align the state’s bicycle and pedestrian network with the needs of local communities, with an emphasis on improving social equity, reconnecting communities, and improving access for all modes of transportation, including people who walk and bicycle. Caltrans will be actively engaging with partners and community members in areas where historic transportation decisions may have created barriers to adequate transportation. To find District 10’s map-based survey, visit, and select District 10 from the list. For more information about the Caltrans Active Transportation Plans, visit

Using BART and ACE Train to Take a Bike Vacation

How to Get Here Without a Car–A Quick and Ambitious

Sierra Bike Tour

Written by Carl Baker, Motherlode Bicycle Coalition

We recently had a guest visit through on a quick bike trip

to the Sierra. He did many more miles than I do in a day and climbed a

ton in four days on his credit card tour.

Brian lives in San Francisco and doesn’t own a car, so he made effective

use of transit on his way. He took BART to Dublin and followed

Tesla/Corral Hollow Road to Tracy, crossing the San Joaquin River at

Durhams Ferry. I haven’t ridden most of his zigzag across the San

Joaquin Valley, but I’ve always thought of Caswell Memorial State Park

as a stop there. I also might have taken River Road to Oakdale.

I particularly admire his courageous use of the Salt Springs Valley, but

I would have avoided SR 4 from Hunt Road to Avery. That would require

some serious zigging via Pool Station, Calaveritas Road, Michel Road,

Mtn. Ranch/Sheep Ranch, and Avery Sheep Ranch, but after Avery, SR 4 is

pretty nice.]

The point here is not to quibble on his route choices but to point out

how he minimized urban riding and slogging through the suburbs to get

out on the road. BART to Dublin is fairly obvious, but his trip home was

downright smart. This trip was during 100 degree August weather, so he

didn’t want to have to ride in the afternoon into a headwind across the

valley to get back to BART.

His solution was the””>Amtrak San Joaquins route from Modesto to Richmond and then back to the City via BART.

There have been a couple times I’ve been ready to ride to Dublin BART

with an overnight at Caswell only to have circumstances change and have

to cancel in favor of driving. A ride to Modesto or Stockton with train

rides to the City would cut out half the miles and the need for camping

equipment which significantly changes the ride/drive calculation.

There’s also the ACE train from Stockton, Manteca, or Tracy to the East

and South Bay, but it’s commuter service only. The early departure time

is prohibitive for riding from the foothills, but could work after an

overnight stay in the valley.

Overall, Brian got in a pretty smart trip including eastern Alameda

County, the valley, foothills, Pacific Grade Summit, Ebbetts Pass,

Monitor Pass, and Sonora Pass in four days.


For More Information


Tuolumne County: Jamestown-Columbia-Sonora Loop


Tuolumne County offers several top contenders for bicycle tourism – perhaps the most of any County within the study area. The proximity of the three communities of Jamestown, Columbia, and Sonora makes this an combined showcase area, with roughly 15 miles separating the three if ridden in a loop. For bicycle-minded visitors headed to Yosemite National Park, this area would be an additional cycling destination that can also offer alternative lodging to the often sold-out lodging within Yosemite Valley. Looking ahead to interregional connectivity, this focus area is also centered between Murphys and Knights Ferry, with roughly 20 miles separating each destination from the Jamestown area

We want your feedback!

Please review your county’s showcase area and tell us what you think!

Are these the popular bike routes you like to ride currently?

What bike destinations or routes would you like to visit/ride to in the future?

Do you have Safety concerns within any Showcase Area?

Do you have any ideas for supportive amenities (signage, repair services, bike racks, etc) that would encourage bike riding in the Showcase Areas


Send comments to


Stanislaus County: Oakdale/Knights Ferry

The roadways traveling from and around Oakdale offer incredible scenery en route to the historic destinations around Knights Ferry. The area sees high levels of bicycle activity from groups like the Stanislaus Bicycle Club, and Knights Ferry itself is a popular day trip destination for local residents and visitors from nearby counties. This focus area can also include Woodward Reservoir Park. Together, improvements in this area could increase bicycle tourism while also unlocking access for residents wishing to travel by bike to popular recreation destinations in the area. This area is also a strong starting point for a potential interregional connection with Tuolumne County.

Please review your county’s showcase area and tell me what you think!

Are these the popular bike routes you like to ride currently?

What bike destinations or routes would you like to visit/ride to in the future?

Do you have Safety concerns within any Showcase Area?

Do you have any ideas for supportive amenities (signage, repair services, bike racks, etc) that would encourage bike riding in the Showcase Areas.

Email comments to


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