Old Ward’s Ferry Road Et Al.

Jay Rawlins, explores, rides and write about his bike adventures in California and Oregon. The Old Ward’s Ferry Bike ride is one of several routes in Bike to Sierra Region that Jay features on Jay and I recently discussed road improvements in Calaveras County and we have a bike date to ride Jesus Maria Road!

Jay Rawlins, Campo Seco Road

A general word of warning about riding in the Southern Southern Gold Country: every back road I’ve ridden from Jesus Maria Rd. south has had stretches of pavement ranging from poor to comically horrible. That includes every Bestrides ride in the area—Jesus Maria, Ward’s Ferry, this one, and others like Dogtown Rd (not so much Priest-Coulterville). If poor pavement bothers you, ride somewhere else.

This ride lies just west of our Ward’s Ferry Road ride, but it couldn’t be more different. Ward’s Ferry is a straight down-and-up crossing of a big canyon. This ride wanders around in a warren of old farming roads that roll up and down constantly over endless little hills. It’s never flat, and it never climbs or descends for long.

It’s harder than the profile makes it look, because short, steep rollers wear you out, and because the road surfaces here are poor, and that beats you up. The up side is, this isn’t your yuppified Gold Country. There are next to no gated mansions, vineyards, Lexuses—just oak and grassland, unpretentious folk, beat-up pick-ups, and horses and cows in the fields. There is nothing magical about my route. I just tried to link as many of the roads in the area as I could. My route has you riding everything of note except Algerine Wards Ferry Rd., which you can easily add as an out and back. Start at the intersection of Old Ward’s Ferry Road and Jacobs Rd. You can start at the northern end of OWFR if you want to, but it’s very unpleasant multi-lane frenetic urban. Half a mile past Hwy 108, you’re in the country.

Old Ward’s Ferry Rd. is the second-worst road surface on the ride, and it’s immediately up and down, so it’s hard on an unwarm body. Nothing on this ride lasts very long, however, so soon you go R onto Murphy Rd. and things are much better though not perfect. Go right on Lime Kiln Rd. and go up and down, mostly up, until you’re in the shadow of Hwy 108, where Campo Seco Rd. goes L along the highway.

Jay Rawlins, Old Wards Ferry Road

Camp Seco is a horse of a different color. It runs along upscale housing tracts on one side, so it’s bigger, domesticated, busier, and glassy smooth.

Go L on Algerine and roll to Twist Rd. At the intersection is a chance to pick up Algerine-Ward’s Ferry Rd. (not on our route)—just keep riding past the Twist turn-off.

Whatever you do, don’t miss Twist Rd.—it’s the jewel in this crown. The road surface isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough that you can finally bomb some descents.

Twist Rd. ends at Jacksonville Road, for all intents and purposes a highway, though not a heavily trafficked one. It’s not thrilling, and the pavement is new chipseal, but it’s OK and the views (of the canyon holding an arm of an arm of an arm of Don Pedro Lake) are good—the only time on this ride where you can see further than across the meadow beside you, but only a mile plus to the Jacobs Rd. cut-off back to your car.

Jacobs is not to be missed—perhaps a third of a mile of the worst road surface I have ever experienced. Absolute misery. It’s easier and more pleasant to walk it, but ride it just so you can tell your friends you did.

Jay Rawlins, Big Hill in Columbia

Shortening the route: Except for Twist, none of these roads is markedly superior to any other. The southwest loop might be slightly superior to the northeast loop.

Adding miles: This ride takes you within yards of our Ward’s Ferry Road route, a ride I would certainly do before I did this one. In Sonora you are 6 miles from Big Hill Road out of Columbia, a 10-mile out-and-back consisting of a four-mile moderately challenging climb followed by 6 miles of easy rollers, with fabulous views of the lands to south—the best vistas in all my Gold Country riding. It would be a Bestrides-worthy ride, but it’s cursed with the same unfortunate Calaveras County pavement as this ride—not intolerable but bad enough to turn an otherwise wonderful 4-mile descent coming back into something merely good. If you’re near Columbia, don’t miss little Sawmill Flat Road, unique in the region (in my experience) for having easy rollers, lush scenery, and pristine road surface.

Lower Bear River Back Country Ride (All Paved)

Pioneer, California

Bill Condrashoff, Foothill Cyclists

When the weather gets too warm to ride in the foothills, I like to head up to Lower Bear River Reservoir where the weather is usually perfect on those days. Drive about 2 miles on Bear River Road off of Hwy 88 down to the dam and park there.

I almost always ride to the south over the dam on South Bear River Road and either make a small scenic loop out of Cole Creek Road. Or take Spur 19 down to the really cool flume flowing water out of Salt Springs Reservoir. In the spring of a wet year, you can sometimes time it to see the water spill from Salt Springs Dam. The spillway is a natural rock surface and it is quite the sight to see on a hot spring day.

The Cole Creek Road loop takes less than an hour without stops. But there are some nice places you’ll want to stop and view the Mokulumne Canyon from above. The road is not perfect but there’s not too much to complain about. There are cows roaming in the area and you might run across a group of them. I just keep moving and make sure they know I’m coming. You never want to surprise one when you’re close to it.


You’ll be able to see Salt Springs Reservoir in the canyon below. If you want to go down to the lake, make sure you have good working brakes on both wheels cuz you’re going to need them. You might even consider stopping to let your rims cool on the way down. Spur 19 will take you down to Salt Springs Reservoir Road. The descent is steep and there can be obstacles like rocks, logs and cow pies on the pavement. Its only one lane wide so remember you may encounter a car around one of the many turns. Be careful!

To get to the spillway and lake, turn left at the bottom of Spur 19. There is a sign there that will help you in case you’re not sure. The lake is an out and back and it will take a least an hour to get back to Spur 19. The flume is about 1⁄2 mile down the road on your way to the lake. As you get near the dam, keep a look out for the spillway on your right across the river. If it’s operating, you won’t miss it. It’s uphill to the top of the dam and it gets steep in a few spots.

If you are at all worried about making it out of the canyon under your own power, don’t do the out and back to the lake. Instead, you can just go to the flume and turn around or turn right at the bottom of Spur 19 and ride out on Ellis Road up to the Hwy. Whether you ride to the dam or not, I recommend taking Ellis Road up to Hwy 88. Spur 19 is very steep and unrelenting and it’s going to hurt you if you trying riding up it.

Ellis Road has a mostly even grade and it is a very long climb. You can enjoy that time watching the flume and river canyon slowly sink away from you. The bottom part of the ride up Ellis is exposed and allows for good viewing. However, because of the exposure, it will be hot down in the canyon when the sun is high. On hot days, I recommend only climbing out of the canyon in the morning or before sunset.

When you get back to Hwy 88, turn right and go a little over 1 mile back to Bear River Road and coast down to the dam where you parked. A small scenic add-on option is to continue on Hwy 88 about 1 mile to the view point overlooking Lower Bear River Reservoir. Be very careful on Hwy 88. The shoulders are minimal in a few sections.

An option I like to ride to save as much energy as possible for the climb out on Ellis is to short cut the Cole Creek Road part by taking Bear River Road direct to Spur 19 then to Ellis. That’s about a 20 mile loop with a lot of climbing. Allow 2-3 hours for this ride.

Upcountry Road Improvements in Calaveras County

On September 9, 2015, east of the California foothill town of Jackson in Amador County, a PG&E power line came into contact with brush and sparked flames that grew into a wildfire that jumped the Mokelumne River into Calaveras County. That fire, known as the Butte fire, eventually killed two people, destroyed nearly 1000 structures, and burned over 70,000 acres across two counties. The impacts to Calaveras citizens, economy, and landscape were devastating.

The Butte Fire caused significant damage to road segments above Highway 49 in Mountain Ranch, Sheep Ranch, Railroad Flat and along Jesus Maria Road. These small county roads are the life-lines for the tiny rural communities in the mountains, and Calaveras County Public Works is currently spending $14.6 million dollars to repair and repave at least 24 county road segments that are within the Butte Fire burn scar or were damaged by emergency access use.

The road repairs make bike riding in these upcountry communities more accessible and desirable. These upcountry roads have been popular with cyclists since the late 1970’s, but, poor road conditions have discouraged cycling tourism. The current road improvements will make Calaveras a go-to cycling destination for cyclist and bike tour companies.

San Andreas and Mokelumne Hill are centrally located at the base of upcountry hill climbs allowing avid cyclists access to the rolling foothills with hill climbs, descents, and of course, spectacular scenery. Traffic on upcountry roads is light, although cyclists should be cautious when riding.

Calaveras County Upcountry

Seven Routes, 200 miles of roads, 18,700 feet of climbing

San Andreas, Jesus Maria Road and Old Gulch Road (Loop)

Jesus Maria to Whiskey Slide to Mountain Ranch (Out and Back)

Calaveritas Road to Old Gulch Road(Out and Back)

Calaveritas, Fricot City Road to Rite of Passage School (Out and Back)

San Andreas, Hawver Road to Jesus Maria Gravel Ride

San Andreas, Pool Station Road (Out and Back)

San Andreas to Angels Camp and/or Murphy’s

Jesus Maria Road

Please review this 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?

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The road improvements identified in the list below will be completed by fall of 2023, based on available funding.