The iconic Wards Ferry bicycle climb
Photo: Start of Wards Ferry North
We stumbled across this road bike climb on our way home on California Highway 120 West, just north of Old Priest Grade, and are we glad we did! The climb begins in Murder’s Gulch -- more on that below.
Both Wards Ferry climbs start at Wards Ferry Bridge (aka Graffiti Bridge, called such for good reason) which is 7.5 miles from the intersection of Highway 120 and Wards Ferry Road, just about 50 miles from Yosemite’s west park entrance. You can also begin the climb from Highway 108 (near Sonora) and in that case it is 11 miles to the start.
This is a very narrow road and treacherous for the first few miles from the bridge.
THE HISTORY OF WARD’S FERRY
During the gold rush days of the 1850s, miners would have to take a wooden ferry across the Tuolumne River near the start of our bike climb today. Joseph Ward owned such a ferry and accepted payment in gold. These were rugged and remote areas during murderous times, and Mr. Ward was murdered for his gold just four years after he began his ferry enterprise. Despite his untimely death, his name stayed for posterity as the name of the road and the bridge that now crosses the river near his original ferry crossing. There were several gold-related murders in this area which ultimately became known as Murder’s Gulch, for obvious reasons. As for the graffiti-covered bridge we see today? Though the graffiti is neither lawful nor particularly welcome, it could be seen as a work of art, depending on how you look at it. It certainly is colorful, to say the least. Because of the bridge’s remote location, it has been an easy target for taggers of all kinds since it was built in the 1970s. More on the bridge’s and the surrounding area’s colorful history can be found here.