The iconic Wards Ferry bicycle climb.
Photo: finish Wards Ferry South
We stumbled across this road bike climb on our way home on California’s 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.
While that sign doesn’t “speak for itself” . . .
. . . it is a very accurate warning!
Both Wards Ferry climbs (North and South) 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 (it is 1.3 miles from Highway 120 to the finish of Wards Ferry South, and you then ride down the 6.2 miles of the south climb to get to the start of both the north and south climbs -- at the bridge).
We noticed more than the usual graffitti along the route,
But nothing prepared us for what was to come!
The photo above was taken 200 yards from the start of the climb. Notice the angle of the bike -- the first quarter mile is the steepest of the climb at 11%. Overall, the climb is 6.2 miles at a solid 5.5% average grade that does jump into the double figures a few times during the ascent.
Bridge at the one mile mark, just after the first of three short descents on the climb.
The road to the bridge is treacherous: narrow, rough, no guardrails, and a sheer drop off the side.
A very narrow road.
No room for a truck + a bike, much less vehicle on vehicle . . .
This is a terrifying road if you happen to be afraid of heights . . .
. . . as I am. 😰
Once at the bottom of the descent, we arrive at one of the most unique bridges we have ever encountered -- certainly the most graffiti-covered, that’s for sure. We highly recommend this climb to go along with Old Priest Grade and all the rides in Yosemite Valley. Do not pass up the Wards Ferry road bike climb if you have the time on your way to Yosemite, you will not regret it.
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.