Cycling Northern California - Photos clockwise from top left
Wards Ferry; Mt. Shasta; Sonora Pass; Old Priest Grade and
Mt. Tamalpais (center photo)
We drew a line across California and tried to select the climbs that are clearly in Northern California. Our cut off is by county - everything below Toulumne, Alpine, Calaveras, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz was excluded - for example, the borderline counties of Mono, Mariposa, San Benito and Monterey are not included in our Northern California Bike Climb Page.
We live and have cycles everywhere in Northern California. The following are our thoughts on the top and best bike climbs in Northern California.
HARDEST BIKE CLIMB IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
SONORA PASS WEST, TUOLUMNE COUNTY
At 9 miles up to 9,624’ at 7% average grade, Sonora Pass ranks as the most difficult bike climb in Northern California (#48 in the US). It is also one of the more distant yet scenic climbs. If travelling to or through the area, consider climbing Sonora Pass from the west and east (Sonora Pass East).
SECOND HARDEST BIKE CLIMB IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
MT. SHASTA, MT. SHASTA, SISKIYOU COUNTY
At 14.2 miles and 5.7% average grade to 7,856’, Mt. Shasta ranks as the hardest bike climb in Northern California. It is also an extremely scenic bike climb. We have ridden Mt. Shasta 3 times, twice riding to Bunny Flats from the town of Mt. Shasta then hiking the Avalanche Gulch route to the 14,180’ summit of Mt. Shasta.
MOST SCENIC BIKE CLIMB IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
GLACIER POINT, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Yosemite Valley - El Capitan left center and Half Dome upper center background.
The Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point bike climb has the greatest 1-2 scenic viewpoint punches in the United States - Tunnel View and Glacier Point (throw in Washburn Point (just before Glacier Point) as a bonus.
Tunnel View at mile 1.6 - bring lights
Tunnel is .9 miles at 5%
Cycle Valley Floor to Glacier Point +
Hike Panorama Trail from Glacier Point to top of Half Dome
Yosemite Valley Floor to Glacier Point: 25 miles gaining 4,815’.
Glacier Point to Half Dome to Happy Isles: 20.4 miles gaining 4,844’.
SECOND MOST SCENIC BIKE CLIMB IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
MT. TAMALPAIS, MARIN COUNTY
Cycling Mt. Tamalpais (Mt. Tam), Marin County from Alpine Dam
View of San Francisco from Mt. Tam’s West Peak
Cycling to Mt. Tam West Peak from Alpine Dam is the most scenic of the many approaches the top of Mt. Tam. We believe that the views of the San Francisco Bay and The City are best from Mt. Tam’s West Peak.
THE MOST UNIQUE BIKE CLIMB IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
WARDS FERRY, TUOLUMNE COUNTY
The iconic Wards Ferry bicycle climb.
In all our extensive travels cycling through Northern California this is the most unique encounter we have had with a bike climbing segment. 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 . . .
. . . 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.
THE BEST PLACE TO EAT AT THE CLIMB FINISH IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
OLD PRIEST GRADE, TUOLUMNE COUNTY
At 12.4% average grade over 2.5 miles, this is one of the steepest 2.5+ road bike climbing segments in Northern California and the state. We love cycling Old Priests Grade and do so on almost every trip we take to or through Yosemite on Hwy 120. This is our top choice in Northern California for a meal at the top of the climb. While summit cafes are prevelant in Europe, they are not in the US. Some memorable ones are Mother’s Kitchen (Palomar Mountain) and Pikes Peak Visitor Center (for the donuts). While we do give the nod to Mother’s Kitchen at the top of Palomar, Old Priest Grade Cafe is a solid second. Additionally, the cafe is owned by the family of legendary mountain climber Conrad Anker and there are many wonderful historical photos lining the cafe walls of him and Yosemite.