California Motorcycle Roads

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California Motorcycle Roads

My riding area encompasses all of California and a little ways beyond. California has everything: coasts and mountains and plains and deserts. It's hard to capture all the good motorcycling in California, but here is brief coverage of some highlights. This page lists just some of what I have on California Roads. Check out my full California index. and my main Motorcycle Roads index.

For motorcycling purposes, my California splits into several big chunky regions:

  • The southeast (which I don't know anything about)
  • The southwest (LA and San Diego)
  • The Sierras, the Gold Country, and Death Valley
  • The Central Coast (extending east to Coalinga, for convenience)
  • The SF Bay Area
  • The Wine Country to Clear Lake
  • The northwest
  • The northeast

(One day I might split this page into multiple pages, one per region.)

Let's work north to south. The Northwest is the area north of Clear Lake between I-5 and the coast.

Northwest California

Depending on the bike you ride, there's something you should know: gas can be scarce up this way. If you're going from Eureka on the to Yreka on I-5 (200 miles via CA-299 and CA-96), the only gas is in Willow Creek, Hoopa and Happy Camp. If you have a small tank, you'll need to be tracking your next hit like a junkie.

On this map, I've marked several roads. One of the things you should know about this area is that these are the only roads. Seriously. This isn't just a schematic that leaves out minor connectors. There are no connectors. Not paved ones, and often none at all. If you pick one of the roads on this map, you're pretty much stuck with it until the next junction you see on this map.

I'm only exaggerating a little. My map program does show a few roads running parallel to US101 to the east of it (Kneeland, Alderpoint, Bell Springs), and some running east/west south of CA-36. But don't count on it: those can be intermittent, seasonal, unpaved, or beat up. Regardless of those factors, they also look unspeakably twisty and are probably single-lane, which means I can't have any fun on them. These things are true: you can't jump from CA-3 to I-5, you can't get from CA-36 to CA-299 except in the middle. And you can't get from CA-96 to US-101 at all. And see what I said above about the gas situation.

OK, so let's get started.

Marker 1: Coming from the south, CA-1 leaves the coast and joins US-101 at Leggett. If you're in the right mood (and on the right bike), those last 30 miles of CA-1 are amazing. Like other dreamy roads up this way it is packed with curves and grades. And like those roads, I find this section to be absolute torture if the road is wet, or it's dark so you can't see into the corners, or you just want to get on with it. Also, this stretch has few places to pass other traffic, even on a powerful bike.

Marker 2: If you're anywhere near Eureka on the north coast, you should not miss The Avenue of the Giants. It's a road marked CA-254 which twists back and forth across US-101, starting 30 miles south of Eureka and ending 60 miles farther south. Remember the motorcycle-like chase scene through a forest in "The Return of the Jedi"? It was inspired by this road or one just like it. You won't be able to go as fast as they did, though.

Marker 3: Riders in the 2006 Cal24 rally discovered the Lost Coast Loop: Mattole Road west from US101 to the coast, north along a lonely beach, then east to Ferndale. Nothing out here but ranchers and people who want to get away from it all. This is a twisty, technical ride, not a fast one: the road is kind of beat up and goes up down and over several ridges very quickly. But it's all paved.

Marker 4: Quit your job, leave your wife, and come ride this road. This is CA-36 between Eureka and Red Bluff. This is a destination ride. It's a hundred and thirty-three miles of grades and curves as you go up and down across the Trinity Mountains, with no cross traffic. (Often there is little traffic of any sort, but you shouldn't imagine it's all that lonely: this road is patrolled!) The Forest Service laid out this route, which means the road has lots of smooth, open, constant-radius curves. Do it in the daytime: at night it's a misery of deer crossings and corners you can't read far enough in advance to set up for, which will keep your speed and grin factor down.

Marker 5: If you don't want to go all the way to Red Bluff on CA-36, take CA-3 north to Weaverville. Now you have choices: CA-299 (Marker 6) runs east-west parallel to CA-36, and it's almost as amazing. In fact, some people say "the best of both worlds" from Eureka to Redding is to take the west side of CA-36, then CA-3 north, then the east side of CA-299. I know that all of these road segments reward multiple rides in all directions.

Marker 7: Your third choice from Weaverville is to take CA-3 farther north. I've never done this. It looks good on the map.

Marker 8: Somewhat more sedate than CA-36 and CA-299 is CA-96. This remote road runs 143 miles north and east from Willow Creek (east of Arcata on CA-299) to Yreka. It's a lovely cruiser road, with open sweepers and beautiful countryside. Watch your gas, especially if you really are on a cruiser with range under 120 miles. See the note above about availability on this route.

Marker 9: There are a few roads in the "interior" of this section of California. You can get your one-lane twisty back-road groove on by chasing Salmon River Road, Sawyer's Bar Road, and Scott River Road. To find these roads on a map, look for the "towns" of Somes Bar, Forks of Salmon, Cecilville, Etna, and Scott Bar, and connect the dots.

Marker 10: This is Indian Creek Road. It connects the town of Happy Camp on CA-96 with US-199 in southwest Oregon. It changes names a couple of times, and not all maps show this as paved all the way through, but I had no problem following it. It compares with Sherman Pass Road in the southern Sierras.

South of CA-36 (and south of the map above) is a big empty area between I-5 and US101. This is Mendocino National Forest, and few of the roads there are paved all the way through. CA-162 looks like it cuts across but it actually becomes Alder Springs Road (not a state highway) in the middle and I don't think it's all paved. This 2003 writeup I found refers to it as a "dusty mountain road."


Following CA-36 east from Red Bluff takes you into Lassen Volcanic National Park. Crossing the mountain on the highway would be fun if not for the park's low speed limit and the traffic. Better to skip that and go east on CA-36, then south on CA-89 or CA-147 around Lake Almanor to Quincy.

In fact, all roads from I-5 lead to Quincy: CA-172 becomes Oroville-Quincy Road, then passes Buck's Lake and reaches Quincy (after some name changes: Spanish Ranch Butte County Road and Bucks Lake Road). Well worth the drive: very remote, little traffic, very scenic, something new around every curve.

CA-70 also leads to Quincy, starting north of Oroville and running northeast before turning south. Going to Quincy the long way, there's CA-32 from Chico that runs northeast and joins CA-36 mentioned above. Take your pick. The road to Buck's Lake is the least-traveled, most-remote of these; I don't know (or can't remember) what CA-70 and CA-32 are like up there.

The 2004 Cal24 (or maybe it was a different year) included a marvelous way to get from Quincy to Susanville: leave Quincy going west on CA-70, turn north on Quincy Junction Road, and stay with it as it becomes Mountain Hough Crystal Lake Road and then China Grade Road to Taylorsville. Pass through town going east on Arlington Road, then turn south on Ana Genesee Road, which becomes Beckwourth Road to a place marked Genesee. Go east on Beckwourth Genesee Road (not south on Beckwourth Taylorsville Road, but that looks appealing) ; it becomes Indian Creek Road and takes you to Antelope Lake. At this point my map program failed me - I just followed the GPS-computed route to Janesville even though the roads don't have names on my map until Janesville Grade. You'll hit Janesville on US-395 south of Susanville.

I've been on CA-299 from Alturas to Redding a couple of times, but I find it pretty boring. The few interesting parts are also more traveled, so when you get to hills and curves you're generally behind somebody and you can't go the speed limit in the turns, let alone faster. Also it's more patrolled by CHP than the remote roads described above.

The Sierras / The Gold Country / Death Valley

California Highway 49 runs through the Gold Country. That highway is named for the year 1849 when gold was discovered on the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, setting off the Great California Gold Rush. There's nothing wrong with plotting a ride from the top of CA-49 at Sierraville to the bottom at Oakhurst, but you have to know what you're in for: beautiful stretches punctuated by going through stoplights and congestion, and always other cars - there are no deserted stretches. This is a cruiser ride, not a sport-touring ride.

The best parts of CA-49 that I can think of are:

  • The very northern part, Sierraville to Nevada City. Goes through Tahoe National Forest, scenic, not much traveled.
  • Jackson to San Andreas, with Mokelumne Hill. Steep and curvy sections, but try to wait for the traffic to thin out.
  • And the winner, Coulterville to Mariposa. Actually, run this from south to north. As you approach the Merced river crossing, you drop from 2300 feet to 840 feet down a nearly-sheer cliffside road with a couple of switchbacks. Then after you cross the river you climb right back up again. The road and the views are terriffic.

I don't know about great roads around Lake Tahoe proper - I'm usually just headed there and back. NV-207 takes you west out of Stateline, NV the "back way," and it has a very scenic descent to the plains, but once there you're kind of stuck - there's nothing fun to do for a while.

One pleasant diversion from US-50 west of Lake Tahoe is Ice House Road, which I found on the Pashnit web site. It runs north from US-50 and then you turn west on Wentworth Springs Road. The fun ends in Georgetown and now you're pretty much stuck taking I-80 home, if it's home you're headed to. (I get frustrated by these one-way fun roads that don't themselves lead to more fun.) Mosquito Road shows up on my map program and might be fun, if it's not a little too twisty, and if it's paved.

Crossing the Sierras north of Yosemite are three state highways: CA-108 (Sonora Pass), CA-4 (Ebbetts Pass), and CA-88 (Carson Pass). Of these, CA-4 is the least traveled and most technical. None of them is plowed in the winter, so they close after the first good snow and sometimes they don't open until June. CA-88 is two lanes the whole way (as opposed to going down to one lane like the others do), and it's always open from the west at least as far as the Kirkwood ski resort.

There are probably lots of back roads between these passes but I don't know them. Feel free to send me your notes on them.

The Wine Country to Clear Lake

SF Bay Area

Too much to talk about. I'll have to write a whole page (or more) on this.


The Central Coast

The Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) gets truly awesome from Carmel to San Simeon, where Hearst Castle is. You go through Big Sur and then hug the cliffside for 60 miles. There is no cross traffic and lots of curves. Watch for sand and Winnebagos. Sometimes it's hard to find a place to pass.

There's more to say about this area. I'll put CA-25 and CA-198 in here too, plus Peachtree Valley / Indian Valley. CA-46 to Cambria, Carmel Valley Road, Interlake Road... Watch out for no gas on CA-25/CA-198/US-101 for 121 miles. Cut that down by stopping at Tres Pinos.

SoCal: Ojai and Angeles Crest

Living as I do in the SF Bay Area, I don't know much about riding in the Southland. I've been down that way a few times but never done much exploring. Don't miss CA-33 to Ojai from the north. Remote, mountainous, good road, very scenic.

I was very happy a couple of years ago to "discover" the Angeles Crest Highway at precisely the right time of week and time of year. It's CA-2 running east/west along the ridge north of Pasadena. It was April or May, and it was a weekday. I had seen the road on a map and decided to ride it. Well, it turns out this is one of those roads they don't bother to plow in the winter. Even though the road was clear and dry and the weather was quite pleasant, at a certain point 45 miles up the road was closed. This meant I had a long mountain road all to myself with no traffic! Riding up that road and then back down was a trip to motorcycle heaven, all the more because it was an accidental find. It's probably really crowded with bikers on the weekends, and part of it is a commute road (hence both cars and police) until the turnoff to Palmdale, but on the right day it's all that and a bag of chips.

If I create any subpages they'll be listed below.



This page was last edited April 02, 2015.