After reading an article about overlooked great rides in California in the current issue of ÔÇ£Friction Zone,ÔÇØ I realized that in all my travels around Northern California I had never ridden Hwy 96 along the Klamath River. So, last weekend I decided to take advantage of the warm weather and head north for a two-day ride thru the Klamath National Forest, over to the northern coast, returning through the Anderson Valley.
After an early start, I hit Yreka for a pit stop/coffee break at about 10 a.m. With clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 60ÔÇÖs, I headed north on the frontage road that turns into 263 (rather than getting back on I-5). Once you clear town, this is a fun little ride that winds along the Shasta River canyon, where it meets the Klamath River and Hwy 96.
From that intersection, I was swept away for the next 3 hours as I followed the twists and turns along the Klamath River, until I reached the end of Hwy 96 at Willow Creek. Starting out, the terrain is relatively barren with lots of vertical rock formations, scrub pine and prairie grass along the canyons. The initial stretch of 96 offers few safe passing opportunities due to the tight, blind turns, and lack of straight sections of road. Fortunately, traffic was almost non-existent, except for the occasion logging truck. I found that the empty ones travel these roads at well over the posted speeds, while the full ones will uses the turn-outs if you are patient.
Eventually, the highway stretches out somewhat, with decent passing intervals and wonderful views of the river. As you head west, the topography also changes, with more foliage and heavier tree coverage as you approach the heart of the logging country. Other than a few rafters, I had the road all to myself for much of the first 70 miles, arriving in Happy Camp about noon, the first ÔÇ£townÔÇØ along the route. There youÔÇÖll find the statue of Big Foot at the entrance to the town. Here the Klamath River Highway also picks up the designation of ÔÇ£Big Foot Scenic Highway.ÔÇØ The town also offers a few places to eat, although I didnÔÇÖt stop (unfortunately).
The next 45-mile section of Hwy 96 was a mix of fast sweepers, with an occasional set of twisties just to make it interesting. Passing Somes Bar (where the Salmon joins the Klamath River) the traffic was still non-existent, the pavement great.
The temperature reached 70, so it was time to shed some layers. I stopped in the village of Orleans and decided to grab a fast sandwich at the Caf?®/Gas Station/Motel/ and Mining Museum. It was one of the strangest road food places IÔÇÖve sampled, featuring the ÔÇ£WorldÔÇÖs Largest Collection of Cast Iron Cookware.ÔÇØ (Recommend you stop in Happy Camp.)
About ten miles east of Pekwuteu, the pavement became a mass of tar snakes. It was along this stretch that I also hit two traffic controls for the ubiquitous paving crews. After clearing this congestion and passing some school buses, it was clear road again. The corners tightened as the road began to climb, seemingly stuck to the shear rock walls that towered above the river hundreds of feet below. At one point, the lanes narrowed through a section tight chicanes, vertical canyon wall on one side and steel railings on the other. This is one of the great sections of road that make you want to turn around and run it again. (Ideally, you wonÔÇÖt meet any logging trucks coming through at the same time!
After passing through the tribal village of Hoopa on the river valley floor, the highway climbed through a stretch of wonderful twisties and sweepers for most of the 11 miles to the junction of 299 in Willow Creek.
Here I had the option of turning east and taking 299 all the way to Redding (another great ride). Instead, I turned right and headed west towards Arcata and the Pacific Coast. (Willow Creek is a decent size town and offers plenty of options for food, gas, and lodging.) This section of the Trinity River National Scenic Byway was the perfect ending to a fantastic day on the road. The road continues to wind its way up from Willow Creek, and over the Berry Summit (on four lanes new pavement). From there itÔÇÖs mostly all down hill, along a great section of sweeping, scenic canyons and vistas of the ocean.
Be advised that this stretch of 299 is well patrolled by the CHP, who use those nasty, low-profile white Dodge Chargers with no markings except for a logo on the doors! Thanks to the flashing headlights of on-coming traffic I was able to slow to legal speed just before a radar trap on a blind corner.
Merging on to 101 south, I headed into Eureka, where I found a cheap motel for the night, then headed back into the ÔÇ£Old TownÔÇØ section of Eureka for a nice seafood dinner. At the recommendation of one of the locals, I settled on the Sea Grill, on E Street. I was not disappointed! Great seafood, reasonable prices, and excellent service.
William Carson House (Ingomar Club), Eureka
The next morning I was on the road before dawn. It was foggy and 45 degrees, so I stayed behind two cars heading south to avoid the potential deer strike until the sun came up. At that point I had the road pretty much to myself all the way through Redwoods State Park into Garberville. That stretch of Highway 101 is also a magnificent section of highway, especially without all the motor homes and RVs you typically encounter during the summer months.
At Leggett, I picked up Hwy 1 and wound my way along this ÔÇ£mini-DragonÔÇØ of sharp twisties and switch-backs, down through a misty Redwood valley to Rockport, and finally the coastline. Again, I had the road all to myself. I cruised along the ocean down to Fort Bragg, where I stopped for breakfast at EggHeads. (This is the place for crab omelets!)
Continuing down the coast, I pasted Mendocino and Albion. Instead of taking 128 east, my usual route towards home, I deferred again to the Friction Zone article and decided to try Philo-Greenwood Road, which starts in Elk and terminates in the town of Philo, west of Booneville on 128.
The road starts out very rough and narrow along a plush ridgeline, climbing over the coastal mountains before it starts to drop down into the wine country of Anderson Valley. It was a fun alternative to 128, but the dips and bumps combined with patches on top of patches in the asphalt keep it from being a great road. Still, I enjoyed the new experience of a ÔÇ£road less traveled.ÔÇØ
Passing through Booneville, I couldnÔÇÖt help but notice that at least four new wine tasting rooms had opened since my last trip there in the spring. I stopped to get rid of my jacket liner, as the temperature was is the 70ÔÇÖs. Leaving the town, I headed north and east on Hwy 253 towards Ukiah, another great road with lots of twists, turns, and great vistas. Reaching Hwy 101, I went south for a few miles to pick up 175, with lots of tight twisties and fast sweepers. Unfortunately, there was a lot of ÔÇ£rock slidesÔÇØ in the corners.
Picking up Hwy 29, I made my way over to Lower Lake, and then north on 53 through Clearlake. From there it was east on Hwy 20, with one last stretch of fast sweepers and light traffic to Williams. Crossing I-5, it was a straight shot home on 20 all the way to Grass Valley.
Two days of discovering new routes, great roads, and great weather ÔÇô it doesnÔÇÖt get much better!