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Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)

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Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
August 15, 2010 08:11PM
Most Yosemite tourists know about the bike trail in the Valley, which allows you to make a pleasurable loop. Starting at Curry Village you go to Happy Isles, Mirror Lake, past the Ahwhanee, Yosemite Falls, crossing the river at Swinging Bridge, and back to Curry via the Le Conte Memorial. It's much cooler and more pleasant than walking the same loop, and the views are just great.

But having done that, you are there in Yosemite with a bike and nowhere else to go with it, unless you want to share the highway with terrified amateur drivers of wide pickups and RVs. I bike all the time at home, but I'm not crazy enough to do that on any Yosemite highway. We were up there this last week, and while driving on Tioga Road uphill from Crane Flat, we got to witness a string of bicycles being passed on blind corners by nitwits with no uphill acceleration and a foolish belief that there would be no oncoming traffic. It was just a matter of time until one of these giant RVs met its mate coming the other way, and pushed a bicyclist right off the road. Or worse. Biking in traffic is not for me.

Except for that bike path, bicycles in the park are restricted to the roads. Luckily, there are roads in the park that are absolutely not highways. I can talk about five of these, two of which are a terrific ride on almost any bike with fat tires. None of them are suitable for road bikes or small children. None of them are flat.

Ride #1 Foresta Road from Foresta to Crane Flat

Foresta (also known as Big Meadow) is a little community that was on the old Coulterville Road, just above the point where that road dipped over the valley rim and headed down to the Valley at the Cascades. You can see the Foresta entrance road on the left, halfway up the hill on your way from the Valley to Crane Flat. It is a private in-holding that predates the National Park. It burned down in the great Arch Rock Fire of 1990, but the homes have been rebuilt and they survived last year's uncontrolled burn at Big Meadow. Foresta Road, called Crane Creek Road on some maps, is a gated dirt road that goes from Foresta to El Portal, past three beautiful waterfalls. One way length is six miles, and it has a 2300 foot descent. It is kept more or less in repair because it is a fire evacuation route for the Foresta residents (who have a key to the gates). The gates do not affect bicycles.

I have done it many times, both on bike and on foot, and have only seen a vehicle on it once. That was a pickup carrying a chain saw, looking for windfalls I suppose. But in decent weather you will see a few hikers and joggers. The road is mostly in the National Forest, and is normally scraped once a year in July, to prepare it for the fire season. Before that, in the Spring when the waterfalls are best seen, it is in some years passable only by four wheel drive vehicles with good clearance, because there is a section just below the park boundary which sometimes gets five-inch-deep erosion ruts over the winter (This year they were like that. Two years ago they weren't noticeable). These can run across the road, or they can run straight down the road and then veer off to one side. If you keep your eyes open, and are not too proud to go slowly and stop when necessary, you can easily handle them on a bike. I'm a cautious biker, and when I did it this June, I only had to hop off once to lift the bike over a deep rut. Generally, you can stick to the shoulders and/or look ahead for places where the rut walls have broken down and you can cross them. This rough section is only a quarter mile or so long. Otherwise, the road is a good biking route for anyone with knobbly tires and dependable brakes, with a few sandy spots and a few gravelly spots.

I mention three waterfalls, but in fact Crane Creek is a continuous cascade for the first thousand vertical feet. The road builders had scenic beauty in mind, for each of the three bridges is placed just below a superb fall (though the individual drops are modest by Yosemite standards). In the Spring, the creek makes a long white staircase down the mountainside. I am posting a few photos taken in late April of 2003, when the creek was flowing well. Crane Creek drains a relatively small area near Crane Flat, and melts off early, though it ran at least a month later than usual this year due to the late Spring.

First Bridge:

Standing at Second Bridge:

Another view of Second Bridge:

Standing at Third Bridge:

The first part of the road immediately below Foresta is the old McCauley Ranch, which is now abandoned and within the park. After the Arch Rock Fire, it was proposed to rebuild it as a horse staging area and Volunteers-In-Service (?) campground, but that never happened. The first bridge that you cross while biking (Foresta Falls) is within the boundary of the ranch. Shortly beyond that you will come to a gate marking the park boundary. Even when the gate is closed, it's no problem for bicycles and hikers. There is another gate near the Foresta end, which is also no problem. The gate may be open, but don't drive your vehicle through it. The gate at the other end may be closed, and the one you came through could be closed when you get back. This is not a good way to avoid the park entrance fee....

When you get to El Portal, you still have some options. Foresta Road continues at least another five miles or so along the north side of the river, a legacy of the old Yosemite Railroad. You will pass the huge new Park Service complex, built on a former barium mine site, which has a big modern bridge connecting it to highway 140. You can continue on the former railroad bed past the tiny community of Incline, where the famous loggers' incline railroad to Trumbull Peak used to be. Somewhere beyond that you will come to a closed gate where the old railroad bed becomes a private road, and you turn around. Or, if you are doing a car spot, you can park it near there....

We usually do the route one way. Either we have a car waiting in El Portal, or the strongest biker turns around at the second bridge and goes up to bring the car around to the bottom.

If you are a Spring flower photographer, note that this is a great six mile hike. The season here is early, though, and I wouldn't want to hike it in the heat of August.

The old maps show a foot trail down the east side of Crane Creek, from McCauley Ranch to El Portal. As far as I know, it disappeared even before the brush grew up after the Arch Rock Fire. It must have been very steep. If anyone knows more, I would appreciate learning about it. For now, I'll stick with the road.

Getting to Foresta: There is really only one road turning west off Big Oak Flat Road between Crane Flat and the Valley. It is near a trailhead parking lot, and is marked "Foresta". The first part of this road is relatively new, until it makes a right angle bend at the Foresta dumpsters, which is where you are joining the Old Coulterville Road. The dumpsters hide the continuation of the old road into the valley, which is abandoned. You will soon encounter some side streets with houses, but the only real junction is where Foresta Road goes left and the Old Coulterville Road goes right. Foresta Road then crosses a small bridge over Crane Creek, and turns south.

Parking: Foresta is private property, but the roadway is presumably public. Nevertheless, park in an unobtrusive place where you aren't in anyone's way and won't have to turn around in someone's driveway. I always park on the right side of the road at the junction with the second side street after the little bridge over Crane Creek in Foresta (Dana Way, the last side street on the right). The settlement ends just beyond that point. The only other bit of navigation necessary is at McCauley Ranch, where the road makes a complete switchback and and a rough entry road of some sort continues a short distance into the former ranch. Don't worry, you can't get lost and there are no possible side roads until you are in El Portal.

If there is any interest in this stuff, I can post our last Friday's ride on the gated Old Tioga Pass Road: Aspen Valley (round trip, 13 miles, 1200 foot vertical rise, pretty good road surface)

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/03/2014 09:48PM by wherever.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
August 15, 2010 09:20PM
That road is locked now? I have driven down it two times, once just to photograph the first water fall, then another time all the way to El Portal. Is a fun drive, too bad if it is locked.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
August 15, 2010 11:05PM
For years it was locked most of the time. It has been mostly open the last year or two, but they'll start locking it more often if there is much motor traffic on it. They really don't want to do any more maintenance than the annual scraping. It's in the National Forest, but maintained by the county. I don't think there is any money in the budget for extra upkeep...

Also, they really don't want people thinking that it is a route to by-pass the national park entrance station. The park rangers could lock it any time they want on that basis alone. In June, I saw some guys pulling a trailer (that had tiny wheels and no brakes) trying to turn back around at McCauley Ranch. It's a good thing they did, because the road beyond that was just not suitable for their rig. When I passed them, they were trying to get themselves turned around using logs as levers.

The first time that something awful happens, they'll lock it for good. The Foresta residents have keys as part of the volunteer fire brigade.

Anyway, I'm not encouraging people to drive on it.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
August 16, 2010 08:00AM
It is my understanding that the road is one way, down only. There is a sign in El Portal, where the pavement meets the dirt that says One Way, Do Not Enter. I believe that the one way portion begins at the first bridge when you are coming downhill.

That first waterfall is very easy to hike to, and for the casual hiker, is a very nice destination. I have parked in Foresta, off the road, and away from any driveway and hiked down to it. It's a nice, 15 mins down and maybe 30 mins back up due to being all uphill.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
June 16, 2011 10:05PM
This note is to add to last year's series of posts about off-highway biking in Yosemite. In addition to this current thread, there were suggestions for four other rides to be found in these two threads:

We were up in the park for four nights, starting last Saturday. That meant three days of serious hiking, and two travel days that allowed for a few hours of bicycling. On Saturday, we arrived at Crane Flat in the early afternoon, and biked from the closed gate at Yosemite Institute up to White Wolf turnoff and back. A lovely round trip of about 23 miles, with enough uphill in it to get the juices flowing. The road is open to biking, but still closed to vehicles, until they open Tioga Pass this coming weekend.

We saw less than a dozen other bikers, and no official vehicles at all. The road was completely clear, though it had puddles from snow melt flowing across the pavement in places. This road is a fantastic bike path.

Driving down the hill into the Valley, which was in automotive gridlock, we saw a bunch of road bikers trying to survive being passed by the SUVs. You couldn't pay me enough to road bike in that place.

On Wednesday, we spent a couple of hours biking at Foresta. Crane Creek had plenty of water in it, and the usual Foresta Road ride would have been super. But the highway route around to El Portal was full of construction at the high end and resurfacing at the El Portal end, so we elected to explore north along the Old Coulterville Road to Little Nellie Falls, and to bike around in historic Foresta.

You can park at the old road junction, where there are informational signs and such, across the street from the old cemetery. The Coulterville Road plank bridge across Crane Creek is still used for hiking. You can walk your bike across it, though it's pretty wobbly. The modern car bridge is a bit downstream. We came back that way. Be aware that the car bridge may be closed for repairs for some weeks this summer. The plank bridge should still be OK for bikes and feet, though.

Here is the general route of the Little Nellie Falls part of the outing:


Here is a look at the falls. Not much by Sierra standards. It reminds me of the sort of falls you might find on hikes in Western Pennsylvania or West Virginia.


The condition of the road is as follows: It's a dirt or gravel Forest Service type road. You don't need a real mountain bike, but you do need a genuine low gear or you will be walking parts of it. Also, the 4x4 crowd likes to make mud wallows in the road when it is soft, and there are several that you can skirt around the edges of.

Here is my wife negotiating the ruts on her funky recumbent bike.


Within the last week or so a four foot diameter ponderosa pine has fallen across the road right at the falls. A walker can easily duck under it, but no SUV will be getting through until someone brings in a pretty good sized chain saw...

We had originally intended to continue past the falls up to the Buena Vista lookout, but the stream cobbles were a bit too large to bike through, and the water too cold and deep for happy wading:


A google search will furnish lots more info on Little Nellie Falls.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
May 01, 2024 05:18PM
I believe the road is now closed to vehicles permanently as the bridge is out.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
May 09, 2024 06:35AM
Here is a link to an extensive history and recent (2 years old) report on the road. Someone placed planks across the burnt out bridge so if they are still in place it does go through.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
May 09, 2024 05:03PM
Suthbaysumo, I think that you intended to add a link...

Does anyone have a recent report on the bridge crossings? My buddy did it a few years ago by climbing on the steel girders, but it wasn't open for normal hiking at that time. Don't know about any planks. I'm guessing that if no one has scraped it in recent years that the road portion would be rough even for mountain bikes.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
May 13, 2024 01:18PM
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
May 13, 2024 03:55PM
Thanks for that link southbay. That road sure has changed since the time I drove my truck down to El portal. I got one of my most memorable photos from that road of the Merced River Canyon looking west around sunset.

Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
May 17, 2024 07:34AM
Really great article...I just eat this stuff up! Several years ago, I hiked this road to a point maybe a half mile beyond the Lower Crane Creek bridge. It was still easily crossable, IIRC (I remember it looking much like it does in the picture way above in wherever's original post). I don't recall it being all THAT many years ago but if the bridge burned in 2009, then I must have been down there before that (my advancing age tends to make things from many years ago seem pretty recent, I guess! smiling smiley )

Anyway, thanks for posting this. I know there are other old road junkies on this site who will probably enjoy this article as well!
avatar Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
June 17, 2011 02:15PM
I had not seen this series of posts before. Thanks, really good stuff.
Re: Off-highway biking in Yosemite Park #1 Foresta Road (long)
May 05, 2024 06:34PM
I agree. Always been interested in exploring these areas.
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