Destinations: Five Passes of the Sierra Nevadas
Taking a break near Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The views are beautiful and the traffic is light - perfect for motorcycle touring.
Photo by Joe Berk
What: The Five Passes, a magnificent region in Northern California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.
How to Get There: From points south, take California state Route 395 north (a magnificent ride in itself). Turn left at state Route 120 and you’ll be in the zone!
Best Kept Secret: Azzo’s Restaurant & Bar, a delightful Italian restaurant in Jamestown, Calif. Try the pesto linguini with chicken and mushrooms!
Avoid: The winter months, and starting out without checking the road conditions. Some of these passes are snowed in as late as June!
More info: http://www.motofoto.cc/los_cincos_pasos.htm
Between 250 and 64 million years ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth, a series of cataclysmic tectonic shifts rocked the region we now know as the West Coast of America and formed the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Fast forward to 170 years ago, and people started making roads through these mountains as they opened them up to mining and logging. Although it wasn’t planned this way, those roads and their magnificent passes have created some of the best riding on the planet.
Rather than simply designating a single point as a destination, this month’s focus is on a region, and in particular the great northern Sierra Nevada passes. The surrounding foothill regions are interesting, but the mountain passes are the real story — especially if you’re on two wheels. There are five passes in particular that are beyond awesome, with incredible scenery, elevations, grades and the always-significant “T-factor.” T, of course, stands for twisties.
Working from south to north, we’ll start with Tioga Pass, perhaps the best known of all the passes. Located along state Route 120, it’s the eastern entry point for Yosemite National Park, and at 9,943 feet it’s the highest pass in all of California. It’s an awesome ride, and the best news is that it’s but one of several magnificent paths through these delightful mountains. Pine scents, fresh air, deep blue skies, stupendous scenery, and yes, there’s more to come.
Sonora Pass along state Route 108 is the next northern Sierra Nevada pass in our series. It’s the second highest elevation (just 300 feet lower than Tioga), and with grades of 26 percent (yes, really!), it’s the steepest. Pioneers took this route as early as 1841, and when the gold rush began in earnest the road saw a lot more use. This route runs from Sonora on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Bridgeport along the eastern edge. Both are great towns, rich with heritage and providing numerous photo opportunities.