Visitor # 28191 since 04.JUL.2004
So where is CA-4 and how do you get there? CA-4 runs east-west across northern California. One end is in the easter Sierra and the other end in Sacramento River delta/SF Bay. The "fun" part starts east of Stockton, CA. after you leave Hwy. 99 or I-5. Count on a one hour drive east towards Angels Camp in the Sierra foothills (home of the famous Jumping From Contest). This stretch of 4 used to be a very narrow and winding road for a good portion of its length, now you only get a few miles of the fun stuff before you come into Angels Camp, where you join CA-49 briefly. Hwy. 4 then continues east towards Arnold (good place to gas up) then starts climbing to Dorrington/Camp Connell (5000') and the first of the 4WD trails. Calaveras Big Trees State Park has some spectacular sequoia trees. Continue east for another 30 minutes or so and you'll reach the Bear Valley/Mt. Reba downhill and XC ski area, In the winter, CalTrans closes the road just beyond the ski area turnoff. It generally closes in mid- to late-November and re-opens the following May. Current road conditions may be found on the CalTrans page. If the road is open, you traverse some spectacular one-lane road over granite slabs, high alpine scenery before cresting Pacific Grade Summit, dropping into Hermit Valley then climbing to the crest of Ebbetts Pass before dropping down towards Markleville and SR89 and SR88.
Below are trail descriptions accessible from CA-4 arranged in west to east order (click on the trail names for a topographic maps of the trail):
Located between Arnold and Camp Connell on Highway 4, is Boards Crossing Road which winds down to the Stanislaus River and the Sour Grass recreation area and campground. The Sour Grass 4WD trail has been adopted by the Gettin' Off 4WD Club from Milpitas, CA. The trail is approx. 2.5 miles long and rates at about 2 on a 1-4 scale. A stock T-100 made it up with a little guiding after kissing a few rocks on cross members underneath and full-sized pickups with campers have reportedly made it up. It consists of a narrow dirt road along the river bottom, with a few rocky ledges, several creek crossings and some secluded camping sites.
GPS: N38 19 18.2 W120 12 56.6
This trail is reached via an unnamed road about 8 miles up from Boards Crossing Road. You are quickly on a dirt road into a logged area. The trail heads off to the left at a clear cut area and narrows and drops into some tight turns among the trees. Then the trail becomes steeper and rocky with several ledges before you hit a stream crossing and the infamous tree root. Once past this obstacle, its smooth sailing to the Stanislaus River and the trail's end. The area along the river is private property, and there really isn't anything of note beyond the private property sign and potentially locked gate, other than a picnic/camping area. If you wish to use that facility, you should make prior arrangements with the property owners, but for a day trip, just stop at the sign. There is nice river access there. Total distance from the highway to the river is 8 miles, with the last 3 being difficult. It takes about 2 hours to make the trip one-way.
Apparently now the upper portion of the trail is closed with a locked gate :(
Located on the north side of Hwy. 4, just west of Bear Valley is the Gettin'Off 4WD club's former Adopt-a-Trail. It is supposed to be fairly easy driving with good views at the end. When covered in spring snow pack, it can very very challenging.
This used to be a fun, moderately challenging trail that connects Utica Reservoir and Lake Alpine. Utica Reservoir is accessed from Spicer Road about 10 miles up from the Ramsey turnoff. Take the left turn to Utica and follow the gravel road to the trailhead. The first mini-obstacle is a climb up a rocky ledge. After a brief flat area, you'll encounter a rocky drop down a taller ledge. Beyond that you'll cross and wander along the creek until encountering the slick rock hill. A step at the bottom of the slab will cause problems with open diffs. The final obstacle is an off-camber sluice. Total time to transverse the trail is about 2 hours. This trail rates a 2.5-3, 30" tires minimum, a limited slip is helpful, some body protection is advised. Trail update for 2018 from Spencers: The top part of the trail that used to run past a cabin close to lake Alpine has all been changed. There is now one very steep Rocky obstacle and a somewhat challenging granite face that you have to drive through, coming from the bottom up. There's also an additional (the gauntlet) that is a challenging location. But there is a bypass. Anyway we drove from the bottom up, and out at lake Alpine, which I would not suggest for anyone. We did make it out the top but had to use our winches. At the very steep loose dirt and large loose rocks, part of the new trail.
GPS: N38 26 42.7 W120 00 45.6 (south end)
GPS: N38 28 08.1 W120 00 39.6 (north end)
There is a 4WD trail that leads south from the Pacific Valley campground (at the base of Pacific Crest Grade). The road continues past the campground, up a rough rocky climb to a long meadow. It ends in a few miles at a trailhead,
GPS: N38 31 06.6 W119 54 08.6 (north end)
This trail connects Hermit Valley along CA-4 with Blue Lakes on CA-88. The southern trailhead is at the east end of the Hermit Valley campground, located at the base of Ebbetts Pass. The trail's most difficult obstacle is right at the beginning of the trail, a rocky outcropping above a campsite. The narrow, rocky trail climbs quickly from 7000' up to about 7800' before leveling out. You'll cross Deer Creek a few times before coming to a wide sandy meadow with excellent camping spots. A few miles farther and you'll reach the northern end of the trail where the main road from Blue Lakes forks off towards Twin Lakes. Distance from CA-4 to this point is about 8 miles and travel time is approx. 2 hours if you travel fast and have no problems. I'd rate this trail as a 3 on a 1-4 scale, 30-31" tires minimum, at least one limited slip axle and decent body protection are a must.
GPS: N38 32 21.8 W119 53 47.9 (south end)
GPS: N38 36 28.9 W119 55 31.4 (north end)
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[Last updated: 20.October.2019]