Red Bluff to Fortuna, CA
Humboldt & Tehama County

Highway 36
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Deep within the corners of my mind...

Highway 36 has taken on an almost higher state. 

It's garnered a level of reverence for me over the years and I treasure the chance to get up to northern California and ride this very thrilling ride.  I know this sounds a bit odd- and you might be thinking the guy who created all these web pages and wrote all this text has finally gone loopy on me.  

But really, hear me out on this one.

Let the Games Begin!


Highway 36 is one of the major roads from I-5 to the coast, Hwy 36 starts out in Red Bluff on I-5 and heads west for a rather spirited, if not long, ride out to the ocean.  It's only 139 miles long but estimated at a 4 hour ride.  I suppose that depends on your pace of course.  (Just south of Red Bluff is Road 306.) 

Keep in mind 36 also heads eastbound out of the Central Valley  to Lassen Volcanic National Monument and over to Susanville but that ride is nothing more than a main highway.  Nothing to get excited about.  Point A to Point B style road.

So what is unique about this ride?  
Why would some riders even claim it is the best? 
Ride it and you decide.

Headed westbound from Red Bluff- the road begins a slow rise in elevation.  The road winds back and forth in a spirited ride- a definite sportbike paradise without the dangers of canyon riding to worry about.  (At least in this eastern portion.)


Outstanding pavement quality!


Few portions of 36 will be straight or flat

Let me tell you a quick story...  Several years ago, I was roaring westbound out of Red Bluff on my FJ1200 happy as a clam.  Just outside of the Red Bluff city limits sign, there appeared a small up and over hill.  It had such a crest to it- the bottom dropped out and all of sudden,  I was a surprised to find my 600lb sportbike airborne over this rise like something out of the Isle of Mann TT.  Yikes!  And a right hander at the bottom!!  I made it around- but it was quite a wake up call.

Plenty of scrapes in the trough-like bottom of the hill from all the cars bottoming out.  Road crews have since removed this 'jump' in the road.  It's probably good they did as the crashes occurring from this rise where beginning to mount. But there are several more to come.

I would split Highway 36 into three chapters..  The first portion headed westbound out of Red Bluff shown in the pics above involves excellent pavement.  But it's more than that.  

The road hugs the terrain.  Roller coaster style.

Nobody bothered to bring the bulldozer when they created this first section.  Instead, it was simply graded smooth and the road crew called it a day.  The benefit is this terrain is like no other road in all of California that I can think of.  The road rises and falls over low hills- some maybe ten feet high- then it snakes around and straightens out.  At first hugging a creek bed snaking along then gaining some elevation.  These hills are what the riders below are commenting on.  A couple straights, a meadow, and plenty of cows grazing alongside the road.  Easy on the speed.  Remember, this is a main highway.  The urge to twist the wrist will be intense. 

This is a motorcyclist's paradise.

While I can't tell you how fast to go, or whether it's wise to push the envelope on a section of road like this- that you'll have to make your own judgment on. (If you have "squid" stamped on your forehead- take it easy till you know what you're doing.)  But I promise you.  You'll hear that whispering in your ear from the little guy that lives on your shoulder.  Not the white guy.  The red guy.  So ride at your comfort level and live to ride another day. 

At Cannon Road, the road takes a hard 90 degree right and heads up a low hill.  Another one of my favorite parts of this road.  Some of my favorite all time rides are not the canyon rides- but actually the ones resembling a roller coaster ride.  Another 90 degree corner left and on you go westward bound.

Another mention of caution for eastbound riders (headed to Red Bluff) who'll be doing the downhill in this section-  There are a lot of skid marks in this corner- some headed right off the road and down the hillside.  And if you come in a little hot- you'll need a fistful of front brake to slow your momentum.  While you may have no idea which corner I'm talking about right now- you will once you go ride this.  You can also see this on a detailed map too.


Smooth sweepers along the banks of Dry Creek


Eastern portion of Highway 36 in January

After 17 miles from Red Bluff ladden in frivolity, Hwy 36 comes up on its first intersecting road. This is Bowman Rd which doubles back to I-5. If you have a choice, skip it. A second word to the wise is don't take Bowman Rd westward to make time and cut off the far eastern 17 mile section of Hwy 36 outside of Red Bluff. You'll regret that one for all your days. Make the trek south on I-5 to Red Bluff, and don't miss out on one of the best stretches of this 140 mile joy ride!

From Rosewood to Beegum Hwy 36 evolves into a series of twisty bits, than a straight section. Few miles, than back into the twisties. Then a straight. This seems to repeat itself several times over, but it never gets old. What you may also notice is the advent of more hilly terrain. This is but a precursor.

<-- Watch this Video by Tim of the eastern portion of Hwy 36 to Platina and back

 

Nearing Platina

No mountain ranges yet but you'll be able to see them getting closer on the horizon as this hilly terrain begins to close in around you. Then, popping over the next hill, there it is- an entire mountain range, a line in the sand as it were. Hwy 36 falls into this valley, than springs out through series of thrilling 180 corners. Smooth.   Climb up to the top of the range a 1000 feet in elevation, and look backwards (eastward) nearing the top. Not a bad view after all.

Right at the top of the hill is Platina Rd. This rather unassuming ride is easily passed over by its Big Daddy Hwy 36, but someday if you have the time, make the trip to Igo (yes, that's the town name!) and be amazed. I was. Platina Rd falls under the 'Why didn't I ride this sooner!?' Explore it (or simply click over) and you'll realize what I mean.

The one building town of Platina (okay, okay, there's a couple) welcomes you at the top of the hill a few yards past Platina Rd. There is gas here, and be sure and stop by to support this small store that survives off being located in the middle of nowhere. The first portion of the ride is over and Chapter 2 begins. Mountains.

Now picture mountains in your minds eye. Tall ones, jagged ones, pine tree studded ones. Now add the motorcycle. Just plain adds up to curves and more curves. Leave Platina and sure enough, the terrain is changing over to pine trees and more of a mountainous terrain. It's a 20 mile jaunt to the massive Hwy 3 intersection. One of those 'we'll meet you at the intersection' sort of conversations with your buddies when leaving Platina.

The author on Hwy 36 - Photo by Alan
It's worth noting that in the middle of this 20 mile joy ride is Wildwood Rd (aka Forest Rd 3). Another passed over ride dwarfed roads by the Almighty Hwy 36. Nothing like Platina Rd though, this one is a paved goat trail short-cut on over to Hayfork. It's scenic though in a narrow mountainous valley with a ranch in the middle, each time I envy the fella that lives there. (Note on Wildwood Rd, there's a natural bridge that's worth checking out to the west up Bridge Gulch Rd..)

This is much different country than what you've you're experiecned with the rapid elevation changes found in the Sierra Nevada Mountain, roads like Highway 108.  These NorCal mountains are lower in elevation.  Passes may reach 3000-4000 feet at best (this section peaks at around 4200 ft).   But there are still plenty of pine trees, drop-offs, and blind corners.

Whoever designed this road- they must have been a motorcyclist.  Banked corners?  Not many of those around.  Absolute thrilling ride.  Great pavement through here too.

And the view!  Amazing views.  Intense views.  Great views in this up and over mountainous section between Wildwood Rd & the Hwy 3 interesection. While this section is only a 10 mile jaunt, it's one of the best in the whole 140 miles. Combine the view northward (pic at right) with the curves below- yes Virginia, by far the motorcycle road in the state.

The view northward towards the Trinity Alps

Watch for cows on the road, yes, smack dab in the middle of the road.  Almost hit a cow once on this road.  I don't know who was more scared, I or the cow.  Not to mention his 3 buddies, and at dusk to boot.  You may have yet to see one in the road, but if you ride long enough, it'll happen. Deer of course are just as plentiful.

One of the highlights of the ride is the mountain range(s) in the middle of the ride.  The ride zooms up hill, tossing back and forth on up to the 4,077 summit within the Trinity National Forest. 

The midpoint of Hwy 36 is the massive triangular intersection with Hwy 3 which heads north on a very pleasant ride north up to Hayfork and then over the wild undulating ride of Hayfork Pass.  Highway 3 joins up with Highway 299 (do ride the Trinity River Canyon if you have the chance) for a few miles, then continues northward past Clair Engle Lake for the northward portion to Yreka.

Another great ride all the way up to California's northernmost east-west ride- Highway 96.


Headed across the pass through non-stop curves

West of Highway 3, the road is swallowed up by the depths of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. You'll begin to realize this is a pretty long ride and may take the better part of an afternoon to do.  It's 18 miles to the South Fork Mountain Summit (from Hwy 3), and 30 miles of twisties from this intersection to Mad River.  The road flowers before you like a garden blooming in spring as you head up to the 4077 ft. South Fork Mountain Summit.  Banked corners?  Very few roads are paved in this manner.  The perfect motorcycle road? 

Trust me on this one- Record this sequence in your minds eye.  You'll be thinking about it for days afterwards.  Days later, you'll be able to close your eyes and feel the sensation of the bike rolling side to side- rocketing through the banked undulating twisties.

The South Fork Mountain Summit

Done a lot of stopping here over the years. It's 18 miles west of the Hwy 36/3 intersection, and a good meeting point. The view off to the south alone is worth the stop. On either side of this summit is a curvy ride, going up, going down. Curves abound. All there really is, really. Do them fast, do them relaxed, but worth stopping here.

There are some placards detailing the peaks visible to the south (pictured below):

You are standing on what is generally known as the longest continuous mountain ridge in the continental United States. South Fork Mountain stretches 46 miles at a relatively even elevation from Grouse Creek to the north to the edgewaters of the South Fork Trinity River on the southern end. The northeast slope covers about 80,000 acres that bear remarkably uniform characteristics. This ridge is bounded on the east by the South Fork of the Trinity River- a federally designated Wild and Scenic River- and on the west by the Mad River and Ruth Lake. Through ecosystem management practices, these sensitive watersheds and their rich forest resources are maintained.

Two barren-looking peaks on the distant horizon stand out in contrast to the gently-sloping, forested landscape of ridges and valleys. Far from barren, the Lassics support a unique and colorful plant life amoung the rocks and soil. The Lassics Botanical Area was designated to protect these distinctive and (in some cases) rare plant communities.

The three Lassic peaks share an elevation of about 5900 feet and were named after Chief Lassik, the last leader of a local Native American group. Each peak is composed of a different rock type and all differ from the surrounding serpentine. Dark mudstone and sandstone make up Black Lassic. Red Lassic is almost completely composed of "pillow" basalt which originated from volacnic activity in the ocean. Long ago when lava contacted seawater, the rounded, bulging pillow shapes formed. Mount Lassic (hidden behind Black Lassic) is composed of massive grey wacke and bedded chert. Mt Lassic is officially known as "Signal Peak," having been used by the U.S. Army Signal Corps at the turn of the century.

One of the more unusual occurances on Hwy 36 is a ten mile long length of goat trail. Namely a narrow section with no center line, befitting of roads of yester-year, it may even catch you off guard.

One minute you're rolling along enjoying this marvel of paved engineering, next minute you're thrust 40 years back. Pavement is bumpy and constantly changing, despite some repaving over the years. You can take a pretty good clip through here if you know what you're doing, but if the phrase 'goat trail' leaves you wondering what in the world is that, best to take it easy through here. Lots of tight hairpins, blind corners, and even some swoopy drop offs where the road just falls out from underneath you! Great fun!

Like all good things, as quickly as it starts, Hwy 36 mysterioulsy opens back up to its wide two lane persuasions as if that narrow section never happened.

Do stop every now to take in the view and stretch your legs.  Plenty of great views like the one above.  Along the edge of Rattlesnake Creek into the tiny Forest Glen and over the South Fork of the Trinity River and then up and over the South Fork Mountain range to Mad River along the banks of the... Mad River.  There is a small general store, a tiny burger joint, and a gas pump in town.  At Mad River, you will find South Fork Mountain Road!  Click the link to see what all the hub-bub is about.  

Finally, we settle in with the Van Duzen River through the small town of Cobbs.  Nearby is Bridgeville, CA the town that back in 2002 was sold on Ebay.com for 1.8 million dollars, the first time such a thing has ever happened.  The former owners, packed up and moved to Fortuna. In 2007, the very same town went on the prowl once more for an owner.  

Also, at Bridgeville, you can ride Alderpoint Road southward to Garberville.  Avenue of the Giants is just over the hill to the west.  Alderpoint Road is paved the entire way, and a bit of a surprise, deserted, unknown, and undiscovered!

The translation of all that gibberish above is a wondrous ride!  These low mountain ranges aren't like what you're used to.  I could describe the rest of the ride out to Arcata in detail but needless to say- you  really ought to just come out and ride it yourself. 

Years ago, the road was in pretty rough shape in this western portion and was a deterrent to commercial shipping.  But the road crews have been hard at work, and you may notice several new road cuts into the hillsides.  This last portion is another mountainside style road.  Cliffs, drop-offs, non-stop corners, you know- that sort of thing.  The great thing you may not realize is that Highway 36 has a lot less traffic than its counterpart to the north Highway 299 and that's a good thing for you and I.  Highway 96 has even less traffic.

If you have the time, ride out to the sleepy little ocean town of Ferndale on the Pacific Coast.  It's only a few more miles once you hit the101 freeway.  Another hint is take Centerville Road (southwest corner of town) westward to the ocean and ride this dead end road up above the ocean along the bluffs.  Great view.  Then do The Lost Coast - Mattole Road and ride through Humboldt Redwoods State Park to the Avenue of Giants.

Back to Top

Don't just take it from me- 
Check out what other riders have to say..
Thanks to Fariborz Rostami (a.k.a. Desmobee) who sent me this pic

I just came back from a “three days / 1200 miles” trip on my Ducati 748.  I now know where God goes for his Sunday ride. A little piece of Desmo Heaven called Highway 36. It is located between Highway 5 and Route 101 in Northern California. 

Although we took Highway 36 from Lassen all the way to the Pacific Coast and the whole ride was great; there is a section about 100 miles long, west of Red Bluff, that is out of this world. 

This is by far the most perfect road ever designed. If you have not ridden this road, you cannot honestly tell what a perfect road is all about.  From Interstate 5 the road heads westward with some technical, perfectly cambered, twisties that go up and down on some beautiful rolling hills. Whoever designed this road did not spend any time or money cutting into the hills. The road goes up and down on top of these perfect-rolling hills with the most spectacular views. After about 20 miles, the turns get softer and wider and they show up in groups of 5 to 6 turns in a row where you can see all the turns perfectly in front of the bike. I can not put into words how great of a road, route 36 is. During our ride, for the first 100 miles west of Red Bluff, we only saw three cars! Granted it was mid week, but it was still nice to have the road almost all to yourself. 
-Desmobee 
Originally posted on the
Ducati Message Board

Another take on Highway 36:

This was the absolute best ride of my entire life!  The terrain starts as small gentle rolling hills with sparsely scattered live oak trees. At first, it reminded me of my favorite riding area, the "Hill Country" in central Texas.  I soon realized it was much more than that. The road hugs the terrain with no graded "cut-throughs".  You get almost unlimited forward sight with virtually no traffic.  As you ride westward, the terrain gradually becomes increasingly rugged.  It is quite some time before the road starts to "cut through" the terrain.  It's impossible to describe the feeling of a fantastic road that is constantly changing and remaining constantly perfect!  To me, this is motorcycling nirvana.  No matter what your riding style or whether scenery interests you, if you don't enjoy this road, you are dead or you should not be a biker!  

Thanks to Fariborz Rostami (a.k.a. Desmobee) who sent me this pic

At the high elevation part, I begin to feel as if I took a wrong turn.  The road often narrowed to one lane and I arced around several hairpins.  It was only another road personality change and lasted less than ten miles.  At one point, I had to stop and take a break from the twisties.  It was a thing repeated numerous times throughout my trip.  For the two-thirds of the route, 80 miles or so, there might have been 15 vehicles of oncoming traffic and less than 6 encounters in my direction.  Even on the remainder, the traffic wasn't bad.  

The thought occurred to me of the possible reason twisties are so important to most of us.  I once read that the rhythmic motion of rocking in a rocking chair causes the brain to secrete serotonin.  Serotonin regulates mood, producing a sense of well being.  This road has a rhythm but, more complicated than a rocking chair and certainly more fun!  I deduce that it must cause the brain to secrete this "nirvana" bio-chemical!  What else could you ask for?! 

Excerpted from Realized, A 27 Year Dream 
-Cal Mowrer


FJR1300 on Highway 36 - Photo by Bill Lockwood

Posted on the 
NorCal Sportbike Club Page:

"I think I can say, Hwy 36w might be one of the best sportbike roads anywhere. It has every imaginable type of corner and plenty of them. It begins at valley level and climbs through some of the most beautiful mountains (not that you'll have time to see them), it is 4 hours of road, and it ends at the Pacific Ocean.  

This is an "Oh my God, go tell the folks" road. 

The only detractor is Winter.  The road can sometimes be closed because of snow, or at least undesirable because of snow, ice, and cinders spread on the road for traction (or loss of traction in our case)." 

Webmaster note: I sent Mike a note asking if he remembers the hill/curve combo outside of Red Bluff that I mention above.  I was informed this rise was removed by construction crews as too many people were wrecking vehicles. These riders however are speaking of two more rises that aren't as severe as the original mentioned above."

I know of the jump but I can't tell you where it is, just that it is in the low elevation area before you start the real climb. It caught me by surprise as well. Thursday was my second trip on it, this time following MR who knows this road like the back of his hand. We must of been doing about 70-80 and with no warning I was airborne. I think the rear wheel stayed on the ground but not by much. The eastern section of road is like a rollercoaster, except you're in charge. Yesterday, MR said he got completely airborne. Whew!! Where ever it is, it is a section of rises and dips and this particular rise just falls off to AIR."
 
Mike
Yahoo NorCal Sportbike Club founder 

Thanks to Alvin & Natalie fo the pic
Thanks to Natalie who took this pic on Hwy 36

Thanks to Alvin & Natalie for the pic
Thanks to Natalie who took this pic on Hwy 36

"Earlier, I spoke of those interesting and scary spots on Highway 36...when I first rode that route, I also had an FJ1200, and I hit that particular turn (uphill rise, steep, and then it drops off below you, and there's an unexpected hard turn right after the rise....there's a couple of hidden turns like that which could get ya)....anyway, I completely blew that corner and was lucky there were no cars coming the other way..."

-Dave

More Comments:

I spent 3 weekdays at the end of October '02 on my '02 VFR using Redding as a base.  Of course I checked Pashnit.com first and printed all the ride reports for the area.  I rode 299 west to 3, then north (breakfast in Lewiston was a welcome stop as it was 37 degrees outside) to Yreka and back to Redding.  Then 299 east to 89, north to Shasta and 5 south Redding. 

Lastly, and maybe best of all, 299 to 3 south to Hayfork (breakfast at Irene's was pretty good) and on to 36 east back to 5 and up to Redding.  Highway 36 from Platina to Red Bluff was best stretch I think I've ever ridden!  Wow!  

If there is a more wonderful bunch of roads I don't know where it would be.  Good road surfaces, little to no traffic, few CHP.  Everything said previously about these rides proved true and has been said better than I can - great motorcycle roads!
-Isaac

The 36. I'd visited Pashnit's website and read the stories, but I wondered: would the road live up to them? I needn't have worried. That road is simply the best motorcycling road I've ever ridden on. It is awesome. Until that day, I hadn't yet scraped the peg-feelers on my VFR, but I scraped the hell out of them on the 36. I actually lost the left side peg-feeler somewhere along the way; it was completely gone at the end of the day, and the peg itself got ground down a bit. Good times, good times.  I love that road, but it demands your constant attention. Relax for a moment and it'll hand you your ass in a hat. (I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it fits.)

The most fun part of 36 is the eastern stretch before Red Bluff, when it turns into an amusement park roller coaster --- up/down and sideways...and sometimes both at once. What a great finish to a great road. I got to Red Bluff and, for the first time ever, I was actually relieved that the twisties were at an end.

It was fun as hell, but exhausting. I stopped for gas, cleaned the bugs off my visor, then scarfed down a chocolate bar and chased it with gas-station coffee to prepare myself for the trip back.

The ride back was more dangerous than the ride there, because I was tempted to believe that I knew the road. But the road said: "You don't know me; you just think you do" when I soon ran wide on one corner, touching the yellow line. I didn't go into the other lane, but it was still too wide on that twisty road, as Billy Joe Bob could have been coming from the other direction and going wide in the family truckster. So I slowed down to 80% of full-tilt boogy and stayed in the safety envelope thereafter.

-BetaMax
2000 Honda  VFR
excerpted from Sport-Touring.net

Photo care of Bill Neander

From Ghost Rider:

If you think you're a really good rider and have seen it all, Hwy 36 will be a very humbling experience.  This road is something like 136 miles long and I think there are about 4 marked corners for the whole road.  They will mark some sections, but for the most part your left with little information from road signs on just about anything.  The first part of 36 coming from I-5 is the best rollercoaster I've ever been on.  I literally had my stomach drop out on me a few times, or end up in my throat.  The road is very hilly, but with short almost jump like hills.  You'll be cresting a small hill at about 50MPH (almost the whole road is marked as 55MPH, it would be marked 35 here in the state of Washington) just to find a nice 25mph corner 20 feet away!!  Rocks and gravel litter some corners, and the road narrows to about 1 1/2 lanes for a good section toward the coast (as far as I could tell the speed limit is still 55 though here!!)  You will notice this section of road in the video because it has no center line.  You will get big trucks and SUV's flying down this road and crossing over the yellow all over the place.  Bottom line; make sure your life insurance and medical are up to date before jumping on this road.

Photo by GhostRider shot along the eastern portion of Highway 36 near Red Bluff
Photo by GhostRider shot along the eastern portion of Highway 36 near Red Bluff

Ok, now for the good news. Hwy 36 ROCKS!! If you're ever in Northern Cali, you can't pass this up.  This road and the time you had on it will stick with you forever.  Heaven would be to live on this road and run it everyday.  If you could learn to master this road, you could probably win the TT!  Big bikes and 2ups should take it easy, or steer clear all together.  I'm not a Duc fan, never really liked em, but all I could think about was how the 998/999 would be the perfect bike for this road!  HP is not going to help you as much as a huge torque range and lots of it.  Almost everything is down low and speeds won't get much over 80 in the good areas.  Out of all the roads we did in Cali, this was the one that stuck out the most.  It was the most challenging road I've ever been on, and even more so 2up on the BMW RT.

Webmaster Note: Thanks to Ryan Church for the excerpted text about Highway 36. 

Hwy 101 to Red Bluff - 140 Miles
Click the Map to ride more Fantastic Roads
Large Highway 36 Overview - 37K

Additional Pages on Highway 36:

Addicted to Highway 36 - An Essay by Peter Naumchik

VisitorMag.com's Highway 36

Highway 36 Travelogue
"...it was one of the best roads for motorcycling I've ever been on..."

Coastal Lodging:

Benbow Inn, Garberville

Gingerbread Mansion, Ferndale
One of Northern California's most photographed buildings

Myers Country Inn, Myers Flat

Victorian Inn, Ferndale

Pashnit Interactive Map
Click Map to explore more California Motorcycle Roads! - Full Screen

 

3-D Satellite Map Gallery of Hwy 36