Northern California

Orick to Weitchpec

Northern California
Bald Hills Rd

RIDE IT on a PASHNIT TOUR


Humboldt - COUNTY

34 Miles - LENGTH
 Some new pavement, 3 miles of gravel- PAVEMENT
Mountain Climb, Hairpins, Gentle - CURVES

Hwy 101 to Hwy 96 - CONNECTS

 Patricks Point, Klamath, Weitchpec,  - GAS

CLICK FOR MORE INFO

Quick Ride: Unknown road in remote northern California Redwood Country over low mountain pass with recently paved section but still includes 3 miles of gravel. Incredibly scenic region across meadows of lupine.

Smooth as....

As soon I learned about Bald Hills Rd, I knew I had to go ride this mystery road. All I had to go on was a couple photos of the road from 10 years ago and an outdated 45-word description. That's it.

Paved? Not sure.

Has anyone ridden it? Nope.

Couldn't find anyone who knew anything about it.

My Benchmark Road Atlas of California that I have copiously studied 135 pages of grid squares like others study the Holy Bible said not paved. The all-mighty AAA Sectional Map of Northern California said maybe, but we’re really not sure.

 

Even the Google Street View Car made it a couple miles, then gave up & turned around in the gravel section. Another source said 15 miles of gravel. Satellite imaging showed paved but six miles of gravel.

 

No one could agree on what to expect. It took seven months of patiently waiting to plan a ride to this far northern corner of Humboldt County, California, located moments from the Pacific Ocean.

Bald Hills Rd is found along Hwy 101 north of the tiny alcove of Orick 60 miles south of the Oregon border & 60 miles north of Fortuna where we base our Northern California Pashnit Motorcycle Tour. Bald Hills Rd is also located just south of Davidson Rd (gravel) that leads to the famous Fern Canyon (where they filmed portions of The Lost World: Jurassic Park) in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

 

Months of anticipation finally found me on the bike setting off into the night, the only soul on the road in the chilled ocean air before the sunrise burned off the cold ocean fog. The plan was to precisely hit Bald Hills Rd as the first rays made photography possible. I had taken special note to look up the precise time of the sunrise to provide enough light to photograph the road and geared up for the ride through the marine layer that had rolled in from the ocean. Just me, the bike and the road in the dark of night.

The mind wanders during these moments. Tucked in, electric vest on, burbling down the highway. How wise was it to ride six miles of gravel on the TL1000R over a remote mountaintop? I pondered the logic of my plan. But I still couldn’t stay away. It was irresistible, like free candy from a white van.

Orick has no services and no gas. Last gas was available in Patricks Point and I followed protocols regarding heading off into the wilderness and dutifully topped off at the Chevron station along Hwy 101 in Trinidad.

I also skipped Patricks Point Rd which starts in Trinidad at the very same gas station I was at right as the faintest rays of sunshine began to make the dark of night fade.

Patricks Point Rd is a can’t miss motorcycle road that flows along the ocean for 6 miles on a close parallel to Hwy 101. In some spots it pops out of the forest right along the ocean’s edge for stunning views of the crashing waves below. When has the ocean ever not been stunningly perfect to look at?

 

On the north end, Patricks Point State Park offers up camping and numerous hiking trails out to the ocean, including parking areas at Palmers Point that are right near the ocean’s edge. A brief distance to the north is a short walk out to Wedding Rock, three guesses why it’s called that. Amazing views on a clear summer day. Riding up or down Hwy 101, don’t miss this stretch of unknown road between Trinidad and Orick.

Bald Hills Rd is a 34-mile trek over to Weitchpec and connects to Highway 96 just 11 miles north of Hoopa. The best time of year to ride it will always be the spring when the spring rains create brilliant fields of green, covered in blue lupine flowers, acres of blue spread across wide open meadows.

On the east side of the range, there is gas in Weitchpec, Orleans or Hoopa although there are no towns or paved side roads along the length of this road.

 

One mile north of Orick, Bald Hills Rd is well marked, and found at a 90-degree bend in Redwood Creek. It flows away from Hwy 101 past the California Redwood Company timber mill which closed back in 2015 and has since been razed.

Fifty years ago, there were 200 mills within a 100-mile radius and logging was king. There is a side road for Redwood Creek Trailhead to a parking area ¼ mile down below Bald Hills Rd to provide a base for walking paths along Redwood Creek, which drains an expansive watershed extending south all the way past Highway 299.

So why all the hubbub about this road?

 

For one, there are only three paved roads for the 150 mile length of Highway 96 that connect anywhere. The lack of connecting roads away from Hwy 96 creates the perfect isolation, but also limits access.

 

You can ride Highway 96 from Willow Creek, or Yreka, ride in from Oregon via Happy Camp Rd, or take the Bolivian Death Road as we affectionately call the Forks of Salmon. And that’s it.

 

Bald Hills Road is the only other road that connects over the range to Highway 96, and half of its length has been a gravel fire road in the mountains for decades deterring any interest. Until now.

Our ride begins climbing through 4 switchbacks to the top of Holter Ridge to overlook the Redwood Creek Valley below. It’s quickly apparent this is not a road for large vehicles. The ascent at first is potholed and poorly maintained although paved, so far so good. Road conditions keep the speeds low and these change through the years.

 

The ride initially leads to the Lady Bird Johnson Redwood Grove which has an inviting paved parking area adjacent to an impressive hand-made walking bridge across the road to a grove of these massive trees. Coast redwoods can reach heights over 380 feet, and while not as massive as the giant sequoias, they are considered the tallest trees on earth. This is one of the most popular and easily accessible walking trails in the Redwood National Park. It’s short, level and close to the nearby Visitor Center in Orick. This trail is at 1200 feet in elevation and was built for the Redwood National Park’s dedication ceremony in 1968.

Our Pashnit Tour groups have spent considerable time through the years in the redwoods, but if it’s your first visit, allow some time in your journey to take in these massive trees. Well worth the stop to at least walk across the bridge and take in a few redwoods.

 

On my fall day of travel through the redwoods, the winds coming off the ocean were such that debris was blowing so thickly I had to have my visor down or I'd get pelted with debris in the air from the surrounding redwoods. Just beyond Lady Bird Johnson (think late 1960's president’s wife for you youngsters) The ride cuts through thick forest which is lush & green.

 

A remnant of the first wagon road through this area is on the left just before the wooden foot bridge. The old path will parallel Bald Hills Road for the next 10 miles.

After seven miles of climbing, Bald Hills Rd reaches the crest of the ridgeline and pops over the other side making a slow descent, gaps in the trees begin to appear giving hint of the valley below logged some decades ago.

 

The Redwood Creek Overlook at 2100 ft  on the summit provides a broad view of the valley below. This parking area has numerous interpretive signs highlighting the considerable long-term effort to restore these hillside habitats to the decades before active logging harvested the hillsides below of their valuable timber resources. 

 

More than 200 miles of logging roads have been eliminated and healthy stands of young trees and shrubs cover formerly disturbed sites. The timber mills have long-since shut down (the closest active mill is far away in Weaverville), the majority shut down in the early 1990s.

A 1/4 mile beyond the Redwood Creek Overlook is the Tall Trees Access Road, a gravel road into the valley below, this road is closed and accessible only via a permit obtained at the Redwood National Park visitor center at Orick. The 4-mile round-trip Tall Trees Trail leads to the Tall Trees Grove, an alluvial flat next to Redwood Creek that hosts a former title-holder of world’s tallest tree. This former record-holder, discovered by a National Geographic survey team in 1963, in part spurred the creation of the Redwood National Park in 1968. Coast redwoods are the tallest trees, with the tallest reaching nearly 380 feet.  Currently, the park contains 131,983 acres of old-growth forest. The non-federal acreage is in Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. Thousands of pack-mules carrying supplies for inland gold mines ascended into Bald Hills from the Tall Trees area as miners and ranchers flooded into the area in the late 1800s.

 

The road to the Tall Trees trailhead is narrow, windy, and unpaved. The small parking lot does not accommodate RVs over 21 feet or vehicles towing trailers. The gate at the top of Bald Hills Road ensures that no large vehicles become trapped on the road. Free Tall Trees permits can be obtained at the visitor center.  Permits are limited, but available in abundance most days with the exception of summer holidays.

Bald Hills Road breaks out of the forest into an expansive meadow and the sight left me a bit awestruck. There was only one thing to do: roll to a stop, park in the middle of the road and record the scene. Not a soul around. The sun was popping up through the trees and bathed the scene in blinding yellow sunlight.

 

On the far side of this meadow was a house, what looked like a private residence, the first one I had seen for the duration of ride and adjacent was a small barn. The scene was a magazine cover view for that little house and I spent the next few miles daydreaming about who might live there, grandfathered in before these hillsides became a national park in 1968 and the status stopped any subsequent development of these pristine hills.

The breaks in the treeline left me stunned, I had seen pictures, but in person, there was no comparison. It reminded me of Bolinas Ridge just north of San Francisco, but on a much grander scale if that's even possible.  In spring, these prairies as they are called, are adorned in acres of brilliant wildflowers. Lupines, larkspur, irises and another dozen wildflowers are flowering from April to June. Also keep an eye out for golden California buttercups, purple monkshood and crimson clusters of firecracker weed during the bloom.

 

The peak bloom of lupine should last at least until the end of May. There is also a variety of other wildflowers to appreciate including delphiniums, native buttercups, baby blue eyes, and many more. Every few years, increased rains along the ocean produce a super bloom when a brilliance of increased color adorns the meadows.

Once Bald Hills Rd reaches the Elk Camp Fire Station 10 miles in, your Cracker Jack surprise awaits with brand new pavement, baby bottom smooth, has been laid down over what used to be six miles of gravel.

 

The six has been cut in half and this new pavement adds three miles of stunningly scenic pavement across the crown of the ridgeline and across a saddle flowing across a meadow of lupine.  It's amazing motorcycle candy to revel in.

 

One mile south of the Elk Camp Fire Station is well-marked signage for the Dolason Prairie Trailhead. A small parking area in the trees allows a base camp for this hike into the valley below. The trail criss-crosses meadows and drops into old-growth forest, 4-1/2 miles one way. Hike about a mile to Dolason barn, named after 1860s rancher James Donaldson whose name was corrupted over time.

It's a long hike but worth it, 11miles or so round trip and the return trip back to the parking area along Bald Hills Rd is all uphill. A sign along the trail explains that prairies were created by Native Americans and are now shrinking, so the woods were intentionally burned to keep them from encroaching on the prairies. Burning the grassy meadows has become a time honored tradition that early settlers to the region continued. In present day, the Forest Service has sought to acknowledge and embrace the forest's complex need for fire. Note bears are common in the region and may be seen along the hike.

At the 14-mile mark, you'll ride by the Tomlinson Ranch, The private ranch on the left (east) long served as a stagecoach stop. Built in 1919, the 18-room main house boasted a 10-foot cookstove on which 24 hotcakes could be cooked at one time. There's also an old overgrown airstrip here beside the road used in the 1940s to the 1960s.

As the ride reaches the far side of the saddle through several S-curves (the Schoolhouse Fire Lookout is visible on the far peak in the photo at right), the brand-new pavement ends and you'll need to make a three-mile trek across a stretch of gravel which is likely passable by any motorcyclist. For all my worrying about the gravel, in the end, it was simple, easy and quick to traverse back to pavement. Just take it slow and enjoy the jaw-dropping view.

Just after the gravel starts and 17 miles in from Hwy 101, the Lyons Ranch Historic Site trailhead comes into view. The road Y’s at a hairpin and a short distance away is a tiny parking area against a gate, large enough for several cars.

 

This used to be a cattle and sheep ranch spread across grassy knolls devoid of trees with a few oak groves, but no redwoods like in the valleys below. From the parking area, you can hike 2 miles down the knoll along an old road to the home site the Lyons Family called 'Home Place'. The large barn is a slice of a forgotten history of ranching along the coast and there are amazing views from these heights of the national park.

Jonathan Lyons was one of the first European American settlers in the Bald Hills and together with his wife, Amelia Lyons, of Hupa descent, started sheep ranching that carried on for three generations.

 

The Lyons introduced sheep to the Bald Hills in 1873, and were awarded a gold medal from the 1901 Paris Exposition for the high quality of wool. The Lyons family had one of the largest ranching operations in northern Humboldt County and were known for their innovation.


They were the first in the Bald Hills to install telephones between the family ranches. Some of the original fence posts and telephone posts still survive. The first school in the Bald Hills was built on Lyons land in the 1870s, and when the community got a post office in 1896, it was placed in the Lyons home

The ranch was abandoned in the 1950s and the only the old barn and two bunkhouses remain. In 2018, the Lyons Ranch was added to the National Register of Historical Places.

 

Just beyond the turnoff for the Lyons Ranch parking area 1 miles away is a subtle Y in the road with a narrow gravel road leading uphill. There’s no sign, but if you look north to the hilltop, you’ll see the Schoolhouse Fire Lookout at 3027 ft.

 

Yes, you must, and if you’ve come all this way, you can manage the added short distance of gravel road to reach this mountain top lookout.

It’s irresistible, much like that earlier white van, and if you’ve come all this way, you can manage added short distance of gravel road to reach this mountain top lookout. The lookout is 1/2- mile away, elevation 3,097 feet, and offers a full-circle panorama of the Bald Hills. The present structure dates to 1960 and houses an innovative solar-and-hydrogen-gas-fuel-cell-powered microwave transmitter that provides telephone service relay to remote villages deep in the Klamath River valley. See the link below of a student film about what life is like in a fire lookout.

 

The tallest peak in the park is Coyote Peak located right along the border of the park. Access to Coyote Peak is .3 miles away on the other side of the meadow just before you exit the park boundary and head back on pavement and into the forest. A gated unpaved road heads due south to the 3157 ft peak.

Reaching pavement was a welcome sight and, in the end, not sure what I was worried about, the unknown now known. I can only hope they will pave this last stretch of three miles to create a fantastic motorcycle road.

 

This first portion of paving is very good condition with a center line. I thought at first I’d found another racetrack in the forest and I was quickly reminded of Ruth Zenia Rd south of Highway 36. But despite the welcome new pavement, it has the same problem Ruth Zenia Rd does. Potholes are a constant danger and change seasonally.

 

As soon as you get comfortable and the speeds increase, the road will smack you upside the head with a hearty, “No!”

Bald Hills Rd meanders lazily down a mountain ridgeline, although the forest is so thick, there’s no sense of space or elevation change for seven miles making almost due north.

 

There were several private residences along this stretch, but they were hidden away in the forest and I barely noticed any driveways. Must be quite the view with Hoopa to the east in the valley below.

As you reach the northern edge of the ridgeline approaching the Klamath River, a curious sight awaits you as you reach the summit before descending.

The Yurok Veterans Cemetery, recently built on 20 acres atop this mountain in the forest by the Yurok Tribe with funds from a $3.3 million grant. Completed in the fall 2013, the Yurok Veteran’s Cemetery is the first Veteran’s Administration (VA) funded cemetery in the Nation. 

It's remote, it's beautiful and it quickly reminded me of the Northern California Veterans Cemetery near Igo on Gas Point Rd. Cemeteries carry a degree of reverence, but even more so when they involve veterans.

 

The cemetery is open to all Indian Veteran’s in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties and includes 500 burial sites, just seven grave sites where even marked so far while the site plan displayed showed room for many more graves.

Beyond the Cemetery, Bald Hills Rd begins to make its descent out of the mountains flowing back and forth across 8 different switchbacks into the Eel River Valley below.

I kept waiting for some fantastic overlook of the Hoopa Valley to the east based on earlier research with Google satellite imaging of this road, but the foliage was too dense and my overlook never appeared. In hindsight, I realized I was looking at the prairie sections of the gravel portion of the road. You don't realize how close Hoopa is in the Eel River valley below.

 

Pavement degrades some beyond the cemetery as this is the oldest section of road, always be ever vigilant of potholes and heaves in the road surface, conditions likely will never be the same twice. This region bordering the Klamath River is part of the Yurok Indian Reservation and also noted to be the most northwesterly corner of California via Hwy 169 which really isn't a highway

 

Bald Hills Rd - Photo Gallery

 

Maps

MORE INFO: Bald Hills Road

RIDE IT on a PASHNIT TOUR
34 Miles - LENGTH


 Baby bottom smooth, gravel, goaty- PAVEMENT
Fast, Hairpins, Smooth - CURVES

Orick Hwy 101 to Hwy 96 - CONNECTS

 Patricks Point, Weitchpec, Hoopa, Orleans - GAS

Trinidad, Patricks Point, Klamath - LODGING

Gazelle Summit 4921 ft- PEAK ELEVATION
  0 ft - Ocean level, Orick ELEVATION
3097 Ft - Schoohouse Fire Lookout ELEVATION

 Coyote Peak - Highest Peak
GPS LOCATION
 - ORICK
- WEITCHPEC

 

LISTED CONNECTING SIDEROADS & Trailheads:
Redwood Creek Trailhead

Ladybird Johnson Redwood Grove
Dolason Prairie Trailhead
Tall Trees Access Road
Lyons Family Homestead Trailhead
Schoolhouse Fire Lookout

RELATED INFO:

For further information on access to the Bald Hills in Redwood National and State Parks contact the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center at 707-465-7765.

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About Pashnit:

Tim Mayhew has devoted nearly 30 years to photographing and writing about California roads. His tireless efforts on the California Motorcycle Roads web site have spread across the globe becoming the encyclopedic guidebook for motorcycle travel in California. As of 2020, Tim has been designing & leading professional motorcycle tours across California, Oregon & Nevada for the last 17 years.
Learn more about riding with Tim on a  
Pashnit Motorcycle Tour in 2020.

 

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