Forest Road 1
Titlow Hill Rd
South Fork Mountain Rd
Lamb Creek Grade
Hwy 36 to Hwy 299
Poor, potholed, dirty, narrow- PAVEMENT
Willow Creek, Dinsmore - GAS
Quick Ride: Paved fire road, often one-lane wide, long, bumpy, steep climbs, several steep hairpins, not for everyone, remote, deserted but stunning scenery and amazing views across Northern California mountains, connects two major highways. Closed in winter.
If there is anywhere in all of California where the photos tell the story better than words can, it has to be Forest Road 1.
I can describe it. I can put you there, I can describe the scene, the trees, the views, the sensation of being atop all the world. But in the end, it's a paltry attempt that simply can't adequately convey the sensation. All my years of writing about roads won't suffice in the ability to express just what it feels like. Forest Road 1, known as Titlow Hill Rd on the north end, and South Fork Mountain Rd on the southern end, stands alone in all the state. Why you ask?
Over the years, I've led numerous tour groups up here while leading Pashnit Motorcycle Tours. It's the highlight of the tour for some. Or possibly it's just my enthusiasm for this road that might carry over to the riders to see what all the hoopla is about. After all, this ranks right up there with California's greatest goat trails. I still can't find a single mapping program that will admit this road (in its entirety) even exists. The name alone- 'Forest Road' should already clue you in for what's in store. If you look at the photos first, then read this text, you already know what I'm going to say.
Forest Road 1 can be ridden from either direction, north or south, with equal satisfaction. If you ride it southbound, Titlow Hill Rd is found at the Berry Summit on Highway 299 just outside Willow Creek. This portion of the ride has an enjoyable 2500 ft climb on center line two lane and jaw dropping views along the way.
If riding northbound, FR 1 can be found at Mad River next to a small church. Lamb Creek Grade offers up a relaxed climb quite literally right up the mountain side, seemingly in no particular hurry to get there. Note that, officially, this is the start of Forest Road 1. But the southern portion of South Fork Mountain Road is 6 miles to the east on Hwy 36 and is gravel fire road (at the summit). One could take that stretch of road, but the Lamb Creek Grade approach is more gratifying, and paved.
Forest Road 1 (known locally as Lamb Creek Grade to the summit) is found in Mad River along Highway 36. The town itself is nothing more than a couple of houses, the post office and a small general store. There's a church here alongside the road, Lamb Creek Christian Center, that is the only major landmark. Note that Google Maps labels this as The Hasting Rd for the nearby creek, but I can't find a printed paper map to match that.
There is no road sign per se, and the turn-off is easy to miss. Highway 36 switches to the north side of Lamb Creek, and the Lamb Creek Christian Center appears. This is the entrance to Forest Road 1. Nothing more than a large sign denoting Hyampom 19 miles away, and the Berry Summit at Highway 299 54 miles away. The same sign holds a small sign for National Forest 1. There's also a short concrete bridge here, so for eastbound riders, you'd be riding downhill, get to the Mad River General Store, cross over the short bridge, and the Lamb Creek Christian Center is right there. So is Forest Road 1.
Mad River has a small store and a white camper adjacent holding the Mad River Burger Bar. Years ago, it was just a guy selling burgers out of the back of an old camper. Now the camper has a roof built over the top of it and the old camper remains. Easy to miss if you are blazing down Highway 36. There's not much in Mad River or anywhere along Hwy 36, so it's a logical place to stop and grab a milkshake.
Westbound riders on Highway 36 would descend off the South Fork Mountain Summit 6.5 miles to the bottom of the valley to the Lamb Creek Christian Center. Start climbing again on Hwy 36 through Mad River, you've gone too far.
From Highway 36, it is 7 miles to the top of the South Fork Mountain ridgeline. The elevation climbs gently at first and offers up your first hint of what's in store ahead. Side roads are all gravel, so just stay on the pavement as the elevation begins to climb.
The view from this first portion of Lamb Creek Grade is stunning, and if you only rode Highway 36, you'd have no idea you were even in the most picturesque of mountain valleys. The view from Lamb Creek Grade is the 1st lead photo above.
Forest Road 1 wastes no time introducing itself, immediately offering up what's in store for the next 54 miles. There's no center line till the northern end near Berry Summit, pavement conditions varies from year to year. The ride can be narrow at times, sometimes one vehicle width, but most likely, you won't even notice as you'll be gasping at the view.
That view though, never changes. These ridge lines extend north-south and spread like ripples across the land. Looking west towards the ocean, you can see several of them. On the clearest of days with the right conditions, you feel as though you can just make out the ocean 50 miles away via Highway 36.
Lamb Creek Grade goes through two sets of switchback hairpins near the top so be mindful of rocks, gravel, sand, logs, etc. The usual stuff. Once at the top of the ridgeline, Lamb Creek Grade comes to a 5-way intersection.
Despite the intersection, there's no cause for confusion. South Fork Mountain Road is here and will take you back south 9 miles (gravel fire road) to Highway 36 & Horse Ridge Lookout Rd if you want to loop back around via a relaxed ride atop the ridgeline. There are few paved intersections and fewer side road for the entire length of FR 1. Fire roads extend off the ridgeline, but not advisable to venture off FR 1 unless you know where you’re going.
After the intersection with the gravel South Fork Mountain Road, FR 40 Pelletreau Ridge Rd (gravel) appears, heading off to the northeast. This road drops down to Hyampom and becomes paved at Hyampom continuing north via NF 60 to Burnt Ranch & Highway 299.
The pavement continues up Last Chance Ridge, and it’s a steep elevation drop off on either side of the ridgeline.
This portion of road just north of the South Fork Mountain Rd intersection has been in pretty rough shape for about 10 miles or so. Potholes abound, and each one is often circled by hand with white spray paint.
One year ago, none of these potholes were here, and by next year, they'll all be patched. A year later, a fresh crop grows like magic. So just depends on the year. If you come to a stretch of rough pavement, buck up soldier, slow down, relax, tough it out, and the road ahead will likely improve.
Much of Forest Road 1 is little more than a deserted road in the middle of the forest. The scenery of the road ahead and endless forest is not unlike other parts of the country.
Rider accounts vary on just how deserted. Some have ridden the 54-mile length and had the road entirely to themselves. Most of the time you'll encounter one or two other vehicles. On rare occasions, we've had logging going on right beside the road.
Busiest time of the year is the middle of August when hunting season opens up. It's a family affair for the locals and group camps are set up alongside the road. During hunting season, campers, pickups and 4-wheelers come in a steady stream. Don’t be surprised if you see a hunter walking down the road with rifle slung over the shoulder. Welcome to northern California. Other times we have ridden up on a hunter standing up in a jeep leaning against the roll bar while the driver slowly drives down Forest Rd 1 on the lookout for a deer.
Forest Road 1 for the most part is generally straight during a large portion of it. Not in the sense of freeway straight, but a trek across the top of the ridgeline. There are always enough corners to keep you interested. And... there are occasional blind sleeper corners, including several with two skid marks that go right off the mountainside, so be mindful of anything coming the other way. If you see skid marks leading into a turn, big warning sign to scrub some speed.
What makes Forest Road 1 so unique in riding circles is the ride has a tendency to go in and out of the forest. Suddenly emerging, as if a line were drawn, and the view in either direction is simply breathtaking. There's almost little choice, but to stop, get out the camera and record the scene.
With Pashnit Tour groups, we have a habit of stopping at one particular clearing. Once the bikes are parked, we walk up a small rise, and it's Handel’s Messiah singing Hallelujah (photo below). Mind-boggling. And possibly the best part of all is if you stick to the nearby main roads of Highway 36 and Highway 299, you'd never know something like this even existed. Or... that there's a paved road that leads right to it.
You can lose yourself in a road like this. If there is such a thing. A steady speed. An awareness of the road ahead. Anticipation, even, of the next curve in the road. Just riding.
In the middle of the ride, Forest Rd 1 switches back on itself and travels the opposite direction, leaving Last Chance Ridge and riding across a saddle onto Pilot Ridge and beginning to climb. It's barely noticeable during the midst of the ride. Possibly, you might take note the sun is in the wrong place in the sky if you're not staring at the compass on the GPS.
Besides the sun, another clue for northbound riders is the road suddenly gains 1000 feet in elevation in a few short miles through a series of tight switchbacks as it rapidly climbs up the mountain side to the top of Friday Ridge and peaks with elevations around 5300 feet.
Adjacent is the 5484 ft Spike Buck Mountain and a short gravel fire road takes you to the summit. A short distance to the north is NF 5N01 which the satellite shows paved and continues north via 6N06 to 8L100 all the way to Highway 299 meeting up at the South Fork Trinity River. Friday Ridge Rd also splits off a few miles north and works its way down Friday Ridge to also join up with NF 6 at Highway 299 just west of Salyer, both roads show to be paved on satellite, but we have not taken this. AAA NorCal map doesn’t even list these paved fire roads, so do some homework before venturing off into the wilderness.
The northern portion of Forest Road 1 is known as Titlow Hill Rd and also has some incredible views to the west as the ride skirts the edge of Horse Mountain Botanical Area. Ripples of mountain ridge lines layer against one another, leading up to the snow capped Trinity Alps.
As soon as you feel the elevation beginning to descend, it's a spirited ride back to Highway 299 and the Berry Summit. Once the straights and meadows come to an end, Titlow Hill begins to fall off the top of Friday Ridge.
It's in this portion, you finally get your center line back after a set of steep switchback hairpin curves. It takes only minutes to blow through the curves. What makes these curves unique is the view spreading out across the ridge tops.
The introduction of a center line also introduces a wider road with better pavement condition. It's almost too steep to stop the bike anywhere, but if you must, try it in one of the switchbacks that may offer some mildly flat ground. Also note that if you want the magazine cover photo, ride just a little further up the road to level ground.
Note that when elevation decreases rapidly like this, use engine braking rather than dragging the brakes all the way down. One tour participant came up to me halfway down the hill all wide-eyed and worried as the brakes on his big cruiser had given out. He had none. Pushed the foot brake and nothing.
The solution was simple. Don't drag the rear brake. He'd boiled the fluid from generating so much heat inside his stock rubber lines. And spring for some braided lines. A few minutes later, his brakes miraculously worked fine, and we were on our merry way.
Titlow Hill Rd ends at the 2845 ft Berry Summit just outside of Willow Creek to the east. If you're low on gas, Willow Creek is a few miles away to the east at the bottom of the hill.
Westward would take you to Blue Lake, Eureka and Highway 1 at the Pacific Ocean. A few miles north near Orick is Bald Hills Rd circling back to Highway 96 at Weitchpec. A few hundred yards west of the Berry Creek Summit is a terrific vista of Highway 299 that's easily accessible via a huge paved parking lot. Might just be a bit of sensory overload after all the great views you've seen today!
Let's talk about snow. You'd think the snow would have melted by May or June on this road. Not exactly 10,000-foot elevations. But the elevations are high enough to have the snow stick around for a while in the shadows. The photo above is but a clue to the number of trees we rode around on our way up to that snow line. Likely at least 30-40 downed trees in the first 7 miles as we climbed Lamb Creek Grade out of Mad River.
The locals scavenge the good wood almost immediately. The road was always cleared, at least the width of a pickup, despite this tree sitting in the very middle of the road. The best wood goes first, that is what burns the best in the wood stove at home, and later they scavenge the softer woods before Cal-trans ever shows up to jump-start the riding season and clear the road.
The photo above, also shot in the middle of June, on the northern end of Titlow Hill Rd, illustrates what happens when the snowline falls below 4000 feet. In this instance, we rode up to the snow, just to play in it (and tease our SoCal riders in perforated leathers) and experience the wonder of the microclimates that California offers. A few hours after we shot these photos, we were riding in 70-degree temps 100 miles to the north along Highway 96.
Other years, we've been able to ride the full distance during late-May, just depends on the winter we're having. But it’s possible you won’t be able to get through the length of FR1 due to snow until June. Nothing more enjoyable than a snowball fight with a bunch of grown men a few days before June.
Overall, Forest Rd 1 is many things, it can be a truly relaxed and enjoyable ride, or it could be a 54-mile-long ordeal of staying 100% sharp and watching out for potholes. Then throw in some blind mountain corners, one-lane wide and a long way down.
When you ride this road, don’t be in a hurry. Use the 5 mph Rule and slow your roll by 5 mph and just motor along. The 50 miles is long, and you should allow plenty of time.
There are stunning views on both the north and south ends, and the logged clearing at the southern 1/3 is also a perfect place for a respite from riding. Turn the motor off, find a log to sit on and watch the world go by a few minutes. Perfect stillness, no sound, and a light rustle of wind is the only movement you’ll experience.
Forest Road 1 - Photo Gallery
MORE INFO: Forest Road 1
RIDE IT on a PASHNIT TOUR
54 Miles - LENGTH
Decent, Dirty - PAVEMENT
Fast, several Hairpins, Smooth - CURVES
Dinsmore, Willow Creek- GAS
Fortuna - LODGING
~5000 ft- PEAK ELEVATION
- MAD RIVER
- WILLOW CREEK
LISTED NEARBY ROADS:
Horse Ridge Lookout Rd
South Fork Mountain Rd
Pelletreau Ridge Rd