Tulare County, California
29 Miles - Length
Very good, some new portions - PAVEMENT
Enthusiast, super-curvy - CURVES
Orosi, none - GAS
Quick Ride: Unknown super-fun stretch of curves in remote region of California.
The 4-year old in church.
A few years ago, I was given a brand-new motorcycle off the showroom floor to road test for a magazine. Now, since most print magazines are a sad distant memory and Buell motorcycles are too, that dates this tale, but don’t let that detract from our story.
The dealership gave me three days and I planned to use every moment riding the bike to which I put 1600 miles on the motorcycle in those three days. In the middle of my road test, I had to ride it back across the state to home to attend my 5-yr old daughter’s hula recital. Yes, hula. Then leave the recital and continue the ride to use up my allocated time on the new motorcycle. The solution of course was to time the trek just right where I could ride the bike for the several days while passing through home base in the middle of the journey.
Where to road test a brand-new Buell?
I headed straight for Highway 245 in the Central Sierra Nevada foothills leaving at 3am timing my arrival in the region when the sun would be coming up.
Highway 245 is best ridden northbound if possible as you’ll be headed uphill from the Central Valley floor to 4100 feet. An elevation above 3000 also means snow in winter at the northern edges of Highway 245.
I started my trek in Elderwood which isn’t a town, more an intersection at best. Technically Highway 245’s southern terminus begins at Highway 198. This is the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park, but the roads through here are grid-pattern boring and the terrain is pool table flat. By aiming for Elderwood, you’ll bypass as much flatness as possible.
Another hint is aim for Orosi along Highway 63, and ride Boyd Rd which is a narrow single lane foothill road for those that love the goat. Exit Orosi on E. El Monte Rd (Avenue 416) which turns into Boyd. The addition of Boyd Rd skips only the first two twisty miles of Highway 245 and trades it for single lane, but boosts your twisty miles by adding another four. But who’s counting? There is no fuel anywhere near this road, Orosi will have fuel, so plan accordingly.
At Elderwood, orange orchards span many square miles and certain times of the year, the smell of the orange and lemon groves is deliciously sweet and pleasing to the senses. Five miles north of Elderwood after several long straights (that you can bypass via Boyd Rd), the road begins to climb in elevation into the foothills.
Of all the places I could have taken the Buell to road test this brand-new motorcycle, why Highway 245? Imagine a road so twisty, it will make you wonder when the next straight section is coming up, if only to rest your brain. Never happen you say. I would never think that. Not me, not ever, I want twisties. But it’s true. A ride buddy once said 245 was laid out by the motorcycle gods and surfaced with sacred asphalt brought straight from Mount Olympus. Read that twice, I’ll wait.
Highway 245 in the Central Sierra Foothills is a road you would never notice, never pick off a map and it won’t be in any travel guide books. It won’t be mentioned anywhere. There are no towns, nothing of historical interest and… you have no reason to be out here. It’s very close to Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park, but it bisects the loop in and out of the park which means no tourist or commercial traffic have any reason to be on this road. Furthermore, the tight turns keep the RVs away (or should). That alone should pique your curiosity.
Following Cottonwood Creek northbound into the foothills, the elevation begins to climb with smooth sweepers while wiggling in-between Stokes Mountain (2177 ft) and Blue Mountain (3204 ft). These are not mountains of course, but the hilly regions of the foothills leading up to the Sierra Range to the east. Pavement is deliciously pleasing to the senses and low hilltops frame the horizon. In spring, these grassy meadows glow in spring green. Cows ply the meadows and there are few shoulders along this stretch as the road cuts begin.
Little or no shoulders also means road cuts are right up against the hillsides and any blind corners should be ridden with a margin of error, with anticipation, for sand or dirt in the road from vehicles cutting corners. When you assume and expect the dusting of sand or dirt to be on these road cut corners, you can choose the proper line well in advance of entering the next corner.
One of our safety brief bullet points on Pashnit Tours is, There are no surprises in riding. The adage stands if you are surprised by anything while riding, you’re going too fast and not allowing enough margin of error in your ride style. More on that in a second.
Highway 245 passes over Cottonwood Creek Bridge, built in 1923. This narrow concrete bridge built a century ago gives a clue to the style of road that lies ahead. The words ‘road straightening’ hadn’t even been invented yet in the 1920s, road building simply followed the contour of the land. The goal here is to climb from a wee bit above sea level at the valley floor to over 4000 feet.
Highway 245 sets off from Boyd Rd up and over a low rise along Rattlesnake & Buckeye Creeks through a valley labelled as Auckland. Upon reaching Drum Valley Rd is where the ride kicks into overdrive.
Drum Valley is a single lane paved ranch road that skirts around 2821 ft Goldstein Peak providing an alternative to Boyd Dr to climb off the valley floor from Orosi into the foothills to connect with Highway 245. Some maps label Drum Valley as Road 152 and my older paper maps label this is Negro Creek Rd. The road sign labels it as Drum Valley Rd and it is a single-lane-paved ranch road. I’ve included Drum Valley Rd with motorcycle tours as a shortcut to reach Hwy 245. It’s longer than Boyd Dr, and a steady climb into the foothills.
Either of these roads, Drum Valley or Boyd are worth riding. Quick hint is Johnson Dr is another single-lane-paved ranch road waiting for the riders that love the goat, starting out as Avenue 432, and provides a more northerly approach to Highway 245.
Once Drum Valley Rd intersects with Highway 245, the next 6.5 miles to Mountain House is where the fun begins. Elevation is low here climbing through the 2000-foot level to reach 3000 feet at Baker Mountain House and running parallel to Bear Mountain Ridge. Why ride a showroom condition Buell with 5 miles on the odometer across the state to this one particular road when I could have gone anywhere in California?
It is along this six-mile stretch to Mountain House, Highway 245 becomes a 4-year-old in church, excited, antsy, incapable of following directions. And they won’t stop talking. The 16-inch front wheel of the Buell loves this segment of road. Flick left, flick right, rolling on the power at the apex and biting the rear, the front tire goes light, floating momentarily. Corners are delightfully tight while shoulders are intermittent, a luxury that should remind you to keep your ego in check. There are no guard rails, no entry speed signs and it’s a long way down.
Occasional broad views flash through breaks in the trees to the north across rolling hills, but keep your focus on the road, the next corner is only yards away. This energized length of curves is not forgiving. Misjudge entry speed or a mistake in braking could send you off a cliff. Curves here are rapid fire affairs of curvaceous love about to go wrong. Where passion and love intertwine melding into an overload of sensory feedback.
When my last tour group reached Mountain House after riding this length of Highway 245, they begged to ride it again. The whole group turned right around and rode it back to Drum Valley Rd and then back to Baker Mountain House. Only a few roads in the state will inspire that sort of reaction, Rossi's Driveway, the Leggett Section of Highway 1 also do that to our tour riders.
And admittedly, I did the same thing with the Buell. That 16-inch wheel and I railed back to Drum Valley Rd, then flipped back the opposite way. This is the reason why you ride across an entire state to experience a road like Highway 245, there’s nothing else like it for hundreds of miles.
Baker Mountain House is not a town, rather it’s a saloon and restaurant built in 1928 in a hairpin corner at the junction with Dry Creek Rd. What used to be an aging biker bar has come under new management and evolved into a restaurant saloon with what appears to be dramatic improvements. There are three large decks with tables out back with a view overlooking the forest and mountains Plan it as your weekend lunch stop.
Dry Creek Rd heads due south from this junction towards Three Rivers running parallel to the southern leg of Highway 245. If given the choice, we prefer to ride 245 over Dry Creek Rd, portions of the pavement are rough and the northern half is single-lane paved, Dry Creek drops down from 4000 feet through the single-lane but the southern half is generally a straight trek to Citro and Highway 198, but it functions well as a short cut to Three Rivers and the southern entrance of Sequoia National Park. None of these roads like Dry Creek Rd or Highway 245 are suitable for trucks with trailers or RVs.
Baker Mountain House to Highway 180 spans another 10 miles with less aggressive curves than the previous stretch, but we’re in the foothills, nothing is flat or straight.
Nearby Badger is not a town, yet it claims 140 residents, nothing more than a t-intersection with the letters nailed up on an aging abandoned home.
This road at the t-intersection at Badger is Whitaker Forest Rd, Road 465, and provides access to the mountain community of Sierra Glen, Harland Christian Camp, Eshom Campground, and Sequoia Forest Retreat. Forest Road 465 also heads all the way into Sequoia National Park emerging near Buena Vista. The last few miles to Sequoia NP are a dirt fire road.
Heading north from Sierra Glen, you can also divert onto Hogback Rd. This alternative route parallels Highway 245 as a single-lane-paved ranch road joining back up with Highway 245 at Pinehurst. If you love the goat, try Hogback. Seven Circles Retreat flashes by north of Badger, the pool always catches my eye. What looks like a small motel is a private retreat center for groups, there are nine rooms and you’ll need to rent the entire place.
Six miles north of Baker Mountain House, after a set of double switchbacks as the elevation begins to climb, Dunlap Rd appears heading the opposite direction in a Y-shaped intersection. Dunlap Rd, or Miramonte Rd on some maps, heads due east through the foothill community of Miramonte at the 3000 ft. level. No town, but a twisty ride is offered up by Dunlap Rd headed for Squaw Valley (and Elwood Rd).
Another road worth noting is Millwood Rd running parallel to Dunlap Rd to the north. This is a single-lane-paved goat trail cutting into the edge of the ridge offering up some broad views of Tulare County. Millwood Rd also runs parallel to Highway 180. There’s a fun waterfall in spring to check out on Millwood Rd that falls almost directly onto the road in one of the hairpins pictured below.
Millwood Rd parallels Dunlap Rd and has expansive views
The remaining 6 miles to Highway 180 climb rapidly in elevation as the highway pushes past the 3000-foot level and rises into the Sequoia National Forest flowing through the mountain communities of Pinehurst and Etheda Springs. Here the north end of Hog Back Rd joins back up with Highway 245.
Snow can linger on the side of the road easily through April, and snow can fall into May at the 4000 ft level. Snow after it’s plowed and melted also means a dusting of sand should be expected. The rise in elevation also emboldens a change in vegetation from scrub of the lower elevations into Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine while passing over one of the last hairpins at Mill Creek.
Y-shaped intersection of Dunlap Rd & Highway 245
A broad pullout near the summit allows you to pull to side and allow your ride buddies to catch up to you. Brand new pavement rounds out the last mile to Highway 180 which is the northern entrance to Kings Canyon National Park.
And what about the Buell? Read the road test article published in Friction Zone Magazine here.
Highway 245 - Photo Gallery
MORE INFO: Highway 245
RIDE IT on a PASHNIT TOUR
29 Miles - LENGTH
Very good, new in some stretches - PAVEMENT
Extreme, tight, rapid-fire, super-fun - CURVES
Orosi - GAS
None - LODGING
4100 ft - PEAK ELEVATION
- Baker Mountain House
LISTED CONNECTING SIDEROADS:
Boyd Rd / Avenue 416 (single-lane paved)
Drum Valley Rd / Negro Creek Rd (single-lane-paved)
Dry Creek Rd (single-lane-paved)
Hog Back Rd (single-lane-paved)
Forest Rd 465 (higher elevations not paved)
Dunlap Rd / Miramonte Rd
Millwood Rd (single-lane-paved)