Northern California

California

Highway 36

Quick Ride: Longest twisty road in the state, loved by all, generally considered the Best Motorcycle Road in California and possibly the West Coast. Nearly a 1000 corners in 140 miles. Must-do motorcycle ride. 5000 ft pass in the center.

Red Bluff to Fortuna

LENGTH: 140 Miles

CONNECTS: Red Bluff to Fortuna

GAS: Platina, Dinsmore

Lodging: Red Bluff, Fortuna

Ride it on a PASHNIT TOUR: NorCal, Trinity

ELEVATION: 5000 peak

MOUNTAIN PASS: South Fork Mountain Summit
GPS Location:
East:
40.1784886 -122.23583020000001
West: 40.54665605516752-124.14395466038462
 Connecting SIDEROADS:

Platina Rd, Wildwood Rd,
Hwy 3,  Forest Road 1,
Alderpoint Rd, Zenia-Van Duzen

140 Miles of Curve

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. 

Hear me out on this one.

Highway 36 is one of the major roads from Interstate 5 to the Pacific Coast. This road begins in Red Bluff on I-5 and heads west for a rather spirited, if not long, ride out to the ocean.  It's 140 miles long but estimated at a 4 hour ride. This page focuses on the western half of Hwy 36. 

Note Hwy 36 east of I-5 heads eastbound across the eastern half of the state out of the Central Valley to Lassen Volcanic National Monument and over to Chester and Susanville but we'll focus on that portion another day. 

Not nearly as exciting except a couple fun turns over the Mt Lassen summit. If you need to ride this stretch, take a quick southern detour at Mineral onto Hwy 172 through Mill Creek and don't miss Mt Lassen (closed in winter).

So what is so unique about this ride?  


Why would some riders even claim it is the Best Motorcycle Road in California, possibly the West Coast?

 

Let's find out!

Gas up. Head westbound from Red Bluff- make sure to stop by The Sign at the beginning of the road on the north side. A small pullout awaits you. Be ready with the camera. We love The Sign so much, we've had other riders claim the pic was photoshopped. Nope.

 

It really say Curves 140 Miles and it's a famous sign in local riding circles. Everyone has to get their photo with The Sign. The road begins a slow rise in elevation to Platina.  and winds back and forth in a spirited ride along a creek bed- a definite motorcycle paradise without the dangers of canyon riding to worry about. 

Let me tell you a quick story...  Twenty plus ago, I was roaring westbound out of Red Bluff on my nifty new Yamaha 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.  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.

Think of the experience of Highway 36 as three chapters.

Chapter I: Red Bluff to Platina

 

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.  The road rises and falls over low hills- some maybe ten feet high- then it snakes around and straightens out.  At first hugging the Dibble 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.

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.  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 our 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 often skid marks in these corners- some headed right off the road and down the hillside. 

 

Too 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. 

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. Instead, 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.

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.

Platina 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.

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 by roads like 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 experienced 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 intersection. 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

Be on the lookout for cows on the road, 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.

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.

One of the more unusual occurrences 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! Alderpoint Rd is a bumpy backroad, but shortcut over to Garberville, however, it can be an ordeal. One rider on a Pashnit Tour made us promise never to ride Alderpoint again on a tour, rattled a few teeth loose he said.

As for Highway 36, 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.

More Thoughts:

(webmaster note: still one of the funniest road reviews ever written, if this doesn't make you want to jump off the couch and go riding, don't know what else will:)
This road was one of the scariest drives I have ever been on. Four hours of pure hell. I asked at a gas station if 299 or 36 was better to take from Redding to Eureka, he said 299 had slides, but 36 was a nice scenic road. Seriously ?? I thought for sure we were going to die. .... it was awful. SCARY STUFF . Don't ever drive this windy, too narrow , no guard rails, up and down, hairpin curved, backwoods piece of crap thing California calls a road. - Daneen

One regret, Harleys are the wrong bike for this road. - Fraz

Maps

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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.

 

Dear Pashnite, the 1999-era California Motorcycle Roads you have used for the last 20 years to plan your rides has been retired.
Two decades later, it's time to rebuild. A lot of work will go into building a site like this from scratch. It will take time. Thousands of hours, years actually. I think only a crazy person would attempt a project like this. Which is why there is no equal. The original CMR had 300 webpages of roads, 600 pages of text, thousands of photos, tens of thousands of links and was made up of 241,148 files. I would like to double that. It will take time to rebuild this site. I appreciate your support over the last 20 years. Hundreds more road pages are coming.  -Tim

 

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