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Red Hills

Lots of the other rides I have listed are through the forest, but  Red Hills isn't one of those.  Red Hills is mostly rock and scrub brush with only a few scattered trees.  Did I mention rocks?  Lots of rocks. In places, it is rocks on top of rocks.  You would think this would make it miserable, but somehow it manages to be challenging and fun.

Park: Red Hills
Date: Multiple
Distance: Up to 20 miles
Ride Time: Up to 2:30
Total Ascent: 2,700 feet
Official Map: Red Hills Map
Official Site: BLM Red Hills Info
Overall Rating: 6
Red Hills Route Red Hills Elevation Profile

Red Hills Recreation Management Area (quite a name) is a 7,100 acre "park" located near Chinese Camp in the California foothills that is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Chinese Camp used to be a mining town and is now home to a sawmill mostly a near ghost town. The nearest real town is Sonora. To get to Red Hills from Sonora, take State Highway 49 south 15 miles to Chinese Camp, then drive south on Red Hills Road for 1/2 mile. From the Bay Area, follow Highway 120 toward Yosemite to Chinese Camp (follow the large road signs).

The park is located on a set of hills formed out of serpentine. As a result, the vegitation is pretty sparse. Instead, there are plenty of rocks. In many places, the trail is like riding along a creek bed, but this adds challenge and a good bit of fun to the ride.

There is a single main parking area on Red Hills Road. You won't miss it. There is a large loop here for parking horse trailers. There are several trailheads that terminate here. There is a map in a display case, but there are no handouts and I haven't been able to find too many on-line (one of the few is linked above).

I haven't been there enough to try lots of different trail combinations to come up with a preferred order (not that I would be likely to ride the same trails every time anyway). Starting from the Red Hills parking area, I pick up the trail at the very north end of the parking area and make my way up to Verbena Trail and then to Overlook. Verbena starts with a bit of a climb that makes sure you are fully warmed up before hitting the rest of the trails.

Soaproot Ridge seems to be the main trail on the north side of a loop. As the name suggests, this is going to go along a ridge, which means there will be some climbing to get there. Of course, it has to be rocky and brushy as well, making it a good test of your endurance and technical handling skills. There are a few unlabelled trails and loops that are fun rides, but it is hard to reference them since the are unnamed, not on the maps and unmarked. However, you can find these on Google Earth maps.

I crossed over Six Bit Road (a fireroad) to focus on singletrack. There is a Don Pedro Overlook trail that is signed by not on the map. This trail does offer a nice view over Don Pedro Reservoir, but it heads down and then down more. I went quite a ways down but decided that the climb back up over loose rock might not be justified by the additional view so I didn't go all the way to the bottom before turning around.

From Soaproot you can connect into Old Stage Trail which starts heading back. Once again, there are a lot of rocks that give lots of opportunities for sudden sideways slips and pedal strikes. Old Stage takes you all the way back to the original parking area.

This loop may not be enough riding, so you can hit some trails on the north side of the road. The trailhead for Red Hills Trail is just about opposite of the Verbena trailhead. After running roughly parallel to the road, it crosses Serpentine Road and then starts heading up in a steep, loose climb. There seem to be several unmarked and unnamed trails that can be followed. These trails seem to be well used by both bikes and equestrians, so the trails are easy to follow. I worked my way north and west until I got to another well-used trail that turned out to be Railroad Grade Trail. As suggested by the name, this seems to be an old railroad bed in several sections, but the trails here are still fairly narrow with rock and brush restricting riders to a singletrack. Other sections traverse hillsides and cross gullies that would not work for a railroad. This was a pretty fun ride. The trail ends back at Red Hills Road just south of the parking area, so turn left on the road. There is a singletrack connector that takes you back to the end of Old Stage and the parking lot.

The trails are generally pretty obvious. The main trails (numbered on the map) are signed at the main junctions with round posts displaying the trail names. The minor trails are not named or on maps but seem pretty well used. They were fun rides if you able to maintain a sense of direction and know roughly where you are.

This area can be very hot in the summer as there is very little shade and it is very dry. It can be cold in the winter, but I have ridden here in December a few times and it has been pretty fun. However, the temperture drops very quickly as the sun goes down, so plan appropriately. While I have seen a few people in the parking lot, I don't think I have ever seen anyone out on the trails, so plan on being self-sufficient. Definitely bring a good amount of water with you. There may be some horse troughs which are largely buried if you get in a real jam, but you should not count on finding one of these if you were in a jam.

By the way, the map is courtesy of Steve Wolf.  He has a good web site that is worth checking out.

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