Road Bikes, Cars, and Motorcycles. Nothing Says Freedom Like a Winding Turn
Winding through beautiful Trinity County are paved, well-maintained public roads that, with a few exceptions, are suitable for passenger cars, motor homes and rigs pulling travel trailers. Each route provides a unique perspective of Trinity County from a visual, historic or cultural point of view.
The twists and turns of Trinity’s County’s mountain roads may frustrate the average motorist in a standard vehicle, but these highways are heaven for motorcycle enthusiasts. And it’s not a well-kept secret. Ask any avid motorcyclist about Highway 299, Highway 3 or Highway 36, and it’s likely they’ve ridden one or all three. If they haven’t, they’ve heard about the great rides from friends and these Trinity County roadways are on their bucket list.
Trinity County currently has two USDA Forest Service Scenic Byways—the Trinity Scenic Byway that follows Highway 299, and the Siskiyou-Trinity Scenic Byway along Highway 3.
- California’s Overlooked Peaks, 10/2008: The New York Times
Highway 36, the Southern Trinity Highway
State Route 36 connects southern Trinity County with Interstate 5 at Red Bluff and the Redwood Coast Highway 101 near Fortuna. This scenic route follows the southern edge of Trinity County through one of the least-populated regions of California. Views from the highway include the Yolla Bolla Wilderness area, and a view of Red and Black Lassic Mountains from the summit of South Fork Mountain, the longest ridge on the American continent, are breathtaking. Tiny communities center around the general stores at Wildwood and at Mad River, where you can find gas pumps, a post office, groceries, and restaurants.
Ruth Lake, a few miles off the highway at Mad River, has a full-service marina, overnight lodging, restaurants and lakeside campgrounds. Don’t miss the Burger Bar, a must stop for any hunger road warrior.
Video: California Highway 36
The highway crosses several steams, including the South Fork of the Trinity River, the Mad and the Van Duzen Rivers.
Highway 36 was singled out as the eighth-best motorcycle ride in the country in the April 2011 issue of American Motorcyclist magazine. The “serpent to the sea” is a favorite of riders.
Highway 299 is the main route between Interstate 5 and Highway 101 and runs through the county seat of Weaverville.
Highway 299 was designated the “Trinity Scenic Byway” in October, 1991. The theme of the route, “From the Valley Oaks to the Redwood Coast” was chosen by the Forest Service to feature the wide variety of plant and animal life that exists in the various climate zones along the highway. The drive also features the cultural and historical aspects of the region, from the prehistoric Native American tribes to the gold miners and timber workers of the 20th Century.
This modern highway is approximately where the old Trinity Trail was opened up by early trappers and gold seekers. Trappers of the Hudson’s Bay Company may have used this route to some extent in the 1830s and 1840s. The first rails were Indian trails, and the first white man to trawl this country used these paths. The first definite knowledge of this route came from Major PB Reading, in 1848.
The forty-niners used the Trinity Trail on their way to the Trinity goldfields, and the need for safe transportation foo gold in the early 1850s led to the establishment of express offices and what were known as Pony Express lines. Over these trails mail and bullion from Trinity County were carried on horse back. The mail route for Trinity County led from Red Bluff in Themana County to Weaverville, 50 miles northwest in Trinity County.
These trails were for pack trains of horses and mules only. Such slow and laborious means of transportation delayed the development of the county and the coming of families.
Highway 299 enters Trinity County from the east over Buckhorn Summit, then descends toward the Trinity River at Douglas City. It follows Weaver Creek to the historic town of Weaverville, then climbs Oregon Mountain with a vista of the La Grange Mine just past the summit. The highway rejoins the river at Junction City, and follows the beautiful Trinity River Gorge past dredger tailings of past-century mining and present-day river dredges.
Once you cross into Humboldt County and enter Willow Creek you have the option of continuing on Highway 299 to the coast or following the river north along Highway 96.
Within easy walking distance of the highway you can fish for trophy Salmon and Steelhead, pan for gold, visit a historic ghost town, or camp with the spirits of the 49ers who came here during California’s Gold Rush.
Rafters and kayakers can enjoy stretches of Class 2 and 3 whitewater on the Pigeon Point Run, or the challenge of Class 5 and 6 whitewater through Burnt Ranch Gorge.
Highway 3, The Trinity Heritage Scenic Byway (The Oregon Road)
The Trinity Heritage Scenic Byway follows Highway 3 south from Montague in Siskiyou County through the Scott River Valley and enters Trinity County over the Scott Mountain Summit, 55 miles north of Weaverville. This is the “Oregon-California Trade Route” and the theme reflects the trade and travel that took place between the Trinity River basin and the Oregon Trail.
Also known as the Siskiyou-Trinity Scenic Byway, Highway 3 features travel through the Trinity Alps to Trinity Lake, with a loop through the historic community of Lewiston before continuing on to Weaverville, then south through Hayfork to the end of the highway at its junction with Highway 36.
In 1859, the obstacle to travel over Scott Mountain was overcome. The Scott Mountain Road was built at for $25,000 from Shasta and French Gulch (in Shasta County) over Trinity Mountain into Trinity County. From there, it went through Trinity Center and Carrville and climbed over Scott Mountain into Siskiyou County to Yreka.
This road became the main artery for interstate commence between California and Oregon until the railroad up the Sacramento Canyon was built in the 1880s. Even during heavy snow fall, the road was kept open by using driving oxen up and down the road to tramp down the snow. In 1859, The Oregon Company spent $10,000 to improve the road over the Siskiyou’s, and in 1860, a daily stage line was established between Sacramento and Portland.
When the railroad was built, this toll road did not pay and the road was taken over by the county. Today SR 3, a state scenic highway, follows this old route over Scott Mountain.
At Douglas City, the highway passes near the site where Major Pearson B. Reading discovered gold, and a marker commemorates the event at the Douglas City Campground. The Trinity County Fair is held every August at the fairgrounds in Hayfork.
A side trip up Wildwood Road takes travelers to Bridge Gulch, a natural limestone bridge and the basis of Wintu Legend. The Chanchelulla Wilderness area is also near the highway. The loop continues on to the community of Wildwood, loops west on Highway 36, then back to Hayfork on Highway 3.
Evidence has been discovered of trade between the Modoc and Wintu Indian tribes of the Mount Shasta and Modoc Lava Bed regions of northern California. Twenty-five years before gold was discovered on the Trinity River, explorer Jedediah Smith drove a herd of 300 horses through the Hayfork Valley down Hayfork Creek to its confluence with the Trinity River, then on to the Klamath River and the Pacific Coast.