Kings Canyon to Ash Canyon Loop

On Saturday, I got to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. A ride up into the Carson Range, starting from Carson City. I’ve done all the pieces of this trek, but never all together in one ride. I was tired of hearing about how great it is from friends, and decided to go see for myself.

Kings Cayon
Leaving Carson City on Kings Canyon Road

Scott R and I left Carson City from my front door at 8:45 AM. We met up with Lester on the west side, and then picked up Ryan and Christine at the Kings Canyon trailhead.

Looking Towards Carson Valley
Looking Towards Carson Valley

I really haven’t done many longer rides this year, usually only riding for one to two hour durations. I was wondering how I’d do on the long ride. By spinning a low gear and taking our time, I found that the hills went by quite nicely. I would’ve been cooked early on at our usual pace.

Kings Canyon Road
Kings Canyon Road

Kings Canyon gains a lot of elevation up front, but then provides a pretty gentle ride for several miles after that. The views along the road are outstanding, and it is safe to stare off into the distance while riding. Well mostly…just about all of us washed out in the sand at one point or another while gawking at the scenery.

Break Time at Flume Trail Bikes
Break Time at Flume Trail Bikes

Getting to the top of Kings Canyon was a mental milestone for me. Once at the top of Spooner Summit, I felt good and knew I could do the rest of the climb. This was probably the scariest part of the ride, as we had to ride along the shoulder of HWY 50 for about a mile. The roadside construction cones pushed us a little too close to traffic. I can’t imagine doing an around the Lake tour. It was a relief to get off the road and enter Spooner Lake State Park.

We stopped off at Flume Trail Bikes at Spooner Lake State Park for some cold beverages, and topped off all the Camelbaks and water bottles before leaving for North Canyon.

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush in North Canyon

The higher we climbed, the more lush the vegetation got. North Canyon was a stark contrast to the lower elevations we had climbed from. Down below, the greenery is starting to fade, but things up here seemed to be just getting started. The sights, sounds, and smells of nature were sublime.

Final Grind up North Canyon
Final Grind up North Canyon

When we regrouped at the top of North Canyon, we talked about the route that we’d finish the ride on. As we did this, it started to rain a little bit. The Flume Trail seemed like a bad idea, none of us wanting to be stuck on a cliff wall during thunder and lightening! We chose to head towards Hobart via Sunflower Hill.

Marlette Lake
Marlette Lake

The road along Marlette Lake took us through an Aspen Grove. This was one of the most peaceful sections of trail. A couple riders commented that it felt like they were back East.

Crossroads at Marlette Lake

The peacefulness ended, and it was time to climb again! And quite steeply. Everyone was back down to the granny gear for the climb up to the saddle beneath Marlette Peak.

Marlette Lake Road
Another Grinder up Marlette Lake Road

We finally reached the highest point of our ride for the day, somewhere around 8,500 feet above sea level. We took a break on the granite boulders, and enjoyed the view of Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe below.

Marlette and Tahoe
Marlette and Tahoe

We ran into construction as we neared Sunflower Hill. There was a big sign on the side of the road that read, “NO SMOKING”. It seemed wildly out of place for where we were at. Big trucks have been using the road, so it was freshly graded, and pretty silty. Not the best for riding.

Sunflower Hill
Photographers on Sunflower Hill

After descending through a dark and dusty section of the woods, we came out upon the area known as Sunflower Hill. The “sunflowers” are actually Mule’s Ear, and grow all over the eastern Sierra; however, this hillside has a high concentration of them. The scene stopped us dead in our tracks, and we all had to get the cameras out.

Sunflower Hill
Sunflower Hill

After descending a few switchbacks through the Mule’s Ear, we came to an intersection that gave us the choice of a downhill to Lakeview or more climbing to Hobart and Ash Canyon. We chose more climbing!

Hmmm…Which way today?

There were lots of large trucks and other heavy equipment parked around the area. A big sign advertised the “Marlette Gas Project”. There were more “NO SMOKING” signs here too. Ahh…explosive vapors. The signs made more sense, although none of us were sure why there was a gas line being put in.

Discussing the Marlette Lake Gas Project

We stopped for an extended break at Hobart Reservoir near a nice little campground and restroom. Since you can drive up Ash Canyon to within a relatively easy walking distance to the reservoir, there were quite a few fisherman and other visitors here. It was strangely noisy. Not what you would expect from such a secluded spot.

Hobart Reservoir
Hobart Reservoir

After a nice break, we continued to climb to get to Ash Canyon. We were all getting pretty tired at this point, and were all looking forward to some downhill. Just when we thought it was time to descend, another little hill would be presented to us.

Do We Really get to go Down Now?
Do We Really get to go Down Now?

Normally I would go down Lakeview, but I haven’t seen the top of Ash Canyon for over a decade. I remember it being terribly steep, and even remember crashing on it. Still, I wanted to get an updated visual of the area, since we ride the lower areas of Ash Canyon daily.

Carson City
Carson City

We had another jaw dropping moment when we came out of the woods and saw Carson City below. Wow! We had done a lot of climbing!

Dropping in to Ash Canyon
Dropping into Ash Canyon

Once we were done soaking in the view, we began the final descent down Ash Canyon. This road is probably one of the steepest roads I’ve ever been down. Even with disk brakes, my arms required rest breaks at a few points during the descent. Lester and I both experienced rear brake fade. The lever was spongy, and you could pull it all the way back to the bars! Boiled brake fluid? Not sure…

It was almost a bummer to drop elevation so quickly. After so much climbing, a more relaxing descent would have been nice. Next time we will take the Lakeview route for sure!

Almost Home
Almost Home

We finished off the ride with a trip down the Creek Trail. We were all pretty fatigued, and took it much slower than normal. I felt like a pinball.

After saying farewell to the other riders, Scott R and I made it back to my house around 4:15. What a day we had had, and what a great feeling to have done such a great ride without the use of a car for a shuttle. I can’t wait to do it again!

More pictures of this ride can be viewed on our Flickr site by clicking HERE.

18 thoughts on “Kings Canyon to Ash Canyon Loop

  1. An Amazing Day!!!

    I think Scott clocked it at just over 35 miles and just under 5 hours of riding time?

    Monday I rode to work and then started an Ash Canyon trip on the way home after work. I soon found out that the legs were still shot from Saturday and only made it to the towers before turning right and coasting down home.

    I absolutely loved this ride and can’t wait to do it again…without the extreme downhill of Ash Canyon.

    Might have to dial in my pace on the early climbs to have more left later.

    Thanks for setting it up Jeff.

  2. XD- Yeah, the only paintin’ those guys did after that long a ride was ” Paintin’ the toilet” ….ooooh! Sorry Jeff! Bringin the blog to all time lows!!!

  3. Jeff,
    The best descent is take Lakeview road to just below the upper tanks. Then take the old singletrack that conects Lakeview road to the Timberline road. The Timberline road is very fun to ride down! I will send you a google earth map of it.
    Next challenge to get off the books-Ride Ash to Snow Valley Peak.
    Very Tough.

  4. God, that ride looks soooooooo boring! I don’t know how you could stand all that endless stunning scenery, beautiful trails and camaraderie for 5 hours. Poor saps! :^)

  5. Marcus – Not sure if was the mildew in the CamelBak, or the Clif Bar/PB&J/Heed concoction that was sloshing around in my stomach all day.

    Keith – Jeff P took me on that Singletrack once. It got damn steep when it got back to the road too! Still have to bag Snow Valley Peak. I want a picture of Marlette and Tahoe from the top.

    Brian – Yeah, it was pretty rough. Would have rather sat indoors and watched it on HD TV and BlueRay.

  6. I’m up for Snow Valley Peak but NO way I’m doing it via Ash Canyon Road! Too slick, too steep, too hot and too damn crowded with motorcycles and trucks.

  7. Sounded like a great ride. If you plan on coming down the singletrack from the old days of The Great Flume Race, (that is the trail below the Lakeview water tanks) plan on dismounting a few times. Many trees have come down and blocked the trail. It can still be ridden, but not continuously. Someday somebody anonymous might clear it.
    Happy riding.

  8. jonah – There’s room for more people here, but seats are filling up quick.

    Smudgemo – You ain’t kidding. Immediately after returning I went to the strip mall and gazed at Home Depot, Best Buy, Starbucks, etc., and all was right. Nothing more serene that a giant corporate logo sign. I was way out of my comfort zone up in the mountains…

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