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Forestdale Divide

Many people bike to the Blue Lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on road bikes. For them it has to be an out and back ride. By going over this unpaved divide, one can make this into a loop and greatly add to the scenic value.

1.(7080ft,mile00.0)START-END NORTH-1: jct Ca88 - Ca89 to Luther Pass
2.(7180ft,mile02.5)START-END NORTH AL-11: jct Ca88 to Carson Pass and Blue Lakes Rd to Forestdale Divide
3.(8300ft,mile11.3) highest point on Blue Lakes Rd
4.(8880ft,mile)TOP: highest point immediately before the Forestdale Divide
5.(7840ft,mile22.4)profile turns right onto pavement on Ca88
6.(7180ft,mile26.5)START-END NORTH-2: same as point2


From South. Near the start of Blue Lakes Road, a roadside map shows the entire route across this divide. That map also names this divide. Blue Lakes Road stays initially fairly flat. One attraction is the low traffic volume on this road, much lower when compared to the Kit Carson Pass raceway. Soon glimpses of tempting mountain panoramas appear through the trees. The crest line of the Sierras is not far away from here at all, just on the other side of this green expanse of meadow, that acts as the perfect stage for the mountains behind - not far away, and also not that much higher than the road. The road easily climbs a saddle with a view downvalley towards Big Meadow, and then drops a minute amount to the junction with the access road to Tamarack Lake, which continues with a mixture of pavement and dirt.

Continuing on pavement for now, the road quickly becomes a service road, stringing together the PGE campgrounds between upper and lower Blue Lakes. It was a perfect summer day when I was here, and the question came to mind: What is bluer the lake or the sky ? My guess was the color saturation of the lake was actually higher. Lower Blue Lake hides in the woods, but the upper lake has a rocky ridgeline backdrop. The road surface is dirt between the camping areas, while the campgrounds themselves are paved.

The jeep road up this pass starts just when entering the last campground. There is only a forest roadnumber sign, 1N09 I think it reads. A initially very rocky and steep ascent (not ridable) soon levels out and gives way to many ridable sections. A road junction is again only labeled with number signs. 1N09 continues on the left. After more climbing, including a short rolling section, the last view of the lakes appears. Now seen only through the trees, the lakes finally take their place in the larger mountain context they belong in. The jeep trail climbs above treeline and quickly traverses to the summit, between a picturesque collection of dead and live grizzled trees, between low triangular rock faces and alpine meadows. The attraction of the landscape is not so much the size of things, everything is relatively small when compared to major mountain ranges, but the picturesque relation in which they stand to one another. It is like a designed park, with nature as the designer. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road shortly before the summit. The spot is marked by small trail signs that are easily overlooked. The top has remnants of signs, but none label this divide.

approaching summit of Forestdale Divide

From North. (described downwards). The first couple hundred feet of drop are very steep and rough. Passing a small snow field that has lasted till the beginning of July, the road levels out a bit and curves between trees and rocks. But more steep sections are ahead. Approaching the Red Lakes area, this becomes a good dirt road, with a few extremely small climbs in the downward direction. Paradoxically you never see Red Lake from this road.

Looking for this dirt road from Ca89 to Carson Pass, the turnoff is labeled as Red Lake. Immediately after the turnoff the road forks. Going to this divide, you stay hard left. There is no sign of any kind at this fork.



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Forestdale Divide: jct Ca88 - Ca89 (Big Meadow) > Ca89 west > up Red Lakes Road > Upper Red Lake > Forestdale Divide > down Ca89 > back to starting point: 31.7miles with 2800ft of climbing in 3:31hrs (VDO MC1.0 r2:13.7.7).
Notes: Due to the fact that the man behind the counter in the Woodfords General Store told me that this loop was completely paved, I took my road bike (it still has a 35mm tire in the back), and did a lot of walking. To his defense the de Lorme Atlas of California also shows this loop as the same class of road. It definitely is not paved. At Upper Blue Lake I met Lyle and Lora coming down the divide on loaded touring bikes, training for a ride on the Great Divide Trail. Thanks for the enjoyable lunch together !