Stevenson Creek Falls, Redinger Lake & Million Dollar Road(biking)
Here is the thing about winter in drought stricken California: There isn’t enough snow to do all the fun winter things, but the passes are still closed. Before you know it you are aimlessly clicking around of Google Earth trying to find something new and different and, most importantly, OPEN.
This is how on the three day Presidents Day weekend Curtis and I ended up at driving around Redinger Lake, a location which begs the question: Where the hell I did take us now?
Road Biking to Stevenson Creek Falls on the Million Dollar Road, Redinger Lake / San Joaquin River, CA
Trailhead: We parked by the abandoned Chawanakee School, but you could travel closer to the gate and park in a pull out and save yourself from having to go up the steepest mile of this bike ride. We approached the area from North Fork, down Rd 225 (there are signs pointing to Redinger Lake), following the road past the Center of California Monument to the fork with Rd 235. Turn left at the fork, go over a rickety old bridge, and then park by some smashed SUV at the abandoned school. Map to Old Chawanakee School.
After parking we found the small number of roads a little confusing, but just choose the one that most obviously continues from the one we had just drove down, which starts climbing up hill. The Million Dollar Road itself has a large gate and lots of signage by Edison and Forest Service. Apparently you can access this area from the other way up Italian Bar Rd too. Map to Million Dollar Road.
Distance: 9.4 miles from the Chawanakee School to Stevenson Creek Falls and back. It is a mostly uphill bike out, and mostly a terrifying coast downhill (the road cuts here mean business). GPS Track with elevation.
A couple months back CNN posted this amazing article -‘My 417 Mile Trip Down Apocalypse River‘ – about the San Joaquin River, wherein a guy tries to travel the length of the river come hell or no water. It is a long read but I fully recommend it to learn about the San Joaquin River, this amazing river that starts in some of the most beautiful places you could ever want to be and often ends in a farm somewhere before reaching the ocean. I feel like the San Joaquin is a big part of my consciousness as a Californian concerned about water issues, and it seemed about time I go meet it.
Of course, this meant meeting the river at the recreational Redinger Lake and following the river using a road built by the Southern California Edison power company to provide access to the upstream Dam on the Dam 6 Lake. Redinger Lake, Dam Six Lake, and the Million Dollar Rd are part of the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project. Dams and Hydroelectric Projects bled money back in the day, which is why we have the so-called “Million Dollar Road” (that is a million in early twentieth century dollars) beautifully blasted into sheer cliffs. Also, to this day Edison is keeping up with their investment by providing some high quality pavement maintenance, which is in direct contrast to the roads that we drove our car down to get here.
And yes, it a road biker’s dream road… Given you aren’t too adverse to steep drop offs.
After a couple miles of climbing from one San Joaquin vista to the next the road drops downward to meet Stevenson Creek. Stevenson Creek spills from Shaver Lake (another Big Creek Hydroelectric Dam), and tumbles down the sheer face of the San Joaquin Canyon to the river below. The Million Dollar Road crosses directly in front of the falls (which sometimes causes alarming road closures during high water releases).
Stevenson Creek tumbles down 1200 feet, and from the bridge you are pretty much in the middle of it. Water mists down and rushes swiftly to crash into the pool under your feet, which in turn is swept down again until it reaches the river hundreds more feet below. It really is the Multnomah Falls of the Foothills.
I almost wouldn’t believe that we should have it to ourselves, but why would anyone think to see the 11th tallest falls in California when the largest (Yosemite Falls) is right around the corner… except if you are looking for a random wintertime adventure in along the San Joaquin River!
More about the peculiar sights and camping spots around Redinger Lake next post. Photos in the gallery below.