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Length 12 miles
Time 2.5 hours
Total Climb 1400 feet
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Scenic Rating
Aerobic Difficulty
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New Melones (Glory Hole)

Glory Hole Recreation Area on New Melones Lake contains a small network of trails that seem to enjoy a level of popularity that's a bit out of proportion with the total trail mileage available here. While this might mean that you'll have to repeat some loops multiple times in order to end up with a ride that is long enough to satisfy, the reason for the popularity reveals itself very quickly upon trying a ride here: There are almost no hard climbs, there are no bike restrictions, the views of the reservoir and of the surrounding landscape can be gorgeous, and the trails are friendly enough to appeal to more than just advanced riders while still being fairly fun for advanced riders as well. The ride you see on this page covers almost all of these trails.

Entrance to this recreation area is subject to a day-use fee, which is eight dollars per car as I write this in 2014. The fee is collected at an entrance booth on your way in, and you're expected to self-pay by depositing cash or a check in an envelope if you happen to arrive at a time when the booth is not staffed. I'm not sure if there are any alternatives to this. I did not pay attention to whether biking your way in is free or not, but I have not seen any evidence that this is something commonly done.

A few more comments about the characteristics of the trails first: With the exception of a few limited stretches that could be classified as typical fire roads, all the trails on this ride are singletrack of varying width (usually closer to the wider end of the spectrum). They are not very technical. Some short stretches here and there are occasionally rocky, but that's only enough to make the ride a little more fun. It was pretty noticeable to me that some of the trails on this ride maintain a line that's never completely straight and never completely flat, which is not something you can say about just any biking singletrack. In some cases, it appears that you can pump the trail using these undulations. This makes me think that at least some of these trails were actually built with mountain biking in mind. So, for trails that are not particularly challenging or particularly technical, these trails are almost surprisingly fun to ride even for experienced riders. You can really focus on your "flow" during the ride, which you'll be able to maintain for long stretches. I'm sure this must be a big part of the wide appeal of this ride.

Having mentioned that the ride could appeal to less experienced riders, let me qualify that a little bit. This is not really "a beginner ride". But, it's arguably a "beginner-friendly" ride. While the trails are almost never seriously technical, they do feature the occasional sharp dip or small cluster of rocks that will give novices some pause, and some tight hairpin turns that will require walking their bikes. So, don't bring your girlfriend here for her first ride on a trail, but feel free to bring recent mountain biking converts who are beginning to advance their skills and are looking for a more realistic approximation of "a real mountain-bike ride".

For the benefit of those who might look at the photos for this ride, I should point out that I have done this ride following the record-breaking drought of the 2013-2014 winter. So, the water level should be much higher and the views of the water considerably more expansive in a year with normal rainfall. I've been told that the level of the lake usually reaches all the way up to the lowest vegetation line that you'll see in most photos and falls only moderately below that by the end of the summer.

The tree cover on the ride ranges from zero to a sparse sprinkling of oaks. Anything more dense than that on the ride are only small patches through which you'll be passing in seconds. This does mean your views will often be unobstructed, but it also implies that you can expect very high temperatures during the summer. This is not a good ride option for an extra hot day.

The ride starts with the first of four loops on the route. This loop is put together from a very steep but short fire-road section and a much more gently sloping and longer singletrack. While I usually opt to follow routes that result in easier climbs when all else is equal, if faced with a choice between a very steep and short fire road descent and a meandering and scenic singletrack descent, I prefer to huff it up the steep way in order to enjoy the more pleasant singletrack in the downhill direction. For that reason, I did this loop clockwise. This takes you up a roughly quarter-mile climb averaging just over 19% grade. The extra steep climb is not the nicest thing right at the beginning of the ride before you even have a chance to warm up, but it's no big deal to just walk your way up in five minutes, which is exactly what I did on this ride. Just think of "the real ride" as starting half a mile after the actual beginning of the route and you'll be fine. If you really insist on pedaling your way up but can't stomach the slope of the fire road, another option you have is to follow Whittle Road up to the same spot to which the fire road takes you. This will have you covering almost twice the distance as the fire road in order to reach the same spot, along with the reduction in average grade that this entails. This road is smoothly paved, though there is hardly any shoulder space. On the other hand, you can expect the traffic on this road to be slow, fairly light, and therefore safe. After this, it wouldn't be exaggeration to state that there is no other real climb on the ride, though you will have to expend some pedaling effort here and there, naturally.

Tower Climb is one of the segments of the ride where the trail seems to make a noticeable effort not to follow a straight line and a flat attitude. You'll be grinning as you do this playful descent through a number of tight switchbacks followed by a flatter meander that follows the lake's shore, which is also where you start encountering some of the best water views on the ride. The lakeshore part of this loop is actually marked with a different trail name: Carson Creek Trail. If an old map of the park can be trusted, the transition is somewhere around the point that views of the lake really open up from the trail, in case you're curious. But it's really only one continuous trail at the moment. (I'm actually not sure if "Tower Climb" is meant as a trail name or just the nickname of the steeper portion of Carson Creek Trail. The sign at the trailhead at the top simply says "Carson" but the online trail maps are labeled in a way that could imply that "Tower Climb" is the name of part of this loop.)

Before Carson Creek Trail drops you back at the parking lot from which you started, this ride also does a little sub-loop around what should ordinarily be a small spit of land at the edge of the water but during this ride was more like yet another minor hill. This is by no means essential, but it also looks like the best spot on the ride from which to take in wide open views of the lake (assuming a water level closer to normal anyway). I felt like it would result in more coasting than pedaling, but there was plenty of pedaling anyway. In case anyone is wondering, on this particular ride, I did this tiny loop counter-clockwise, but when I repeat this ride I'll be trying it clockwise instead.

After finishing these first loops on the ride, you follow Frontier Trail northwest on the way to a couple more sub-loops. This trail is situated a bit like a connector between two separate clusters of trails in the park and as an alternative to taking the paved park road that it closely parallels. It probably isn't too unfair to say that it's is a bit less interesting than trails like Tower Climb and Buck Brush Loop. A few parts of it are more like a fire road than a wide singletrack, actually. But, still, it has its own share of fun twists and a couple of segments that are quite fun if you carry some speed while descending them. Basically, it doesn't seem to break what seems to be the general theme of this trail network of maintaining good flow.

As you reach the northwestern end of Frontier Trail, you continue onto Buck Brush Loop. This is a short sub-loop that often cuts through a thicket of brush from which it seems to get its name. The second half of this loop (when done counter-clockwise) is sometimes in the form of a very narrow singletrack that closely follows the high-water mark of the lake. I'm inclined to say that this loop seems to have slightly more rocky patches than the rest of the ride, but not by much.

The next sub-loop on the ride is the elliptically shaped Angels Creek Trail loop. This is a decent mountain-biking singletrack by any standard. I've traversed it counter-clockwise, but I think I'd prefer to do it clockwise when I get another chance. This would mean some gentle elevation gain along the family-grade stretch of trail in the southeastern quarter of this loop and a more persistent descent along the narrower western half of it that cuts across a fairly steep hillside. This loop probably also qualifies as the shadiest part of the ride (perhaps along with the lower parts of Tower Climb), though that's not saying much given the modest tree cover of these trails in general.

As two neat sub-loops that are adjacent to each other, Buck Brush Loop and the Angels Creek Trail loop are prime candidates for the parts of this ride to be repeated multiple times in case you'd like to increase your ride's total mileage. This is worth attention especially because I don't know of any other practical way of extending the trail mileage of a ride at Glory Hole. There is another small trail network right across New Melones Lake at Tuttletown Recreation Area but, unless you have access to a boat that can take you and your bike there, I can see no meaningful way of getting there on your bike without adding miles and miles of paved riding.

If you've driven to New Melones via Route 4, since the town of Angels Camp is only five miles away from the beginning of your return journey from New Melones, it's an ideal option as a place to get a post-ride meal or refreshments. The gold-rush-era main street of Angels Camp extends for only a couple of blocks but includes several eateries. If you'd rather have something more like fast food that you can quickly grab and go, the local version of strip malls can be found near the intersection of Routes 4 and 49 where a number of fast food chains and Starbucks are represented. It's also worth pointing out (either for biking supplies, for local advice, or for window shopping) that the town also contains a decent-looking local bike shop: Mountain Pedaler Bicycles. Meanwhile, if your return trip will have you leaving New Melones by heading south instead, then Sonora would work equally well for you. A lot of what I've just explained about Angels Camp applies just as much to Sonora, if not more so.

Those who might be interested in mixing in some tourism with their mountain biking might like to know that Angels Camp happens to be in Calaveras County, made famous for its "jumping frogs" by a short story written by Mark Twain. In fact, the town hosts the annual Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, which seems to take place in May and includes a frog jump competition that some of you may already know about. In addition, Angels Camp is a good place to take in some Gold Rush history. The Angels Camp Museum would be a reasonable place to start if that's what you're after. Even better, less than a half hour's drive away from this ride location is the Columbia State Historic Park. Boasting of the largest collection of preserved gold-rush-era buildings in California, this is effectively the town center of a Gold Rush settlement turned into an outdoor museum, and is not to be missed by any Gold Rush enthusiast.

© Ergin Guney


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