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Old 08-27-2015, 06:47 PM   #1
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CA Highway advice, Sierra Nevada Mtn.

my wife and I will be escaping work for a month starting mid September. We will be pulling our 5.0TA with a GMC Sierra and looking for highway advice from the Sacrament area to Bishop.

Google says to use Hwy 50/89 to get over to 395. I was also looking at using 120. Which of these would be better for pulling our 5'r? Both look to have lots of curves. I have never been on any of the roads and any information would be appreciated. thanks, Bob
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Old 08-27-2015, 07:46 PM   #2
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I just want to say that in between those two roads is CA Route 4. Do *not*, ah say do *not* take Route 4, as it has switchbacks with a 25% grade (I'm not kidding) and at times narrows down to less than two lanes wide. I've never seen a state highway like it. My little Tacoma made it, but I don't recommend it.
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Old 08-27-2015, 07:59 PM   #3
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We pulled our 19 with our V-6 Jeep Grand Cherokee a few weeks ago from Sacramento to Mammoth Lakes, just north of Bishop on Rt 395. We traveled 50 to 89 to 395 and we had no issue. There are some grades but I don't think anything more than 8%. The most curves were on the last segment of 89, from 4 to 395. I'd go this way again.

We returned from Mammoth Lakes through Yosemite on 120. The climb from 395 to Tioga Pass is a little steep but not curvy and we handled it without any problem. Going the other way, you would have the long climb from sea level to 9000 feet. The worst part of the trip is the Priest Grade. Don't try the old Priest Grade which is not allowed for trailers, but our car nav routed us that way. We chose to take the new Priest Grade and it was bad enough. Fortunately, we were going down it.
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Old 08-27-2015, 08:41 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by t-twnbob View Post
my wife and I will be escaping work for a month starting mid September. We will be pulling our 5.0TA with a GMC Sierra and looking for highway advice from the Sacrament area to Bishop.

Google says to use Hwy 50/89 to get over to 395. I was also looking at using 120. Which of these would be better for pulling our 5'r? Both look to have lots of curves. I have never been on any of the roads and any information would be appreciated. thanks, Bob
Your options from north to south are:

I80 - Way out of the way. But very pretty drive along either side of Lake Tahoe.

US50 - Major highway - no sweat. Scenic. OK for first time mountain driving.

CA4 - Bad idea. 1.5 lanes with no center lane for a long way. We have pulled our Casita 17' over this but do not recommend it.

CA108 - 2 lanes with center line the whole way but some steep sections. Goes by the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare training camp. Not recommended. We have pulled our Casita 17 and Escape 19 over it both ways and I will do it again, but it involves first and second gear and fairly high RPMs up and down Sonora Pass.

CA120 - Very pretty - through Yosemite Park. If you have, or want to get some experience towing in mountains I would consider it. Not recommended for the first few times towing. Engine braking mandatory to avoid smoking your brakes.

I would recommend stopping at Bodie State park (ghost town) and Mono Lake Park (north end of the lake.)
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Old 08-27-2015, 09:04 PM   #5
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Hello Bob,

Being a native, I have traveled all of the east/west highways over the California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I agree with the suggestions made above. If you want the easiest summit, I suggest I80/Donner Summit. 2nd choice would be US Route 50, Echo Summit. 3rd is CA State Hwy 88, Carson Pass. I would recommend against Highways 108, 4, and 120 as each of these has very steep, very narrow, very winding sections that I am nearly certain you or any other sane driver would find uncomfortable towing a rig as long as your Sierra and 5r are. 120 is really pretty and would be choice number 4;You're rig will handle it just fine. The only question is will you have any seat covers still showing when you get done with it. :-) All passes are much steeper and much shorter going east to west.

Once you are on 395, you are in for a real treat.

Enjoy!

Best,
Fletch
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Old 08-28-2015, 01:04 PM   #6
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Re-reading my post, I think I need to apologize for being too forward and colorful. I am sorry if I offended anyone here. Not at all my intent. And to be sure, I haven't travelled "all" of the roads over the Sierra, but certainly all those mentioned and a couple of others.

I would seriously recommend against Hwy 4 and Hwy 108. Both are excessively steep, narrow and winding for extended distances.

80, 50, and 88 are all well traveled, solid routes I wouldn't hesitate to use at all. All are quite scenic.

Hwy 120 passes through Yosemite National Park and as such will cost you at least $20 to go over Tioga Pass, unless you have an Annual National Parks Pass. The entry fee may have increased to more than $20 since the last time I paid it. 120 is a beautiful route. And as stated earlier, it is narrow, winding, and steep in places, though certainly doable with no problem for your GMC Sierra and 5'r. There are no passing lanes and very few turnouts on this route and less so once in the national park. Once over the pass, the descent to the town of Lee Vining is steep, but only about 10 miles, with easy turns and a wonderful view. Approaching the park on 120 from the west is an easy drive, except as mentioned above, Priest Grade. Stay left and use the new road; do not take "Old Priest Grade". That is about the only "gotcha" on the eastbound 120 route before the park. Once in the park, there are a few widely spaced scenic overlooks and trailheads that can be used to let traffic by or to stop and stretch.

If you're up for a narrow, winding, and sometimes steep route, 120 through Yosemite is well worth it. And again, once on 395, the views of the eastern Sierra Nevada and the camping opportunities are spectacular.

I hope you enjoy your trip!

Cheers!
Fletch
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Old 08-28-2015, 01:16 PM   #7
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I'll second avoiding CA 4. I drove it in a minivan, and there were narrow switchbacks directly on 18% grades. The photo doesn't really show how steep it is, but you can get some idea of the width of the road.

A quote from my web page that day:

"We did a short stint on US Route 50 before we turned off on CA Route 4. There is a sign at the start that lists all the passes & notes that they are open - Good sign. Also, a sign suggesting that vehicles over 28 feet & those with hitch pin trailers should find alternate routes - Interesting sign.

Now I have little fear of driving mountain roads, having driven jeeps in Viet Nam over mountain roads that were not even roads. Saying that, CA Route 4 through some of those passes was, well a good term is exciting. First, the road starts to get narrower & narrower. Then the center stripe disappears. The road was getting too narrow for a car to fit on half the road. Of course that means 2 cars meeting was interesting. Then the switchbacks started.

This was the first paved road I have ever driven that had 10% or better grades on the switchback. If you were driving something that had any overhang behind the rear wheels, I'm sure it would hit going around the turns. We spent a large portion of the trip in 1st gear. The most exciting was going up Ebbetts Pass (8730'.) And, by the way the only place you find guard rails is on bridges. I'm not sure why - if you go over a bridge, it is only about 10 - 20 feet to the water. If you go over the edge away from the water, it is about 500 - 1000 foot drop. Maybe keeping cars out of the stream is for pollution control?

Anyway, the photo of the road is at one of the few large turn outs. By the way, it was also a beautiful drive with many streams, waterfalls, cascades and huge trees, some of which the road was built around."


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Old 08-28-2015, 02:48 PM   #8
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This is the type of information that would be nice under one heading. It certainly is helpful and thanks to all of you for your input, it is going to save me a few gray hairs, for sure.
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Old 08-28-2015, 03:44 PM   #9
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Thanks to all of the input, your information is invaluable! Fletch, no apologies necessary, I enjoyed reading your post's. It looks like we will most likely choose hwy50. We would love to take 120 and visit Yosemite, but we travel with our dog and we would be very limited. I will most likely start another thread on what to see and do in the Bishop area. It sounds like there are several people here that could provide some great ideas!
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