One of the best things about motorcycling with Carson Valley as a home base is the easy access to the high passes of the Sierra Nevada. There are nine passes within two hours that all offer excellent riding. Of those, these five passes are especially high, dramatic, and extra twisty. Most of them are closed due to winter weather for about half the year; August is a great time to ride.
Ride Five Passes
These five passes are all well above 8,000 feet above sea level, paved, and offer fun riding with spectacular scenery, a few challenges and, for the most part, fairly light traffic. And if you ride all five passes in one weekend, you’ll earn the Carson Tahoe Moto Five Passes Pin.
Tioga Pass is the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park. It’s on California State Route 120, at 9,943 feet elevation, and is the highest pass in the Sierra Nevada and in California. Yosemite’s Tioga Pass entrance station consists of two historical stone buildings. There is a $10 fee for motorcycles entering the park. Tioga Pass is typically closed for the winter from about early November through the end of May.
Sonora Pass is the second highest Sierra pass at 9,624 feet elevation on Highway 108 between Sonora and Bridgeport, California. It is arguably one of the best trans-Sierra roads for motorcyclists with mile after mile of twisty pavement and spectacular views. The slope exceeds eight percent for most of the route and up to 26 percent in some places. Sonora Pass also closes for the winter, generally from some time in November until early May. Check the signs on either side of the road at the top of the pass. You’ll notice that they show two different elevations for the same place.
Ebbetts Pass (no apostrophe, please) is on Highway 4 at 8,736 feet elevation, in Alpine County. This is one of the least-traveled of all the Sierra passes, one of the best motorcycle roads anywhere, and very beautiful. The road is too narrow in places to sport a painted center line. Ride carefully; if you see oncoming traffic expect it to be using some of your half of the road. Ebbets Pass is also closed during winter, generally from December through the end of April.
Carson Pass lies on the route of the Mormon Emigrant Trail, the route most commonly used by wagon trains headed for California after the gold discovery in 1848 and before the Transcontinental Railroad opened in 1869. Today, Highway 88 follows the historic trail very closely and crosses the Sierra at 8,573 elevation. Of these five passes, Carson Pass is the only all-weather pass and is generally open through the winter, though it can be closed temporarily for hours at a time to clear potential avalanches.
Monitor Pass on Highway 89 at 8, 314 feet, might just be our favorite. It is twisty, dramatic, nearly empty most of the time, and only about 45 minutes away from Carson Valley. In the summer, we often ride up Monitor Pass to catch the fading Sierra light and still get home in time for dinner. Monitor Pass is closed in winter, typically from December until April.
Earn the Five Passes Pin
So these five passes are worth riding in their own right. But just to make it more fun, come on up to our event, ride all five passes, and we’ll give you a very swanky Carson Tahoe Moto Five Passes Pin. Wear it proudly back home and it is guaranteed to start some great motorcycle conversations.
Here’s how to get your Five Passes Pin:
- When you check in to our event, tell the volunteers that you plan to ride the five passes.
- Go ride the five passes, anytime between Thursday and Saturday, August 21-23.
- On top of each pass, take a photo of yourself and the sign marking the pass.
- Show us all five of your pictures back at the registration booth, before 5 PM on Saturday, August 23.
We’ll be giving out the Five Passes Pins at the Saturday night barbecue, in Minden Park.
If you are riding up from Central or Northern California on Thursday, you might want to put one of these five passes on your route, and grab a picture at the top. You’ll be 20 percent closer to the Five Passes Pin before you even arrive in Carson Valley. If you are riding up from Southern California or Las Vegas, plan to ride over Monitor Pass on your way in to get that head start on your pin.