As Denny Gibson climbed the Sierra Nevadas a couple days ago he wondered if he should or could access Kings Canyon Road, a sometimes steep climb between Carson City, Nevada, and Lake Tahoe to the west. Once suburban King Street ends, there are 9 miles of westbound climbing. The total gain is 1,800 feet, but the worst of it is the first two miles. Here’s my view of the eastern start:
An 1860s toll road, it became part of the LH in 1913 (improvements led it to be called called Ostermann’s Grade for LHA’s Henry Ostermann). It was bypassed by US 50 and the old road deteriorated; it was in rough shape when people began rediscovering the LH. It’s obviously been improved in recent years as hikers and bikers take to it. ATVs and jeeps share the road but it’s not recommended for regular-clearance vehicles. This article describes the condition: We couldn’t go too far up the mountain though; the road is no longer maintained, and at one point higher in the mountains, the road has washed away. An old truck lays in the valley below as if it had fallen off the cliff.”
As this article says, “Almost all freight, clothing, pots, pans, food stuffs and lumber came to Carson City by way of this road. If you wanted to visit family in California or spend a vacation at the Lake, this was how you went.”
Here’s a site that makes KCR look stunning but, they’re on bikes.
This site says “Climbing from 5400ft above Carson City to 7000ft at Spooner Summit, Kings Canyon is no slouch for elevation gain. Most of the gain takes place in the first 3 miles of the climb, so expect to get the worst over quickly.”
The road is hard-packed dirt and rock, with very few sandy spots along the first 3 miles. During this time, the grade is fairly steep, giving the rider a good aerobic workout. After a couple switchbacks, the road contours along the hillside and makes for a small saddle, which marks the end of the steep climb and the beginning of the longer, easier gradient. The road stays pretty much on contour for the next 5 miles, with very minor dips. A few hundred feet below through the pine trees is Highway 50 to Spooner summit, but traffic noise is almost non-existent. Depending on the season, there are a few sandy spots along this section, but nothing serious. The final mile includes a quick steep climb, and then you pop out just above the NDOT highway maintenance station on Spooner. Note: this road is drivable with a 4WD and high clearance, so don’t be surprised if you run across motorcycles, ATVs, and Jeeps.
Finally, here’s a link to a topo map that can be enlarged even more once yo’re there by clicking a magnifier.