Mountain Bike Rides in the Kern River Valley and Southern Sierra Tobias Trail

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Super scenic backcountry trail descending from the heart of the Greenhorns to the Kern River; a rugged and wild Southern Sierra Epic.

Upper Tobias Trail, Kernville, CAUpper Tobias Trail.

Black Diamond

THE STATS

  • 9 Miles for Tobias Trail only.
  • 400 feet of climbing.
  • 4500 feet of drop.
  • Shuttle Ride (or huge loop)
  • Kernville, Johnsondale, Alta Sierra
  • 23+ Miles from Greenhorn Summit
    (Riding Roads & Portuguese Pass Tr to Frog Mdw). 2500+ feet of climbing.
  • 17+ miles from Speas Ridge at Rd 23S16 (Riding Pup Meadow Trail). 1800+ feet of climbing.

*Ride Pup Meadow Trail from the north or Portuguese Pass Trail (or Road) from the south.

*Semi Loops Possible on higher sections, with Bull Run Pass Trail or road 23S18.

*An Out 'n' back (with a loop) is an option for winter riding on Lower Tobias (See options below.)

UPDATE! October 5, 2018: As always the trail is still tight with brush and a few trees down, but it's had some work (with more planned soon) - and is super fun with the right adventurous mindset.

rog Meadow at Tobias Trailhead
Near the upper trailhead at Frog Meadow.

To get there: Pup Meadow Trail has been cleared! Several recent trail work days have brought this trail back to life, and it is now the preferred way to climb to Tobias Trail.

The other option, Portuguese Pass Trail, has recently reopened after the logging operation, and people are starting to ride it again. The higher sections are best, while the lower sections are very loose and still recovering from the Cedar Fire. It's probably best to ride the road to the North Portuguese Pass Trail.

 

Tobias Canyon in the Fall
Fall Colors in lower Tobias Canyon, as seen from the trail.

The neglected Tobias Trail was almost forgotten after the catastrophic McNally Fire swept through the area. But the thought of ignoring a 9-mile backcountry singletrack of this caliber was simply unbearable to some of the local mountain bikers.

Needless to say, Tobias has been reawakened.

In 2013, The USFS with Stewards of the Sequoia and volunteers, completely brushed and officially reopened the entire trail. However, this trail somehow breeds bushes. In the last few years some of the brush has crept back in. lt is always ridable, but remains a very narrow and often technical trail.

Upper Tobias Trail
Just leaving Frog Meadow.

On the Trail

Tobias is probably the most remote trail in the Greenhorns. It is out there.

While it may not be such a conveniently located trail, Tobias Trail is absolutely worth the effort for any adventure-minded mountain biker who loves being off the beaten path.

Awesome scenery and humongous views are part of the ride experience. Half way down the trail, you are looking straight across the Kern Canyon at Salmon Creek Falls.

Expect everything from very steep loose technically-demanding sections of trail to smile inducing portions of fast flowy downhill riding. On other sections, quick-turning skinny singletrack skirts the steep mountainsides as you plunge downhill.

High Sierra View and Needles - From Tobias Trail
It's easy to miss the view on the upper part of the non-motorized section of Tobias Trail. During the super flowy, jumpy stretch of trail, look out left! The Needles, Hermit Spire, the Upper Kern Canyon, and Mountain Whitney are in view.

Be ready for anything on this one!

Note that Portuguese Pass Trail and upper Tobias Trails are open to motorcycle use, while Pup Meadow Trail and lower Tobias trail are human powered only.

The Details

The upper Tobias trail starts at Frog Meadow Campground, down past the USFS cabins. The exact location of the start of the trail has changed a few times in the last couple years due to a logging operation. The trail is on the left of the road, while Frog Meadow is to the right.

The Upper Tobias Trail is legal for motorcycles, although its rare to see them. The trail follows a section of Frog Creek Canyon before it merges with Tobias Creek.

Frog Meadow Frog Meadow Campground Upper Tobias
Frog Meadow in the early summer. Near the Frog Meadow campground. Ripping upper Tobias.

The top is really fast with plenty of carvy turns, with sections of steep and rocky technical sections, while the lower section crosses the creek and has some climbing. Be aware that the trail crosses a few dirt roads.

On the Tobias Ridge
Descending the ridge above Tobias Creek. Looking at Salmon Creek Falls.

At 2.5 miles, the trail spits you out at a paved road, where you pedal left to find the rest of Tobias Trail. This entire stretch is designated non-motorized all the way to Fairview Bridge. Go left on the pavement momentarily and look for the trail on the right, which is partially blocked off with boulders. It quickly drops down to the creek; veer right along the creek and cross. The trail briefly heads left before heading out across the flats. Soon it starts to drop along the ridge above Tobias Creek. This section is fast and fun; but don't forget to peak at the Needles and the High Sierra!

Tobias Creek Trail
On the edge of Tobias Canyon far above the Kern River. Flynn Canyon is to the left.

As it cuts through the wilderness, most of the next few miles of trail stay fairly high above the creek.

After a long series of tight steep naturally-banks turns, the trail reach the creek. Usually, there is a log to cross just to the right. On big water years or in the Spring, the crossing could be difficult. A White-Man petroglyph on the creekside boulder says H. Mars 1904.

Some technical biking through the incense cedars and pines lead to a quick climb/hike-a-bike up out of the creek basin. Faster and straighter, the trail now stays above the creek.

There are some hills and short steep climbs, especially in the last few miles.

Tobias Ridge Convening on Tobias Trail
Riding in the Fall.
Giving the brakes a rest.

Near the bottom, Tobias Trail merges onto Whiskey Flat trail. Pedal left/north to the Fairview/McNally Bridge to finish.

Tobias Upper Trail
Stoked!

NOTE! Bikers can avoid the final steep climb, by taking an old flume trail that is just up from the rocky Flynn Creek crossing. Look for an unrefined trail (an old flume) that contours flatly - off to the right. When it reaches Whiskey Flat Trail, turn left. The trail stays on the old flume. (This sections bypasses the Flynn Canyon Trail turnoff.)

OR, if you are crazy fit, go right to add a grueling 14 miles of Whiskey Flat Trail back to Kernville.

Ride Variations

RIDE FROM PUP MEADOW TRAIL

As of Fall 2018, the recommended route is to take Pup Meadow Trail (newly cleared and re-opened) to Frog Meadow/Tobias Trail from the Johnsondale side.

Lower Tobias Trail
Nearing the end of the ride, above the Whiskey Flat Trail. Along with lower Flynn Canyon Trail, this section of trail can be ridden all winter.

Since most bikers leave a shuttle at McNally's/Upper Whiskey Flat Trailhead and are already north, it makes sense to continue up past Johnsondale to Road 23S16.

Click here to read about several ways to access the 4 mile Pup Meadow Trail.

 

RIDE FROM GREENHORN SUMMIT

This is a popular option, but much of the area was affected by the Cedar Fire. To ride from Greenhorn Summit, take Portuguese Pass Road (easier) or Trail (demanding) to Portuguese Pass. At the Pass, hop onto the North Portuguese Pass Trail for a few miles, then drop down to the dirt road 24S50. Take this easy cruiser all the way to Frog Meadow

Campground where the Tobias Trail starts.

For most riders, the ride ends at McNally's (which is about 15 miles north of Kernville).

Near the Creek Crossing on Tobias Trail
Cruising through the lower creek section.

If your legs are made of steel, you can continue on Whiskey Flat Trail to Kernville or take the Old Flume Trail back. Each are very demanding rides by themselves.

Loop Options

Starting at the Greenhorn Summit Sand Shed, some bikers prefer to ride the roads out to Frog Meadow then descend Upper Tobias and ride the road back up to Portuguese Pass. At this point, they ride Portuguese Pass Trail back.

Similar loops are now possible with the Pup Meadow Trail from the North.

To loop the entire trail, ride through Johnsondale to the spectacularly scenic USFS road 22S10, and climb this to take Pup Meadow to Tobias Trail. Return up pavement to Johnsondale. This is big!

Winter Rides

Winter Riding on Lower Tobias, Whiskey Flat, and Flynn Canyon Trails. From McNally's, ride across the bridge to Whiskey Flat Trail and on to Tobias Trail. Its steep in places, but possible to ride all the way up to the creek crossing. On the way back down, one can take the lower section of Flynn Canyon Trail (out 'n' back) and/or take the bypass trail on the old flume (described above) to make a small loop back to Whiskey Flat Trail.

Elevation Profile (Greenhorn Summit to Kern River)

Greenhorn Summit to Tobias Elevation

Trailheads

It is highly recommended to take map for this trail!

Tobias Trail midway Tobias Trail
Make sure you have fresh brake pads for this one. Steep slalom turns just before the final creek crossing.

SOUTHERN SIDE
Greenhorn Summit to Portuguese Trail to Tobias Trail to McNally's:

Drive 7 miles from Wofford Heights up Hwy 155 to the Greenhorn Summit. Park at the Sand Shed. You can also turn right and drive to Portuguese Pass to shorten the ride. From Portuguese Pass, turn right on the paved road, 23S16. Next turn left on the dirt road 24S50. Take this all the way to Frog Meadow and turn right on the paved campground road.

The actual Tobias Trail starts at Frog Meadow Campground, at the end of the campground road. Look for a sign marking the trail, or ride to one of the last camps and cut into the trail.

END OF TOBIAS (Drop Car)
McNally's/Fairview Bridge/Upper Whiskey Flat Trailhead
is just north of McNally's restaurant about 15 miles north of Kernville.

NORTHERN SIDE
There are numerous shuttle and ride options. To ride from the Johnsondale side via Pup Meadow Trail
, keep driving north past McNally's. Continue over the Johnsondale Bridge and pass Johnsondale and Lloyd Meadows Road by keeping left. (M99 is now called M50) Turn left on the paved Sugarloaf Road 23S16 (4 miles past Johnsondale) and take this 5.5 miles to Speas Ridge at the dirt road 23S73.

Don't Get Lost!
Kernville Adventure Map

Tobias trail and optional routes are depicted on the newest local adventure map:

Sold at McNally's.

Amazon.com

Buy Locally

Map Details

Another access option is to stay on M50/Parker Pass Road another 2.9 miles to Double Bunk Meadow at 23S15. (This is before reaching 107/Western Divide Hwy and 6.8 miles from Johnsondale.)

From California Hot Springs:

Take M50/Parker Pass road and toward Parker Pass. One access is at Starvation Creek Road 23S64 2.5 miles before reaching Parker Pass. Another access point near Double Bunk Meadow at 23S15 is less than 1/2 mile beyond the Western Divide Hwy (107). The Sugarloaf Road/23S16 access is 3.3 miles past Western Divide Hwy. See above for additional details.

View from Tobias Trail of Salmon Creek Falls

Don't underestimate the length of this ride, or you'll be watching sunset on Salmon Creek Falls, with another 3000 vertical feet of tough trail to go!