Road Biking Ward Canyon: What a Difference New Pavement Makes

By Tim Hauserman

The four mile journey to the top of Ward Canyon begins just across the street from Sunnyside Lodge. It winds through Pineland, then for several miles heads through a luscious wilderness near the banks of Ward Creek, with views of the Sierra crest, Twin Peaks and Ward Peak. You cross the Tahoe Rim Trail, and eventually the road ends at the backside of Alpine Meadows Ski Area, where an enormous bowl packed with mule ears unfolds before you.

It’s an eight mile round trip with about 700 feet of climbing with little traffic, yet it’s close to the action of the west shore. Seems like the makings of a perfect road bike ride. Unfortunately, for at least a decade, the road had a lot of rough, broken asphalt and big bumps to contend with. It was better suited for a mountain bike than skinny tires. That all changed this week when the entire surface between Pineland and the Sherwood lift at Alpine Meadows was freshly paved.

I gave the new pavement a test ride as part of one of the best bike rides on the west shore that I like to call: The Two Canyons. Ward Canyon was the warm up, and while a long uphill is still a long uphill, it was a glorious ride on a smooth surface. Of course, the true test of the new road was on the downhill. And it was a dream come true. Instead of riding slow and bracing for the bumps, the challenge was to not go too fast, because it was smooth enough to think you could.

After completing the up and back on Ward Canyon, it was time to take on the much bigger seven mile climb to the top of Blackwood Canyon. This canyon begins two miles south of Sunnyside, at the Kaspian Campground. The first two and a half miles are a gentle climb, but once you pass over Blackwood Creek, you have 1200 feet of ascent to conquer over the next five miles. Put it in low gear and enjoy the amazing views of the canyon and the high peaks to the north and west, including Twin Peaks.

When I rode on July 6th the upper gate at Blackwood was still closed as repairs were underway on the road further up. While this means riders have to dislodge from their bikes twice, it is also good news because with the gate closed, bikers have the road to themselves. The repairs are set to be completed in the next few weeks. But don’t dilly dally because the wildflowers are in full bloom, especially the last two miles when slopes were awash in color, with an amazing variety of flowers on display.

All told the ride was about 27 miles from Sunnyside with 2700 feet of climbing. A perfect way to spend a Tahoe morning, followed by a jump in the lake, and a cocktail on the Sunnyside deck.