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For more than 50 years in the early 1900s, the Sugar Pine Railway operated steam trains to haul logs along the Stanislaus River for the Standard Lumber Company and later the Pickering Lumber Company. Today this wooded corridor hosts a gentle 3-percent grade rail-trail for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and cross-country skiers. The trail represents a very small part of the Sugar Pine Railway system, which included about 70 miles of main line and almost 400 miles of spurs and branches. While there are a number of rail-trails in the Sierra left over from the area's extensive logging history, this is one of the easiest and most family-friendly because of its easy accessibility, gentle grade and relatively forgiving dirt surface.
Begin at the Fraser Flat Road trailhead for a nicely shaded, gradual uphill grade that affords great views of the majestic South Fork of the Stanislaus River below. The dirt trail surface can be loose in places, and there are some considerable dips in the trail—be careful and keep your eye on what's ahead. At the 1.5-mile mark, halfway through the trail, pass through an unlocked cattle fence and continue. Near the 2.5-mile mark the trail opens up into a meadow. Here it becomes less obvious, but across the meadow you can see where the trail reenters the forest.
Interpretive signs along the trail point out historical highlights. The signs are numbered for use with an informational brochure that you can pick up at the Summit and Mi-Wok Ranger District offices of Stanislaus National Forest. It's a good idea to pick up a map of the area while you're there—the roads aren't well-marked and finding your way around can be challenging. The trail ends when it intersects with Old Strawberry Road at mile 3. For a longer journey, head south (right) on Old Strawberry Road to visit the old logging town of Strawberry. Your return trip on the trail to Fraser Flat Road is downhill.
To reach the Mi-Wok Ranger District office, head east from Modesto on State Route 108 for about 63 miles. From the district office, turn right (northeast) back onto SR 108 and continue for about 9 miles to Fraser Flat Road (Forest Road 4N01). Turn left and continue downhill to the bridge at the South Fork of the Stanislaus River. The trailhead (which has no signs) and parking are adjacent to the river on the south side of the road.
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