Westside Rails to Trails (Tuolumne City to North Fork Tuolumne River)


6 Reviews

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Westside Rails to Trails (Tuolumne City to North Fork Tuolumne River) Facts

States: California
Counties: Tuolumne
Length: 5.5 miles
Trail end points: Mira Monte Rd at Buchanan Rd (Tuolumne) and Forest Rte 1N04 & Fish Hatchery Rd (Twain Harte)
Trail surfaces: Crushed Stone, Dirt
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6250545

Westside Rails to Trails (Tuolumne City to North Fork Tuolumne River) Description

Tucked away in sparsely populated Tuolumne County, this portion of the Stanislaus National Forest’s Westside Rails to Trails route is a hidden treasure, combining spectacular scenery and a representation of an amazing feat of railway construction.

The county’s timber industry was in full gear at the turn of the 20th century. An impressive sawmill was built at that time, and the West Side Lumber Company constructed its own narrow-gauge railroad—the Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valley Railway—to bring timber to the mill. The initial stretch of the mainline grade, constructed without the benefit of bulldozers and loaders, was blasted into an extremely steep and rocky canyon. As you walk along the rail-trail, you cannot fail to be impressed by what the workers accomplished. Interpretive panels along the trail provide information about the area’s logging history and Indigenous heritage.

Located next to a small parking lot and a residential street, the unsigned Tuolumne City trailhead at the western terminus is unassuming. (Note that equestrian parking is available here; equestrian use is permitted for the entirety of the trail.) At first, the trail is surrounded by trees on both sides, but after less than a half mile, it opens up to spectacular views. On your right, you see a gaping canyon, with layers of rolling, tree-covered hills beyond. After another half mile, you come to a picnic bench and, shortly after, the only water fountain on the trail. (It is a good idea to bring water and protection from the sun.) At the 1-mile mark, you see the old rails and ties that run from this point through the end of the trail, adding to its beauty and character. The dramatic scenery continues as the path traverses the steep canyon. Patches of wildflowers that grow between the narrow-gauge tracks appear in the springtime, making this rail-trail all the more beautiful.

At certain points, the path becomes slightly narrow and rocky. About 5 miles in, you’ll come upon a thick patch of trees that seems impassable, at which point you won’t be able to continue walking parallel with the rails. From here, you can return the way you came or veer right and descend the steep switchbacks for about a half mile to a main road (Fish Hatchery Road/Buchanan Road/Forest Route 1N04). Turn left here and walk along the road on a half-mile looping route that will bring you to the entrance of the River Ranch Campground.

It is possible to leave a car at the campground before setting out, then shuttle to the trailhead (note that there is a day-use fee at the campground). If you are on a mountain bike and want a speedier return to the Tuolumne City trailhead parking lot, you can cycle westward about 4.25 miles on Fish Hatchery Road/Buchanan Road/FR 1N04. This route is a steep climb, and while the two-lane road is lightly trafficked, there is no biking lane and it’s narrow at some points, so use caution.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the Tuolumne City trailhead, find the small parking lot at the intersection of Buchanan Road/FR 1N04 and Mira Monte Road. The trailhead is next to this parking lot.

To find the Buchanan Road trailhead, look for a gap in the canyon and follow this path up the switchbacks to connect with the rail-trail. The trailhead is unmarked and easy to miss. 

View the TrailLink map for all options and detailed directions.

Westside Rails to Trails (Tuolumne City to North Fork Tuolumne River) Reviews

Beautiful foothill walk

We started at the Tuolumne city end of the trail and really enjoyed the walk. The bush lupine was in full bloom and smelled wonderful! Nice easy walk down the trail toward the river. A nice easy workout on the way back up the hill. Perfect for beginners. The only downside was that they were doing road repair below the trail and the smell of diesel fumes and truck noise kind of detracted from the experience. But after a mile we couldn't hear the trucks anymore.

Nice and Easy

The trail is mostly gravel until the 4 mile mark then it turns more rugged. About the 7.2m mark the trail becomes overgrown, bring your machete!


Such an awesome trail for bike riding. A bit harder on the way back because it's uphill. Loved it

awesome hike

Very easy trail hike for dogs and for those who are looking for a good day hike


A great walk!

We walked almost the entire length, starting at the Tuolumne end. We went beyond the 5 mile point in the description to see if we could get to the roundabout that had been described to us by another walker. There were parallel tracks, so we knew we were close, but when we reached a point where the only way forward was to scramble along the top of a fallen tree we decided to save it for another day, as we still had 5+ miles to walk back. Next time, maybe we'll park at the campground where the end of the line is close. I'd love to see the old wooden structure described to us. It was a beautiful warm day with cool breezes and a variety of woodland and open space. A very easy, mostly level trail. Thanks to the folks who make this possible!

A gem!

A great family friendly trail with a picnic bench about a mile and a half in from Buchanan/Mira Monte Rd. parking. My 3 year old loves the trail.
Great for gentle trail running too. Extremely quiet and the sounds of Tuolumne River can be heard from the trail. During winter, there can be ice 2 or 3 miles in and concentrated on parts of the trail that isn’t exposed to the sun. Not too much of concern, but should be noted.

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