Six badass U.S. climbs: part 2

From issue 74 • Words/images by John Summerson

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The climb up Balch Park is a long and isolated one, from dry hill country up to giant sequoias.  It has a moderate grade on a narrow road for most of its length. From the climb’s start, you’re on a two-lane road whose shallow grade gradually increases. After 4.3 miles, the road suddenly narrows to a single lane with increased tree cover—which stays with you most of the time. There are several switchbacks on this section along with excellent views. Just beyond 12 miles, the grade eases somewhat, and soon a few houses appear in a dark, isolated setting. From here the grade is mostly shallow as you twist along the lower flanks of the Sierra Nevada. At mile 16.2, a left turn takes you up a very narrow road and the only double-digit grade on the hill. This final section is heavy-duty up to those giant sequoias before the pavement ends in a peaceful setting. (This upper end is closed in winter.)

Directions: In tiny Springville, California, on Route 190 southeast of Fresno, head north on Balch Park Road for about 7 miles to Yokohl Road (on the left), where the climb begins by continuing north on Balch Park. More information from Sequoia National Forest, phone 559-784-1500.

Balch Park, California
Total elevation gain: 4,715 ft (1,437 m)
Length: 17.4 mi (28 km)
Gradient: 5.1% avg./12% max.

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