Coulterville Toll Road CA

The Coulterville & Yosemite Turnpike Company was formed in 1859 to build a tolled wagon road from the area of Coulterville east to Crane Flat. Even though the stagewagons could reach the northern rim of the Yosemite Valley, the final descent had to be on foot. Exclusive Franchise Toll Road rights were granted with the Yosemite Grant by park commissioners.

In 1870, a survey of the road to Yosemite was completed which rediscovered the Merced Grove (said to be first discovered by Americans in 1833 by an scouting expedition led by noted mountainman and scout Joseph Walker). In 1874, the Big Oak Flat Road was under constructed by the rival Chinese Camp & Yosemite Turnpike Company. The Coulterville Road was completed in June 1874, just a month before Big Oak Flat Road was completed. To "win" the race, the Coulterville crew carved a road three time steeper than the steepest mountain road permitted today. Fifty carraiges passed over the Coulterville road on June 18th to great fanfare. The Chinese Camp & Yosemite Turnpike Company successfully petitioned the State Legislature to overrule the Yosemite Grant allowing their Toll Road Franchise on Big Oak Flat Road to stand.

Automobile trafic to Yosemite Valley was authorized in 1914. By 1915, Tuolumne County purchased the 30 mile Big Oak Flat Road to remove the tolls and subsequently turned over the portion of the road east to the Yosemite National Park border to the California Division of Highways. Through this means, Big Oak Flat Road became an extension of Legislative Route Number 40. In the following year, Legislative Route 18 was extended east from Mariposa through the Merced River Canyon to El Portal and offered another way into the Yosemite Valley using a gentler grade. In the mid- to late-1930s, Big Oak Flat was realigned to have a gentler slope into Yosemite Valley. It utlilized three tunnels and multiple bridges to achieve this result.

With two such routes into Yosemite, the Coulterville Toll Road was doomed. It was converted into Forest Road use by Stanislaus National Forest. In 1956, a 14.7 mile section of Old Coulterville Road was improved to make travel easier for vehicles between Bower's Cave and Yosemite Valley. Several sections of the Old Coulterville Road have been closed (landslides in the 1980s and through Merced Grove of Sequoias) resulting in some re-routing of the road. While much of Old Coulterville Road is maintained enough for high clearance vehicles to pass, it can no longer be driven fully as it operated in 1874.

Much of the above information on the Coulterville Toll Road was drawn from the Gribblenation article on the Old Coulterville Road.

Mariposa County
Elevation: approximately 2,400 ft. at its western terminus, reaching a height of 5,502 feet at Hazel Green and then approximately 4,800 ft. at its current eastern terminus on Big Oak Flat Road.

Date visited: May 1, 2020

[Picture of Coulterville Toll Road Plaque]

Greeley Hill Road to Smith Station Road

To reach the Old Coulterville Toll Road, we drove through the heart of Coulterville on Main Street (Greeley Hill Road, County Road J132). A short time later, Greeley Hill Rd. climbs up to higher country.

[Picture of View from Greeley Hill Rd 1]

[Picture of View from Greeley Hill Rd 2]

[Picture of View from Greeley Hill Rd 3]

Greeley Hill Road beyond Smith Station Road

County Route J132 designation leaves Greeley Road and continues on Smith Station Road while Greeley Road continues on the right side of the fork. The pavement remained in relatively good shape on Greeley Hill until it winded its way up and down on the northern slope of a small peak. The intersection with Buck Meadows Road changed the name of the road we traveled to Briceburg Road. Shortly after, we crossed a bridge over the North Fork of the Merced River.

[Picture of Crossing North Fork Merced River 1]

[Picture of Crossing North Fork Merced River 2]

Briceburg Road to Yosemite Road Fork

The Coulterville Toll Road landmark is located near Bower Cave, marking the start of the toll road. The paved portion of Briceburg Road would continue for a short time, ending in approximately 1,000 feet at a Y-insection. The road on the left would eventually lead one to Foresta and Big Oak Flat Road as it descends into Yosemite Valley. The road on the left would continue through the mountains until reaching Briceburg (formerly Bear Creek) on CA Hwy 140. We turned around at this point as we were unsure of the route without further study.

[Picture of Coulterville Toll Road landmark]

[Picture of Trees along Coulterville Toll Road]

[Picture of Y intersection]

[Picture of Old Yosemite Road]

Smith Station Road

On the May 1, 2020 trip, we decided to return to Greeley Hill Rd, but then take the turn onto Smith Station Road to reach CA Hwy 120. The initial climb offered some nice scenic pictures.

[Picture of View from Smith Station Rd 1]

[Picture of View from Smith Station Rd 2]

[Picture of View from Smith Station Rd 3]