Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway
For those who love country drives, there are few so beautiful and remote as Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4, weaving past historic points of interest such as Scossa Brothers Cow Camp (between Silver Creek and Silver Mountain City.) The summer camp was established by four Swiss brothers who came to America in the 1870s. The board and batten buildings were erected by the Isabella Mining Company of London, serving a once a popular stage stop for boom towns built around silver or gold mines.
Today this twisting, winding stretch of Ebbetts Pass between Bear Valley and Markleeville actually shuts down half the year between November and May! The high-country segment of Highway 4 between Lake Alpine and Silver Creek (approx. 25 miles) closes with the first substantial snowfall, and Markleeville's Alpine County Museum is shuttered for the winter. Snowmobilers and skiers are jazzed as Bear Valley Ski Resort comes to life, while non-skiers just have to wait till next summer for the road to open. If go in July, you may witness the exciting 129-mile Alpine ”Death Ride” (deathride.com) in which bicyclists face 15,000 feet of climbing through five mountain passes.
What began as a trail that American Indians most likely used for trade and a hunting access route, and was later utilized by fur trappers. By the early to mid 1800's pioneers and miners crossed over the pass. With the discovery of silver and the demand for more supplies to be delivered to the region, so came improvements to the road. Today, the highway itself is managed and maintained by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). The road twists you further into the mountains narrowing with no centerline near Lake Alpine as it separates both the Carson-Iceberg and Mokelumne Wildernesses, luring the traveler farther away from society. The journey takes one both physically and psychologically closer to wildness. Beyond the crest of Ebbetts Pass, the descent winds through a rugged volcanic landscape overlooking the canyons below. This asphalt ribbon transitions back to a distinct, 2-lane highway with a centerline when you reach the floor of Silver Creek, just east of Silver Creek Campground. This portion of the byway is steep, narrow, and windy, and is not suitable for semi trucks, buses, and most Recreational Vehicles. It is best left for smaller vehicle travel.