Ride Report: Winter Snow Riding in Rock Creek Canyon
Come Winter time, Rock Creek Rd. is plowed so you can drive up 6 miles past Tom’s Place to the East Fork / Sno-Park area. This plowing is paid for by the fees collected at the Sno-Park. It costs $5/day to park or you can get a season pass for $25. It’s well worth it. Don’t even consider poaching unless you want bad karma and a $94.50 ticket. Beyond the Sno-Park, Rock Creek Rd. is gated shut and it’s open to nordic skiers, snowshoers, and other non-motorized Winter users looking to access backcountry skiing, etc. Rock Creek Lodge remains open with limited hours during the Winter, and often shuttles people to/from the lodge via snowmobile. Note: Snowmobiling is NOT allowed other than in conjunction with the lodge’s operations. Once there’s enough snow, they also groom the road and a small network of nordic trails with fresh corduroy under permit from the Forest Service. They offer great dinners and xc skiing – you should check it out.
So how does all this relate to fat bikes?? In two ways:
First, there is a summer trail that travels along the creek, all the way to Rock Creek Lake. In the Winter, it gets packed by snowshoers and hikers. When conditions are right, it’s one of the best snow singletrack trails you’ll encounter in the whole region. Lots of small bridges, some technical sections, but mostly smooth, flowing goodness with a remote feeling you don’t get here in the busy season (the campgrounds that the trail passes through are bustling all Summer long). Because it’s never groomed, it remains legal to fat bikes all Winter.
Second, there’s a window every Winter (in recent years, a fairly large window) where Rock Creek Rd has enough snow to ski, snowshoe, fat bike, etc – but not enough to groom. During this time frame, when the road is packed via human and snowmobile power, it is legal to fat bike. Just like everywhere else in the Inyo NF, once grooming has commenced for the season, fat biking is explicitly prohibited.
In some parts of the Inyo, there are online grooming reports, like this one – which helps keep track of legal fat biking opportunities. There is no online grooming report for Rock Creek Rd. We recommend riding the snow singletrack, but if you intend to ride on the road, please call Rock Creek Lodge to confirm whether or not grooming has begun for the season. . They are super friendly and well-versed in fat biking. They’ll let you know the grooming status and if conditions are welcoming to fat bikes. There might be times when it is “legal” to ride, but they’d prefer we don’t based on conditions – PLEASE RESPECT their requests. We want to foster a good relationship with the lodge and all user groups – so please ride RESPONSIBLY and LEGALLY.
In addition, if you do ride the road, make sure to extend courtesy to all other user groups, stay to the right, and in snowmobile tracks when possible. Stay in control, and use proper etiquette when passing other users on the descent. Basically, use common sense!!
Ok. So now that all that jazz has been discussed, get up there. It is stellar. Definitely worth the half hour drive from Mammoth and $5.
- Ride Type: Out and Back
- Difficulty: Mostly non-technical (some rock gardens and many bridges keep you on your toes), moderate to heavy exertion based on conditions
- Time of Year: Anytime after it’s snowed and been human-packed for the singletrack portions, and before snow grooming has begun on the Rock Creek Rd. portions
- Terrain/Conditions: Singletrack / Wide road
- Access: From Mammoth, take Highway 395 south approximately 19 miles, and exit at Tom’s Place. Drive up Rock Creek road approximately 6 miles to the Sno-Park at the winter road closure. Park here, put $5 in the envelope at the kiosk, and put the stub on your dashboard.
- Length: 9.8 miles
- Approx. Time: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
- Lowest Elevation: 8,865′
- Highest Elevation: 9,743′
- Total Elevation Gain: 927’′
- Bike Recommendation: Fat Bike only with 10psi or less tire pressure
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
Turn By Turn Directions: – We are not listing directions for this one. We’d prefer you get the GPX file from us so we can discuss the route and current conditions. We are privileged to ride in this area, and need to make sure it’s ridden responsibly and legally.