The Million Dollar Road took us to Stevenson Creek Falls, whose water dropped 1,200 feet as it jumped over rocks to the San Joaquin River. A few wildflowers along the way made us smile.
Where: Sierra National Forest, Southern California Edison
Distance: 12.44 miles (approximately 7 miles round trip to Stevenson Creek Falls)
Elevation range: 1,186′ to 2,387′
Elevation gain: 2,839′
Date: February 14, 2022
CALTOPO: CALTOPO: Hike to Stevenson Creek Falls and Beyond
Canine hike? May be
We started from the North Fork, took route 225, crossed the new bridge over Redinger Lake, then made our way a few miles to Powerhouse 3 and the old Chawanakee School. As I was driving I looked down to see the burnt remains that were destroyed in the 2020 Creek Fire that started on September 4, 2020, near Lake Shaver. This fire burned 379,895 acres, destroyed at least 856 buildings and cost more than $193 million in fire suppression costs.
We drove to where the gate crosses the road, parking at a small switch nearby, making sure we didn’t block traffic, then drove around the gate and up the tarmac road called “The Million Dollar Road”. This road was originally built in 1922 and they say the name refers to the cost per mile it took to build.
Crossing the metal grid bridge over Jose Creek reminds me that if you are hiking with a dog, you will need to carry your dog over this bridge. Read more about hiking with a dog near the end.
There were some pretty reflections in Jose Creek!
A few lupines were blooming along the road but we also noticed quite a few poppies that were still closed in the morning which made us wonder what this area would look like in the afternoon when we got back.
I took a look at the San Joaquin river canyon and wow, not much water flowing there.
And then we saw that. Has anyone been hit by a rockfall at this location or was this a warning to be alert for rockfall? Anyway, it made me look uphill and I felt more comfortable after going through that stretch.
As the road climbed we looked at Powerhouse 3 and Redinger Lake.
When the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project was built, its main purpose was to supply electricity to the city of Los Angeles. California engineer John S. Eastwood was the primary designer of the system, which was originally funded and built by Henry E. Huntington’s Pacific Light and Power Company (PL&P).
Construction of the system’s facilities began in 1911, and the first electricity was transmitted to Los Angeles in 1913. After PL&P was acquired by Southern California Edison (SCE) in 1917, the system was gradually expanded to its present size, the last power plant being brought online. in 1987. Today, these facilities include 27 dams, miles of underground tunnels and 24 generator sets in nine power plants with a total installed capacity of over 1,000 megawatts. Its six main reservoirs have a combined storage capacity of over 560,000 acre feet.
Today, the Big Creek Project generates nearly 4 billion kilowatt hours per year, or about 90% of SCE’s total hydroelectric power, or about 20% of SCE’s total generating capacity. Big Creek accounts for 12% of all hydroelectric power produced in California. The Big Creek Reservoirs also provide irrigation and flood control benefits for the Central Valley and are popular recreation areas. There are, however, downsides. The migration of fish and animals was disrupted and historic sites and traditional Native American lands were flooded.
You can’t see Stevenson Creek Falls until you round the last bend in the road, but if the flow is really heavy, you can hear it before you reach that point. We saw it sink so hard that the road was closed at the bridge and the spray hit us when we rounded that bend…but not today.
Stevenson Creek is incorporated into a hydroelectric project at Shaver Lake and therefore no longer flows with the same regularity as it once did. Before it was regulated, the booming creek created what was perhaps the 3rd best waterfall in California – and even now, with its erratic flow, it is still among the top 10 waterfalls in the state. The falls tumble about 1,200 feet in four main jumps of about 380, 260, 250, and 180 feet respectively, with several smaller slides and waterfalls between each drop. With creek regulation in place, the falls go dry for most of the summer, but during the spring months the creek still swells to a considerable size and creates a monstrous cataract as it thunders down the canyon. of the San Joaquin River – when the Million Dollar Road, used to access the falls, is often closed at the bridge that crosses the falls because falling water may actually fall directly onto the bridge.
Walking along the road, we passed through several “tunnels”. These are called galleries and only open at the end of the road. They provided access to the tunnels along the system during its construction and were used to drain excess water.
I found an interesting article in Compressed Air Magazine dated January 1924 which shows discussions and shares pictures of some of the galleries being built. If you want to read the whole article, here is a Google Books link.
We took a short snack break admiring the falls.
And of course we took some pictures.
We went as far away as possible in order to try and capture as many stunts as possible.
We kept walking down the road
All along the road, on dripping wet rock faces, stonecrops were growing and almost ready to bloom.
We continued on the road another 2.4 miles. If we had continued another 2.6 miles we would have reached Big Creek Dam 6.
We finally felt it was time to turn around and on our way back down the road we made sure to check out those poppies we spotted on the way up.
And we stopped to admire the reflections in Reddinger Lake.
There are many options on how you would like to hike or bike this route. You should also be careful when walking, as vehicles and bicycles can quickly drive around blind spots and take you by surprise.
This hike could potentially be a good hike to do with your dog, if they are the type of dog that stays with you on the road. In addition to having to carry your dog over the steel truss bridges, there are steep drop-offs on this route. You can ask Deb how much fun she had carrying 65-pound Raven across the deck a few years ago. My dog Sally would like to hunt squirrels and I’m afraid Sally will dive down there chasing a creature and get hurt. It is also a paradise for rattlesnakes. There is only one fairly good waterhole in Mill Creek so you will need to pack water for your dog. The hike is completely paved and it can be hard on a dog’s paw pads if they are not toughened up for this type of use. This sidewalk can also be very hot in the summer.
What is a Doarama? This is a video playback of the GPS track superimposed on an interactive 3-dimensional map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt or rotate it and look at it from different angles. With the bunny and turtle buttons you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.
Cards and profile:
CALTOPO has a few free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week: CALTOPO: Hike to Stevenson Creek Falls and Beyond
Previous blogs in the region:
Roaring Stevenson Creek Falls Hike May 29, 2019
Hike from Lake Redinger along the north side of the San Joaquin River across from Stevenson Falls February 21, 2018
Hike to Stevenson Fall through recent road washouts February 13, 2017
Stevenson Falls Hike February 25, 2015
Stevenson Falls hike February 25, 2014
Stevenson Falls hike February 27, 2013