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Pino Grande

Scenic Byways or Routes
Pino Grande Mill with log pond in foreground, ca 1910 – Photos courtesy Library of Congress and Calif State Library

ADA Accessibility Notes

Most of the route can be done while in a vehicle. However, depending upon one's disability there will be hiking involved, some over terrain with brush undergrowth or unmarked trails. Hiking, walking may be in excess of 2.5 miles if the road is gated. Know your own physical capabilities before attempting.

If you love exploring and history, you must experience this scenic drive and hike through the Eldorado National Forest. If you don't have a USGS topo map you best stay on the main forest service road, also known as Mosquito Road. However, with a topo in hand, stop by Slate Mountain where you'll see a great deal of the Central Valley from Stockton in the south to north of Sacramento. Continue on for the trip to Deer View, where once stood the legendary Hotel Bret Harte. The hotel is the subject of another Scenic Byway article found on this website entitled Deer View.

However, for today we will be driving, and possibly hiking a bit, to the area known as Pino Grande. Living in the Sierra Foothills is like living in the shadow of California’s history. When most folks think of California during the 19th century they think of the Gold Rush. Most of the people that came here to seek their fortune in gold never did. Yet, there was another 19th century Gold Rush, of sorts. That gold was in the forests of the Sierra's foothills.

The American River Land and Lumber Co. began logging the Georgetown Divide in 1890. Logs were delivered to the American River via a chute and thus floated to a mill in Folsom, CA. As logging progressed further back into the woods, a narrow gauge railroad was built to bring the logs to the chute. The first locomotive arrived in 1892. In 1900, the entire operation changed hands to the El Dorado Lumber Co. and the rough cut mill was relocated to Pino Grande.

After an economic downturn in 1907, which shut down the operation, the company was sold in 1911 and became the CD Danaher Pine Co. Hands changed once again in 1915 to RE Danaher Co. and finally the operations became the Michigan-California Lumber Co. in 1918. By this time the company owned nearly 60,000 acres of timberland and spread miles of railroad lines throughout the forest.

Their large sawmill operation was located at Pino Grande, originally spelled Pinogrande and pronounced a Pie No Grande. Located approximately 18 miles northeast of Placerville, CA the operations lasted until the late 1940s. The mill had the capacity to produce 200,000 board feet of cut lumber every 10 hours, and that was in 1910. From Pino Grande the rough cut lumber was sent to their mill in Camino, CA. To get to that mill the lumber had to traverse a 1,200 foot high canyon, via a cable tramway. The cable way was built in 1901, burned down twice and after the second time in 1949, was never rebuilt.

Today locations like Pino Grande are just a point on a US Forest Service map. The buildings, railroad, and logging camps are distant memories. Yet what was there created fortunes for some and it was mapped and photographed.

Shay locomotives on narrow gauge tracks, would haul the cut trees to the mill. Tracks, trestles, and bridges criss-crossed the area, all in the pursuit of moving the sugar pine and ponderosa forest to the mill. The mill itself sat on the confluence of Ticky Creek and Slab Creek, with Mill Creek located a bit to the east.

Today only remnants of what was once a thriving work camp remain. The old mill burnt down years ago. Workers cabins went as well, as did the store, school, infirmary, warehouses and any other man made objects.

However, you can still find a few tell tale signs that man had been there. The ruler straight lines of some forgotten foundation, an area void of trees yet within a forest. One's imagination is all it takes to see the robust time of this area, to hear the buzz saws cutting, to see the boiler engines' smokestacks billowing, and the aromas of the meals being prepared at the dining hall.

It is also nice to see that nature can reclaim that which she once lost.

Driving Directions

From Placerville travel north on Mosquito Road for about 17.5 miles. Mosquito Road is located off of US Highway 50. If traveling from the east take the Mosquito Rd. exit, if traveling from the west take the Broadway exit in Placerville, turn right go to the next stop sign and turn right on to Mosquito Rd. Stay on Mosquito Rd. for the entire road trip.

Here are some landmarks for you to know you're headed the right way. From the start at US 50 it will be about 5.75 miles to Mosquito Bridge, the oldest in-use suspension bridge in California, and it must be experienced. From the bridge it will be about 1.75 miles to one of the only county road signs you'll see, the Mosquito Cutoff Road sign. Stay to the right at this fork in the road. From there go one more mile to the intersection of Mosquito Rd. and Rock Creek Road. In front of you will be Dyer Lake. Turn right at this intersection. From your turn at Dyer Lake and a bit further up, on the right, will be Trout Lake. From the intersection of Mosquito and Rock Creek roads you will go approximately 7.6 miles to the intersection of Mosquito Road and Sand Mountain Road. Sand Mountain goes to the left and eventually intersects with Wentworth Springs Road to the east of Georgetown. Sand Mountain is paved, Mosquito is not. However, don't turn at the intersection and proceed straight on Mosquito Road. Shortly past this intersection the Forest Service may have the road gated. If that is the case simply park your vehicle off the road, put on your trekking shoes and proceed for another 2.45 miles.

Important reminder - there are NO services (gas, food, water) after leaving Placerville. Be prepared and make sure you have water. Other than no services being available, the road is safe to drive. Pavement ends when you enter the National Forest.You can use the USFS road map of this area, click here.

However, this USGS topo map may be better: click here. This is the USGS Slate Mtn. quadrangle topo for this location and can also be downloaded from the USGS site for free.

Eco-Friendly Notes

The area is within the US Eldorado National Forest. Take only photos and leave only footprints.

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

NOTE: Once in the Eldorado National Forest, the road will be unpaved, and in some instances ungraded, usually due to weather. The Forest Service and El Dorado County do a good job of maintaining the road, but lumber trucks access it and have a tendency to cause rutting. Best to use a 4 wheel drive vehicle, pickup, or a vehicle with good ground clearance. Do not attempt after rain, or during the winter months. If you follow the driving directions noted above you will experience the oldest in use cable suspension bridge in California. The entrance to the National Forest is marked in two ways; a Forest Service sign and the end of road pavement. En route you will be going by Slate Mountain, a spectacular viewpoint at the old remains of the forest service lookout tower, but only accessible on foot at this time. It is not marked on the road so a topo map will be most useful. Just past Slate Mountain lies Deer View. The remains of the majestic Bret Harte Hotel are found at Deer View. Past Deer View you will be on your way to Pino Grande.

Length of Byway or Route

From Placerville to Pino Grande is about 17.5 miles, one way.

Pet Friendly Notes

Can't get more pet friendly than a forest, but keep them safe and on a leash, county and State laws are in affect, even in a national forest.

Nearby Places