Hike from Briceburg to the Burma Grade to the Gate

It was a little early for the Merced River Canyon wildflower show, but a good time for a good winter hike with a few miles and a climb along the Merced River in Briceburg.

Where: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Merced River Recreation Management Area
Distance: 10.6 miles round trip but you can go longer or shorter
Difficulty: moderate to intense
Elevation Range: 1,139′ – 2,836′
Elevation Gain: 1,647′
Date: January 25, 2022
CALTOPO: Hike From Briceburg to the Burma Grade to the Gate
Canine hike? May be

To reach Briceburg, I drove up Highway 140 North about 15 miles from Mariposa to the Briceburg Visitor Center on the Merced River Wild & Scenic. You can’t miss the beautiful old stone building that William M. Brice built in 1926 while building Highway 140 to Yosemite. Originally it was a general store for locals and tourists. Gas pumps were added later, and it also provided accommodation and had a soda fountain over the years. The BLM acquired the property in the 1980s and refurbished the building to near-original condition for use as a visitor center. The Visitor Center is currently closed and is expected to reopen the first weekend in May. For more history on William Brice and the community that bears his name, check out my previous Briceburg blog.

It was 30 degrees as I drove past the visitor center, parking in the parking lot along the Merced River where the restrooms are. I like to park in this area and cross the suspension bridge taking in the view of the river. They do not recommend that trailers over 18 feet and large motorhomes cross the suspension bridge.

I think in many ways this bridge is a work of art, spanning 160 feet, built by the US Forest Service in 1937 and built by 30 Civilian Conservation Corps registrants.

I looked up and down the river from the bridge.

After the bridge, the Burma Grade begins on the right where there is a small parking lot ideal if you wish to follow the Merced River Trail upstream on the historic Yosemite Valley Railroad bed. Or you can follow the Merced River Trail downstream, which is especially pretty in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming.

I headed for the twisty dirt road.

The Burma Road is also known as Briceburg or Bull Creek Road and immediately starts climbing along a steep road which is basically a wide lane with switchbacks that take you up the hill. It is also called the Burma rank. On the way up you have incredible views of the Merced River, Briceburg, the suspension bridge and Highway 140. Besides hikers, high clearance 4 wheelers, motorcycles and mountain bikers also use this route. The road can have sags, slides and deep ruts shutting it down for a few years, but when it’s open I understand you can get to Greeley Hill or Buck Meadows from Briceburg.

I had started a little later than expected and the sun had already risen over the hills as I looked out over Briceburg and Highway 140.

I loved the different ways the hills slanted into each other with the morning sun reflecting different colors.

As the road continued to climb, I observed tracks, seeing coyotes, mountain lions, lizards and a few snake tracks.

I spotted the occasional brush in bloom and looked for poppies in the afternoon, but didn’t spot any. A few friends had hiked this area and encountered a few poppies in bloom, but they were along the river.

I continued on the road, taking a look at the view of the Merced River Canyon.

And views of the switchbacks I had climbed.

After about 3.3 miles the road left its western exposure and curled up the east side of the hill with frosty leaves lining the road. I could look directly at Good Gulch, the location of the Goods Gulch mining claim and 3 other adjacent claims. I wasn’t sure exactly where the gold mine was on the hill, but I picked out stretches of the old road that once led through this area as my eye scanned the hill. This area was home to claims and mining interests that brothers John L. and Carl Vander Karr had in this area. I had written about this family and their mines in a previous blog.

There is a wonderful book written by Carl Vander Karr called If These Hills Could Talk: The Story of a Mariposa Mining Family. This book is available at our local libraries and it is so fantastic that memories and images of mining in this country have been captured by this amazing family.

I continued to the gate, my turn around point at about 4.5 miles.

The 34,000 acre Telegraph Fire had burned all that area I was passing through and today, almost 14 years later, the growth included a dense stand of button pines, a species that has adapted to the fire. Its cones stay closed for many years until a fire breaks them open and then they can re-seed. On older trees, you can see the cones embedded in the trunk as the tree grows.

Many fires have passed through this area and nearby over the past few years, so I thought you might like to look at a map with those fires. If you click on the map image, it will enlarge.

Area fire history map

I turned around at the door and walked back the same way I came in.

On the way down I passed two 4 wheelers going uphill, a jeep and 2 hikers. I usually start a little earlier and usually don’t see anyone. I imagine weekends would be busier. There are lots of wildlife that live in this area, including rattlesnakes, so I pay attention to areas where they might be hiding. I just can’t give you any info on the route to Bagby, but I’ve included a link to a TrailLink write-up on the trail.

The campgrounds are located along the Merced River, but I have no information on whether they are open or have the special guidelines for Merced River Recreation Area Campgrounds during COVID-19 they had last year:

In order to comply with Mariposa County Interim Campground Guidelinesthe following procedures are in place:

        • be ready bringing your own personal hygiene supplies, including soap, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
        • Only one cleaning per campsite (Maximum 8 people).
        • Only registered campers in serviced campgrounds. McCabe Beach is for registered campers only during COVID-19 restrictions. (First come, first served, registration/payment on site only – no prior registration).
        • No group campsites. Site #13 will only allow 8 people.
        • Stay at home if you are sick.

I recommend contacting BLM for the most up-to-date information.

There are three BLM campgrounds developed along the Merced River between Briceburg and Bagby. The campgrounds can be reached by crossing the suspension bridge just past the Briceburg Visitor Center and down river along the unpaved Briceburg River Road (former Yosemite Valley Railroad).

Apartment McCabe – 2.3 miles downstream from Briceburg
willow place – 3.6 miles downstream from Briceburg
Railway flat – 4.5 miles downstream from Briceburg
North Fork Primitive Camp – 2.5 miles downstream from Railroad Flat Campground
Cable Rock Day Use Site – 1.4 miles downstream from Briceburg
Briceburg Day Use/Set up – Highway 140 at Merced River, 12 miles east of Mariposa

Canine hike? Yes

I didn’t bring Sally or Fannie on this hike, but Sally has hiked along the Merced River before. There was no dog water on my route that day, but there are places where you can take your dog to the river for a drink, but be very careful as this river can flow fast and cold. A slide in the river could be disastrous and deadly. Plus, when the weather warms up, rattlesnakes are out. The rules for dogs in this area include the following:

  • Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
  • No dogs allowed at McCabe Flat swimming beach.

Doarama:

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.

Hike From Briceburg to the Burma Grade to the gate (1 way) Doarama

Cards and profile:

CALTOPO has a few free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week: CALTOPO: Hike From Briceburg to the Burma Grade to the Gate

Briceburg to Burma Grade to Gate Topographic Map

Briceburg to Burma Grade to 1 Way Gate Profile

Merced River Recreation Area (BLM)

Hike from Briceburg Downstream on Merced River Trail with Wildflower Profile

Sources:

Johnston, Hank, Yosemite Valley Railroads (Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Association, 1995)

Yosemite Valley RR

The Yosemite Valley Railroad

Yosemite Valley Railroad Tracking

San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railroad Wikipedia

Yosemite National Park brochure from 1920

Yosemite National Park brochure from 1924

Yosemite: The Park and Its Resources (1987) by Linda W. Greene

Mariposa County Bridge Reports

Bricebourg Wikipedia

Ferguson Fire Trail Closures

Bricebourg Visitor Center

Briceburg’s story

Mariposa Gazette California Digital Newspaper Collection

Mariposa Genealogy and Historical Research Home Page

Mariposa Museum and History Center Gallery

HOTEL IN EL PORTAL DESTROYED BY FIRE Memorable places

Yosemite Railroad Hub and Yosemite Conservancy Caboose Restoration

El Portal Administrative Site Historic Resources Survey with Assessments and Recommendations Yosemite National Park

Caifornia State Route 140 and El Portal Road GRIBLENATION

Merced River Recreation Management Area

Merced River TrailLink Trail

Previous blogs in this area:

Hike from Briceburg on the Merced River Trail with wildflowers March 18, 2021

Hike from Briceburg to Burma: Exploring Old Roads and the Goods Gulch Mine March 8, 2021

Hike from Briceburg to Burma: Old Mining and Wildflowers March 2, 2021

Hike from Briceburg to Burma to a high point with views February 22, 2021

Hike from Briceburg to Historic Yosemite Valley Railroad Bed on Merced River Trail December 15, 2020

Hike the Burma Road from Briceburg January 30, 2020

Hike the Burma Road with Wildflower Views April 15, 2019

Exploring wildflowers along the Merced River Trail near Briceburg April 3, 2019

Exploring Wildflowers Along the Moss Creek Trail April 3, 2019

Hike along the Merced Wild and Scenic River with Mom February 21, 2016

Merced River Canyon Hike – Part 1 March 5, 2013