Gateway to California - Highway 50


The earliest roads used to cross the Sierra Nevada were branches of the California Trail.   From 1848 to the early 1850’s the most popular route was across Carson Pass on the Mormon blazed trail that followed the Iron Mountain Ridge, crossing two summits and having only three river fords, unlike the Truckee Route with 27 river crossings.  In 1852, John Calhoun Johnson of Placerville surveyed and cleared a shorter and lower elevation route.   It traveled east to meet the South Fork of the American River.  Johnson’s Cutoff as it was called became one of the many historic wagon roads that led emigrants to the gold fields.   In 1858 the California legislature created the “Board of Wagon Commissioners” charging them with the task of improving the road, but by 1860 the heavy traffic had once again degraded it to the point it could no longer be used by stagecoaches.  Several toll roads were developed and then later purchased by El Dorado County to create what eventually became what is known today as Highway 50.  From animal trails and native footpaths, the Gateway to California emerged.

hwy 50 sign The Pony Express used a portion of the route from April of 1860 to October 1861 when the Union Telegraph           line was completed.

hwy 50 sign California’s first state highway was established in 1895 on the wagon roads that became Highway 50.

hwy 50 sign  Granite markers were added in 1907 to indicate mileage to Placerville.

hwy 50 sign The Lincoln Highway Association was formed to promote a transcontinental highway.  In California it branched   into two routes – what is now Highway 80 to the north and Highway 50 in the south.

hwy 50 sign In 1928 the road became United States Highway 50. 

hwy 50 sign The highway was paved in 1939.

Take a Driving Tour from Placerville to Lake Tahoe

Whatever the season, there is something to see and do along Highway 50.  California was already a state when the road was first surveyed, and evidence of California’s early days as a state can be visited between Placerville and Meyers.  As you drive look for historic buildings, tool stations such as Pacific House, evidence of previous wildfiresand landslides, and early settlements like Riverton and Strawberry.

For a detailed list and map check out the Eldorado National Forest Recreational Opportunity Guide for Highway 50.


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