The Main Tuolumne Ditch (or Main Canal) begins life just below the Lyons Reservoir Dam. The ditch is fed by the S. Fork Stanislaus River and stretches all the way to Cedar Ridge where it terminates at a pump station on Old Oak Ranch Rd. From there it feeds the Phoenix Penstock flowing south and the Columbia Ditch flowing west.
The Tuolumne Ditch not only supplies water to communities like Twain Harte, Cedar Ridge and Big Hill, it also provides recreational opportunities for hikers and bikers in the form of an eight-mile long trail. For the sake of this article I will split the trail into two sections; the first going from Lyons Reservoir to Twain Harte at the old Sierra Pines Golf Course and the second section stretching from Sierra Pines to Kewin Mill Rd. in Cedar Ridge.
The first section of the Main Tuolumne Ditch Trail, Twain Harte to Lyons, is the most scenic of the two. It is a five-mile one-way with a 300-foot elevation gain overall. The trail is mostly dirt single track with eight or so wooden flumes ranging from several yards to one mile in length. These flumes have 2 x 12″ planks in place for maintenance workers so you can use these planks to traverse the flumes but if you are the least bit afraid of heights I would recommend you walk around them. The best way to do this hike is to park at the old Sierra Pines Golf Course parking area and head north-east towards Lyons. In this direction the last mile or so before you get to the dam is all flume so again, if you are squeamish with heights do not do this section.
The second section of the Main Tuolumne Ditch Trail, Twain Harte to Cedar Ridge, consist of a three-mile one-way and is excellent for getting in a good jog or leisurely bike ride as most of the trail is considerably wider and smoother than the first section. If you are hiking or jogging, your best bet is to park at the Sierra Pines parking area but for bike riders you are better off parking where the ditch trail crosses over Mt. Elizabeth Rd. This way you bypass a couple of narrow sections requiring you to walk your bike. This section also has a wooden flume but it is rather short and not nearly as tall as the flumes on the first section. An alternative is to park at the Kewin Mill Rd. parking area in Cedar Ridge and head east towards Twain Harte. It all depends on where you are coming from. Keep in mind the trail passes through private property and leashed dogs are required, especially when passing between the yellow gates…watch out for the “enforcer”.
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