Driving the California Passes: Sonora Pass

All I could think was, “…wow… I love this drive.”

I was driving over the Sierra Nevada mountains on California State Route 108. Driving through California mountains is a privilege. The views are utterly astounding and the road is reclusive and wild.

It’s a turbulent road that seems to be on the losing end of a battle against the wilderness that encompasses it. The heavy snows of winter assail the roadway mercilessly. The spectacle of elemental power freezing and thawing, heaving and releasing. The ice moves rocks, dirt and trees around unconcerned with the hard work and organization required to build the road. It’s a wild natural place that doesn’t give into the whims of human order. A place where mother nature still rules with overpowering dominance.

The Sonora Pass tops out at 9,624 ft. (2,933 m.) Tioga pass to the south (State Route 120.) The nice thing about Sonora is the solitude. It is far less visited and it isn’t a National Park so you don’t have to pay to cross.

The best time to take this drive is in spring (May/June.) Do not attempt it in the winter.


-You can not do this all year round. When the snows come these passes become 100% impassable. Check the weather before you go.

-Drive very carefully and consciously. This is no place to rely on speed marker signs. If you are trying to go fast, go up to Interstate 80 through Reno, because this is a steep and tempestuous road.

-Make sure you are self reliant. Have a spare tire, a few tools and spare food. There is no cell phone service for much of the drive and the road has few visitors.

4 Replies to “Driving the California Passes: Sonora Pass”

  1. I drove this road the first time a week ago and enjoyed it very much. The twists and turns and sceneary actually put the fun back in driving again. I apparently enjpyed I am still thinking about it.

  2. Going over the pass is very very hard on your car. It’s much like going up San Francisco hills for 30 mins straight. I overheated in my 10 yr old car, which had never overheated ever before. I recommend a truck (most have heavy duty cooling systems), a newish car, or a torquey hybrid. And then, yes it is beautiful, and much better than the Yosemite passes.

    1. Thanks very much for mentioning this. I was driving a ’94 Ford Bronco. It wasn’t the best, and it went slow as hell at times, but the little guy made it through. The truth is that you need a reliable car to get through that pass. It’s windy and steep as anything in the Sierras.

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