The Historic Ukiah-Tahoe Highway
The current route of the Ukiah-Tahoe Highway is approximately 222 miles long on mostly 2 lane back road. The highway crosses Mendocino, Lake, Colusa, Sutter, Yuba, Nevada and Placer Counties. Starting at Ukiah at the western end in the Coastal Range, driving through the Sacramento Valley and ending high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Tahoe City. This drive is a great way to see one of the very historic and scenic back roads of California and small town America. So get in your car, RV, motorcycle or collector car and take a ride. The best time of year for this ride is from April until late September. After the snow starts in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, some of the Alternate Routes may not be passable.
The Ukiah-Tahoe Highway crosses 4 major highways, US 101, Interstate 5, US 99 and Interstate 80. So if you don’t want to take the entire trip at one time, it can easily be divided into smaller sections.
History of the Highway:
Prior to November 1920, there was a mostly passable dirt and gravel road connecting Ukiah and Nevada City that went around the south side of Clear Lake, this section of road was not always passable in wet weather. Some sections of this early road were privately owned toll roads.
In November of 1920, a new road was proposed from Ukiah to Tahoe City. This new road would be called the Ukiah-Tahoe Highway. By the mid 1920’s, most of the road was completed except the portion on the north side of Clear Lake. This section was completed in 1932 and shortened the trip by several miles. In the early days, highways had names such as the Lincoln Highway, Yellowstone Trail and the Ukiah-Tahoe Highway. In 1934, this highway became part of the state and federal highway system and was assigned the following numbers starting at the west end. US 101, CA 20, US 40 and CA 89. In the 1960’s, the CA 40 portion of the highway was realigned to the new Interstate 80. One of the Alternate Routes in Nevada and Placer Counties, is the old US 40 Highway, this route was also part of the Lincoln Highway that went from New York City, NY to San Francisco, CA.
Over the years, the route has been realigned in many places. In many places the original road was at the same location as the current highway. At other locations, the original route still exists. Some of the original route no longer exists such as the part that is now under Lake Mendocino.