Hwy 96 in Northern California is one or many ways to get from near the coast to I-5. It's by no means a thoroughfare, but you have to go find it if you're starting off on Hwy 101 or Hwy 299.
- Length: 145 glorious miles, seriously.
- Road Surface: Mixed pavement conditions, mostly excellent a few rough spots, but what public roads doesn't.
- Road Type: Great sweepers and tighter corners (depending upon speed).
- Regular elevation changes.
- Lots of valley/river views.
- Not much "stuff", get food/gas when you can.
How to get there
Starting at Hwy 101 (Eureka, Arcata, McKinleyville, etc), you start by taking Hwy 299 East for a little while (~40 miles) which starts out a bit tame but is a nice mountain hwy in it's own right.
There it is
Hwy 96 starts at Willow Creek, a small town with a gas station. For me, I had no cell coverage (at&t) and the coffee shop I stopped in for a snack only took cash. There are a few shops here, but big it is not. The local kid I chatted with about his bike, had never been on Hwy 96 and how few cars I encountered proved to me that people prefer getting to I-5 some other way.
You start off heading north and almost immediately the road starts to curve around nicely with a little water here and there to keep you company in the form of the Trinity River.
So here's the deal
Hwy 96 is like taking your favorite winding section of road, but then being able to do it for the next 3 hours! NOTE: I don't mean fatiguing as in you'll have a hard time with it, but the road is the perfect balance of surfing/curving roads and places to pull over for pictures/breaks. Not a lot of facilities mind you so get gas when you can at the start Willow Creek and then again in Happy Camp (actual name).
I was in a perceptual state of bliss, requiring a smile-ectomy at the end. Tired since I stated in Eureka, but my land, what a road!
End of the Road
At some point you'll hit I-5 just north of Yreka. Turn left to hit Oregon or for another couple of amazing roads, you can go south to Hwy 3 which goes south or down to Hwy 299 to head back toward the coast. For me, I'd consider spending the night in Redding so I was fresh and ready to go vs doing it all in one day, but that's me.