Ebbetts Pass—a high mountain pass of the Sierra Nevada range in Alpine County—was once used only by the Miwok and Washoe Native Americans of the area to cross the mountains. In 1827, this trail was used by famous trailblazer and cartographer, Jedediah Smith, to leave California at the urging of Mexican officials. It wasn’t until 1850 when John Ebbetts—Captain of the Knickerbocker Exploring Party of New York—crossed this pass with a large train of mules, guiding a party of miners into the then gold-frenzied California.
John Ebbetts saw the trail as a suitable route for the installation of the Transcontinental Railroad; mostly due to his observations of such little snow. This, however, was likely an anomaly, as today the highway is closed from November through May due to excessive snow accumulation transforming into a winter wonderland. In 1853, Ebbetts returned to this area while leading a survey party for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, who were researching possible routes for the Transcontinental Railroad. He recommended this route to his friend—and lead surveyor of the party—George H. Goddard, whom later named the pass Ebbetts Pass in his honor.
The route was eventually determined unsuitable for a train and Ebbetts made plans to return and survey it for the installation of a road instead. However, in 1854, while traveling to Petaluma aboard the steamboat Secretary, John Ebbetts was fatally injured in a boiler explosion. No emigrant train ever used Ebbetts route, but a toll road was established there in 1862 to serve the then booming silver mining region of Silver City. Today, visitors appreciate Ebbetts Pass for its leisurely-paced drive, unique and beautiful scenic vistas, access to the Pacific Crest Trail, and historic relics.
A marker is located along Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway (State Highway 4), on the left when traveling east (18 miles southwest of Markleeville, at post mile 18.5).
High in the Sierra Nevada along the eastern edge of California, Alpine County is sparsely populated. In 1844, John C. Fremont’s expedition, accompanied by Kit Carson, passed through the area and over today’s Carson Pass. The Overland Emigrant Trail passed through this county, and is marked today by yellow painted iron markers and plaques.