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Downieville Downhill. Rider: Greg Heil.

5 of the Best MTB Shuttle Runs in the Lost Sierra

The shuttle run reigns supreme in the Lost Sierra—here are 5 of the best.

Mountain Biking Moderate, Severe

Downieville Downhill. Rider: Greg Heil.
Downieville Downhill. Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Marcel Slootheer.


In a state as populous and overrun as California, finding a way to escape from the constant traffic caused by the 40 million residents—both on the highways and on the trails—seems nearly impossible. And yet, there are not-so-hidden gems tucked away in the mountains that still avoid the press of tourist traffic that big-name destinations like Lake Tahoe receive. If you’re in search of hundreds of miles of singletrack with a fraction of the crowds, then set your GPS to Downieville, California.

Downieville reigns as the epicenter of mountain biking in a region known as the Lost Sierra. “The Lost Sierra. . .hasn’t changed much since the 1849 Gold Rush,” writes mountain bike journalist Kurt Gensheimer in Dirt Rag Magazine. While the population and trail crowds continue to explode in the rest of the state, “the Lost Sierra is one of the only places in California where the population today is less than it was in the 1860s,” says Gensheimer.

I can confirm: over the course of a two-week stay in Downieville during the height of the mountain biking season, I was pleasantly surprised by the manageable crowds. I could still find peaceful serenity on many trails, even on the weekend. Sure, most of the campgrounds still fill up on Friday and Saturday nights, but compared to overrun destinations like nearby Lake Tahoe, Bend in Oregon, and almost every single mountain town in Colorado, Downieville felt downright deserted.

Yet the small ghost town still offers most everything a mountain biker could need. Campgrounds are plentiful, and there are two full-service bike shops and shuttle companies in Downieville (shout out to Yuba Expeditions, the local not-for-profit shop and shuttle company that helps fund local trail building as an arm of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship). While restaurants and in-town lodging are few and far between, you can still order a tasty beer and a burger, and purchase essentials ( cough mostly beer cough ) in the local market.

And as for the trails? They’re to die for!

Thanks to a network of well-maintained roads leading to the tops of ridges and mountain peaks, what would be absurdly-steep climbs on the nearby singletrack gaining many thousands of feet of vertical can be bypassed with a vehicle shuttle. The shuttle run reigns supreme in the Lost Sierra! This guidebook rounds up five of the best shuttle runs in the region, and it draws the circle much wider than just the local Downieville rides.

While the classic Downieville Downhill, Big Boulder IMBA Epic, and Pauley Creek Shuttle draw most of the mountain bike traffic, two shuttles further afield are well-worth the drive. Mills Peak near Graeagle helps diversify the local offerings with epic views and big rock features. Finally, if the other shuttle runs in the Lost Sierra are too tough and technical for you, get behind the wheel and drive an hour or so north to Mt. Hough near Quincy for fast, flowy descending.

While this guidebook covers just five rides, the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship maintains over 800 miles of trail, so these selections barely scratch the surface! Even after a week of riding in the Lost Sierra, you’ll undoubtedly still have a long list of trails that you want to explore!

Sources: Dirt Rag Magazine Free Hub Magazine

Routes included

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