Escape the crowds on the renowned trails of Downieville, California.
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!
This guidebook rounds up seven of the best rides in the region, but the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship maintains over 800 miles of trail, so these selections just barely scratch the surface! The classic Downieville Downhill helped put the Lost Sierra on the mountain biking map, but in recent years, new additions like Mills Peak near Graeagle have helped expand and diversify the local offerings. And if you’re willing to head just a bit further off the beaten path, you’ll be rewarded on lesser-ridden descents like Lavezzola.
While the shuttle run reigns in the Lost Sierra, the pedal-inclined can still stitch together some epic rides, especially on the Graeagle side. Both Jamison Creek and Mt. Elwell offer superb high mountain riding with challenging singletrack and epic views, and are well-worth the pedal (and push) to the top!
Even after weeks of riding in the Lost Sierra, you’ll undoubtedly still have a long list of trails that you want to explore!