Top Ten Mountain Bike Meccas (Beyond Moab)

Downieville, California
  |  Gorp.com

The tiny town of Downieville stretches for about five or six blocks and had a population of only 46 in 1990, but tucked among its historic gold-rush-era buildings you'll find two bike shops. This should give you some indication of how important mountain biking has become in this little enclave of northern California.

Downieville lies nestled in a forested canyon at the confluence of the Downie River and the north fork of the Yuba River, at an altitude of about 2,900 feet. The steep hills, rivers, and streams surrounding the town make it an ideal spot for mountain biking, and its location in the middle of the trail-rich Tahoe National Forest doesn't hurt either. The best time for riding is between June and October. Snow will often keep you off the trails at other times of year. What follows are some of our favorite trails, which come highly recommended by local biking enthusiasts.

The Downieville Downhill

Here's an incredible opportunity—to begin at 7,150 feet, amidst Tahoe National Forest's firs, and ride down to town on beautiful forested singletrack, following sparkling streams along the way. The area's most popular option is taking a shuttle from Downieville to Packer Saddle, then riding back along this spectacular route. Riders can, however, make this a loop ride if they're not afraid of climbing. Although the trail has some very technical sections, competent intermediate riders should be able to handle it, if they don't mind walking their bike occasionally.

There are several variations to this trail, all of which run parallel to one another. You may begin with either Butcher Ranch Trail, Pauley Creek Trail, or Big Boulder Trail. When you've reached the end of your selected route, you will then take the Second Divide or the Third Divide Trails to the dirt Lavezzola Road. You'll take that road to First Divide Trail, which takes you back to Downieville.

Chimney Rock/Empire Creek Trails

From the trailhead at the junction of Saddleback Road and Cal Ida Road, the trail climbs moderately for one mile, reaching Chimney Rock at an elevation of 6,700 feet. Chimney Rock is a huge volcanic rock, 12 feet in diameter at its base, rising straight up for approximately 25 feet. At this point, with the splendid 360-degree vista, there is no need to try to climb to the top of the rock for a better view.

The trail continues eastward, descending under a lightly forested canopy. It then starts to climb again around Needle Point and Rattlesnake Peak until it reaches the end of the Empire Creek Trail. Make a sharp right and get ready for some steep terrain as you descend the 2.5 miles into lovely Empire Creek Canyon. When you hit a dirt road, Empire Creek Road, make a left. You'll then meet up with Lavezzola Road. Follow that to the First Divide Trail, which will take you back to town.

Downieville, CA

Downieville Chamber of Commerce (530) 289-3507

Sierra County Chamber of Commerce

Downieville Outfitters


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