I did my first ride on the Royal Gorge trails on Donner Summit in Truckee. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to ride these trails – they’re so close to home! I rode the Royal Gorge Rim Trail and up Rowton Peak. The views are incredible and the wildflowers are still going off. If you’re looking for a fun climb with payoff views and a fun downhill, check out Royal Gorge.
Last weekend, Greyson and I headed north into the Lost Sierra to ride one of my all time favorite trails, the Downieville Downhill. It just seems to get more fun every time I ride it, and this time was no exception – even though the temps were in the high 90s! Riding such a long trail, far from services, and in the heat requires more preparation than a typical ride. Now that I’ve done the Downieville Downhill a handful of times, I’ve got a packing list down.
Bike & Gear:
I’ve seen people ride the Downieville Downhill on all types of bikes – from modern enduro bikes to old school downhill bikes to full suspension fat bikes to a guy on a single speed hardtail last weekend! However, I think that for maximizing fun, you’ll want a full suspension bike with at least 115 mm of travel. I’ve ridden it multiple times on my 2016 Transition Smuggler, which is a short travel 29er (130/115), and though I would like a little more travel for comfort and confidence, it’s still very doable. Having good flat pedals and real bike shoes has made a huge difference for my comfort levels on some of the Downhill’s trickier sections this year. I’m so happy with my RaceFace Chesters and Five Ten Freerider Pro. The Freerider Pro women’s version isn’t just sized down, it has a women’s specific fit, (which can sometimes be a load of crap) and the narrower heel/wider toe box fits me super well, while the men’s version didn’t.
A hydration pack is a must for this trail (click here for my blog post with hydration packs recommendations), and I like to have one that can fit at least 2 liters of water in addition to all my stuff. This time, because it was so hot, I had ~2 liters of water in my CamelBak Solstice and some Tailwind in the bottle in my frame. I packed a few assorted gels, chews, and bars – I like to have more than I think that I’ll eat just in case. I’ve bonked HARD at Downieville, and I don’t want to repeat that experience. Also in my pack, I bring a tubeless plug kit, 1 or 2 spare tubes (there are quite a few sharp shale sections), multi tool, tire levers, and a pump. Someone in the group should have a first-aid kit as well.
I would highly recommend using a full face helmet, though lots of people don’t. I think a lightweight full face with a removable chin bar, like the Bell Super 3R, is the best of both worlds. The trails of Downieville get dusty pretty much as soon as they melt out, so goggles like the Smith Squad MTB are really nice to have. I also wear elbow pads, knee pads and padded gloves for extra protection.
For clothes, I tend towards more coverage, even when it’s really hot out. I like lightweight long sleeve jerseys, like the Patagonia Nine Trails or the Pearl iZUMi Launch for sun coverage, protection from overgrown trees and bushes, and protection. I’ve recently gotten a couple of pairs of longer baggies that I really like – the Shredly MTB Curvy and Patagonia Dirt Craft, for lightweight protection. Another piece of critical clothing is a very supportive sports bra like the Brooks Juno– the trail is rocky and bumpy!
Downieville is a fun town to hang out in, so we don’t hit the road right away. However, it’s a small town with only a few restaurants and stores, and can be expensive and crowded on a busy weekend. This time, we planned ahead and brought our Yeti Cooler packed with snacks. We pre-made Tailwind Recovery and kept those cold while we were riding and they were perfect to drink right away. We should have packed beers too, but, if you shuttle with Yuba Expeditions, you’ll get a free beer from their shop at the end of your ride!
Before I even got a beer or food though, I rode directly to the confluence of the North Yuba and the Downie in downtown Downieville, stripped down to my chamois & sports bra, and jumped in to the refreshing water. Nothing has ever felt better. I usually pack a swimsuit, but forgot and regretted it – so bring one. After my swim, I changed into comfortable clothes and the Chacos that I’d packed, and I was so glad I didn’t have to change back into sweaty bike clothes or non-breathable shoes. We didn’t see much this trip, but there is often a fair amount of poison oak just off the trail in Downieville as you get closer to town. Since it might be awhile until you get a chance to shower for real, wipes to remove the poison oak residue like these Tecnu ones can be really useful.
The Downieville Downhill is an incredible mountain bike trail and worth a road trip. It’s a classic for a reason, and having the right gear will make it an even better experience. Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!
As much as I love Lake Tahoe, the California coast, Yosemite National Park, etc., they’re often busy with visitors and locals, especially on a nice summer weekend, taking away some of the natural charm. If I’m wanting a less crowded experience, I head north of Truckee on Highway 89 into the “Lost Sierra” of eastern Plumas and Sierra counties.
The Lost Sierra is a gem of a region, dotted with small towns and hundreds of outdoor opportunities. There’s really something for everyone there! Unsurprisingly, my favorite thing about this area is the awesome mountain bike trails – Mt. Hough (Quincy), Mills Peak (Graeagle), and the Downieville Downhill (Downieville) are all in the Lost Sierra. There are lots more great trails in this area, and the Sierra Buttes Trails Stewardship is constantly adding and improving miles of trails.
The Lost Sierra is well known for hiking, and you can get to some incredible destinations on your feet. The hiking the Sierra Buttes trail to the tallest point in the Lakes Basin. There are dozens of other great day hikes in this area – check out this link from Plumas National Forest as a resource. The Pacific Crest Trail goes through the Lost Sierra as well, with Sierra City and Quincy being popular town stops for thru hikers. Day hikes on this section of the PCT will take you to some incredible places and views.
There are quite a few rivers and streams flowing through the Lost Sierra which means there’s great fishing, swimming, rafting and floating. There’s rafting and whitewater kayaking on the Feather River, and it has gentle stretches and tributaries that can be tube floated or canoed. The confluence of the North Yuba River and the Downie River is in downtown Downieville, and it makes basically a perfect swimming hole. Nothing feels better than jumping in after a hot, summer mountain bike ride! For lake recreation, Bucks Lake, southwest of Quincy, and Gold Lake, north of Sierra City are great options. If hot springs are more your style, Sierraville is home to the Sierra Hot Springs, a private, relaxing resort in the Sierra Valley.
The Lost Sierra is also a great place to experience history, art, and culture. Did you know that Downieville was almost the capital of California? Also, it was the most populous city at one point during the gold rush. Located in a building from 1852 in the heart of downtown, the Downieville Museum is small, but worth a visit. There are also a few historic fire lookouts throughout the region. There’s one on top of Mills Peak that you can drive to (via rough road) and one at Calpine that you can reserve and stay at!
The High Sierra Music Festival is an incredible festival that happens in Quincy every year during the first weekend in July. Beyond the music, there is a parade, costume contests, art, comedy, a pool, great food and much more. Much smaller, but just as awesome is the Lost Sierra Hoedown, which takes place in September at the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl. It’s got a focus on community, music, outdoor recreation, and it’s fundraiser for local groups.
Small rural towns aren’t usually known for their food scenes, but there definitely a few great restaurants in the Lost Sierra. The Brewing Lair (Blairsden) is one of my favorite breweries in all of California. They don’t serve food, but they sometimes have a food truck, and you can always bring your own. If we’re doing that, we usually stop at Graeagle Mountain Frostee to grab greasy, comfort food to go. Also in Blairsden is Bread & Butter, which is an excellent stationary food truck with outdoor seating. Quintopia Brewing in Quincy is fairly new, but already has great beer, delicious food, and reasonable prices. Try the chicken tikka masala fries! My favorite place in Downieville is Two Rivers Cafe. It’s a little on the pricy side, but the food is good and the deck seating overlooks the river confluence. Finally, Los Dos Hermanos is a good Mexican restaurant tucked away in Sierraville.
This is just scratching the surface of all of the great things to do and see in the Lost Sierra region. I hope you’ll plan a trip to the Lost Sierra this summer or fall and that you love it as much as I do.
Last weekend, Greyson and I rode the Tyrolean Downhill with 100 of our closest trail runner friends! We had a great time – get out and ride this trail before it gets too sandy.
This trail is accessed via the Tahoe Rim Trail, and it’s requested that mountain bikers only ride the trail on even numbered days.
There’s a newly completed portion of the Donner Lake Rim Trail! Trailforks is calling it two segments – DLRT Teton and DLRT Skislope, which cover about 5.5 miles and around 950 feet of descent (or climbing, depending which direction you ride it). The trail is pretty dusty and riding slow right now, but it has incredible views and I think it will be amazing once it gets some rain!
There’s a new mountain bike trail in Truckee, the Big Chief Trail, and it is awesome! While mountain bike/keyboard warriors may complain on the internet that the Forest Service only builds boring, easy trails, that’s absolutely not true of the Big Chief Trail. Ridden from the top down, the trail descends about 2,175 feet over ~8.5 miles, but it’s a pain to shuttle and involves a lot of driving. If you’re riding up, you can either ride up the Big Chief trail or up the 06 fire road, which I prefer. The Big Chief trailhead is about 3 miles up the 06 past the Sawtooth Trailhead. If you are shuttling from the top, the Upper Big Chief Trailhead is near the intersection of the Fiberboard Freeway and the 500 road. There’s limited parking, but the drive in is all paved.
Big Chief Trail is split into two main sections, the top third (which was just completed this summer) and the bottom two thirds. Big Chief Upper is the most technical part, earning its advanced rating. At this point there are several large features that I couldn’t ride and didn’t have ride arounds, though I was able to walk them fairly easily. (I’ve heard, though, that eventually all the features will have ride arounds.) This section is pretty rocky overall in addition to the several technical features. After about 2.15 miles and ~850 feet of descent, the upper section crosses the 06 fire road and Big Chief Lower begins.
The lower section of Big Chief begins with a tiny climb that opens into expansive views and impressive rock work. The lower segment is easier overall than the upper section, but there are still challenging sections and lots of features like drops, rock rolls, wall rides and more. There’s also a fair amount of climbing on this section, with about 550 feet of climbing overall. Most of the climbing comes in a half mile section at about 1.3 miles into the lower section.
After the climb, the trail flattens out and gets bumpy with rock rolls, drops, wall rides, wooden features, and more. All the features have ride arounds, and this is a good spot to session and practice. After the techy features, it’s mostly a fun, flowy, downhill ride to the bottom. There are great jumps and berms, and the trail is mostly smooth, though there are a few rock gardens and roots to keep you on your toes.
The Big Chief Trail is a fun, challenging trail that I’d recommend for intermediate or better riders. There are definitely advanced features on the Big Chief Upper and lower sections, but the trail is totally doable as an intermediate rider as long as you’re paying attention and prepared to walk or ride around when available. That said, riding just the Big Chief Lower section is less challenging than doing the whole thing, and a great option for an easier ride.
(from the top of Big Chief Upper down)
Mileage: 7.85 miles
Elevation: 2,178 descent, 675 feet of climbing
Difficulty: Advanced Intermediate
Big Chief Trail is the newest trail in the Truckee area, and Greyson and I rode it from the top! Check out the video (not pictured: some gnarly stuff we had to walk) which also includes some of the Sawtooth Trail.
A couple of weeks ago, Greyson and I finally got the chance to ride the Mt. Hough Trail up north of us in Quincy, California! It lived up to the hype – flowy and fast with gorgeous views. The day was hot and it was a brake burner though. Check out my video of some of the highlights.
Summer is an amazing time of year in Truckee, and I want to share some of my favorite things to do. In honor of the solstice and summer OFFICIALLY starting, I thought I’d share the best things to do outside in Truckee.
Go for a hike! (Note: some of the hikes at higher elevations might not be completely melted out due to the heavy snows this winter. Be sure to check conditions before heading out.) My favorite after work hike is to summit Donner Peak, which is about 4 miles round trip and 950 feet of climbing from the parking area. For a longer hike, the 14 mile trek from Sugar Bowl to Squaw via the Pacific Crest Trail is a local favorite, but not heavily trafficked. Lower Sagehen Creek Loop Trail and Elizabethtown Meadows Trail are both flatter options at lower elevation.
Check out Truckee’s awesome mountain bike trails! Truckee has mountain bike trails for all levels and types of riders. For easier rides, I’d recommend the Emigrant Trail segment that goes from Highway 89 to Stampede Reservoir, which is an out and back and can be made as long or short as you like. Sawtooth Loop is a 10 mile, intermediate route that is slightly more cross country style. For a fun but challenging climb, head up towards the Donner Lake Rim Trail from the Wendin Way Access Trail. If you prefer to shuttle, the Donner Lake Rim Trail has a couple of great options, either riding in from the Castle Valley side or from the Glacier Way trailhead in Tahoe Donner. The newly completed Big Chief Trail is a great option for advanced riders. For groups with a variety of skill levels, check out the trails in the Tahoe Donner neighborhood, especially those around the Alder Creek Adventure Center. There’s a wide variety of trails at all levels here. Finally, the Truckee Bike Park is a must do for mountain bikers visiting the area.
Get in the water! Though you might not guess it from my blog name, in some ways I prefer Donner Lake over Lake Tahoe. I love that there are publicly accessible, free docks that are available on a first come, first serve basis – the Donner Lake Public Piers. They tend to fill up fast on summer days, so get there early to claim one! If a regular beach is more your scene, the West End Beach is great for that. It’s $5 for an adult entrance fee (or $50 for a season pass), and, besides a great swimming beach, there are life guards, nice bathrooms, concessions, picnic tables, a play area, grills, boat rentals, and more! Floating the Truckee River is a popular activity, and you can avoid the crowds by choosing a less popular section to float. I recommend the stretch from the Truckee Regional Park to the Glenshire Bridge which is rowdier than the booze cruise section between Tahoe City and Alpine Meadows, but still doable by amateurs. Be sure to check river conditions, it can be too cold, deep and fast moving to be safe early in the summer. I’d also recommend a raft that’s a step up from a cheap innertube!
Get on a rock! I haven’t been climbing a ton lately, but it’s still one of my favorite ways to experience the outdoors. My favorite top roping spot (mainly for the awesome views of Donner Lake) is Green Phantom on Donner Summit. If bouldering is your thing, Donner Memorial State Park has a bunch of fun routes that are super easy to access. If you want a little bit of a hike before you climb, the Grouse Slab boulder area is a fun area with great views.
Go with a group! During the summer, Truckee has a lot of opportunities to hike, bike, run, and learn with locals, visitors, and experts. The Truckee Donner Land Trust runs a free, docent led hiking program in the summer. This is a great chance to get out on incredible TDLT properties, including ones that are not yet open to the public, like Carpenter Valley. Paco’s bike shop has a group road ride on Wednesday nights and a no-drop ladies mountain bike ride on Fridays. For trail running enthusiasts, Donner Party Mountain Runners hosts lots of group events and has an up to date calendar on their website.
Other outdoor stuff! The Truckee River Legacy Trail is a paved trail paralleling the Truckee River that is great for running, dog walking, and biking. For another easy road bike route, I like doing a lap around Donner Lake (though I highly recommend doing it clockwise!) – it’s 7 miles and under 400 feet of climbing. The climb up to the top of Donner Summit up Old Highway 40 is a lung burning challenge. It’s more than 1,000 feet of climbing in about three miles and tops out at over 7,000 feet. Truckee is a great place to do some high elevation trail running – Emigrant Trail and the Boreal to Old 40 section of the PCT are both great options. Disc golf is a great, low key way to spend time outside and Truckee has a few options. Right in town, there’s a course near the entrance of the Truckee River Regional Park and one on the campus of Sierra College. Up on Donner Summit, the Donner Ski Ranch resort has its own course.
This is just scratching the surface of fun outdoor things to do this summer in Truckee. Get outside and enjoy this great place!
With this super long winter we’ve been having, I’ve been having so much fun exploring the trails in the lower elevations surrounding Truckee. Last weekend, Greyson and I checked out some new-to-us trails in the Mount Rose area of Reno, as you might have seen in my video. We rode the Dry Pond Loop counterclockwise, and it was a great intermediate ride, on the easier side of intermediate. It’s about 6.5 miles and a little over 1,000 of climbing, with most of the climbing coming in the first half.
This loop is below Mount Rose in the Galena area, south and west of downtown Reno off of Highway 431. We parked at the Thomas Creek Trailhead parking area (Click here for Google Map directions) and headed up Thomas Creek Trail right from the large parking lot. This trail climbs steadily, but not too steeply along Thomas Creek through aspen groves and into the pines. We saw a ton of hikers with dogs on this section of the trail, but nearly everyone was very friendly. After about 1.5 miles and ~500 feet of climbing, Thomas Creek Trail intersects with the Dry Pond Trail.
Dry Pond Trail continues to climb, and the climb definitely gets steeper at this point, and there are a few very tight and steep switchbacks that I struggled with. Dry Pond trail takes you through a curly leaf mountain mahogany forest, which is really cool. I’d only ever seen bush sized mountain mahogany before. There are also really sweeping views looking down into the Washoe Valley.
After about 1.2 miles and another ~440 feet of climbing, we arrived at the dry pond that gives the trail it’s name. We stopped here to have a snack and admire the awesome view of Mount Rose across the meadow. The Dry Pond Trail starts heading downhill almost immediately after the meadow, and the trail on the south side was pretty different from what we’d just climbed up. While the climb up was mostly dirt with some embedded rocks and roots, the downhill was looser, rockier and more exposed. It’s all very rideable, but I was amazed at the quick change in the terrain.
At about mile 3.8, Dry Pond Trail intersects Whites Creek Trail. We turned left and continued down hill. Whites Creek Trail isn’t as steep as Dry Pond, and it’s back in the pines and aspen groves. The trail isn’t a “flow trail”, but I thought it was fast and flowy, with lots of little rock gardens and objects to pop off of that you can choose to challenge yourself on. It also gets a little sandy in spots, especially towards the bottom, and I imagine it will be even more sandy later in the summer. As we got closer to the end, we started to encounter more bikers, hikers, and dogs, but generally people were really friendly. Whites Creek Trail dead ends at N. Timberline Dr. where we turned left and headed the last half mile back to the car. There’s a tiny bit of a climb back to the parking area, and my legs were dead at this point. It was almost comical how hard the less than 75 feet of climbing felt to me.
I really enjoyed riding the Dry Pond Loop. There were great views, interesting ecosystems, friendly people, and enough challenge to make it entertaining. I think this would be a great trail to take newer riders on.