Mountain Biking the Downieville Downhill for Non-Expert Riders

The Downieville Downhill is one of the best known mountain bike trails in the US, and it’s for good reason. The trail is unique, challenging, and a blast to ride. The network of trails around Downieville is growing, thanks to the hard work of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, but the classic route is 15 miles with nearly 6,800 feet of descent.

Downieville Downhill for Non-Expert Riders // tahoefabulous.com

As a mountain biker in California, I’d been hearing about the Downieville Downhill for years, and really wanted to ride it. Before I rode it for the first time in 2014, I wondered if I could handle riding it, since I’d heard about how rough, technical and exposed it could be. If you look around the internet, you’ll find dozens of videos of people riding the trail, which do give a good overview of the trail. However, the vast majority of the people doing the POV videos are guys who are advanced to pro-level riders, which isn’t super helpful for determining difficulty if you’re less skilled.

So, how good of a rider do you have to be to ride the Downieville Downhill? I think that anyone with intermediate mountain bike skills can have fun on the trail, but if you’re a less than advanced rider, be prepared to walk some sections. The Downieville Downhill is mostly downhill, with less than 500 feet of climbing. Despite this, the ride is physically exhausting due to the technical and unrelenting nature of the trail. You’ll want to be in good cardio shape, take breaks as needed, and be sure to drink lots of water and eat plenty of calories. The first time I did the trail, I bonked and had a complete meltdown, so stay on top of your nutrition. The first time I rode the Downieville Downhill, 

As far as gear goes, you’ll need a full suspension bike to ride this trail. I’ve ridden it on both my 26 inch, 150 mm travel GT Sanction and my 115 mm travel Transition Smuggler, and I had a blast on both. Most people would probably prefer more travel than 115 mm, but with 29 inch wheels and modern geometry, my riding ability is the only thing limiting me on the trail. Though I ride with clipless pedals most of the time, I like flat pedals for the long rocky sections of the trail. Knee pads are also a must, and I usually wear my beefier ones for Downieville. I’d recommend a full face helmet and goggles, though plenty of people do the ride in half lids.

Downieville Trail Details // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Details via Strava
Trail Map via Strava
Trail Map via Strava

The Trail
Basically everyone does the Downieville Downhill as a shuttle. You can self shuttle, but I recommend doing the Yuba Expeditions shuttle. It’s much easier to arrange, a reasonable price ($25), and the proceeds from the shop go towards trail building and maintenance in the area. The shuttle will drop you off at Packer Saddle where you’ll jump right on to the first trail of the Downhill, Sunrise Trail. Sunrise Trail is a newer section that’s a mix of flowy dirt berms, rocks and roots. It can get pretty dusty during long dry stretches, but this is one of the easiest sections of the trail, even when blown out. Trailforks rates it as intermediate, which I think is accurate.

You’ll be on Sunrise Trail for about 1.6 miles and drop about 450 feet in elevation before it turns into Butcher Ranch Trail. Butcher Ranch is the trail you’ll be on the longest – about 6 miles with about 3,100 feet of descent and 1,200 feet of climbing. Butcher Ranch is a legitimate advanced trail, though, like I said before, intermediate riders can handle it with careful line choice and walking some sections. There are extended rock gardens with 6 inch – 1 foot drops, and these long technical sections always have me wishing for an uphill “break” by the end. Butcher Ranch bottoms out at a bridge over Pauley Creek at about mile 7.7. Take a break here, because you’re about to tackle the stoutest climb of the trail. (Though this spot can sometimes be really buggy!) You’ll climb almost 200 feet in under half a mile, which feels even worse than it sounds.

Downieville Downhill // tahoefabulous.com
A rollable drop on Butcher Ranch.

After the climb, you’ll get to a trail intersection with Second Divide climbing up and Third Divide heading down. The Downieville Downhill route has you heading down Third Divide at this point. Trailforks rates this trail as intermediate, but I think it’s definitely on the hard side of intermediate, especially as fatigued as you are at this point of the trail. This segment is about two miles with 1,250 feet of descending and is not nearly as rocky as much of Butcher Ranch. Third Divide has some long, flowy sections but isn’t a “flow trail” in the modern sense as there are more rooty sections and small drops, and not very many bermed turns.

Third Divide spits you out on Lavezzola Road, an easy fire road section you’ll be on for about 1.2 miles. The fire road section is a nice break, so relax for a bit. Lavezzola Road intersects First Divide at a pretty obvious trail head on your right. First Divide is the most rolling section of the Downieville Downhill, as you’ll climb about 1,050 feet and descent 1,460 feet over three miles. However, most of this ascent comes in small rollers that don’t even feel like climbing. There are a few stout climbs though! Trailforks has First Divide graded as an intermediate, which I think is pretty accurate. There’s nothing super technical on this segment, though there are some narrow sections with major exposure (like literally fall off a cliff and die exposure) that make the riding feel more challenging. You’ll also be feeling the cumulative effects of the long ride at this point and fatigue from the rollers. It’s also usually significantly hotter at this point in the ride. This is all to say, don’t underestimate this section! Also, watch out for poison oak if you do stop for a break here.

Downieville Downhill // tahoefabulous.com
A section with some exposure on First Divide.

Just before you hit the 15 mile point, First Divide will drop you back into town on to Main Street of Downieville. While you may be tempted to blow through stop signs to get back to your vehicle, don’t! Apparently, there are often officers waiting to ticket riders who ignore the stop signs.

After this long, difficult, but incredibly fun and rewarding ride, there’s nothing better than jumping in the North Yuba River which has its confluence with the Downie River almost directly across from Yuba Expeditions bike shop. The bike shop usually has beer from the Brewing Lair on draft, so grab one of those while your at it. Cheers with your riding buddies and celebrate the fact that you just conquered one of the best mountain bike trails in California!

Trail Stats
Distance: 15 miles
Elevation Gain: 490 feet
Difficulty: Advanced
Click here for my Strava route.

P.S. If you’re looking for recommendations for places to stay or eat in and around Downieville, check back tomorrow!

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!

Mountain Biking at Mammoth Mountain

I’ve been coming to Mammoth Mountain for lift-serviced mountain biking about once a year since I moved to Tahoe in 2010. Mammoth has diverse terrain, something for every level – beginner to advanced:

Mammoth Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com

“Mammoth Mountain Bike Park offers terrain for every ability level, boasting 3,500 acres and over 80 miles of single track. We offer the best beginner experience in the industry with the Discovery Zone, miles and miles of forested intermediate trail riding and are the leaders in building diverse and creative gravity fed DH and all-mountain expert and pro level trails.” 

mammoth 3

Though it might seem silly to drive the three and a half hours to Mammoth Lakes from Truckee when Northstar at Tahoe is just 20 minutes away, the quality and condition of Mammoth’s trails and terrain blow Northstar out of the water. If I’m paying $50 for a lift ticket, I want amazing, fun and well maintained trails, which Mammoth delivers. The views from some of Mammoth’s trails are among the top in California, too!

mammoth 4

Mammoth Mountain Trail Map from here.

My Favorite Trails at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park

  1. Off The Top: This trail is my #1 everyone must-do trail at Mammoth Mountain. Ride the gondola to the very top of the mountain and prepare for amazing views! The trail itself is graded intermediate, but I think it’s pretty easy – nothing too technical, just exposure with some tight switchbacks (that are easily walked if you’re uncomfortable). This trail has views that are up there with the Tahoe Flume Trail. The steep mountain side covered in bare volcanic pumice means unobstructed views in at least 180 degrees. You can see the Minarets, as well as other stunning Sierra Peaks. If you’re a more advanced rider, take the Kamikaze cut off and bomb down the loose and rocky fire road, home to the Kamikaze Downhill race. Beginners and intermediate riders can follow Off the Top into the trees for a fun cross country trail of mostly smooth dirt, broken up by a few easy rock gardens. Take the fairly easy but still fun Beach Cruiser trail to a fire road, and you’ll quickly be back at the base. Watch for faster riders speeding by on the fire road and stay right!
Off the Top trail (blue section) via Strava
Off the Top trail (blue section) via Strava
  1. Brake Through: This is another fun intermediate trail, though it involves more exertion and climbing that Off the Top and is slightly more technical. To ride brake through, you get off the gondola at McCoy Station at mid-mountain. After exiting the building, turn left and follow the signs to Brake Through. You’ll climb a slight incline for about a half mile, before turning left at the well-marked Brake Through trailhead. The first half mile or so after the turn off has the most technically difficult rock sections of the trail. Brake Through weaves in and out through trees and exposed volcanic sections. The trail itself is mostly smooth dirt, with some loose pumice sections and small rock gardens. Towards the bottom, there are several intersections, but they’re well marked. Keep following Brake Through trail until it runs out (about 3.25 miles from the top) and hop on Downtown. You can continue on Downtown all the way into Mammoth Lakes, where you can catch the shuttle from the Village and head back to the bike park. If you’re looking for more of a challenge you can follow the signs to Shotgun – see more info below.
Brake Through (blue section) via Strava.
Brake Through (blue section) via Strava.
  1. Shotgun: This trail is more of a downhill trail than Off the Top and Brake Through. You’ll definitely want a full suspension bike with some travel to handle some drops and rocky sections. Shotgun is one of the “easier” advanced trails at Mammoth, but it’s definitely not for beginners. The best way to access Shotgun is from the Downtown trail which starts at the Mammoth Mountain base, and can be connected to from a bunch of higher mountain trails. There’s a very obvious sign pointing out the right turn onto Shotgun, and after a short, but butt kicking climb, you’ll have arrived to the fun part of this trail. The trail was fairly chopped up when I rode it, with lots of small drops and loose dirt and rocks, but it was still so much fun! I felt like I could ride it fast and aggressively (for me!) and take on features that I would normally chicken out on, because the trail is so well designed. It’s a short trail (~0.6 miles), and you end up in the parking lot of one of the ski bases that is closed in the summer. Ride downhill on the road coming out of the parking lot, and you’ll end right at the Mammoth Village shuttle stop.
Shotgun trail (blue section) via Strava.
Shotgun trail (blue section) via Strava.

4. White Bark: This trail is the most downhill trail that I typically ride at Mammoth, and it’s definitely challenging. There are steep wood features and decent size drops, but it’s a really short trail – so it’s a good one to get your downhill feet wet. If you feel like it’s over your head, you can get off it and back on to the fire road pretty quickly. It does tend to get pretty beat up, so it becomes more challenging later in the season.

White Bark Map // tahoefabulous.com
White Bark Map (blue section) via Strava.

Whether you are an experienced mountain biker, or want to try it for the first time, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is a great destination.

Mammoth Mountain // tahoefabulous.com

My Gear Picks
Helmet: Definitely something with a full face. I have and love a Bell Super 2R, and the Giro Switchblade is also supposed to be great.

Pads: I always wear knee and elbow pads when I ride at the bike park, and I usually wear a more heavy duty pair of knee pads like the Fox Launch. For elbow pads, I go for something light, like these ones from G-Form .

Other: I like these lightly padded gloves – Giro Xena . For the bright mammoth sun and moon dust, I wear the Smith Squad MTB goggles with lenses on the darker side.

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!

Mountain Biking Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California is an awesome place. It’s got the relaxed vibe of a beach town, with the amenities and cuisine of a bigger city. It’s surrounded by the Santa Cruz mountains, but you don’t even have to get out of town to be immersed in a redwood forest. In addition to all of the great beach activities, the Santa Cruz area is a hot spot for mountain biking. While newer trails like the Flow Trail in Soquel Demonstration State Forest and Emma McCrary Trail in Pogonip, get a lot more publicity (and a lot more riders), there’s an underrated gem of a trail network within easy riding distance of town – Wilder Ranch State Park.

Mountain Biking Wilder Ranch // tahoefabulous.com

Wilder Ranch was one of the original places to mountain bike in the Santa Cruz area. Greyson grew up riding here almost every weekend in the 90s! The network is a little more old-school than something like the Lithia Trails in Ashland, Oregon or the Hammerfest Trails in Parksville, British Columbia. Don’t worry, the trail building isn’t stuck in the 90’s. They’ve built some new switchbacked single track, so there’s less climbing up exposed fire road, while leaving old school favorites like Old Cabin and Zane Gray untouched.

One of my favorite things about Wilder is how many classic coastal California terrains that you can pack in one ride. You can go from coastal bluffs to oak woodlands to wide open ocean views to thick redwood forests and back in under ten miles! Because there are so many trails in this network, it can be hard to string together a route without a guide. So here are a couple of my favorite routes that gets you on the best of what Wilder Ranch has to offer. Note: mile markers are approximate and intended as a general guide based on my rides. I started all of these rides in the parking lot inside the state park. Any of these routes can be done by an intermediate rider, and most could be ridden by a beginner- some sections of Old Cabin and Zane Gray might be tough for a newer rider.

Wilder Ranch Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Wilder Ridge & Zane Gray:
This lollipop route is about 6.5 miles and 850 feet of climbing and will get you good views and one of the most technical singletrack sections in Wilder. From the parking lot, head past the stables on the Wilder Ranch Connector. After a half mile, you’ll make a sharp left onto Wilder Ridge Loop (fire road). This is the trail where you’ll do most of the climbing. The climb is fairly challenging – you gain ~450 feet of elevation in about 1.5 miles, and it’s mostly fire road or double track, plus, the steepest pitch is at the very top. After the steepest part of the climb (~1.9 miles into this route), Zane Gray Cutoff is on the left. The first part of Zane Gray is wide open, bluff riding – be sure to pull off onto the overlook for gorgeous ocean views, but the trail quickly turns into shale-y, challenging riding. There are exposed corners (no banked berms here!) and shark fins ready to catch your pedals. There are even a few small drops. The whole cutoff is under a mile, but you’ll descend ~320 feet in that time. Zane Gray will basically turn into Wilder Ridge Loop (single track), but stay left if you’re unsure. This is a fairly easy, rolling single track section, but watch for erosion ruts and there are some short steep climbs. At about 5.2 miles, the Wilder Ridge Loop single track will merge back with the fire road, and you’re almost back. At 6 miles, don’t miss the sharp right back towards the parking lot (like I did on the above screen shot!), and before you know it, you’ll be back at your car. This route took Greyson and I about an hour of riding time, and we definitely weren’t pushing our speed. It was a great late-winter tune up ride for us. See Strava route here.

Wilder Ranch Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Englesman, Old Cabin, Eucalyptus, Twin Oaks, Zane Gray, Wilder Ridge
For a longer loop that really hits all of the highlights, try this almost 12 mile route with about 1,560 feet of climbing. You’ll start on the Wilder Ranch Connector for a half a mile and then take the left fork up Englesman – NOT the sharp left onto Wilder ridge loop or right onto Englesman Loop, confusing, I know. At 1.4 miles, you’ll want to bend left onto the Englesman Reroute trail. This is really well built single track that’s fun to climb. You’ll get your heart pumping, but I never feel completely burnt out. This section is about 1.1 miles and 263 feet of climbing, but I think it feels easier than that. At 2.5 miles, you’ll on the the Englesman Loop double track/fire road for less than half a mile. Turn right to get on the classic Old Cabin trail. This trail drops you into an incredible redwood grove. You can bomb down switchbacks surrounded by giant old growth, and, if it’s a hot day, it will be much cooler in the little canyon. Now that you’ve gotten that super fun descent, you’ll have to climb back out of the other side of Old Cabin, about 260 feet. Old Cabin dead ends on Eucalyptus at 3.8 miles. Turn right and climb another 200 feet on a mile of exposed fire road. That’s definitely the worst part of this loop. Ride down the fire road until 6.2 miles and turn left onto Rodrigo for more single track. At 6.4 miles, make a sharp right on to Bobcat for 0.2 miles. Bobcat will dead end at Twin Oaks, and turn left. Twin Oaks will end with a little uphill at mile 7.3 and out you on Wilder Ridge Loop. Turn left and keep climbing, about 100 feet to mile 8. Here you’ll make a left on to the techy Zane Gray Cutoff, described in more detail above.  At 8.9 miles, Zane Gray dumps you out on the single track section of Wilder Ridge Loop (stay left). You’ll hit the Wilder Ridge fire road at 10.6 miles, and after that it’s just the sharp right back on to Wilder Ranch Connector at 11.4 miles, and back to your car. We did this in 1:51 riding time, but we took lots of scenery and snack breaks – overall it took 2:24. See my Strava route here.

Wilder Ranch Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Englesman, Wild Boar, Old Cabin, Eucalyptus, Twin Oaks, Wilder Ridge
This route gets you to Old Cabin and some great views, but is shorter and climbs a little less, 9.5 miles and ~1,300 feet of climbing. Similar to above, you’ll start on the Wilder Ranch Connector for a half a mile and then take the left fork up Englesman, and 1.4 miles, you bend left onto the Englesman Reroute trail. At 2.2 miles, turn left onto Wild Boar. At 2.7 miles, Wild Boar turns left and turns into Old Cabin, the redwood grove classic with a fun descent and a punchy climb. Old Cabin will end on Eucalyptus fire road at 3.6 miles. Turn left and keep climbing! You’ll top out on Eucalyptus at 4.8 miles – with Old Cabin you climb almost 450 feet in under two miles. It’s a stout climb. At the top, you’ll find the namesake eucalyptus tree grove with some picnic tables. It’s a great place to stop, catch your breath, and enjoy the view and a snack. Drop down the fire road – which can get pretty rutted, so watch out. At mile 5.9, you’ll go through a four way intersection, and you’ll continue going straight, which will put you on Enchanted Loop.  At 6.1 miles, hit a fire road and turn left. Continue straight at mile 6.3 on to Wilder Ridge Loop fire road for only 0.1 miles, where you’ll take the left fork at mile 6.4 back on to single track – Twin Oaks. This single track spits out on to Wilder Ridge Loop fire road at mile 7.5. The sharp right on to the connecter comes at mile 9, and then back to the parking lot. We did this with a moving time of 1:24 and a leisurely 2:15 overall. See my Strava route here.

A note about Wilder: All of the trails at Wilder Ranch are mixed use, so be sure to yield to hikers and horses. I’ve never had a bad encounter with an equestrian at Wilder, but I try to spend the most time on  trails that tend to see less horse traffic, like Old Cabin, Zane Gray and the single track parts of Wilder Ridge Loop. You’ll need to walk your bike through the historic ranch part of the park, but it’s very well signed and for a pretty short distance.

If you’re looking for a mellow but fun day away from the crowds, check out Wilder Ranch State Park!

Mountain Biking Mills Peak Trail, Graeagle, California

I’ve ridden a lot of awesome trails all over the west – from Santa Barbara to Whistler and everywhere in between. I say that because after all sorts of amazing road trips to incredible riding destinations, Mills Peak Trail, which is less than an hour north of Truckee, is still one of my all time favorites.

Mountain Biking Mills Peak // tahoefabulous.com

Mills Peak Trail is the work of the awesome Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, a nonprofit trail organization that is also behind the world famous Downieville Downhill. The trail is awesome – a great mix of flowy, bermed corners and chunky, challenging rock gardens weaving through old trees with occasional wide views. You can ride it a couple of different ways – climb from the bottom or shuttle from the top.

Mills Peak from the Top
Via Strava
Mills Peak from the Top
Map via Strava

The shuttle route takes you to the very top of Mills Peak. You’ll have great views, and there’s even an old fire lookout at the top.

Mills Peak 2

From there, you’ll have a nine mile descent with 2,800+ feet of elevation loss. The trail is segmented into three sections of about three miles each. The top third is the rockiest and most technical, but I think it’s entirely doable by a strong intermediate rider, as long as you’re paying attention. The short and punchy rocky micro-climbs are more challenging than any of the downhills on this section. There are a couple spots with amazing views of the Gold Lakes Basin and you might even be able to spot a waterfall.

Top of Mills Peak // tahoefabulous.com

The second section is practically brand new. This part was all fire road until January of 2018 when SBTS finished punching through a new singletrack trail that paralleled the old fire road. Greyson and I went up for a trail work day in May to help smooth out and finish up the trail. Since it’s still so new, it’s a little rough and bumpy but I figure that it will be in great shape soon, especially after a winter’s worth of snow and rain fall on it. This section seemed like the steepest to me, and my hands and forearms were beat up after riding it in all its new trail glory. We had to take a couple of breaks to shake out our hands. See bumpy texture below.

Mills Peak Trail Day

The last third is the part of the trail I’m most familiar with, as it’s the part we’ve ridden the most times. The last third is split in half with a road crossing. When your headed downhill, the section before the road crossing is flowy with lots of bermed corners, but has enough rocky sections to keep things interesting. Watch out for the massive sugar pine cones that like to collect in the trail! They’re a worse obstacle than loose rocks. The final ~1.5 miles of the trail has lots of rock gardens and small rock drops – nothing that’s not rollable, but great for practicing techniques. This section isn’t very steep, so while the trail is pretty rocky it remains very rideable.

Mills Peak from the Bottom
Via Strava
Mills Peak Map
Map via Strava

If you’re not lucky enough to have a shuttle (though Yuba Expeditions is supposed to start running paid shuttles in July 2018), you can ride Mills Peak from the bottom. Greyson and I have ridden up the bottom third of Mills Peak Trail quite a few times now, which is just a climb of ~1,100 feet in just over three miles, for a round trip of 6 miles. Climbing the whole thing is doable (for people in better shape than me), and you’d end up climbing around 3,000 feet in 9 miles. Maybe next year I’ll be in good enough shape for that epic day!

Trail Stats:
Location: Graeagle, California
Difficulty: Intermediate
Distance: 9 miles from the top with shuttle
Elevation: ~2,900 feet of descent

Beer, Camping & Biking in Winthrop, Washington

All too soon, our trip through North Cascade National Park was over! We had plans to spend a couple days biking and hanging out in Winthrop, Washington before heading to Reardan for our wedding reception in my home town.

Winthrop is a cute little tourist town just on the east side of the Cascades on Highway 20. The downtown is historic, old west style, and it’s a good base camp for families who want to get outside. Our first stop was the Old Schoolhouse Brewery, which came highly recommended. Like many places we visited on the #toasterroadtrip, this was high season for Winthrop, and though a weekday, the brewery was packed! While the food and beer at Old Schoolhouse was some of the best we had on the trip, the service left something to be desired, especially at the bar. Like I said, it was super busy so I don’t blame them too much and would still recommend them highly. Just be prepared for it to be busy and potentially pretty slow. Here’s the beer (all descriptions by Old Schoolhouse Brewery)

Old Schoolhouse Brewery // tahoefabulous.com

Epiphany Pale Ale (4.25/5): A medium-bodied pale with moderate bitterness, slight caramel malt flavor, and citrusy hop aroma. This is a good beer to start with when building up the courage for the stronger beers.

Ruud Awakening Douple IPA (4/5): Big, bold American IPA with plenty of piney, citrusy, and floral Pacific Northwest hops that completely overwhelm its medium malt body. This is our signature beer, named after Evan Ruud, the first hop-head in our family.

Renegade IPA (4/5)

Imperial IPA (4.5/5): Our Imperial IPA is bigger and more balanced than its little brother, Ruud Awakening IPA, with a stronger malt presence and increased hopping rate. Mild caramel malt character and plenty of Pacific Northwest hops. The Imperial IPA is part of our Brewer’s Reserve Series.

We camped at Pearrygin Lake State Park, just a little ways out of the town of Winthrop. The campground is huge, and I imagine it can get to be quite the party scene during certain weekends, especially in the motorhome heavy section of the park. However, we were near the lake with mainly other tent campers. Our section was quiet and peaceful, and our lake front neighbors never even showed up. We took advantage of this and used the empty site to access the lake. It seeemed a little pricey, especially for a state park campground, but I think we’d just gotten used to the cheap prices of Canadian Provincial campgrounds. I’d definitely camp there again – check out this sunset!

Pearrgyn Lake State Park // tahoefabulous.com

Unfortunately, smoke from some of the many wildfires last July started blowing in, and we decided to cut our stay to only one night. We woke up in the morning, and headed to a bike shop to ask about local rides. The person working was super friendly and showed us a bunch of options, but they were all long with a ton of climbing, which we weren’t into on a hot and smoky day. We ended up just doing a quick spin to stretch out our legs on an easy trail near Sun Mountain Lodge before packing up camp. We jumped in the lake one more time, and then headed east towards Reardan!

Mountain Biking Galbraith & Kulshan Brewing

After an absolutely amazing time in Canada, it was time to head back the US. Luckily, we couldn’t be too sad, because we were heading to one of my favorite towns, Bellingham, to visit some good friends, Rebecca and Corey. We had a few goals – ride Galbraith, see friends, and drink good beer. We managed to do all of them.

On day one in Bellingham, Greyson went and rode Galbraith with Corey while Rebecca and I hung out with their daughter. After Greyson and Corey got back, we headed to Kulshan Brewing Company. When I lived in Bellingham, there was only one brewery – Boundary Bay. Now there are way more and it seems like new ones pop up every few months! I’ve had Kulshan beer a bunch of times while back visiting the PNW, but this was my first time visiting their brewery location. We went for the very generous six-beer sampler, and here’s what I tried (descriptions by Kulshan):

Kulshan Brewing Company // tahoefabulous.com

Party iN the Woods (4/5)

Pilsner (4.25/5): We raise a glass to the men and women who pioneered this classic session beer in 1842. Crisp and refreshing with clean and balanced bitterness from floral, bright and spicy Noble hops, this lager is our tribute to their hard work, precision and good taste. Prost.

Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale (4.25/5): This beer is your best friend, reliable, refreshing, honest and true. Life is gritty, wash it all away with a Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale, and do it again tomorrow. Enjoy Absolutely.
Bastard Kat IPA (3.5/5): Brewed with passion and precision, Bastard Kat is an American Style West Coast IPA with a prolific full hop flavor and aroma predicated upon the citrus notes of the Cascade Hop. Brewed for your next adventure.

Bull of the Woods Double IPA (3.5/5): Walking down endless rows of a green forest, the onslaught of hop aroma seduces one to a time, a place, a dream, a memory, an ideal ideal. How can I put that in a pint and deliver it unto you? Never limiting, always pursuing, climbing to the top. Allow yourself to be enveloped by this blanket of hops, and dream a little dream, of a forest of green.

Sunnyland IPA (5/5): Crisp, Refreshing, Hoppy, Hoppy punch up front, soft middle, and an evaporating finish.

After only a couple of days in Bellingham, we had to be on the road, but I still hadn’t had a chance to ride at Galbraith this trip. We decided to go on a short ride before we headed east.

Galbraith Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com

I’d ridden at Galbraith a few times before, but this time we tackled a different section of the trail network. We parked at the parking area on Samish Way and headed north on Gailbraith Lane. The first real trail we hopped on was Dog Patch, a pretty easy climb. We popped out on a fire road and climbed that for about a third of a mile before getting back on the trail with Three Pigs. We only stayed on Three Pigs for about a half mile before turning right onto Pony Express. Pony Express crosses a fire road, and there we got back on Dog Patch before finishing it out on Last Call.

I’m by no means an expert on Galbraith, but I thought that was a fun short loop – it was under 4 miles with less than 500 feet of climbing. It took us under an hour – and I imagine it would be way shorter if we didn’t have to route check quite so often.

While we were bummed about leaving Bellingham and our friends behind, we were looking forward to our next destination – North Cascades National Park!

My First Time at Whistler Mountain Bike Park

If you haven’t already seen it, the following video is a hilarious must watch before anyone rides at Whistler for the first time.

I felt like my first time at Whistler and the above video had a lot in common, including difficulty finding parking and being completely overwhelmed by how hard everything was. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast, but struggling on the blue trails was a bit of a knock to my pride. Also, Whistler was the only place I rode on the whole trip that I wished for more suspension – 130 front/115 rear was not enough. Obviously, it worked well enough that I had a fun time. But if you have a shorter travel full suspension bike, Whistler is a place that it’s worth upgrading to a longer-travel rental bike for the day.

Mountain Biking Whistler // tahoefabulous.com

There’s a ton of information about Whistler out on the internet, but I think that much of it is geared to advanced+ riders. Here’s what I wanted to know when I was planning my trip:

Can an intermediate rider have fun at Whistler Mountain Bike Park?
Absolutely! There are tons of trails that were super fun for a non-hardcore/non-DH rider. Just be prepared to ride grades lower than what you normally ride. The nice thing about the bike park is that the trails are so well built that even the green/beginner trails were fun to ride as a more experienced biker. I’d recommend Whistler for mtb newbies as well, but would suggest signing up for a lesson, especially if you are going with people who are going to want to go hardcore all day long.

Another important thing to realize (especially if you’re not used to riding at lift-serviced bike parks) is that even though you’re “just” riding downhill, it is a lot of work and hard on your body. Especially your hands. Even if you are in great shape, be sure to take breaks between runs or your hands will turn into handle-bar shaped claws.

Go on a week day if you can! We went on a Friday in July and it was still pretty busy. It was also very hot. Wear enough protective gear. Even if you’re a beginner who plans to ride easy trails, I’d recommend a full-face helmet (Something like the Bell Super 3R is well ventilated and light), a light, long sleeved jersey, elbow pads (I have these these lightweight ones from G-Form), and knee pads. If I’m at the bike park, I usually wear heavy duty knee pads (similar to these ones from Fox Racing), but we only brought our lightweight SixSixOne Recons and they were fine.

Whistler has a ton of amazing trails – way more than you can ride in a day or a weekend or probably even a week. We stuck to the Fitzsimmons Zone and rode mostly blue trails, with a green or two thrown in as well. We struggled enough on the blue trails that we didn’t even try anything higher. Whistler also splits their trails into categories beyond just difficulty – into “Technical” and “Freeride”. Freeride trails are machine cut and include features like jumps, berms, gaps, bridges, etc. Technical trails tend to be more based on natural terrain and are more likely to feature rock gardens, drops, logs, etc. I liked this classification, because I tend to prefer the “natural” features. I’d rather ride a rock garden than a bridge, even if the bridge is technically easier!

I did have a blast on Whistler’s freeride trails – there’s a reason this bike park is considered the best in the world. Here are some of the trails that I enjoyed the most:

  • B-Line upper and lower: (freeride, intermediate) Generally, I’m not a jump trail person (I don’t like jumping), but B-line was so much fun! All the jumps are rollable (no gaps or doubles), but you might find yourself having so much fun that you do catch air.
  • Ho Chi Min & Karate Monkey: (technical, intermediate) These are two trails on the easier end of the intermediate technical scale. From what I can remember, I could ride basically everything on these two.
  • Del Boca Vista: (technical, beginner) This was a fun beginner trail. Even Greyson, who is a pretty advanced rider had a blast on this one.

Those are just a few of the many amazing trails at Whistler Mountain Bike Park. I hope my tips for intermediate riders were helpful, and I encourage everyone who is the tiniest bit interested in mountain biking to consider a visit. Check back for places to stay, beer to drink, and things to do in the Whistler/Squamish area!

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!

Mountain Biking the Sunshine Coast, BC

I left off in Campbell River, BC. We woke up bright at early and headed down the scenic coastal route to the ferry that would take us to the Sunshine Coast (with a quick stop for one more ride in Cumberland).

A huge inspiration for the #toasterroadtrip route was a video made by Bellingham-based mountain bike publication, Freehub Magazine. They made a video that highlighted mountain biking on the Sunshine Coast and the locals that worked hard to turn a depressed logging region into a mountain biking destination. We were sold, and the Sunshine Coast was a major priority destination on our honeymoon.

A quick word of warning – the Sunshine Coast is amazing, and I would highly recommend it as a place to visit. But, I wouldn’t recommend it as a mountain biking destination unless you are an advanced-intermediate rider or above. The trails we rode were really, really difficult (like, we were walking mile+ segments) and we had a hard time finding anything intermediate or below, other than at Sprockids near Gibsons. We did ride some amazing trails, and maybe you’ll have better luck than us, but I wouldn’t recommend the Sunshine Coast to beginner or intermediate riders, unless you do a lot of research. For newer riders, go to Cumberland or Parksville for biking and Sunshine Coast for the scenery.

Mountain Biking Sunshine Coast BC // tahoefabulous.com

The Sunshine Coast is an isolated, but awesome little region, north of Vancouver on the West Coast of British Columbia. It is only accessible by a series of ferries. We started at the north end and drove/ferried south towards the city of Vancouver. I’ll write more about the non-mountain biking parts of the Sunshine Coast in a later post, because there are plenty of non-biking things to do and see.  

Powell River
We continued our non-intentional following of the BC Bike Race route and arrived in Powell River just after the race concluded for the day. The main word I can use to describe biking on the Sunshine Coast (besides gnarly) is isolated. We drove for what seemed like forever on logging roads with no service, not seeing anyone else, before popping out at a surprisingly well maintained parking lot with a detailed trail map sign.

Mountain Biking Powell River // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

We decided to take it a little easier on Day One, and rode from the parking area on Duck Lake Rd. We rode the Mud Lake Trail, a pretty easy 4 mile loop with only about 300 feet of climbing. It was pretty muggy, buggy, and mucky with not a lot of views. If you’re looking for an easier trail in this area, it fits the bill, but there was some bushwacking and it wasn’t the most exciting.

 

@tahoefabulous on the bridge of #alohatrail in #powellriverbc #mountainbiking #toasterroadtrip

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In all of the trail research we’d done, one trail in Powell River kept popping up in the recommendations: Aloha – so we made that our goal for Day Two. We weren’t able to find an open bike shop in Powell River, so our route was cobbled together from internet recommendations and MTB Project tracts.

Mountain Biking Powell River // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map and Elevation Profile via Strava

We parked in the parking area on Alaska Pine Road, just off of Halsam Lake Road. We rode up Alaska Pine Road (with a ~0.5 mi detour when we took the wrong spur) for about 0.9 miles before turning right onto Death Rattle. Don’t ride up Death Rattle. This was a mistake and I pushed up the entire way. Death Rattle dead ends on Green Road, an easy trail that is somewhere between a double track and a fire road. After a mile of easy riding, the trailhead for Aloha & Blackwater trails will be on your right.

Aloha is a super fun, flowy trail with bridges and features that I found very rideable (and I’m a total chicken on wooden features). There’s also a Tiki Bar which is a must stop for photos.

Mountain Biking Powell River // tahoefabulous.com

Aloha and Blackwater cross each other a few times on the descent, and I think we rode a little on both, and you’ll finish out the ride on Blackwater. Despite its black diamond rating, I found it pretty rideable and comparable to Aloha on difficulty. We did find a downed tree, and Greyson was very excited to break out his Silky saw for some freelance trail maintenance.


Aloha was my favorite trail that I rode on the Sunshine Coast, and I’d highly recommend it. I’d actually recommend riding up Aloha and back down, though or find a different route that doesn’t require the ride up Death Rattle.

West Sechelt
West Sechelt was not a very successful day for us. Greyson got in a couple of bad, scary crashes and we ended up walking huge swaths of trail. We stopped by a couple of bike shops to ask about trail recommendations, but getting suggestions was like pulling teeth and we didn’t feel like we ever got a solid lead. A friendly local at the trail head did give us a bunch of suggestions, but his ideas were for a much longer ride than we were interested in that day. We started at the Gowland/Reeves Road parking area and headed up the access road. Next we climbed up Duracell, a rideable trail that gains about 350 feet in a mile before hopping on Shakecutters. Shakecutters dumped us out on an access road which we rode to Beaver Pond. After about ~0.7 miles on Beaver Pond, we turned right onto Baby Beaver.

Mountain Biking West Sechelt // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map and Elevation via Strava

Baby Beaver dead ends at another access road, where we turned right and rode for less than 0.1 mile before hopping on Parbac. We rode Parbac for about 0.3 mi before turning left and getting on VFR, which we’d read good things about. This is where the climbing got impossible for me, and I pushed my bike up about 95% of the 286 foot climb. It was steep. Greyson and I also both got the heebie jeebies on this section of the trail for some unidentified reason. We finally reached the top and got ready to finally descend.

Despite VFR’s blue rating, I found myself walking long sections of the descent. VFR was one of the hardest trails I’ve ever ridden. The trail was narrow and steep, with sections of tight trees, loose rocks, and steep drop offs to the side. Sometimes all three at once. When we were there, the Sunshine Coast was towards the end of an usually long dry spell and the trails were pretty beat up, so I don’t know how much that contributed to the difficulty, but after Greyson’s crashes and my long stretches of walking, we decided to bail on to the access road as soon as we could. Luckily, we were able to easily navigate back to our car.

Sprockids Park/Gibsons
Greyson was still feeling pretty beat up from his crash, and we had to catch our ferry to Vancouver, but we decided to do a little bit of exploring at Sprockids Park. Despite its name, Sprockids is open to everyone. It’s a park made up of a bunch of short mountain bike trails, ranging from easy to advanced, and you can string them together for a longer ride, or just session small sections easily. There’s also a skills development area where you can practice riding wooden features, ramps, and small drops. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but it was a fun stop, especially if you are newer to mountain biking or have kids along.

Next up, places to stay, things to do, and beers to drink on the Sunshine Coast!

BCXC in Campbell River

After a fun couple of days in the Cumberland area, we headed north to Campbell River. Taking the advice of locals, we got off of Hwy 19 and drove up the coast. The drive was gorgeous and worth the slightly longer trip. Considering that it only added about 20 minutes, I would highly recommended the scenic route.

Hazy #mountains from the #beach #vancouverisland #toasterroadtrip

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As I mentioned in my lodging post, we stayed at Elk Falls Provincial Park. This was yet another amazing BC Provincial Park with access to a waterfall. A brand new suspension bridge giving new access to amazing views had just been completed so we made sure to check it out.

We had fun exploring Campbell River, which had a more rustic and ocean-y feel than the other spots we’d visited on the island so far. I especially liked driving out to Dick Murphy Park at the very end of a long spit and getting my feet wet in the ocean. Next time we’ll have to go on a whale watching or kayaking trip out of Campbell River. My parents did a multi day kayaking trip off of Quadra Island, which looked amazing!

#seaweed in the waves. #toasterroadtrip #vancouverisland #britishcolumbia

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Of course, we also went biking while we were in Campbell River. I ride a 2016 Transition Smuggler, a shorter travel 29er that was basically designed for the rooty XC trails of Campbell River. I, on the other hand, am not used to that type of riding, and spent a lot of time getting stuck on short, steep, punchy and rooty climbs. I was also surprised by how narrow lots of the trails are up there! The forests of BC have a lot more biomass that the Sierra and we were frequently fighting our way through overgrown trails. Note: ferns are better than blackberries, but will still scratch you up! There were some frustrating moments along the trail and I didn’t feel like I was riding very well.

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com

I did have fun on the trails we rode in the Pumphouse area of Campbell River, especially on the return trip when I finally loosened up. We rode Water Tower , which is a gradually climbing, wide trail (basically a double track) to the Ridge Trail for about a third of a mile before turning onto Dean Martin. Dean Martin had some really steep climbs – I could have used that twelfth gear. We then took Lower Deliverance until we hit the Forest Service road. I decided that with the struggle riding I’d been doing so far that day that I was ready to turn around. We headed back down Lower Deliverance until we came to Connector which took us to Alligator Rock. I enjoyed Alligator Rock much more than Deliverance, so I’m glad we came back that way. Though it was rockier, it was less exposed. After that we were back on Dean Martin and back the way we came.

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Trail Stats
Location: The Pumphouse, Campbell River, BC
Trails: Water Tower, The Ridge, Dean Martin, Lower Deliverance, Alligator Rock
Mileage: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
See my Strava route here.

Beer, Food, and Lodging on Vancouver Island

I realize I’m jumping around some chronologically, but I wanted to collect my Vancouver Island recommendations in one place.

Beer:
First, and most importantly, the beer.

Vancouver Island Breweries // tahoefabulous.com

White Sails Brewing, Nanaimo, BC
We stopped at White Sail Brewing in Nanaimo on our drive from the ferry to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. The brewery is in an industrial type building, but beachy and full of light on the inside. I enjoyed all of the beers that I tried. Beer descriptions from the breweries, unless obvious. I tried:

Brickyard Beach Red Cream Ale (4.25/5)

Restrained hop bitterness with a balance of light caramel grain and a clean, dry smoothness to finish.

Mount Benson IPA (5/5)
Medium bodied. This beer offers a well balanced clean malty flavour characterized by its distinguished hop bitterness. Delicious aroma of fruit and citrus.

Ridge Ryeder Rye IPA (4/5)
This is a seasonal that’s not always available.

Snake Island Cascadian Dark Ale (3.75/5)
Medium bodied. Full flavoured with hints of chocolate and coffee. A healthy dose of Pacific NW hops to balance the dark malt character. Dark colour profile that drinks like an IPA…. delicious!

Cumberland Brewing Company, Cumberland, BC
Cumberland Brewing Company has a hippie vibe and constantly has lots of high end bikes parked outside. It’s a good fit for the mountain bike focused downtown of Cumberland. We ate there and had a couple of beers. The food was delicious, if a little pricey. I wasn’t super into the the beers they had listed – their beer list leaned towards bitters, wheat beers, sours, etc. The beers we ended up getting were decent, but not on my favorites list. The brewery is definitely worth visiting because the food and atmosphere are great though. I tried Finally IPA (3.75/5) and Tropical Hop ISA (3.75/5.

Beach Fire Brewing, Campbell River, BC
Beach Fire Brewing was my favorite brewery on Vancouver Island. The staff was friendly, the beer was great, and the interior was beautiful. We got there right after it opened on a week day, so it was pretty empty, but it seems like it’s usually a popular place. I am usually an IPA all day person, but at this brewery I noticed the beginning of a trend. I was preferring BC Pale Ales over their IPAs. I tried

Beach Blonde Ale (4.5/5)
Light, refreshing and flavourful. Perfect for a hot day at the beach, or where ever you find yourself soaking up the west coast sun. A clean, light body with a touch of malt sweetness, this balanced brew sports a subtle hop bitterness and flavour. It‘s all yellow polka-dot bikini, without the peroxide.

Ember Red Ale (3.5/5)
A smooth drinking, crimson-coloured Scottish ale. Malt forward with caramel and subtle roasty and chocolate flavours, balanced with mild English hops. It’s perfect for keeping your fire pit glowing.

Hight Tide Pale Ale (5/5)
A hop forward, west coast pale ale with restrained bitterness, but a big hop aroma and flavour. Just as the tides change, hops in this beer may ebb and flow to showcase new and novel varieties. It will always reflect a stoic focus on a new-world hops with rising flavours of citrus, pine and tropical fruits.

Wheelbender Stout (4.25/5)

Gladstone Brewing, Courtenay, BC
We stopped in at Gladstone Brewing to kill time while we waited for our ferry to the Sunshine Coast. We only tried a couple of beers, which were pretty good. The location was really crowded and loud and we were feeling pretty overwhelmed, but would be fun for a rowdy night. I tried

Gladstone IPA (3.5/5)
The Gladstone Straight 6 IPA glints a dark copper, aromas of tropical fruit can be found, but resinous pine is much more prominent. Lightly malted, strong bitterness from West Coast hops is the focus, complimented rather than diffused by bright citrus flavours courtesy of a generous amount of Southern Hemisphere hops. What malt character remains is most apparent after swallowing, where the light sweetness works to hold the bitterness on the tongue.

Gladstone Pilsner (3.5/5)
A bright, clear, golden Lager, the Gladstone Pilsner smells of crisp yeast and lightly spicy hops. Noticeably bitter, the combination of generous hopping and Pilsen malt results in an extremely refreshing brew. A light toasted finish creates a full body that remains dry and does not linger on the tongue.

Lodging
We stayed at three campgrounds and a motel on Vancouver Island. I’d highly recommend the campgrounds we stayed at near Parksville (Hammerfest Trail Network) and Campbell River (trail write up coming soon!). We stayed at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park outside of Parksville and Elk Falls Provincial Park near Campbell River. These parks are quiet, clean, well maintained and CHEAP, especially if you’re used to California State Parks prices.

Camp 8 among the ferns and forest. #toasterroadtrip

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We stayed at a private campground in Cumberland, which was very close to Cumberland Forest, but not the nicest. The campsites were small and close together and it was hard to find a flat place to pitch our tent. There’s not a lot of other camping options around Cumberland, so I’d recommend finding a motel or vacation rental. There’s a mountain bike focused hostel in Cumberland, The Riding Fool, that seems cool, but we didn’t stay there so I can give it a first hand review. Courtenay and Comox are a very reasonable driving distance as well.

Food
We cooked a lot of meals at our camps, but also tried a fair number of restaurants on Vancouver Island. We were more focused on beer and biking than food, but we ate a few places I can recommend. First up, Lefty’s Fresh Food, where I had probably my favorite meal on the island. I had an omelet with smoked salmon, artichokes and gruyere and parmesan cheese. I still think about that omelet. In Cumberland, I loved Rider’s Pizza. I pretty much never say no to pizza, especially after a bike ride. Finally, we hung out at the Broken Spoke in Courtenay for quite awhile. It’s a bike themed coffee shop with delicious and strong coffee, comfy couches, and plenty of magazines to read.

Oh, and Greyson tried his first poutine while we were on Vancouver Island.