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
I spent an amazing four day weekend in June Lake recently, celebrating at a bachelorette party for one of my best friends. We did many super fun things – beer at June Lake Brewing, swimming in June Lake, dancing to Lizzo, barbecuing, etc. A huge highlight was a short but hard hike up to the incredible Fern Lake.
The trail to Fern Lake is only 3.2 miles, but it gains around 1,500 feet of elevation. It’s really steep – apparently the trail builders didn’t believe in switch backs. I think there’s only a couple on the whole trail! There are also a few short sections that are closer to scrambling than hiking. It’s also at altitude, starting above 7,000 feet and topping out around 8,900 feet. The trail is rated as difficult – which I agree with. Everyone in our group struggled at some point, but we took it slow with lots of breaks and we made it to the top.
We parked at the Yost Creek/Fern Lake Trailhead – even on a beautiful Saturday during a busy weekend there was plenty of parking. The trail was easy to find and we headed up Yost Creek Trail, which would eventually fork into Fern Lake Trail. The trail starts climbing immediately through an aspen grove. It was really mosquito-y through this part, but there were also fields of mariposa lilies, which was incredible.
After about half a mile, we were out of the mosquitos and aspens, and the trails started to have incredible views of the surrounding mountains, the green valley below us, and waterfalls off in the distance. At about one mile into the hike, the Yost Creek Trail heads east and crosses Fern Creek – which was raging and basically a waterfall when we were there. The Fern Lake Trail is the right fork and heads steeply up. While the whole route is a steep climb, this next ~0.25 mile section is the steepest, loosest and most technical. It’s also exposed and hot.
Eventually, the trail flattens out for a bit and we got back in the cool shade of the trails. This flat section (less than 0.2 miles) is a nice respite from the mostly relentless climb, but we weren’t totally done climbing yet (despite what the well-meaning but entire wrong trail runner we encountered told us). After another ~0.1 miles of climbing, Fern Lake came into view.
It was totally worth the work to get there! We shared summit beers & snacks and a few of us jumped in the very cold lake before heading back down the trail. The descent was much easier physically than the climb up, but it required a lot of mental energy since it was dusty and rocky. We all slipped a few times, but luckily no one got hurt. Before we knew it, we were back at the car. (Click here for my Strava route for just the downhill. I forgot to turn on my watch for the trip up.) We made a beeline for June Lake Brewing for hard earned Hawaiian food from Ohana’s 395 and delicious IPAs (This summer, I’m loving June Lake Brewing’s Changing of the Guard IPA). This trail is incredible, and I’d highly recommend it to in shape hikers who have experience with steep, sandy climbs.
I recently shared a bunch of Truckee summer outdoor adventures that I love, and I’m back to share more fun things to do! While not all of these activities take place outdoors, they still take advantage of the nice summer weather and beautiful environment of Truckee!
Food & Drink
Beer: It’s no secret that I love beer, and our beer options in Truckee have been getting better and better! My #1 local brewery is still Alibi Ale Works, but the newer Truckee Brewing Company is quickly becoming a favorite. Mellow Fellow is a tap house in downtown Truckee with dozens of beers on tap (they recently had Pliny the Elder!). They’re also the northern California’s tasting room for Modern Times Beer, so they always have those beers on draft as well.
Wine: The best place to buy a bottle of wine is The Pour House on Jibboom Street in downtown Truckee. The owners put a lot of thought and effort into their wine choices and they have a huge selection. They’re always tasting something interesting and they have an excellent cheese selection as well. Though it’s not located on the river, Truckee River Winery is worth stopping by. They not only have good wine, I love hanging out in their outdoor space. Get snacks and a bottle of wine and play some bocce in the sun.
Happy Hour: There are some great happy hour deals in downtown Truckee, and my favorite is at Pianeta, an excellent Italian restaurant. Happy hour is only at the bar and it’s best to get there a little before 5. They have $6 house wine, $5 beers, $7 for certain cocktails and a great price on appetizers. I love the Bruschetta Two Ways and the Mozzarella Fresca. Best Pies has happy hour every day from 2-6 pm. It’s $5 for a big slice of pizza and a beer!
Outdoor Dining: When the weather is nice, I want to eat outside. My favorite restaurant patio is hands down Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar. It’s location on a hill, looking down at the Truckee River and downtown, means it has the best view. The food and drinks are great too, though on the higher end price-wise. For a cheaper option downtown, I like El Toro Bravo. Their patio is covered, so it’s a great option for really sunny days. I like their chile relleno best. Also downtown is Old Town Tap, which has great cocktails, and excellent beer selection and interesting toppings on their wood fired pizza. On the other side of town is Red Truck, which is located in the Truckee Airport. Red Truck is my favorite spot for vegetarian food in Truckee, and they have delicious breakfast bowls too. It’s a lunch counter style place, and you can take your food outside to picnic tables. This is a great spot to bring kids, as there’s a play area, big grassy spot to run around, and you can watch the small planes take off and land.
Coffee: I like coffee just as much as I like beer, and Truckee has some good spots. I work within walking distance of Coffeebar and Dark Horse Coffee Roasters and I’m a frequent visitor to both. At Coffeebar, I like the iced coffee and any of the baked goods and sitting outside on their patio. At Dark Horse, I HIGHLY recommend their cold brew latte with their homemade vanilla syrup. Pacific Crest Coffee Co. has been roasting and selling coffee for awhile, but their coffee shop is fairly new. It’s tiny, so not really a place to hang out for long, but the coffee is delicious and they have a selection of food to go.
Dessert: Self serve frozen yogurt is a great way to cap off a long hike or hot bike ride, and Summit Swirl has great options. It’s also open til 10 pm, which is late by Truckee standards. If you’re hanging out on Donner Lake, walk over to the Little Truckee Ice Creamery and have some of Truckee’s only locally made ice cream. I love the Truckee Trails flavor, which is sweet cream and pinenut brittle!
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.