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.
Greyson and I went up to Graeagle yesterday to ride one of our favorite trails – Mills Peak Trail. A lot of the trail is still buried in snow, but the lower parts are open. We climbed up the bottom third and rode back down. The trail is in great condition and it was a super fun ride. Here’s a video we made of some of what we rode yesterday!
Last month, Greyson and I took our new-ish gravel bikes down to Point Reyes and rode a ~20 mile loop. I had taken my Diamondback Haanjo Trail (full review coming soon) on a few road rides and on one trail ride, but they were all pretty short and I was excited to see how the bike did on a longer route with a mix of road, trail, and gravel riding. I can’t take credit for this route, Greyson did all of the research and put it together. It was challenging (especially the road climb!) but fun, and it had amazing views.
We started from the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore, which is on Sir Frances Drake Blvd, near Chicken Ranch Beach. We turned left onto Sir Frances Drake and headed west, immediately uphill and climbed about 350 feet in about 0.75 miles before heading down again. I’m not a huge fan of riding with cars, and Sir Frances Drake is pretty narrow and highly trafficked on the weekends. That said, cars seemed to expect to see bikers and gave us plenty of space. After about 2.3 miles, we turned left onto Mount Vision Road for another section of climbing. I spent a lot of time on the trainer this winter, so I wasn’t entirely out of bike shape. That said, this climb was really hard, especially as my first long, outdoor ride of the season. The climb is more than 1,200 feet in about 4.5 miles. Part of the road is currently washed out, and passable by bikes but not cars. It was awesome to ride without worrying about vehicles, but we did have to hike a bike through the landslide section.
Mt. Vision Road dead ends at a trail at the top of Mt. Vision (after quite a few false summits!) and there’s an awesome view of the whole point. Greyson and I took a break here to have a snack and rest our legs. The road ends and turns into the Inverness Ridge Trail about 4.5 miles from the Sir Frances Drake turn off. It starts as a fairly wide double track, but quickly gets pretty narrow and on the steep side. While it’s definitely doable by a competent rider on a gravel bike, I think it would be pretty challenging for someone with beginner bike handling skills. However, that’s a pretty small percentage of the Inverness Ridge Trail section, and the rest of it is much more rideable. There’s a mix of single track, double track and fire road, which was really fun on our gravel bikes. This section is multi use, so watch out for hikers and equestrians! The Inverness Ridge Trail section is about 2.7 miles and drops 450 feet with a couple of short climbs sprinkled throughout.
The trail ends at Limantour Road, which we turned left on for a long, fun downhill road ride. This road had a nice wide shoulder for the most part and less traffic than other sections. Limantour Road actually parallels a couple of trails, but, unfortunately, they’re not open to bikes. Limantour Road dead ends at Bear Valley road after about 4.5 miles and ~770 feet of descent. We turned left on Bear Valley Road, which turns into Sir Frances Drake after less than 0.5 miles, to head back towards the Cottages. This section is almost entirely flat, and I was glad to get out of the drops on my bike and stretch out my back. It was a little unnerving to be so close to cars again after being on trails and empty, wide roads for so long, but again cars were great about giving us space.
We arrived back at the Cottages at almost exactly 19 miles, so I rode around the property until I hit 20! All in all, this was a fun, challenging ride, and I’m excited to try it again when I’m in better shape. Maybe mid-summer? If you’re in the Point Reyes area and looking for a ride with a nice mix of road, gravel, and single track, I highly recommend this loop. Click here to check out my Strava Route.
Location: Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Mileage: 19 miles
Elevation: ~2,300 feet
Coast Miwok & Graton Rancheria Land
While another snowstorm is barreling towards Truckee (urgghhh, I’m ready for Spring!), I’m dreaming about mountain biking. While we’re still buried in snow in the higher elevations, the Sierra foothills will be ready for riding soon. Last year, when we had a pretty mild winter, Greyson and I found a couple of fun loops to do less than an hour away at Peavine Mountain in Reno, Nevada.
The first route we did was a lollipop that involved a chunky climb up and a smooth ride down. It was fun, but for my style of riding I think I’d ride it the other way next time. We covered about 7.2 miles and ~880 feet of elevation in a moving time of 1:17.
For this loop, we parked off of Kings Row (which is a residential neighborhood, so be polite if you park here!) and hopped on to Halo Trail and started climbing. We didn’t take the full Halo Trail, but took the left fork on to Curt’s Cut Off at about 3.8 miles. At about 4 miles, Curt’s dead ends into another branch of Halo Trail, turn left, and the climbing is over at that point! At about 4.2 miles, we took the left fork on to Bacon Strip for another short, flat section. Coming from Truckee, I love riding at Peavine because of the wide open views!
At about 4.4 miles, we started on the real downhill section by taking the left fork on to Crispy Bacon. We descended just over 200 feet in almost 1.5 miles – the descent was pretty mellow. Honestly, it was a little on the boring side. I’d climb up it, if I did this route again. The next section of the descent, starting at mile ~5.8 back on Halo Trail, does get a little spicy! This part of the trail is rocky and little exposed, which to me seems a lot more noticeable on the downhill, versus when we were climbing up. This segment is about 1.4 miles and drops ~380 feet. With that, we got back to the car.
On the next loop we did, we took a group with a wide variety of mountain bike experience, from total beginners to experts. Everyone seemed to have a great time! It was easy enough that the beginners could handle everything, but had enough features of interest that the experts weren’t bored. This loop was about 5 miles with just under 1,000 feet of climbing, with a moving time of 48 minutes. This route was much smoother than the previous loop, with very little rocky or technical riding.
This loop started from the East Keystone Trailhead, a paved parking area with lots of parking. We headed up Keystone Trail, a fairly mellow climb. We were looking for a left turn on to Total Recall at about mile 1.7, but we turned too early on to a fire road – don’t make that mistake. We figured it out pretty quickly, hopped back on Keystone, and found the correct left on to Total Recall pretty quickly. At about 2 miles, there’s a fork in the trail, and we went left on to Poedunk Trail. The first mile of Poedunk is the last bit of climbing on this route, rising up about 260 feet.
At about mile 4, Poedunk forks, and we needed to make sure that we got back to the correct parking area. We stayed right and stayed on Poedunk (though you can also take the left fork on to P Drop Trail). When Poedunk ended about 0.1 miles later, we went left on Rancho Connector until it re-crossed P Drop at about 4.4 miles. We turned right on P Drop, which dead ends back on Keystone Canyon, at about mile 4.8. From there, it’s just a short bit back to the car. This was a fun loop, but next time I do it, I’ll just take the left fork onto P Drop, as it’s a simpler route back to the car.
Peavine Mountain is an awesome trail network where you can build routes for all ability and fitness levels. I found it was pretty easy to navigate – many trails have signage, but not all. Having an app like Trailforks to help navigate was nice for that reason. Since Reno is such a quick drive from Truckee-Tahoe, the Peavine trails are a great option when the weather isn’t cooperating up higher. Some of the Peavine trails don’t drain especially well and get think, tire clogging, peanut butter type mud when it’s wet, so be sure to pay attention to the trail conditions. Greyson and I learned the hard way once, and had to turn back after less than a mile!
I’m excited to explore more of what Peavine Mountain has to offer this spring, and I plan to write up some more, longer routes.
This weekend, Greyson and I checked out a couple of awesome, new to us mountain bike trails in the Auburn, California area. We’ve spent a fair amount of time on the Foresthill Divide Loop trail, which is a fairly easy cross country oriented trail, but had yet to ride any other trails in the area. Internet research led us to a loop featuring Culvert and Confluence trails, which looked awesome from the videos we’d seen (like this one by BKXC).
There are a few different ways you can ride these trails, including shuttling or starting at the top, but we decided to get the climb out of the way first. To access this trailhead, which is in the Auburn State Recreation Area, a little north east of the city of Auburn, you can put “Lake Clementine Trail Auburn” into Google Maps and follow the directions – here’s a link. We were there on a beautiful, sunny Sunday and we ended up having to park fairly far up on Old Foresthill Rd. Parking is $10 in the Auburn SRA, but if you have a California State Parks Pass, that covers your parking.
We started by heading up Clementine Trail which is south east of the bathrooms/payment kiosk just across the little bridge. Clementine starts as a wide double track that parallels the American River that narrows down into single track. At about 0.2 miles in, there’s a Y in the trail, with the fork to the right heading up steeply. Don’t take it, stay left! (Greyson and I did – oops.) During the singletrack section, Clementine is pretty mellow, thought there are a few small rocky sections and optional drops and there’s some exposure on the narrow parts. The trail turns back into double track, and you’ll get to ride under the famous Foresthill Bridge, the highest bridge in California. After the bridge, the trail starts climbing steadily upward, gaining ~340 feet in about 1.1 miles.
Clementine Trail peters out on Clementine Road, which we continued climbing for another 540 feet of climbing. After about 1.4 miles on Clementine Road, there’s a gated trailhead to the right. Fuel Break Trail heads uphill on the right. Fuel Break is between a fire road and double track, and it’s the last bit of climbing on this route. The trail is about 0.7 miles and ~140 feet of climbing. It tops out at a gorgeous meadow, which is a perfect spot to stop for a snack, then heads downhill for about 0.1 mile.
Here we broke off from Fuel Break onto Culvert Trail on the left. Culvert is a fun flow trail, that drops through open oak woodlands. The trail is on the easier side of intermediate, with small berms and optional drops and jumps and a few small rock gardens. You’ll ride through a large culvert under Foresthill Road (hence the name), where you should probably take your sunglasses off, if you want to be able to see! Culvert Trail ends at Old Foresthill Rd. after about 1.2 miles at the sign for Mammoth Bar.
Head straight down the paved road, looking right for the Confluence Trail sign, which is at about 0.2 miles after the intersection. The Confluence Trail is definitely the most technical part of this loop but is completely rideable by a confident intermediate rider. There are some rocky sections and narrow parts with significant exposure – but everything is walkable if necessary. Early on, there was a short, slid out section that we needed to get off and walk across. The steep drop off into the American River Canyon is a little nerve wracking, but the incredible river views are the highlight of the route. Confluence is about 1.8 miles and ends back at the trailhead where we started. Including riding from where we were parked and a short, steep detour, this route was about 8.25 miles and 1,300 feet of climbing, which we did in two hours including breaks.
I had a great time on the trails in this area, and I can’t wait to head back for more exploring. This area is pretty popular, not only with mountain bikers, but also with hikers and dog walkers, so be aware of your surroundings and practice good trail etiquette. One of the best things about riding in the Auburn area are the opportunities for awesome post ride beers. This time, we hit up Knee Deep Brewing Co., but Moonraker Brewing is another favorite.
Location: American River Confluence, Auburn, CA
Mileage: ~7.25 miles
Elevation: ~1,100 feet
If you’re looking for winter mountain biking, Hoot Trail is a fun little flow trail just outside of Nevada City, about an hour drive from Truckee or Sacramento. Nevada City is low enough that it stays snow free (most of the time), and it’s a great trail to ride in the winter when it’s too wet or snowy to ride elsewhere. It can get pretty hot and dusty in the summer, and I think November through April is the best time to ride for trail conditions and temperature. The best place to park for the Hoot Trail is at the parking lot by Harmony Ridge Market, 5 miles east of Nevada City on the north side of Highway 20. Don’t park in the market’s lot, but there is parking available on either side.
From the parking, head east on Pioneer Trail, a wide double track. At about 0.7 miles, you’ll make a left onto a fire road and then an almost immediate right onto Hoot Trail. After <0.1 miles of pedaling, you’ll come to a trail marker showing that Hoot trail goes down to the left. Drop in here, and get ready to have fun. Hoot is a true flow trail, there’s not any rocky or rooty sections, but there are jumps, berms, and whoops. None of the jumps are mandatory – the tables are rollable and the doubles have ride arounds. This is a great trail to practice jumping, as a lot of the jumps have clear, visible landings. Plus, if there’s been rain recently, the dirt is as close to hero dirt as we get in the Sierra, so I love getting a little faster and rowdier than normal. The trail is definitely doable by beginners, and intermediate and advanced riders can challenge themselves by riding the optional features. It’s a good trail to take a mixed ability level group on, for sure.
The Hoot Trail itself is only about 1 mile, so you’ll get dumped out on Rock Creek Road at about mile 2. Turn left on the road and start heading uphill. The road climb is never too steep, and is nicely shaded for warm days. At mile ~3.7 take a sharp and steep left onto a trail. This short and steep section is the worst part of the climb, but it flattens out a lot after less than 0.1 miles. You’ll ride this single track for ~0.3 miles, with one more short punchy climb that ends back in the parking area. One lap is ~4 miles and ~450 feet of climbing. Hoot Trail really feels like a lot of down for the amount of climbing, which is one of the things I love about it, and you can lap it pretty easily. See an example Strava route here.
There are several other trails you can access from this parking lot, like Scotts Flat across the street and Dascomb and Zipper further east on Pioneer. I rode Scotts Flat a couple of years ago, and there’s been improvements since then. I’ve never ridden Dascomb or Zipper, but they’re on my list! Another awesome thing about Hoot is that there’s an awesome restaurant/brewery, Ol’ Republic Brewery literally across the street (Check out my Ol’ Republic Taphouse review). I recommend the vegetarian biscuits & gravy, challah bread french toast, Cosmic Fly By IPA, and Dead Canary Lager.
This winter, I’ve been getting more and more into snowshoeing. If you don’t want to by a lift ticket or a season pass, snowshoeing is a great way to get outside and enjoy the winter. There are a bunch of great places to snowboard in and around Truckee, and here are some of my favorites:
1. Donner Summit Train Tunnels
This is not your typical Truckee snowshoe! This route takes you into the abandoned Transcontinental Railroad tunnels. Don’t worry, the tracks have been pulled out so there’s no chance you’ll get hit by a train. The appeal of the tunnels is the natural ice sculptures and graffiti that collects in the tunnels. Click here to read my blog post with more details, and don’t forget your headlamp!
2. Donner Memorial State Park
This state park commemorates the site of the ill-fated Donner Party, who spent the winter of 1846-47 in this area and famously resorted to cannibalism to survive. Park at the Visitor’s Center ($10 parking or use your California State Parks Pass) and explore the east end of Donner Lake. During the summer, this park is packed, but it’s much emptier in the winter. Be sure to check out the giant statue memorial to the men, women, and children of the Donner Party (the base of the sculpture is the height of the ’46-’47 snows!) and head into the recently remodeled museum when you’re done with the hike.
If this visit gets you interested in the story of the Donner Party, read the book The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown. I just finished it, and it’s amazing!
3. Donner Summit Canyon
Donner Summit Canyon is a moderately strenuous hike with beautiful views of Donner Lake, Donner Peak, and Shallenberger Ridge. It doesn’t get a ton of sun, so it’s a great option when snow has melted off of other sunnier trails. Check out my blog post with more details here.
4. Coldstream Canyon
For a mellow, flat snowshoe, I highly recommend Coldstream Canyon. It has more widely spaced trees than a lot of the snowshoe hikes in the area, so it gets great sun on a bluebird day. It’s a perfect hike for a sunny day after some storms, and it’s close to both downtown Truckee and Donner Lake. It can be a pretty popular area on busy weekends, so get there early if you don’t want to have to park too far away. Check out my blog post with more details here.
5. Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail
So there were actually two Donner Party camps, and the eponymous Donners didn’t actually camp at Donner Lake! They set up their shelters a few miles away by Alder Creek, which is now the home of the trail most locals just call “Emigrant”. This is a great place to explore via snowshoes. You can stick to the flatter areas, or climb up the small hills for a view of Prosser Creek Reservoir. To get here, head north on Highway 89 to the Donner Party Picnic Area. The actual parking lot is closed in the winter, but there are plowed spots across the road. Click here to see my Strava route.
A few weeks ago, my friend Erin was in town visiting from Seattle, so Greyson and I took her on a snowshoeing adventure up Donner Summit Canyon.
Donner Summit Canyon was purchased by the Truckee Donner Land Trust in 2010, and it’s now part of Donner Memorial State Park and it’s a great place to snowshoe or cross country ski in the winter and hike or bike in the summer. To access the Donner Summit Canyon Trail, there is a small parking area on the south side of Highway 40, about a third of a mile up from the intersection with South Shore Drive.
This is a great snowshoe that’s pretty safe (but check avalanche conditions before you go) and not overly difficult. It’s not so steep that you’ll be sliding backwards, but there’s enough of an elevation change that you’ll work up a sweat. On our route, we gained ~300 feet in ~2.75 miles. The canyon also doesn’t get a lot of sun in the winter, so it holds snow well. It’s a good option for snowshoeing when the snow has melted off more exposed trails.
We went up on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday, and though we had plenty of tracks to follow, we only saw a couple of other people the whole time we were out. A lot of the trail follows the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road, which was used to ferry supplies up to the transcontinental railroad construction site and was later used by auto traffic until Highway 40 was built in the 1920s (more history here). The canyon has views of Donner Peak, Donner Lake, and Shallenberger Ridge that are different from the usual angle that the more popular lookouts see. One thing that I really enjoy about snowshoeing, especially when the snow is deep, is the ability to go cross country, away from the normal trails and see familiar sights from new vantage points. Here’s a link to my Strava track, if you want to check out this awesome snowshoe!
Like other winter sports, having comfortable, effective snowshoeing gear is critically important for enjoyment. I used to think that I hated snowshoeing, but it turns out that I just didn’t like the snowshoes I was using! I’ve never had my own, and I’ve always borrowed Greyson’s, which are similar to the MSR Evo Trail. This style is a little too wide for me, and I was always walking a little bowlegged, which was uncomfortable. For this trek, I borrowed a longer, narrower pair that let me walk with a gait closer to my natural one, which was much more comfortable, like these Tubbs Women’s Wilderness snowshoes. I enjoyed snowshoeing so much more with this style! When I buy snowshoes, this is the style I’m getting, but I plan to try on a few different pairs to get a feel for what I really want.
I usually work up quite a sweat snowshoeing, so I like to wear lighter, breathable clothes and pack along a windproof layer just in case. I usually do a wool baselayer (like this SmartWool Women’s Hoody and these Stoic merino bottoms), with light, waterproof pants (I got a pair of amazing Arc’teryx Beta pants on super sale a few years ago. They’re pretty pricey at full price, but if you can find them on sale, they’re great!). I top things off with my trusty Marmot Aruna down vest and pack my Patagonia Houdini Jacket, which is packs down to a tiny size but is a great wind barrier. For my feet, I wear my thickest Smartwool socks and either my LL Bean boots or my KEEN Targhee boots – something waterproof and warm.
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!