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

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!

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

A post shared by Greyson Howard (@greyson_goes_outside) on

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.

Olympic National Park

When we were planning this trip, one of Greyson’s “must dos” was Olympic National Park. Despite growing up in Washington, I’d never been either. Also, Greyson’s parents went to Olympic National Park on their honeymoon and they gave us two nights at the Lake Quinault Lodge as a wedding gift. After four nights of camping, we were excited for the luxury.

Olympic National Park Visitor's Guide // tahoefabulous.com

The Lake Quinalt Lodge is a historic lodge, on the shores of Lake Quinault, just outside of the National Park. The building was beautiful, the rooms were really nice – we had a deck over looking the lake and a fireplace, which we didn’t end up using. There is wifi, but it’s pretty spotty and slow – not really a problem unless you are planning on doing some work.  The property has it’s own beach with boat rentals and there are lawn games you can borrow or just sit on one of the adirondack chairs and watch the sunset.

“There are some places so blissfully disconnected from the modern world that they seem to stand suspended in time. Lake Quinault Lodge is one such place – a grand and rustic lodge built in 1926 that welcomes guests with warmth, hospitality, and a sincere feeling of home-away-from-home comfort. Here you can unwind in front of our majestic fireplace, dine in the historic Roosevelt Dining Room, curl up with a good book by the lake, paddleboard or fish in the afternoon sun, or venture deep into the temperate rainforest and enjoy the cool shade of the giant trees.”

Lake Quinault Lodge had great access to the park, and it was fun to inject a little luxury on the trip. We did eat dinner in the fancy Roosevelt Dining Room one night, but it was super expensive and not worth the prices. On night two, we ended up getting pizza and beer at the convenience store/restaurant across the street, which was a much better price and delicious.

We knew that we wanted to do a long-ish hike while we were in the park (and while we had a place to keep our bikes secure), and we decided on the Hoh River Trail. The trail parallels the Hoh River and is through the rainforest, which we really wanted to see. The trailhead was about an 1.5 hour drive from the Lake Quinault Lodge, but the route was scenic and took us by places we’d hoped to stop anyway.

Olympic National Park // tahoefabulous.com

On our way there, we stopped for some beach access. It was gray and cloudy in the morning, but we could tell the fog was already burning off. We also stopped to gape at trees. They’re no coast redwoods or giant sequoias, but they’re plenty big and strange.

Olympic National Park // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

Olympic National Park // tahoefabulous.com

After stopping in at the Hoh River Visitor’s Center to confirm that the Hoh River Trail was really what we wanted to do, we were off. Lots of visitors use the Hoh River Trail to access the back country – we saw tons of backpackers and even a few groups with alpine climbing gear. It’s also great for a day hike. It’s an out an back that goes 17.5 miles out to Glacier Meadows, so for a day hike, just turn around where ever you want.

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Trail map via Strava

Hoh River Trail // tahoefabulous.com

The trail is fairly flat and not technical, at least for the first five miles that we did. I’ve read that it gets steeper as you get closer to Glacier Meadows. Despite the very sunny day we had, it was cool and shaded along the trail. Since it’s through the rainforest, you don’t always have sweeping views. We did get some gorgeous mountain views in spots where the trail got close enough to the river that we could see up or down canyon.

Hoh River, Olympic National Park // tahoefabulous.com

We’d heard there was a waterfall along the trail, so we made that our unofficial goal. The sun had completely come out by noon and it was an absolutely gorgeous day, though Greyson kept joking that he felt cheated by a sunny day in the rainforest. At some point on our way out, we stopped on the side of the river and had a snack and basked in the sun. About 2. 5 miles after the Visitor’s Center, we arrived at a little bridge and a verdant waterfall – Mineral Creek Falls.

Mineral Creek Falls // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

We decided to keep hiking for awhile longer to see where the trail took us. While still not steep, there were more up and downs for the next 2.5 miles, where we decided to turn around. Sometimes out and backs can seem boring, since you are seeing the same scenery twice, but the Hoh River Trail didn’t feel that way to me. While the hike was relatively flat, my hiking muscles were not in shape. I was feeling it in my legs, especially at about mile 7. The faster I hiked, the better I felt, so I was seriously speed walking by the end.

We decided to break up the drive with a stop at the iconic Ruby Beach. It was a beautiful weekend day, and Ruby Beach was pretty crowded – there was even a culturally appropriative staged wedding photo shoot happening. We walked down to the beach and got a few pictures, but we decided that we’d leave a little earlier the next morning and stop by when it was less crowded (which is when the picture at the top of the post is from).

Ruby Beach // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

Ruby Beach // tahoefabulous.com

After the long hike and drive, a long shower back in our room felt amazing. While I love camping, and I don’t mind getting dirty, I have to say that the luxury of Lake Quinault Lodge felt pretty nice!

Mountain Biking Ashland, Oregon

One of the first mountain biking destinations we decided on was Ashland, Oregon. We’d heard that it has an amazing trail network, good beer and food, nearby camping, fun culture, and was a quick ~6.5 hour drive up I5 from our wedding location in Point Reyes.

Mountain Biking Ashland Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

We’d planned on camping at a free USFS campground on Mount Ashland, and, while the campground was open the access road was not. We had way too much stuff to make the hike into the campground, so we headed towards other campgrounds in town. We ended up camping at Emigrant Lake County Park, which wasn’t the best campsite on the trip, but definitely wasn’t the worst. For $20 for a tent site, it was fine. Plus, the bathrooms were really clean and it stayed quiet on the weeknights we were there. It was in the oak woodlands and pretty hot. We never ended up swimming in the lake, but there is water access. We also got this great sunset view.

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Ashland’s great access to the outdoors, a huge Shakespeare festival, and a university make it into a really cool town. We didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked exploring the city, but we’ll definitely be back.

Mountain Biking
We woke up eager to ride in Ashland, so after delicious bagels at Little Shop of Bagels, we headed to Ashland Mountain Adventures, excited to catch the shuttle. We arrived and the store was closed. That’s when we discovered that the upper part of the trail network was closed to riding, and, therefore, the shuttle wasn’t running. Oh, well, we decided. We’ll just pedal up – Greyson told me that the trail we were most excited about riding, Jabberwocky, was only ~500 feet of climbing.

Caterpillar/Lizzard/Jabberwocky // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Stats via Strava

As you can see, this was not true. We had to climb up and up and up and up a hot, exposed road, then a hot exposed fire road before we got to the trailhead we were looking for. It was really, really hard and we regretted not taking up the shuttle offer of the local we met at the bottom parking area. On the bright side, none of the climbs for the whole rest of the trip seemed as bad in comparison.

Caterpillar/Lizzard/Jabberwocky // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

We ended up riding Caterpillar to Lizard to our ultimate goal, Jabberwocky. The trails were all definitely well built, flow trails. Jabberwocky is the newest trail in the network, and has machine bermed corners, table top jumps and not much in the way of rocks or roots. It had a few super steep super tight turns that were above my pay grade, especially early on since I didn’t yet trust the dirt to hold me. It’s got a couple of small, easy rock gardens and rollable drops. I had the most fun on the Lizard trail segment. It was also a flow trail, but nothing that sketched me out as much as the steep corners on Jabberwocky, so I could just relax and ride.

Caterpillar/Lizzard/Jabberwocky // tahoefabulous.com
Elevation Profile via Strava

We’d originally planned to spend three days riding in Ashland, but since much of the mountain biking was inaccessible, we decided to shorten our stay and do an extra day on the Oregon Coast. We wanted to do a quick ride and get on the road for day two, so we drove up to the highest parking area and cut off almost 1,000 feet of climbing.

Caterpillar/Lizzard/Jabberwocky // tahoefabulous.com
Trail stats via Strava

This time, we rode Lizard again (which confirmed it as my favorite trail we rode in Ashland) and lower Caterpillar. Lower Caterpillar was still fun and flowy, but much easier and a little less “built” than Jabberwocky or Lizard.

Trail Stats
Trails of Note: Jabberwocky, Lizard, Caterpillar
Location: Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced

Gear Used
Bike: 2016 Transition Smuggler
Helmet: Bell Super 2R
Hydration Pack: Camelbak Solstice
Shoes: Five Ten Kestrel Bike Shoe
Kneepads: SixSixOne Recon

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!

Leavenworth Washington and Mountain Biking Freund Canyon

After Oakridge, Oregon and Bellingham, Washington, the next stop on our awesome OR/WA Mountain Bike Road Trip was Leavenworth, Washington. Leavenworth is an adorable “Bavarian” mountain town in the Alps-like Washington Cascades. Leavenworth is on the east side of Stevens Pass (both the ski resort and the physical feature) on Highway 2. I drove Highway 2 across the state during college when I was traveling between my hometown of Reardan and Bellingham, so I’ve been through Leavenworth lots of times, and I’ve stayed there with friends and family several times.

Photo from here.
Photo from here.

While the Bavarian theme can be a little cheesy, Leavenworth is an amazing town. In the Leavenworth area, there is great camping (I’ve stayed at Lake Wenatchee State Park), epic backpacking and hiking (the PCT runs by Stevens Pass),  Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River flow through town, so there are swimming, floating and rafting opportunities galore, world class climbing, great food, wineries and beer, and more! The drive along Highway 2 from Everett in the Seattle area is beautiful and is almost worth the trip by itself.

Leavenworth 4
Photo by Greyson Howard

Greyson and I met my parents at Stevens Pass to caravan the last segment of the drive to the rental house. We stopped at a couple of points along the way to stick our feet in the gorgeous (and cold!) Wenatchee River.

Leavenworth 2

Obviously of interest to us this trip was the mountain biking, which Leavenworth is also on the map for. Nearby Stevens Pass offers lift serviced biking (sadly, only on weekends so we missed out by arriving on a Monday) and the epic, 24 mile, 3,000 foot climb and descent on the Devils Gulch Trail is on my bucket list, and there are many more trails in the area. We weren’t sure which of the trails we wanted to tackle! Luckily, two of my best friends from college, Morgan and Tommy, met us in Leavenworth, and Tommy is an avid mountain biker. He recommended Freund Canyon.

Mountain Biking Leavenworth WA // tahoefabulous.com

The trailhead for Freund Canyon is up a gravel road, off of Freund Canyon Rd, parallel to the Chumstick Highway.

Freund Canyon/Rosy Boa Trailhead // tahoefabulous.com
Freund Canyon Trailhead Map via Google Maps

Freund Canyon turned out to be an amazingly fun, featured, and flowy trail with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains that are so beautiful, you are slightly distracted from the brutal climb.

Photo by Greyson Howard
Photo by Greyson Howard

It was pretty hot by the time we got on the trail, which did not make the 1,950 foot climb any easier. The climb wasn’t technical at all, just unrelenting. I’m in much better mountain bike shape than I have been in the last couple of years, but it still took me over an hour to do the ~4 mile climb.

Elevation Profile via Strava
Elevation Profile via Strava

The hour of suffering (Type 2 fun!) was truly cancelled out by the incredible downhill. We lost those ~2,000 feet in about 3.5 miles of fun berms and jumps, well built out of Washington’s amazing dirt. This is one of my favorite trails I’ve ever ridden (even though I don’t jump my bike, except when I get a tiny bit of accidental air), and I was woo-ing it up with pure joy. Some of the berms are built so that you’re turning into the steep, downhill side of the mountain, which felt a little disconcerting (what if the berm collapses and I fly into space?), but for the most part I felt comfortable letting off by brakes a little and flying down the trail. Greyson and I were talking about it later, and decided that the downhill part felt a lot like resort riding without the crowds. It was definitely a very “built” trail.

Trail Map via Strava
Trail Map via Strava

Trail Stats:
Location: Freund Canyon Rd., Leavenworth, Washington
Mileage: 7.8 miles
Elevation gain: ~1,950 feet
Difficulty: Intermediate
Click here for my Strava route.

We spent a couple of days hanging out in Leavenworth – swimming in the river, drinking beer, eating good food, watching turkey vultures, ospreys and a bald eagle from the deck of our rental cabin, and we even had some very special guests on the morning we left – a mama bear and her two cubs up in a tree. Greyson got some great pictures with his nice camera.

Mama bear. Photo by Greyson Howard
Mama bear. Photo by Greyson Howard
Baby bear. Photo by Greyson Howard.
Baby bear. Photo by Greyson Howard.