What: bike tour on very quiet paved and dirt roads.
Where: Northern California.
When: October 7-20, 2008 (14 days).
Distance: about 820 miles; 73,700 feet of gain.
Highlights: coastal mountains, a little bit of the coast, old growth redwoods, oak woodlands, big wild rivers, and fine views of Shasta and Lassen.
We followed Andreas Vogel’s Northern California Loop with only minor variation.
- The AAA sectional series map Northern California is the best road map covering the whole route and we suggest that you carry it.
- The AAA street map for Eureka/Arcata also includes the coastal section from Usal Road to Hoopa at a slightly larger scale than the Northern California map.
- USFS maps:
Why we went
We enjoyed our 2007 ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route a lot and were interested in taking another bike tour. Earlier in 2008 we had thru-hiked the Oregon Coastal Trail and extended that coastal hike as far south as Arcata in California. We were interested in returning to explore additional new regions in Northern California. When we discovered Andreas’ Northern California Bike we realized it offered us an interesting way to take another dirt road bike trip while visiting a piece of California neither of us knew at all. Planning was easy, so off we went.
We carried a camera on this trip, but foolishly didn’t stop very often to take photos. Our gallery does not adequately illustrate the great scenery on this route.
The weather was great, the roads were quiet, resupply was easy, and the scenery was beautiful. I think this is a terrific route with great scenic and habitat diversity.
We had hassles on one day because we didn’t have a GPS device and the forest service roads were unmarked, but that would not be an issue when carrying a GPS. I was disappointed that the route included too few miles on the coast, but that would be rectified by following the alternate to Orick and Prairie Creek Redwoods.
This route was a lot of fun to ride, particularly because of the huge diversity of the scenery. Northern California has a lot to offer, from beautiful coastlines, to enormous Redwood trees and huge volcanoes. The ride took us through these terrific landscapes and was never boring. There was a lot of solitude to be had, but resupply was never much of an issue. The weather was perfect and the riding invigorating. If you enjoy diverse off-pavement bike touring through diverse habitats, this loop should be on your list of rides to take
Notes for Potential Bicyclists
Many thanks to Andreas for working so hard to design a low-traffic route with great scenery and then spending the time to share the route on his website CyclingCalifornia.com. We were the beneficiaries of his efforts and we can’t thank him enough.
25 to 30% of the route is on graded hard packed dirt or gravel roads. A couple dozen miles are on rough dirt roads. The remainder is on paved roads, most of which have very little traffic. This is not a technical mountain bike ride and people used to paved road riding should not have trouble completing this route if they have appropriate tires on their bike. The dirt stretches were included in order to provide the most scenic and least trafficked option available.
We started and finished the trip in Willows and rode clockwise. In hindsight, we wish we had ridden counter-clockwise in order to have the inevitable northwestern coastal winds at our backs. If you take the trip in October and start in Willows or Chico, traveling counter-clockwise will also reduce the risk that you will hit snow at Lassen, since you’ll be there earlier in the trip.
Bikepacking, backpacking with a bike, has become increasingly popular in the past ten years and there is much more route and gear information available now than when we took this ride. Both bikepacking.net and bikepacking.com have extensive information about gear and routes. Our sweet spot is very quiet roads and we are agnostic as to whether those roads are dirt or paved. Those two sites sometimes focus on more technically challenging routes than we like, but do have information about dirt-road routes suitable for us. They are fine resources for up-to-date bikepacking gear information.
Our route differs in places from Andreas Vogel’s original route, and everything in this article is about our ride. We found some of Andreas’ notes confusing or misleading while en route, and perhaps he has updated his site. In any case, we attempt to provide all the necessary information in this article.
The red line on the CalTopo map shows our actual ride; the blue lines show alternatives we recommend. There are two substantive alternates to considere.
The first is in the northeastern portion of the loop, between McCloud and Burney. As described in the daily notes for Day 10 we were unable to follow our intended route and had to backtrack and ride on the highway. The blue line through Big Bend shows a viable route we have mapped but not ridden. Also shown, contained in its own folder, is the mapped route for the Great Shasta Rail Trail, which is not yet completed. Once open, the Rail Trail would certainly be the preferred primary route.
The second substantive alternate to the route we rode is in the northwest, between Weitchpec and Arcata. We believe the NorCal Loop could include more coast and redwood forests. We had walked the coast from Oregon to Arcata earlier in the year and felt that the section starting in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park was marvelous. The section between Arcata and Orick includes some riding on Highway 1, but much of it is on secondary and very scenic coastal roads. From the junction of Highway 1 and Bald Hills Road there is a fantastic loop north into Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The alternate concludes with the Bald Hills Road between Weitchpec and Orick; we have studied the topo maps and looked at photos and believe it would be a fine piece of riding, but have not traveled this road. Once you reach Weitchpec, either go south and regain the primary route just north of Hoopa, or take highway 96 north and pick the loop at Orleans. These two options are discussed in the Day 9 notes. The best map for this alternate is the Trails Illustrated Redwood National and State Parks map.
Disclaimer: Do not rely on our exact tracks for your route; use skill and common sense. Use the stated distances as guidance; various sources of trail distances rarely agree.
The viable riding season is May or June through mid to late October.
Rain. Northern California has a wet and a dry season and the wet season can be really wet; for instance, Honeydew averages 80 inches of rain per year, nearly all during November through April. On the other hand, the dry season is usually completely dry and you are likely to have a trip with no rain. The wet season is typically November to March. October, April, and May are transitional months that can be completely dry or wet depending on the year.
Winter. The road through Lassen National Park reaches 8500 feet, and is closed from the first serious snow in October or November until the road has been plowed in May or June. Refer to the historical road closure data for guidance. The timing of the autumn closure is completely unpredictable until a week before the first storm of the season. The timing of the spring opening is somewhat predictable by the beginning of April and is based on the snowpack and the CalTrans schedule. There are other roads on the route that are closed in winter by snow, so even if you rerouted around Lassen the route would be impassable; the road closure schedule at Lassen is a reasonable proxy for the rest of the route.
Spring. The grass is green and the flowers are in full bloom from April through June. The landscape starts to dry out as soon as the rain stops and by the end of summer, everything is dry and golden. Spring and summer can be very windy, particularly on the coast.
Summer. The coast and low-lying coastal valleys are nearly always foggy during July and August. Sometimes that fog will burn off by mid-day, but not always. On the other hand, the view from the hills and mountains when the fog is below you is delightful. Parts of this route can be quite hot during the summer. If you are used to temperatures in the 90s, then don’t worry about it, but if you are a fair weather rider, then avoid July and August.
Autumn. The weather is usually excellent and often not as windy as spring. September and October have much less chance for dense prolonged fog at the coast. Big Leaf Maples, Black Oaks, and Dogwoods put on a colorful autumn show; depending on their location they peak sometime in October.
We had clear, cool, calm, pleasant weather every day of our trip. Our only windy stretch was between Petrolia and Eureka; the exposed coast there is, we believe, windy most of year, and the wind is consistently out of the north or northwest. We had temperatures near or below freezing on half of our early mornings; daytime temperatures were in the 60’s.
If you are a salmon or steelhead fisherman, you might want take that into consideration when choosing your dates.
Bike and Gear
There is plenty of climbing, some of it steep. Much of the route is paved, and many of the dirt sections are relatively smooth. We rode hard-tails and appreciated our front suspensions on a few sections, however a rigid frame should be acceptable. We used 1.9” tires, 1.5” should be OK, but skinny tires are not appropriate.
We carried a fairly lightweight kit and highly recommend that strategy; there is a plethora of information about gear at bikepacking.net and bikepacking.com and we have nothing unique to add to their information.
Food is available nearly every day, but the selections are often a bit limited. We did not carry a stove. We ate restaurant meals a half dozen times, and had grocery store deli food a few times. Specific information on food options is in the Detailed Route Notes section. Please keep in mind that restaurants and stores come and go over the years; our data is from 2008.
You could start the trip anywhere in the loop. We drove to Willows and parked at Walmart where they kindly gave us permission to leave our car in their lot for two weeks.
Greyhound has direct service from San Francisco to Arcata, with stops at Oakland, Santa Rosa, Laytonville and Eureka. Weed has Greyhound service. Chico has Amtrak, Greyhound and commercial air services.
If you are not within easy driving distance of this route, it might be easiest to take a plane, train, or bus to Chico or Reno and start there. Reno, which should be easier to get to than Chico, is about 120 quiet road miles from Chester.
We passed through a lot of timber lands, and were surprised and pleased to report that the lumber trucks were amazingly polite to us, consistently slowing down when passing. In some of the forests, the dirt roads used to service active harvest areas were watered down every day, so there was no dust.
Not sure how this happened, but neither of us was ever chased by a dog – not once on the entire trip. What a nice break!
Many of the rivers in the Coast Ranges, including the Eel, Klamath, and Trinity, are protected as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. These are important salmon and steelhead rivers and are very beautiful places. From bridges we could stop and watch huge salmon swimming in the tributary creeks below.
The route notes are organized based on our days and campsites. We don’t assume anybody would travel at our speed. Conversly, the segments in the CalTopo map are divided using logical landmarks such as towns.
Day 1 (note: all listed mileages start at zero in each segment)
Willows to Masterson Group Camp, Mendocino N.F.
6955’ gain. 54 miles.
Camp: at USFS Masterson Group Camp at 6200′. The gate to the campground was locked, so nobody else was there. The campground is 1/4 mile off the road, in the woods, and has a water spigot, picnic tables, and pit toilets. Plaskett campground, which was open to car campers, is across the road, but we didn’t check it out.
Food: There is no food available directly on route after you leave Willows. There is a café in Elk Creek a mile or two off route.
Roads: Paved until Alder Junction near mile 40, then high quality dirt for the next 14 miles to the campsite. All roads had little traffic, except the first few miles out of Willows; we rode this on a Sunday and there were a surprising number of cars heading to an auto race track outside of town. The roads were well marked with no major navigation problems.
The road names FH7 and CA-162 are the same, some maps use one, some use the other, and on the ground intersections might be marked with either. To simplify navigation to the point that you wouldn’t need the Mendocino NF map, you could skip the 21N07 section and just stay on FH7. 21N07 runs parallel to FH7, and its only advantage is that it is a more minor road with possibly a little less traffic.
- Stony Creek crossing at about mile 21: water available in creek.
- There is almost certainly water available at Alder Springs Fire Station and correctional facility (1/2 mile off route at mile 40) but we didn’t check.
- Masterson Group Camp: spigots
Miscellaneous Notes: There is an overlook with a reasonable place for a picnic meal, or rough camp, at the Rattlesnake Firefighter Memorial, at mile 35, at 2800’ elevation.
Masterson Camp to Branscomb
4530’ gain, 70 miles.
Camp: we stealth camped at 1600′, 100 yards off the road in a redwood grove in Admiral Standley State Recreation Area, a mile or two before the mill town of Branscomb. We don’t think there is a formal campground in this Recreation Area.
Food: there are groceries and cafes in Covelo (mile 31) and Laytonville (mile 59). There is a small store with limited hours at the RV park at the junction of the Black Butte River and the Eel River (mile 20). There is a small store with limited hours in Branscomb.
Roads: High quality dirt, including a fantastic long downhill run for 20 miles, from Masterson Camp to the Eel River. Then paved until Dos Rios (mile 46). Then high quality dirt for 13 miles to Laytonville and then paved. All roads were quiet with little traffic, except the few miles near the town of Covelo. Intersections were well marked and navigation was not a problem.
- Black Butte River Ranch (mile 20)
- Dos Rios (river water)
- In the towns of Covelo, Laytonville, and Branscomb
Angelo Coast Range Reserve, managed by UC Berkeley, is off route near Branscomb. This was the first Nature Conservancy acquisition in California, and protects an old growth Redwood and Doug Fir forest. We didn’t go there, but it may be worth a visit as many of the forests on the rest of this trip are second growth.
Branscomb to near Usal/Briceland Road junction
6825’ gain, 48 miles.
Camp: we camped at 1600′ in a rough camp near mile 23.5 on Usal Road, about 1.5 miles short of the Briceland junction.
Food: there is a small, expensive store in Westport, 2 miles south off route on Highway 1.
Roads: Paved to the Usal Road turnoff (mile 24). Until reaching Briceland Road junction (mile 49), Usal Road is a dirt road.
The Branscomb road is paved and most of it is relatively quiet. Highway 1 had some traffic, but it was not too bad when we were there.
Some important information about Usal Road: It is never called “Usal Road” except on the map. On the ground it is called #431 and is reasonably frequently marked as such with small roadside tags. The turnoff from northbound Highway 1 is a very sharp uphill left-hand turn 1/4 mile after crossing a creek on a bridge. There were no road-signs calling it Usal Road, except possibly for some faded painted marks on the pavement. The tags while you are on Usal Road give mileage: the intersection with Highway 1 is mile 0, and the intersection with Briceland Road is mile 25.09. With the exception of Usal Creek, the road stays high and crosses no creeks and has no easy access to water or the beach. There are MANY junctions with logging roads. At most of these junctions Usal Road is marked with a small 431 tag, sometimes placed as much as 100 yards after the junction. At other junctions, you just take the route that appears to be the more used road. A GPS could help here with navigation.
The southern 5 miles of Usal Road is high quality dirt, usable by any car. The next 20 miles are mixed, with some quite rough and rutted stretches that would be difficult even for an SUV. We saw several vehicles on the first 5 miles, but no vehicles beyond that point.
Five miles north of the Highway 1 and Usal Road junction is a campground and beach access where Usal Road crosses Usal Creek. The campground does not have a water spigot, and by mid-summer Usal Creek will likely be dry; it was bone dry when we were there in October. This campground is one of only a few beach access points on the entire route. Just past this point is a second portion of the campground. Here the road splits; continue straight to stay on 431 not right through more of the campground area, or left onto another unmarked road through more campground area. Usal road was signposted as “not passable”; ignore this sign.
- Westport (off route)
- Probably Westport Union Landing State Beach; we didn’t check.
- The creek ¼ mile south of the Usal Road / Highway 1 junction will have surface water in the spring and early summer, and possibly into the fall (we didn’t check when we crossed the bridge.)
- Usal Creek in the campground will have surface water in spring, but at some point during the summer it dries out.
Usal Road is a lovely remote road. It is never flat, and it is the hardest stretch of the trip in terms of elevation change and road quality. Don’t underestimate how long these 25 miles will take.
There is a somewhat stark and not very attractive campground at Westport Union Landing State Beach. There is a more isolated and nicer informal rough camp on the beach at the bridge a few hundreds yards north of the junction of Branscomb Road and Highway 1.
If you’ve got the time, there is a very worthwhile side trip. Take the Bear Harbor Road down to the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park visitor center and campgrounds and beach. Bear Harbor Road goes toward the ocean from the Usal/Briceland intersection. It’s a beautiful area and the road runs along the coastal bluff grasslands, with stunning near-ocean views. Although portions of the Norcal Loop are fairly near the coast, there are few stretches right on the ocean and Bear Harbor Road may be the prettiest accessible piece of coast.
Usal/Briceland Road junction to Honeydew
4180’ gain, 70 miles. .
Camp: at 400′ at the Honeydew Creek BLM Campground, about 1.75 miles off-route south of the town of Honeydew on Wilder Ridge Road. No water sources other than the creek.
Food: there is a full size grocery store in Redway and small stores in Miranda, Phillipsville, Myers Flat, and Honeydew. There and cafes in Redway, Phillipsville, and Miranda. No services in Whitethorn or Briceland.
Roads: All paved. Briceland Road was busier than we expected with speeding cars once every minute or two, especially as we got closer to Redway. Briceland Road has no shoulder for some stretches, so ride with caution. The few miles on 101 was not pleasant but at least there was a very wide shoulder. All other roads were very quiet and very enjoyable.
- Tap water in all towns that have shops.
- Redwoods State Park HQ near Weott.
- Occasional access to river water between Whitethorn and Redway and again at the Mattole River at Honeydew.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park has three campgrounds, two on Avenue of the Giants and one on the Mattole Road. According to their website, all have coin-operated showers and treated water.
You could take a shortcut to Honeydew by following the Wilder Ridge and Ettersburg-Honeydew Road instead of dropping east to Redway. We believe that shortcut is all paved and is probably a beautiful and quiet road. But if you do that you’ll miss the ride through the old-growth redwood groves, which is very worthwhile. You could also cross Briceland Road continue on Usal/Chemise Mountain Road and on to Kings Peak Road; we don’t know the road conditions for that route. Usal Road and Chemise Mountain Road are described in detail in Guide to California Backroads and 4-WD Trails by Charles Wells.
Honeydew to Eureka
5590’ gain, 64 miles.
Motel: Discovery Inn in Eureka. We picked this one because it was cheap, had on-site laundry, had a row of rooms set well back from the main road, and a nearby shopping plaza with grocery store. We aren’t familiar with Eureka and don’t know if there are better options in town.
Food: small store in Petrolia. Cafes and groceries in Ferndale. Loleta might have a small store. Eureka has all possible services.
Roads: All paved. Very quiet low traffic roads until you get to Ferndale. Ferndale to Eureka included some busy road sections. There is only one bridge across the Eel River, so there is not much choice here. From Ferndale to the bridge, we have mapped a slightly longer alternate route on small farm roads. A few miles south of Eureka, the route follows Highway 101. It is noisy, but reasonable to ride.
- Petrolia store.
- There might be water in Bear River at Capetown which is a label on the map, not a town.
The fine lonely stretch of Mattole Road has nice views of the coast. The winds are consistently from the north to northwest and they are usually steady and strong, especially for the stretch of road along the coast and in the flats between Ferndale and Eureka. We worked very hard on this day just to keep moving forward. You also climb The Wall, a couple of kilometers of 15-18% grade starting at the north end of the coastal stretch.
The piece of Mattole Road directly on the coast is visually beautiful, but disappointing because it is all fenced cattle land with no trespassing signs and there appears to be no public access to the beach, even though you are riding through the dunes adjacent to the beach. However, the southern portion has several reported access points which we did not personally verify. The southernmost access has a trail that begins at a pullout on the hill right before the road hits the coast. This beach has a large rock arch at Mussel Rock. The northernmost access is next to a steel bridge close to Steamboat Rock which looks like a ship from the shore. In between are various pull-out spots where you can find a way to the shore, the best-known is probably the beach at Devil’s Gate. We didn’t study it carefully, but it looked like it would be tough or impossible to stealth camp in that area without being quite visible and very obviously crossing fences.
Ferndale is a funky upscale town with nice shops and inns. The parts of Eureka we saw were either strip mall or worn out, although we didn’t leave the route and don’t know what the rest of town was like. Just north of Eureka is Arcata, a university town and a bastion of old and young hippies, similar in tone to Berkeley.
Eureka to Hoopa
6500’ gain, 60 miles.
Camp: stealth camp at 400′ on a gravel bed on the Trinity River very near the bridge over the river, right in the town of Hoopa.
Food: A full size grocery store and cafes just off route in Arcata. A very good coffee shop with muffins on route in Blue Lake. Groceries may be available there as well, but we didn’t check. A full size grocery store and cafe in Hoopa.
Roads: High quality dirt for 19 miles (mile 29-33 and again 37-52). The rest is paved. All roads were attractive and quiet with low traffic. Most of the roads were marked and navigation was not a problem. However, the left turn onto Snow Camp Road from Bald Mountain Road was not identified as such; Snow Camp is marked as straight ahead at this intersection. Snow Camp Road connects all the way from 299 to the Bald Mountain intersection. The AAA map shows the roads correctly.
If you don’t want to go into the town of Arcata, we have mapped a quieter bypass route.
- Tap water in Arcata, Blue Lake and Hoopa.
- Creek water at the Redwood Creek crossing, but it was fenced and posted and requires trespassing to get to it.
Hoopa to 9 miles east of Somes Bar
3795’ gain and 41 miles for Amy who didn’t follow Andreas’ route and instead took the paved highway 96 from Hoopa to Orleans. Longer and 2000 feet of additional gain for James who did follow the dirt route.
Camp: at 1000’ in a legal rough camp next to the Salmon River, 9 miles east of Somes Bar.
Food: Small shops in Weitchpec (Amy’s route), Orleans and Somes Bar. Café in Orleans.
Roads: Amy wanted a rest day and so stayed on paved Highway 96 from Hoopa to Orleans. It was a beautiful low-traffic road that stayed fairly close to the river. James took the dirt through the mountains that Andreas described from Hoopa to Orleans.
Andreas’ route through the mountains is the first stretch of the trip on a road not shown on the AAA Northern California map. In 2008 it was a very poorly posted road with none of the usual Forest Service road number tags. The area is a rat’s nest of old logging roads and a GPS device, which we did not have at the time, would have been very useful. There were at least three confusing unmarked junctions; the markers described below may or may not still exist:
- The first was a junction where the road had two forks leading almost directly away from the route you have been following. Between the two forks was a large tree with paint on its trunk. Follow the right hand fork here.
- The second was another unmarked fork. There was a large, permanent forest service sign at this junction, that stated “burning permits were required”. Go left here.
- Finally, maybe half a mile after passing the first well signposted intersection and climbing a short rocky section of road, there was yet another fork, with the left branch leading slightly uphill; take the right branch which soon started a long downhill run.
There were numerous additional intersections with roads leading off the route, but it was relatively easy to decide which road to take in these other cases. There was no traffic at all.
After Orleans the roads were paved, beautiful and quiet.
- Tap water at stores in Weitchpec, Orleans and Somes Bar.
- Occasional access to Klamath River water on 96 (Amy’s route).
- Occasional access to Salmon River water east of Somes Bar.
9 miles east of Somes Bar to Callahan
6700’ gain, 56 miles.
Camp: stealth camp at about 3100′ hidden in some bushes off the road ¼ mile from the Callahan store.
Food: Small store in Callahan that might have deli food during some hours, but not while we were there. Callahan is not really a town, but an old ranch that used to have a hotel and store. The hotel is dilapidated, but the store is still there. The food selection in the store is quite limited. We believe there are also very small stores with limited hours in Forks of Salmon and Cecilville; we didn’t see them, but were told they exist. Cecilville had a small café with limited hours.
Roads: All paved and all quiet low traffic roads. Well marked and no navigation problems. Great riding near the big Salmon River. Fantastic descent from Park Creek Summit into Callahan on a perfectly surfaced road with almost no traffic. This is paved road riding at its finest.
- Access to river water at numerous places.
- Probably tap water in Forks of Salmon and Cecilville.
Callahan to Weed
6180’ gain, 45 miles.
Camp: we stayed at the Hi Lo Motel in Weed, which was cheap but a bit noisy and didn’t have a great bed. Laundry is a block from the motel.
Food: full size grocery and several restaurant options in Weed. We ate at the Hi Lo Diner, which had big portions, good food, and good prices.
Roads: all paved, well marked and with no navigation problems. The first stretch, on Route 3 had some traffic; then the segment on Route 17 was very quiet. The road Google maps calls “IP Road” is marked 17 on the ground, USFS and AAA maps.
- Callahan shop when open; not sure if there is an external spigot, and Weed.
- There might be access to water in Trinity River on the western part of Road 17.
Weed to near Grizzly Peak
5345’ gain, 54 miles.
Camp: legal rough camp about a mile from Grizzly Peak at 5800′ among the Manzanitas, bear scat, and bear tracks .
Food: No services on route. There is a café about 2 miles off route on highway 89 in Bartle.
The first 12 miles on Highway 97 had a fair bit of traffic, including lots of big rig trucks. Portions of this road had no shoulder heading east, but there was usually a shoulder on the westbound side, so we rode against traffic in places.
The next 28 miles passes along the beautiful eastern flank of Mount Shasta and is on dirt that is sometimes sandy or loose volcanic gravel. On the Google map it is called Military Pass Road and then Military Road. At the turnoff from 89 it was marked Military Pass Road, but that was the last time we saw that name posted. On the USFS map and on the ground it is called 43N19 or just 19. There are many intersections, and to simplify things we just followed 19 instead of some of the minor roads. If you take 19 like we did, you will reach the signed intersection with paved Stevens Pass Road, aka 13. Turn right (SW toward McLeod) for 1000’ and then turn left onto what Google calls “Military Road” but on the ground and USFS map it is still 43N19. Follow this road SSE until you reach Highway 89. When we were there on a weekday perhaps a dozen vehicles passed us on this stretch. You should carry an up-to-date Shasta NF map and ideally a gps device to sort this out.
The next 3 miles is on paved highway 89 with no shoulder and some truck traffic.
We left highway 89 and traveled 9 miles on high quality dirt, following what Google calls Grizzly Peak Road. We tried to make our way through this section using Grizzly Peak Road and Summit Lake Road, intending to reach Britton Reservoir. However, we did not have a gps device, and the combination of active logging operations and a plethora of unsigned logging road junctions caused us too much grief. Once we reached Stout Meadows we could not figure out the route on the ground and ultimately back-tracked down to Highway 89. We had an older USFS map, but no topographic maps. We never saw any references to Grizzly Peak Road or Summit Lake Road on the ground. Even after studying the satellite images back home, we could see exactly where we had been but could not see how to make it connect to where we wanted to go. Some of the roads marked on our old Forest Service maps were not maintained and were overgrown; the newer version of the USFS map is undoubtedly more accurate for current conditions than our old one. In 2016, the satellite image does show a continuous route through this area, but conditions on the ground may change due to logging operations. Even if the roads are still unsigned, navigation should be more straight-forward with current USFS maps and a gps device.
In 2016, using current USFS maps and satellite imagery, we mapped an option (12alt.a/b on the CalTopo map) to transit the area by crossing the top of Grizzly Peak, passing along the east side of Iron Canyon Reservoir, through the tiny town of Big Bend and on to Britton. Big Bend is supposed to have a grocery.
There is another option under development, the Great Shasta Rail Trail between McCloud and Burney. When this is open, it will be possible to reach Burney without riding on the highway and without riding through the logging zones. Some sections are now open and the rest is currently under construction. When this rail-trail is done, we think it may well be the best option.
- The only surface water between Weed and Highway 89 was at the Ash Creek crossing on FR19 about 2.5 miles north of the intersection with 13. It had water in October of a dry year and therefore should be reliable.
- There is water in the McLeod River at Algoma USFS campground, one mile south of 89 on 36N06. There may be a water pump there as well, we didn’t check.
- South of 89, heading up toward Grizzly Peak on 39N06, there was a healthy flow of water, even in October following a low snow-pack winter, where the dirt road fords a creek at elevation 4920’ near the Siskiyou/Shasta county border.
Grizzly Peak Road to 5 miles S of Burney
4000’ gain, 59 miles ; since we left the route here, that number is theorectical.
Camp: legal rough camp at 3600′ about 100 yards off Tamarack Road.
Food: full size grocery and several restaurants in Burney.
- McArthur Burney Falls State Park.
We did not visit the falls at Burney Falls State Park. We have been told that the falls are fine and worth a stop.
If you are an astronomy aficionado, or have an interest in SETI, you might want to take a slightly different route between Burney and Lassen. The SETI Allen Telescope Array is in this area, a few miles east of Hat Creek on route 22.
5 miles south of Burney to Lassen National Park Southwest Campground
7300′ gain, 56 miles
Camp: at 3600′ in Lassen National Park Southwest Walk-in Campground at the southern entrance to the park, near the visitor center.
Food: there are small shops at the north and south entrances to Lassen NP, but these were already closed for the season when we were there. Otherwise, no services today.
Roads: the first stretch was 20 miles of high quality dirt followed by 4 miles of paved Highway 44/89 with a little traffic. Then on paved 89 through the park. When we were there in October there was very little traffic on 89 inside the park. Commercial vehicles are not permitted in the park so there should never be large trucks.
• Lassen Park entrance stations and campgrounds.
We didn’t quite follow Andreas’ route from Burney to Highway 89. After turning from Highway 299 onto Tamarack Road, we stayed on the primary southbound dirt road, what Google calls Tamarack Road, 13 miles all the way to the Jacks Backbone area, rather than following Andreas’ route turning eastward at 3800’ on to FR24 and 23 and 22. We rejoined his routing at about elevation 4880’ where FR34N19 joins Tamarack Road. Then, we crossed the high point and started heading down, using the same route Andreas used. But we stayed on FR16 SE all the way to the highway rather than turning SW at 6040′. Note that Google calls the route we took 17 even though it is called 16 on the ground and on the USFS map. In summary, we stayed on the major fairly direct dirt road, rather than taking the lesser roads that Andreas mapped.
FR17 is an alternative to the paved road in Lassen National Park. FR17 runs from Highway 44 south to Highway 36. The road through the NP does not allow commercial vehicles and the stated speed-limit is 35. However the road has no shoulder, and during the peak summer season there may be lots of traffic. FR17 is west of Lassen Peak, outside the National Park. It is clearly shown on the Lassen NF map, designated as part of the “California Backcountry Discovery Trail”. FR17 has views all across the valley to the Coast Range, whereas 89 thru the Park is more interesting geologically. FR17 crosses managed timberlands, whereas the forests inside the National Park are not harvested.
Lassen National Park Southwest Campground to Snag Lake
4555’ gain, 60 miles.
Camp: legal rough camp at 5600′ at Snag Lake, Lassen National Forest. This was a very attractive meadow when we were there, but there was no lake and no water.
Food: Chester, which is the last source of food until Chico, has many offerings.
Roads: the first stretch was a long downhill run on paved 89. Then 19 miles of high quality dirt. We followed a paved road into Chester for groceries. South of Chester was 34 miles of high quality dirt.
- Lost Creek/Butt Creek junction 10 miles south of Chester on Humboldt Road; see note below. We neglected to take notes about water availability after that.
We didn’t quite follow Andreas’ route in the Lost Creek Plateau and Creek area. Rather than taking the lesser roads not shown on the USFS map, we stayed on Lost Creek Road past Willow Springs Campground and south along Lost Creek.
For the first few miles south from Chester, we followed the road shown on the USFS map that is about a mile west of 89. Looking at satellite imagery, we believe that the road, 28N36, about 3-4 miles west of 89 may be more scenic, as it follows Lost Creek and some meadows, and passes near a USFS campground. If you don’t need to go into Chester for food, you could simply cross Highway 89 at Soldier Meadows and continue 6 miles to rejoin the route via 28N36.
Water was flowing where Humboldt Road crosses Lost Creek at 4640’ when we were there in October of a dry year, so this source should be reliable. Humboldt Road west of the crossing of Lost Creek, following Butt Creek to Humboldt Summit at 6610’ is lovely. The two Ruffa Ranch locations on the USFS map are old abandoned homestead buildings.
Riding south on Humboldt Road from the summit, you reach the Jonesville Road, called 26N27 on the USFS map. A right turn would put you on pavement. A left turn, which the route takes, keeps you on dirt. Notice the tag for the Backcountry Discovery Trail, which you’ll follow for a couple miles. When you reach Humbug Road and head south, the Backcountry Discovery Trail goes north.
Snag Lake to Willows
1235’ gain, 75 miles.
Food: Chico is the first place with services since leaving Chester. The route passes several towns/settlements on the way to Chico (Inskip, Stirling City, Loveloc, De Sabla) but we didn’t see any stores.
Roads: the first stretch is 8 miles of high quality dirt. The rest is paved, except 5 miles of varying quality and often-rocky dirt on Centerville Road
- Maybe something before Chico (we didn’t take notes).
- No water between Chico and Willows unless you want to pull water from the irrigation canals.
The entire ride from Chester to Chico was nice, especially in October when the maples and dogwoods in the understory were in full color. There are a few miles of busy roads in Chico, but they were not too bad. Chico to Willows is flat riding through commercial orchards, most of it on quiet roads.