It is an extraordinarily small percentage of communities in our nation that possess even half the high-quality mountain biking trails that north state cyclists regularly enjoy. Ours is a unique and abundant region. Ours is a very special place indeed to ride a mountain bike.
The following rides are the best of the best (click on any of the maps below to enlarge them):
1. Oak Bottom/Clear Creek Vista/El Dorado Mine trails
One extremely enjoyable feature of riding a mountain bike in the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is having access to many miles of the area’s historic and unique water ditch trails. Each of the three trails connecting the Oak Bottom campground to the Camden House contains a great amount of water-ditch riding that culminates in a scenic and very delightful bike ride. The Oak Bottom Trail journeys several miles alongside the western-most part of the lake as the trail makes its way toward the Carr Powerhouse. Stately oak groves and classic water ditches are found throughout the Clear Creek Vista Trail, and the historic Camden House District will delight the rider with a bounty of both natural and man-made features.
A very high percentage of these trails are smooth, flat, and absent of rocky terrain (though, as on all mountain bike trails, small areas contain potential hazards). An out-and-back ride will result in 12 miles with two climbs on the Clear Creek Vista Trail, totaling approximately 300 feet in elevation gain. Alternatively, riders can choose to ride only the Oak Bottom Trail, or combine it with only the Clear Creek Vista. This latter option provides an 11-mile roundtrip but avoids the steep drop to Mill Creek.
2. Swasey Recreation Area
The Swasey area is a peach. There can be no doubt about it. With the exception of the rocky and technical “Terminator” that descends from Mule Mountain Pass, almost all of the many miles of trails are smooth, hard-pack ribbons of singletrack varying in width from narrow, hand-built trails to wider, machine-groomed routes. The relatively flat water ditch on the lower portion of Mule Mountain Trail offers casual, low-aerobic rides requiring only beginner bike handling skills. Those wishing to get their heart rate up in the woods will find many miles of scenic climbing and descending to keep themselves most satisfied and entertained.
3. Chimney (Shasta Bally Road, and Brandy Creek and Rich Gulch trails)
Long a favorite with many north state cyclists, the Chimney delivers. It is virtually an up and down ride with very little flat riding. And what a ride it is. Two-thirds of the 5-mile climb is on a dirt/gravel road and at an agreeable grade. The route then moves to singletrack and continues the climb to arguably the most scenic waterfall in the Whiskeytown Unit, Brandy Creek Falls. After one final ascent, riders arrive at the top, where a tremendously enjoyable downhill awaits. This descent quite possibly is the hook that convinces many riders to become enthusiastic and passionate mountain bikers for life. Intermediate bike handling skills are required to ride confidently the many dips and dives on this fast flowing and scenic trail. But after acquiring those skills, new cyclists may find themselves riding the Chimney over and over and over again.
4. Mt. Shasta Mine Loop/Clear Creek Water Ditch/Buck Hollow trails
There is something for everyone on these gems starting from Whiskeytown’s Peltier Valley parking area. New riders can enjoy a gentle 7-mile out-and-back ride in the Clear Creek Water Ditch Trail. Experienced riders can access a significant amount of more technical singletrack. A steep, half-mile climb behind the parking area will lead to a fantastic downhill, followed by a rocky, technical, and most satisfying trail paralleling a pleasant backwoods creek. Adding Buck Hollow to the ride is recommended for those wishing to add a few more, slightly technical miles. Riding this loop in its entirety is an excellent way to gain confidence with increasingly technical mountain biking terrain. And, for many riders, possessing the skill set to ride over rocks, roots, and other obstacles accesses the joyful core of being on a mountain bike.
5. Westside/Salt Creek/Buenaventura Loop
After riders develop their leg muscles, many discover there is something inherently missing from a day on the bike if it lacks a significant climb. No matter the access point, Redding’s Westside Trail will provide one’s legs with a substantial workout. And all trails eventually arrive at the “Top of the World” – a spectacular, 360-degree scenic overlook of the city below and Lassen Peak in the east, the great Sacramento Valley stretching south, Mt. Shasta and Castle Crags to the north, and Shasta Bally and the Trinity Alps to the west.
A very high percentage of these trails are wide, minimally technical and conducive to wildly enjoyable downhills (however, riders should remember to always yield the trail and expect a hiker, dog, or cyclist inside every blind corner. Ride under control). From the Top of the World, follow Valparaiso Drive down to Lower Springs Road and the Upper Salt Creek Trail, a relatively new addition to Redding’s trail system.
Adventurous riders will find a fun log ride and teeter totter to entertain themselves on their way to the Highway 299 juncture. On the north side of the highway, there are two parallel trails, each traveling more than one mile to the Sacramento River Trail. The Middle Creek Trail on the left is a wide, machine-groomed, non-technical trail that dumps out on the newly paved rail grade (Middle Creek Trail). The Lower Salt Creek Trail on the right is a unique, tough and very technical mountain biking trail. It passes through a gorgeous, narrow and very rocky canyon with constant views of the seasonal Salt Creek. Walk if you have to (and you may have to quite often). Turning right onto the paved Sacramento River Trail and another quick right on the Buenaventura Trail will get you pointed back to the beginning.
It is a privilege to live in this unique part of the planet. And it is a very special place to ride a mountain bike. As Mark Twain exhorted many, many years ago, “Get a (mountain) bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.”
Max Walter is the author of “North State Singletrack – A Guide to the Best Mountain Bike Trails.” The book is available in all Redding bicycle shops and online at northstatesingletrack.com.
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