Category Archives: Northern California Inland

Highway 32 Canyons

Distance:  51-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 4920 ft 

(Update: as of 8/18, this ride has undergone some improvements and some diminishments.  On the up side, the entire descent and ascent through Chico Creek Canyon has been repaved and is glass.  On the down side, much of the leg along Deer Creek has been thinned for fire control.  It’s not ugly like clear-cutting, but much of the maple understory, which provided the light show, is gone.)

This ride has major pros and cons.  Pros: smooth, blissfully meandering two-lane road in and out of two pristine NorCal creek canyons, the highlight being 12 miles (one way) along Deer Creek, as pretty a little babbling stream as there is.  The cons: traffic, all of it in a hurry, some of it consisting of loaded logging trucks or heavy equipment haulers (because this is a working corridor), and only a small dirt shoulder or no shoulder at all.   This is the only ride I’ve ever done anywhere where I had to pull off the road onto dirt to let traffic pass.  Don’t do this ride if you aren’t willing to put up with that.  To minimize the problem, I wouldn’t do this ride during high-traffic periods: late Saturday morning through Sunday evening.

This route has no amenities or perks—no quaint inns, amazing rock formations, or giant redwoods—other than Deer Creek Falls (see below).

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Indian Valley

Distance: 68 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2064

Update 20/19: Genessee Valley suffered a fire in 9/19.  I’m not sure how much damage was done to the scenery.

Update 2021: Greenville was completely destroyed by fire in the summer of 2021.  I assume similar damage was done to the surrounding countryside.

There are more awe-inspiring rides, but there is no prettier ride in California than this one.  It’s a short form of the Indian Valley Century.   It goes along the lip of two flat, postcard-perfect valleys framed by mountains (with snowy peaks, if you time it right), and you’re just a bit up off the valley floor, so you get all the scenery without the flat—the road bobs and weaves and rises and drops and thus provides you with a delightfully varied road contour.  Then the outward leg ends with a ten-mile climb that’s entirely doable and parallels a tumbling, rocky creek.  I’ve cut off two loops from the century route I don’t need, but I’ll tell you they’re there and what you’re missing.   All the significant climbing is in the last 10 miles out, so if you skip it the ride is easy. Continue reading

Wooden Valley/Pleasants Valley

Distance: 81-mile loop with a spur
Elevation gain: 3370 ft

The Mix Canyon leg of this ride is covered thoroughly in words and pictures at

See reader comments below on the serious fire damage done to this route in recent years.

This loop goes through the best riding in the area between the Wine Country and Davis.  It’s got two great climbs, two scenic farming valleys, and a few boring miles through the outskirts of Fairfield to get from one valley to the other.   There is no great wow factor (except the Mix Canyon descent), but, with the exception of the Fairfield miles, it’s all very pretty and pleasant.

You want to think about when you do this ride.  On summer afternoons, it’s hot.  On weekends, the traffic around Berryessa is obnoxious.  On Monday and Tuesday everything in Manka’s Corner is shut down, so you will have one and only one opportunity for resupplying water and food: the shopping center at the corner of Waterman and Hilborn in Fairfield.

If you aren’t up for a big day, it’s easy to take about half of the hard out: just skip both of the climbing detours.

There is a bike shop in Winters, closed Monday and Tuesday.

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Table Mountain

Distance:  26-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1410 ft

Note: This route was untouched by the Camp Fire of 2018.

This loop consists of roads covered by the Wildflower Century, my hometown cycling club’s annual spring ride, and since 4000 cyclists do it every year there’s a good chance you’ve been over these roads.  But this loop goes backwards to the Wildflower direction, and it’s a wholly different, and better, ride.   It’s got a lot of points of interest besides the riding—a famous dam, century-old olive orchards, a state-of-the-art sustainable farm, a covered bridge, nationally renowned wildflowers in season, a Gold Rush cemetery, and two old Gold Rush towns complete with historical plaques and one-room museums.

You have a serious choice about which direction to ride in.  I’ve mapped it clockwise.  But there are benefits to riding the loop in the other direction.  Counter-clockwise reverses the climbing/descending, so instead of a short, sweet climb up to Cherokee and a long, rough, rollicking descent down to Oroville, you get a long, gradual ascent up from Oroville and a short, super-sweet, glassy-smooth descent down to Hwy 70. In fact, I don’t do this ride as mapped any more, in either direction—see Alternate routes below for my current favored route.

Weather matters on this ride.  Chico-area winds are predominantly from the north, and if a north wind is snorting, that first leg of the loop can be horrific.  I’ve done it in a death-march paceline at 10 mph.   If it’s like that on your day, ride the loop in whichever direction has the wind at your back on the Table Mountain Blvd. leg.  Also, on a normal summer afternoon the temperature on the first half of the ride can be well over 100 degrees, so ride early.

Do not do this ride on a weekend day during wildflower season—the roads are absolutely unsafe for cyclists (see more below).

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Concow Road

Distance: 18 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2660 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

6/20 update: the Concow area has burned twice in recent years.  There are two areas of noticeable burn on the ride—the first couple of miles after the Concow/Nelson Bar intersection, and the turn-around where the road turns to gravel.  Between, the woods are intact and still lovely.  And of course the road contour is unaffected.  Still a great ride.  JR

This little gem is one of the sweetest 18-mile rides you’ll ever do, and the best ride in the Chico/Oroville area.  It’s a delightful roller-coaster back-country climb on glassy road surfaces through pretty foothills farms and woodland to a spot where the road turns to dirt.  The road contour is constantly varied, up and down and back and forth, with no two climbs or curves the same, and it’s good riding in both directions.  It’s also a workout—you’ll log almost 3000 ft of gain in less than 20 miles, with a few short pitches of 11-12%, but none of the climbs lasts long.  It’s smoother and faster than the average back road, and you can touch 40 mph a time or two.

Traffic should be next to nothing.

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Oroville to Forbestown

Distance: 31 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2760 ft

This is a nice, pretty climb from the edge of the Sacramento Valley up through the foothills and into the cedar forests of the western Sierra with a classic mountain store as a destination and a sweet potable spring along the way.   It’s pretty much all up, but with lots of variety in the scenery and the riding conditions so it’s never a slog. Continue reading

Paradise to Butte Meadows

Distance: 54 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 5960 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

Update 11/18: The Camp Fire raced through Paradise and parts of Magalia in the days following 11/8/18.  Paradise was destroyed.  The first couple of miles of this route are scorched by the fire.  The rest of the route is undamaged.  JR

This ride actually starts in Magalia, the small community just up the hill from Paradise, CA, but who doesn’t want to ride in Paradise?  The route strings together four distinct rides, three of them treats, and the other…well it gets you from one of the treats to the next.  The four rides are, in order: a classic rolling stair-stepper, a short fast descent followed by a long straight slow upwards slog (the non-treat), a perfect serpentining climb through NorCal pine-and-cedar forest, and a rolling ramble across the top of the world on a spanking new (as of 2013) state-of-the-art mountain road.

This is a demanding ride with a lot of elevation gain.  If you want less, see Shortening the Route below.

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Chester Back Roads

(Note 9/21: The Dixie Fire in the summer of 2021 devastated the area north of Chester.  Expect areas of total vegetation loss on these rides.  JR)

There are three similar roads that run due north from Chester.  They’re all short—in each case after 6-13 miles the road turns to gravel.  They’re all fairly easy steady ups, featuring mellow climbing through unspectacular generic regional conifer forest.  They all have major road surface problems.    These are definitely “best in the area” rides—not great, but worth doing if you’re at Lake Almanor and want to ride.   I can’t honestly say any one of the three is the right one, so I’ll list their differences and let you decide:

Warner Valley Road is the longest, biggest, widest, busiest, and easiest, and it has the only vista—a nice shot of Mt. Lassen in the distance.

Juniper Lake Road is the steepest and curviest (and thus has the most thrilling descent).

Both WVR and JLR are plagued by paved-over tree roots and frost heaves that make the road surface often wavy.  Both roads are pretty densely sprinkled with summer cabins.

Road 10 (that’s its only name) is the narrowest and the smoothest, and it has the longest, most extended descent.  It’s by far the most undeveloped and isolated.  Do this one if you like narrow roads and solitude.

WVR and JLR touch, so combining them into one ride is a natural.  Combining either with Road 10 would require riding an easy 5 miles through some beautiful, interesting north Lake Almanor shoreline.

Warner Valley Road

Distance: 26 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1100 ft

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Mill Creek Road

Distance:  18 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1140 ft

At last count there were 2,347 roads on the West Coast named Mill Creek Road. Bestrides has three: this one, Mill Creek Road #2 by Fremont, and the Wine Country one in the Adding Miles section of the Pine Flat Road ride.   All three are super-sweet little rides.

This one is Just down the road from Lassen Park, in Mineral, CA.  It’s a thoroughly charming back road that in 9 miles manages to pack in a lovely mountain meadow, a mild 1-mile climb through piney woods, a 2-mile slaloming descent that’s as sweet as cotton candy, and a flat ride along a creek.  Then you get to do all those things in reverse.  The climbing is consistently 5%-ish, just steep enough to make you say, “Wow, I’m climbing strong today!,” the scenery is prime throughout, the road surface is glass, and there is no traffic.  I’m not making this up.  Midway there’s a classic mountain store, like something straight out of Jeremiah Johnson.

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Lassen National Park

Distance: 56 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 5180 ft

A Best of the Best ride

(Note: In 2021 the Dixie Fire burned much of the park east of the main road.  Damage was severe.)

This is a typical National Park ride—one and only one paved road, running straight through the heart of the park, and it’s grand and expansive and mighty.  Lassen Peak itself isn’t postcard pretty like Shasta or Hood, and the scenery isn’t as in-your-face stunning as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, but it’s one of my favorite California rides.  The road contour is excellent, the surface is nearly flawless, and great vistas are around every corner.  And since it lacks the roadside waterfalls and dramatic chasms, it’s one of the least-attended of our National Parks, so the traffic can be downright light on a weekday or in spring or fall.   There is no flat here, so you’ll be climbing for 28 miles, but it’s all moderate, 4-6% stuff.  Perks include a good Visitor Center at one end of the ride, lots of history, geothermic activity, a nice mountain lake halfway in, and a photogenic pond and store at the turn-around.  Check Afterthoughts for a way to avoid the traffic.

A reader tells me the road has recently been re-chipsealed, which may be good or bad depending on the chipsealing.

Lassen is a National Park, and they charge standard NP fees.  If you have an annual pass or a geezer’s lifetime pass (like me), remember to bring it and photo ID (that’s the part I always forget).   Some rangers don’t charge entrance fees for bikes, but you can’t count on it.

By the way, you don’t get to ride to the top of the mountain.  You ride through a little pass between Lassen and a small bump next to it, 2000 ft below the Lassen summit.

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