Distance: 36 miles out and back twice
Elevation gain: 2040 ft
This is one of those “best in the area” rides—not great, not thrilling, but worth doing if you’re at Lake Almanor and want to ride. It’s two pleasant climbs and return descents through typical area pine forest, and it’s just enough of a workout (2000 ft of gain in 36 miles) to make you feel alive. Of course you can do either leg by itself. They’re very similar: Warner Valley Rd. is a little bigger, wider, busier, straighter, flatter, and smoother. The scenery is identical—trees. Both legs are plagued by paved-over tree roots and frost heaves that make the road surface often wavy (though rarely jarring), and if you abhor rough tread this isn’t the ride for you. If you don’t mind pavement imperfection and only want to do one leg, I prefer Juniper Lake Rd, which is steeper (though never steep) and thus has the better descent.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
Ride out of Chester on Feather River Drive (toward the east end of town), which at first looks like an ordinary small-town residential street. In .7 miles you hit a Y, where the main road goes L to Drakesbad and the secondary road goes R to Juniper Lake. There are no road-name signs, here or anywhere on our route, but all intersections are clearly marked by destination signs. You’re going L, to Drakesbad, which is a resort at the end of Warner Valley Rd. Somewhere the road gets renamed Warner Valley Rd. (aka Chester Warner Valley Rd.), but since there are no road-name signs you don’t care.
The road stays big, smooth, and wide until you hit a second Y. Here you leave the smooth main road and take a distinctly smaller road to the R (again, signed “Drakesbad”). This road is less trafficked, more intimate, and rougher. Ride until the road turns to dirt, at which point you turn around.
Lots of riders turn around a bit before the dirt, at an unmissable spot where there are remnants of an old ranch, a large dirt turn-out, the ride’s one break in the trees, and a nice view of Lassen Peak, all on your left (see photo). It seems an appropriate turn-around spot, since it’s the scenic high point of the ride. The ride back is a gentle, unthreatening descent.
When you’re almost back to your starting point, take the L turn onto Juniper Lake Road, which you passed on the way out (signed “Juniper Lake”), and ride 6 miles to the end of the pavement. Turn around and ride home. This descent has some positively thrilling moments.
Adding miles: Warner Valley road continues on dirt for about 3 miles to Drakesbad, which is a trailhead for a number of nice hiking trails. You’d want a mountain or gravel bike to ride it. The loop around Lake Almanor is a popular ride, and it’s nice without being great anywhere. You’re a short car trip or a moderate ride from our Indian Valley ride. You’re a longer car trip or pretty long bike ride from the Lassen National Park and Mill Creek Road rides.
When you’re at the second Y in our route, the main road to the L (Old Red Bluff Road, unsigned), looks very inviting, but it turns to dirt soon after.
Chester is the home base of Bodfish, a legend in California riding. His bike shop is on Main Street on the R in the old part of town. He’s happy to advise about routes, and he has a free map of road and MTB rides in the area. He says Road 10 just east of town and Road A-21 a little further east (both on his map) are excellent rides. They’re on my to-do list.
Afterthoughts: If you’re staying in Chester, I recommend the Bidwell House, a friendly, charming B and B that is the beautiful old summer vacation home of California’s historical titan John Bidwell. And it’s a bargain, especially if you ask for one of the two small, quirky rooms.