Distance: 18 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2660 ft
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 couple of short pitches up to 11%, 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.
(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.)
Begin at the intersection of Hwy 70 and Lunt Rd. The route is full-on up and down from the get-go, but there’s no place flat to warm up, which is an argument for riding the alternate route starting at Concow Rd. below. Assuming you’re starting at Lunt, ride straight down (and I do mean down—it’s a 40-mph descent) Lunt for a mile to a stop sign and a T. Go right onto Nelson Bar Rd. (signed) and follow it until it dead-ends at Concow Rd. Take Concow Rd. to the L and ride Concow to the end of the pavement. Nelson Bar is fairly coarse chipseal, but Concow is glass—inexplicable for such an unused dead-end road. Turn around and ride back.
Just east of the Concow Rd/Nelson Bar Rd intersection (uphill) on Concow is the Messilla Valley Schoolhouse, a classic old structure in good shape, moved at great expense from Messilla Valley (a few miles away) to its current location. The interior hasn’t been restored (it isn’t a school or a museum, just a modern meeting room), but it’s a pretty sight from the outside. There are bathrooms around back.
The visual highlight of the ride is Concow Lake, which you’ll parallel for a mile or so. It’s very pretty, and there are two access points to the water open to strangers, both marked on an unmissable billboard map at a big dirt parking lot. Beyond those two points it’s all private and posted and they don’t take kindly to trespassers.
About a mile from the turn-around the road turns seriously up and stays that way until you hit gravel. When you turn around, that one-mile descent is steep, curvy, and always a bit gravelly, so it’s a technical challenge.
On the way back, watch for the R turn onto Nelson Bar Rd.—there’s a sign, but it’s easy to miss. The last climb, back up Lunt, is what you would expect riding up a straight 40-mph descent, namely steep and tedious. For an easier way home, see the alternative Concow Rd. route below.
Alternate Routes: The Lunt descent is right out of the gate, so if you don’t want to do 40 mph when you’re stone cold, ride or drive up Hwy 70 to the next L, which is Concow Rd. itself, and descend it instead. It’s much shallower than Lunt. Concow is also an easier (and prettier, and shadier) route back to 70 than Lunt at the end of the ride when you need to climb back to Hwy 70. I usually park at Concow Rd., ride down Hwy 70 to Lunt, descend Lunt, then climb out on Concow at the end of the ride. Parking at Concow also allows you to warm up on the adjacent leg of Hwy 70, which is nearly flat.
Shortening the route: Start at the intersection of Nelson Bar and Concow Rd., or skip the climb right before the turn-around, or begin and end at the Concow Rd/Hwy 70 junction, skipping Nelson Bar Rd.
Adding miles: There’s a short spur off this route that adds a nice couple of miles. On the ride out, at the intersection of Lunt and Nelson Bar Rd, go L instead of R and ride to the dead end, then return. The road surface is a little rough.
There isn’t a lot of other good riding nearby. If you drive or ride up Hwy 70 a stone’s throw, Dark Canyon Rd. is on your R. It’s a straight-forward descent down a pretty little draw dead-ending at Oroville Lake, followed by the inevitable (and substantial) climb back out. The turn-off from 70 isn’t signed as Dark Canyon—check Googlemaps, because you’ve got a couple of turns to negotiate.
Hwy 70 to the southwest from Lunt is a dreadful ride—long interminable unvarying descents or climbs (depending on which way you’re going) on shoulders with 70-mph indifferent cars whizzing by. But if you head northeast on 70 from Lunt, you’ll climb about 3 more easy miles, then do a dramatic 5-mile descent down to the Feather River canyon. After you meet the river, you’ve got c. 40 miles of nearly flat, scenically stunning riding to the junction with Hwy 89. An established route is to ride to the last of the 3 tunnels (you can’t miss them) and turn around, because by then you’ve seen the most dramatic of the rock displays, though the scenery stays rewarding all the way to the junction. The river canyon also has several hydro-electric dams and a very active rail line, so if you’re part engineer or train guy you’ll be fascinated. It sounds like a perfect ride, but few cyclists do it, because the traffic is fast and heavy, the shoulder is non-existent, and the road contour is made for 60 mph (boring). There are a couple of rest-stop bathrooms along the route.
You intersect the Table Mountain loop a few miles down 70 to the west.
Afterthoughts: You can resupply at the Canyon Lakes Market (so-called because it’s not close to a canyon or a lake), aka the Dome Store, at the intersection of Hwy 70 and Concow Rd.
Past Concow Lake you’ll ride by a number of yards with barking dogs, but I’ve never encountered one that was loose.