Distance: 45 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4290 ft
This ride, like all the riding in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area, has very little “wow” factor—no grand vistas, no towering monoliths. But it is an exceedingly pleasant bucolic stroll, gradually ascending through foothill woods, meadows, and horse farms, with lots of variety to the contour. The landscape is quite handsome, and particularly so in the spring when things are green. The level of traffic is more than I would wish, even on weekdays, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker. And you turn around in Grass Valley, a community I’m very fond of.
It’s 22 miles of almost uninterrupted up, but it’s all mellow—less than 100 ft per mile—and I don’t think of this ride as a lot of work. The descent coming back down Rattlesnake Road has wonderful, whoop-inducing moments and is almost good enough to make the Best of the Best list.
There are three Bestrides rides in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area—Dog Bar, Red Dog/Pasquale, and Lower Colfax—and there is no simple way to decide which you should do first. They are all pleasant up-and-down strolls through nice woods. Dog Bar has the best descent (on Rattlesnake), but it’s also the most built up. Dog Bar goes to Grass Valley, which is a plus. Red Dog/Pasquale begins and ends in Nevada City, which is a plus, and it goes through arguably the prettiest woods. Lower Colfax probably has the most charming road contour. But there is no clear winner.
(5/17 update: I rerode the route on a Sunday, and was disappointed by the level of traffic.)
(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.)
From Clipper Gap, CA, take Placer Hills Rd. north. This leg of the ride is more domesticated than Dog Bar—wider, busier, smoother (recently repaved)—but lovely, and, depending on your tastes, possibly your favorite part of the ride. Take Dog Bar Rd. when it takes off to the L. Almost immediately you will plummet for a mile down to a small bridge across the Bear River, the nearest thing to high drama on the ride. At the far end of the bridge is a small dirt turn-out, and from there a footpath goes upriver to a spectacular stretch of river strewn with big boulders, perfect for swimming in the summer—all of which is a strong argument for starting the ride here, so you can switch to hiking boots and hit the river after the ride.
From the bridge Dog Bar climbs pretty steadily to the end, but not one foot of it is steep, and there are plenty of rollers to give the legs some respite. In fact, this may be the only ride in Bestrides.org where I feel like Mapmyride’s elevation gain total overestimates the work load (RWGPS says 3920 ft).
There are three options for the last miles into Grass Valley. If you’re keen to get to Grass Valley as soon as possible, stay on Dog Bar, which runs into La Barr Meadows Rd., which runs straight into downtown. But there are two better alternatives. The first: Two-thirds of the way up Dog Bar, Rattlesnake Rd. takes off to the R (clearly signed). Rattlesnake is much the better ride: smaller, windier, steeper, a bit less built up, and less trafficked. When Rattlesnake dead-ends at Hwy 174, take 174 to the L and into Grass Valley. That’s how I’ve mapped it. The second: If you want easy and charming, where Dog Bar runs into/turns into La Barr Meadows Road, take LMMR to the (hard) L and follow it over to Allison Ranch Rd. Take ARR north to Grass Valley.
For lunch in Grass Valley, you have lots of good choices, thanks to the town’s recent modest gentrification. If you want old school, have a pasty (pronounced PASS tee), the traditional lunch of the Cornish miners who dug the gold out of the nearby hills.
Turn around and ride home. Of our three route choices, Rattlesnake is by far the best, a really fine slaloming descent, so go back this way however you went out. If you like loops, ride to Grass Valley via Allison Ranch Rd and back on Rattlesnake. The ride back is almost entirely downhill and a piece of cake except for the mile of climbing on the far side of the Bear River. After the ride, drive back to that bridge on Dog Bar and go swimming.
Shortening the route: If you want tranquil, ride Dog Bar Rd. to Rattlesnake and return. If you want exciting, ride Rattlesnake out and back. If you want short, easy, and charming, ride Allison Ranch Rd. by itself.
Adding miles: There is a lot of good riding around you on this ride. Our route takes you within a stone’s throw of the Iowa Hill Road ride. From Clipper Gap it’s a pleasant ride on side roads paralleling Hwy 80 heading south to the Lincoln Hills ride. From Grass Valley you’re only 3.5 miles from Nevada City, site of our Red Dog/Pasquale ride and everything in the Adding Miles section under it. To get to Nevada City, ride NE on Main St, which turns into Nevada City Hwy, which turns into Zion. It’s not a 3.5 miles I enjoy.
A mile or so past the Bear River bridge on our outbound route, Magnolia Rd. takes off to the L (clearly marked). It’s a manicured, picture-perfect road well worth riding until you near Lake of the Pines, when all sense of tranquility and isolation ends and you should turn around.
Where Rattlesnake Rd meets Lower Colfax Rd. you’re at the start of the Lower Colfax Rd/Rollins Lake Loop ride. You can follow it until it starts back north, and instead take 174 south to Colfax, then take Tokayana to Placer Hills Rd. and following PHR back to Clipper Gap and your car. Of course you’d be giving up the lovely Rattlesnake Rd. descent. If this route sounds attractive but a bit much, drop the Rollins Lake loop, which will save you about 9 miles and 1000 ft of gain.
A shorter version of the Dog Bar/Rattlesnake/Lower Colfax/Rollins Lake loop goes up Dog Bar to Mt. Olive Rd. and takes MOR (pretty but largely gravel) over to 174. But this gives up the leg from the top of Lower Colfax to 174, which is one of the best stretches of road in the area.
I have ridden Dog Bar Rd many times, and it is usually wonderful. However, I wanted to let you know that I was shot in the left shoulder with a BB gun from a passing beige SUV as I was riding north-bound nearing Grass Valley last Monday.
Good lord. Let’s pray it was accidental or random.
I just did this ride a couple days ago (5/22/20) and it was awesome. I rode from Auburn Airport to Grass Valley Airport via Bell Road, Bowman Road, Lake Arthur to Crother Road, Placer Hills, Dog Bar, Rattlesnake, Colfax HWY, Brunswick Road, and Loma Rica Dr. Traffic was very light the whole way.
I rode this in the ‘downhill’ direction, from Grass Valley, and then on into Auburn. Very nice—thanks for the suggestion. I connected to 174 via Empire St from downtown, which was quite pleasant going through and along Empire Mine State Park, which looks worth a visit when open.
Empire Mine is indeed worth a stop—fascinating history. Take the free docent’s tour—you get to do a virtual descent into the mine shaft. The loop trail is also a nice hike or mountain bike ride.
I love Dog Bar Road and haven’t found there to be much traffic, but I usually start before 6 am. I like to take your Lower Colfax loop option. There is a lot of traffic on 174. You can dodge some of it by taking Old Grass Valley Road, which parallels it for a while—it leaves 174 south of where 174 crosses the Bear River coming out of Rollins Reservoir. If I’m feeling good I’ll add the Rollins Lake Loop, climbing Norton Grade Road and coming back down Rollins Lake Road.
Norton Grade Road and Old Grass Valley Road aren’t on most paper maps. Norton Grade is on Streetview and it looks great.
Lower Colfax and the Rollins Lake loop are now a Bestrides ride of their own. Thanks for the tip.
Rode this Sunday 4/3/2022. Left from Clipper Gap at 7am, light traffic on Placer Hills Road and only saw 2 cars on Dog Bar. Rattlesnake was also quiet until the the last mile near 174 when church traffic started to pick up. I rode back on the Lower Colfax Rd / Rollins Lake Loop. To connect from Rollins Lake back to my car in Clipper Gap, I added a side trip down Tokayana/Milk Ranch to the Bear River campground, then back up Plumtree to Placer Hills Road. The road was nicely paved and quiet, with the Plumtree ascent including a challenging half-mile over 10%. Great ride—thank you!