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.
(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 Greenville, ride east on Main Street, which becomes North Valley Rd. through Indian Valley. You’re going to ride 34 miles on this road, then turn around and ride back. Keep going on North Valley Rd., ignoring a few roads going off to the left and right, as the road name changes to Genessee Rd, then Indian Creek Rd., heading first to Genessee Valley and finally to Antelope Lake. There’s a mellow climb and descent going from one valley to another—if you skip the climb to the lake, this is the only noticeable climb on the ride. Ride through Genessee Valley, stopping now or on the way home at the Genessee Store, a don’t-miss local institution.
At the end of the valley the big, obvious climb starts. You’ll see a sign that says “Antelope Lake 10 miles.” It isn’t kidding. After a mile or so you’ll say, “I don’t think I can do this for 10 miles,” but all the steep is in the first 3 miles; then it mellows out and rolls so much that you’ll do some work coming back “down.”
At the dam the road circumnavigates the lake, but I don’t like the ride because I think it’s ugly. The area was burned to ash many years ago, and the soil is a chalky moondust that won’t allow much to grow back. Do it if you’re set on riding a hundred miles. Otherwise, turn around and ride home.
The descent from the lake isn’t world-class. The road surface has lots of jarring expansion joints perpendicular to your path—nothing dangerous but enough to sting the hands and put a bit of a dent in your rapture.
At the bottom of the climb, return the way you came, unless you dislike out and backs, in which case see below.
Shortening the ride: Skip the climb to Antelope Lake.
Adding miles: To restore the miles I cut from the Century, a) ride around Antelope Lake (see above) and b) take the big loop that goes off from North Valley Road to the northeast. It’s Diamond Rd. going out and North Arm Rd. coming back if you ride it on your way out. You’ll need to ride it twice, on your way out and your way home, to total 100 miles. It’s perfectly pleasant but a notch less scenic than the valley riding. You might consider riding it once, on the way out or the way back.
About halfway out along the main route there’s a 1-mile detour to the tiny, cute town of Taylorsville, which has a market, a tavern, and a church (see Johnmc’s comments below). It’s worth it if you like tiny, cute towns.
If you’re dead set on riding a loop, stay left when you re-enter Indian Valley, ride through Taylorsville, and continue west to Hwy 89 on a much flatter, straighter, and less rewarding valley road. This will necessitate you riding a final leg up Hwy 89 to your car, managing one significant climb and descent in the process, but it’s a pleasant ride for a highway. There are other roads through the heart of Indian Valley, smaller and even more boring, if you like flat.
Reachable by car are 1) our Chester Back Roads rides, and 2) a challenging and rewarding ride from Quincy up Rd 119/414 to Buck’s Lake. You can make this ride a lollipop by taking the south route to Buck’s Lake out and the north route home when you hit the obvious fork. Buck’s is a lovely lake with rustic resorts, cabins, and a road along its west shore for more riding.
Afterthoughts: Time of year matters here. The valleys are at their prettiest in the spring, before things turn hot. But you’re in the mountains, and spring snows and hailstorms are common. I’ve done the century once in snow and once in hail, and both times I froze. Ideally you’ll do this ride before the summer heat arrives but while there is still picturesque snow on the mountain peaks. Watch the weather report and take an extra layer, especially if you’re planning on doing the Antelope Lake loop.
As of 6/15, I don’t know the status of the Genessee Store. It was closed when I was there last, on a lovely summer Sunday around noon.
Don’t miss Johnmc’s helpful additions below.