Distance: 61 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6610 ft
A Best of the Best descent
This is a fine ride through Sierra foothills and forests whose distinctive virtues are solitude and the most whee-inducing, roller-coaster stretch of road I know. The sense of isolation is extraordinary—the last time I rode it, I saw 3 cars after the first 8 miles. The route is pretty much all up, through classic Sierra foothill scrub, then through pretty madrone-and-conifer forest, to Little Grass Valley Lake, so it’s a lot of vert, but there are a couple of sensible turn-around points along the way that reduce the work load while preserving the roller coaster, which is in the last 8 miles of the return route and the raison of the ride.
This route (and the alternatives in Adding Miles) is dead simple to navigate on the road, but impossibly confusing on any map, so follow my directions carefully and ignore what any paper or web map is telling you. To add to the confusion, once you leave the intersection of Lumpkin Rd. and Forbestown Rd., you will never see another helpful road sign. I promised you isolation.
From the intersection of Lumpkin Rd and Forbestown Rd, drive 4 miles down Lumpkin to the Enterprise Bridge and park just beyond the bridge—there’s a small dirt road with parking on the R. It’s possible to ride from the intersection of Lumpkin and Forbestown, but if you do you’ll begin with a bland, featureless 3.5-mile drop down to the Enterprise Bridge, which will leave you with a tedious, 3.5-mile uphill slog at the end of the ride. From the bridge, ride 8.5 miles of complex, fascinating, often taxing up-and-down stuff (mostly up, 6-9%) through nice foothill scenery and old-school foothill infrastructure (houses, ranches, a school, a grange hall, a “saloon”). The road is ever-changing—you can rarely see more than 1/10 of a mile of road ahead of you. On the return, these 8.5 miles will turn something magical.
At 7.5 miles you pass the turn-off to Feather Falls. The road isn’t named, but two signs clearly read “Feather Falls.” At this point you’re done most of the hard climbing—there are many more feet to gain, but the pitch usually isn’t intimidating.
At 8.2 miles you come to the first of two intersections where you have to pay attention. A prominent paved road enters on the R. It has a stop sign (which has painted on its back side “A-line” and B-line”), and there’s a large sign that mysteriously reads “A Line” in freehand just before it. Take that road. If you miss the turn, no worries—the “main” road will turn to dirt in 1/10 of a mile, and you’ll know to backtrack. As to what the new road is called, your guess is as good as mine. If you’re just out for a short day, turn around here and enjoy the roller coaster ride back to your car.
Continuing on from the intersection, the rest of the ride is narrow, mostly up, and solitary. Or so it seemed to me. When I asked one of the 3 vehicles I met to stop and assure me I wasn’t lost, he said the area used to be grand “but everybody’s up here now.” I guess “everybody” was me. Climb gently through pretty woods to mile 15.3, where there’s a prominent intersection and you need to make a decision. There is only one, hardly noticeable sign. An unsigned dirt road goes off on your L at 7 pm. What appears to be the main road, unsigned, continues almost straight ahead at 11 pm—it’s Mill Road, Forest Service 94 (22N94), which we’ll discuss in Adding Miles. An unprepossessing road goes R at about 3 pm. A small post marks it as 22N27. That’s Forest Road 27, or Lumpkin Ridge Road. Take it and ride 15 miles to Little Grass Valley Reservoir and our turn-around point. The road continues to climb, get smaller, and become more isolated. This intersection is the second sensible turn-around point—go back now and you’ll have 4 miles of gentlemanly, 15-20mph downhill cruising, then 8 miles of whoop-de-doo. If you continue on, about a mile before the reservoir you will reconnect with FS 94 entering on your L, then descend to the water. You can circumnavigate the reservoir if you’d like.
The ride back is a short climb to the summit, then a long, largely effortless descent to the stop sign, where begins the roller coaster. It’s a bucket-list ride, and I’ve put it in the Best of the Best list of descents, but it’s not really a descent—it’s a rollicking, absurdly diverting 8.5-mile series of turns and drops and little climbs. You’d wish you could do it two or three times.
Adding Miles: If at the first intersection of FS 94 and FS 27 you go straight ahead onto 94, 5 things will happen: 1) you’ll rejoin the Lumpkin Ridge Rd route about a mile from the reservoir; 2) you”ll add 15 miles to the ride out, or 30 miles if you take 94 out and back; 3) you’ll almost double the vert, from a vigorous 6610 ft to a downright grim 11710 ft out and back; 4) the road will become even narrower and more isolated than FS 27; and 5) the road surface, which has been mostly fine up to now, will vary from poor to wretched. This is a true adventure ride, spectacular in its way but not to be attempted without fat tires, emergency supplies, and a copy of your itinerary left with a trusted friend back home.
Whichever route you take to get there, from the intersection where 94 and 27 reconnect you can take the other route back to make a 74-mile loop of it, or you can ride past the lake to La Porte Rd, which takes you to Forbestown Rd. and back to your car (75 miles if you take FS 27, 89 miles on FS 94). La Porte and Forbestown are just-OK, rather bland roads, so I’d ride that loop counterclockwise so as to experience the roller coaster, which is the reason why this ride is in Bestrides.
Lumpkin Rd. intersects another of our rides, Oroville to Forbestown. See the latter’s Adding Miles section for a discussion of other rides in the area.
The Feather Falls trailhead is about a couple of miles down the nameless road you passed 11 miles into our ride. If you brought a mountain bike or hiking shoes, it’s one of the west’s great trails. It’s a loop, with the Falls at the far end. The left trail is steep and prettier, the right is smooth and built for mountain bikes and mellow walking.