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 virtues are three:
1. solitude—the last time I rode it, I saw two cars between the summit and Lumpkin Rd. (20 miles).
2. a 30-mile descent of extraordinary variety—the ride back from the Road 27 summit (28.5 miles) is almost entirely descending, and the road contour is never the same for long.
3. 8.5 miles of the most whee-inducing, roller-coaster stretch of road I know.
The route climbs steeply for 8.5 miles through populated mountain communities, then traverses the deserted spine of Lumpkin Ridge, then descends for 2 miles to Little Grass Valley Lake, then returns. The scenery is fine without being special: classic Sierra foothill scrub, then pretty madrone-and-conifer forest, with some views into the forested canyons of Fall River (the stream that supplies the water for world-famous Feather Falls) to the west and the South Fork of the Feather River to the east from Lumpkin Ridge. the ride out is pretty much 30 miles of climbing, but after the first 8.5 miles it’s never particularly hard. There are three 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 high point of the ride.
This route (like the alternatives in Adding Miles) is simple to navigate on the road (there are only two turns) but 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, all road signage is absent, ambiguous, or hard to see until the summit, 28.5 miles in.
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 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, which, after 6500 ft of vertical gain, I don’t need.
From the bridge, ride 8.5 miles of complex, often taxing up-and-down stuff 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 into something magical, but on the way out they’re mostly just hard—consistently 8-12%. In the first 4 miles you gain 1350 ft. in elevation; in the first 10 miles you gain 2460 ft. in elevation. Most of the work of the ride is right here—the next 20 miles, to the summit, are steadily up but at pitches from imperceptible to moderate.
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 8.2 miles you come to the first of two intersections where you have to pay attention. While the main road seems obviously to continue straight ahead, a 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 (which is still Lumpkin Road, unsigned) will turn to dirt in 1/10 of a mile, and you’ll know to backtrack. The new road (unsigned) is Lumpkin Ridge Road (Mapmyride also labels it “Mill Road”). From here on, the traffic should be next-to-nothing.
LRR at first climbs at a fairly stiff pitch for a mile or so, but then it mellows out and climbs at a mostly gentle rate through pretty woods to mile 15.3, where there’s a prominent intersection and you need to make a decision. 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. Take it and ride 13 miles to a summit at 28.5 miles into the ride. Or turn around and enjoy first a sweet, fast descent, then 8.5 miles of roller coaster.
Road 27 is mostly stair-steps—short climbs with little descents or flat stretches between. The road surface is the opposite of Lumpkin Ridge Rd., which was smooth chipseal. Logging trucks have been busy destroying Rd. 27, and the result is smooth pavement scattered with jagged potholes. It’s a mine field. The potholes are easy to see and, with one or two exceptions, easy to ride around/between. I didn’t find them intrusive on the climb, and on the descent I found them an absolute hoot, turning the ride into a game of high-speed dodge ’em. I’m not sure everyone would share my view. Some good samaritan has written “bad spot” before the particularly broken sections of road, which you won’t need going up but which prove quite helpful going down.
Somewhere in here you meet a Y where both forks look equally attractive. There’s a small post with an “22N27” sign on the L fork telling you to take it.
At 28.5 miles you pass two roads entering from the L—first Mill Road, Forest Service 94 (22N94), then something I can’t find a name for. Both roads have prominent signs pointing the way to Little Grass Valley, and FS94 has a small sign reading “22N94.” Ignore both roads. Immediately after, you reach a Y or T, whichever you prefer. Take the R fork and descend for 2 miles to Little Grass Valley Reservoir and our turn-around point. But before taking that fork, consider: the 2-mile climb back to the summit adds 510 ft. to your total elevation gain—not a tough climb (roughly 5%), but do you want more climbing?
The ride from the summit to your car is unbelievably easy, 28.5 miles in which you will have to work at climbing perhaps twice, briefly. The descending comes in all imaginable forms (including pothole slalom), so you’ll never get bored.
Once you’re back on Lumpkin Rd., the roller coaster begins. It’s a bucket-list ride, a rollicking, absurdly diverting 8.5-mile series of turns and drops and little climbs, with your momentum allowing you to hammer up those climbs and maintain your speed. You’d wish you could do it two or three times.
Shortening the ride: After the first 8.5 miles, the rest of the ride is all good but all pretty much the same degree of good. So turn around as soon as you like, but be sure to include those first 8.5 miles.
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 Rd. 27 just before the summit; 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 Rd. 27; and 5) the road surface, which on our mapped route is mostly fine, will vary from OK 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 summit where 94 and 27 reconnect you can take the other route back to make a 74-mile loop of it.
You can loop this ride another way. From our turn-around point, you can continue along the south edge of the lake on Little Grass Valley Rd., the first half of which is rideable dirt, the second half good pavement and nice riding, for 5 miles. Then Little Grass Valley Rd. ends at Quincy-La Porte Rd. Go R. Quincy-La Porte turns into La Porte Rd. Take the Challenge Cut-Off to the R, which connects with Forbestown Rd., which passes Lumpkin. Take Lumpkin back to your car (75 miles if you take FS 27, 89 miles on FS 94). This is all good riding, almost Bestrides-worthy, and especially nice downhill. Of course returning this way means you give up a glorious 30-mile descent and the roller-coaster section of Lumpkin, so if you go this way you might want to ride counter-clockwise.
If you’re into serious miles, when you hit Quincy-La Porte Rd., go L and ride to Quincy. For a detailed description of the ride, see the Added Miles section of the Oroville to Forbestown ride.
Lumpkin Rd. at its southern end intersects the Oroville to Forbestown ride. 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.