Distance: 18 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1140 ft
Just down the road from the road into Lassen Park, in Mineral, CA, is one of the most charming little rides I know. It’s a sweet back road that in 9 miles manages to pack in a lovely mountain meadow, a mild 1-mile climb through piney woods, a 2-mile slaloming descent that’s as sweet as cotton candy, and a flat ride along a creek. Then you get to do all those things in reverse. The climbing is consistently 3-5%, just steep enough to make you say, “Wow, I’m climbing strong today!,” the scenery is prime throughout, the road surface is glass, and there is no traffic. I’m not making this up. Midway there’s a classic mountain store, like something straight out of Jeremiah Johnson.
By the way, don’t confuse this ride with the Mill Creek Road in the Wine Country, which is discussed under Adding Miles in the Pine Flat Road ride and is also a sweet ride.
(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.)
Mill Creek Rd. goes from the town of Mineral westward to Mill Creek and north along Mill Creek to a dead end at Highway 36/89. The only road signs say “Mill Creek” or “California 172 East,” but there is no other substantial road leaving Mineral other than the highway you drove in on. Ride to (signed) Mineral Summit and down the other side to the Mill Creek Resort, a classic low-brow Northern California cabins-and-store complex, where you can get food and water if you’ve managed to run out of supplies in 5 miles.
From the Resort you ride along Mill Creek, as I promised, but the fact is you’re 100 yards from the creek and you can’t see the water from the road, so you’re riding through merely pretty mountain meadows. To get your creek fix, there is a dirt turn-out about 1.5 miles from the turn-around where a very short (40 yards) dirt road blocked to cars by a row of large boulders goes down to the water. For more extended creek exploring, if you’re on a gravel bike, a dirt road to Hole in the Ground Campground (clearly signed) takes off downstream just south of Mill Creek Resort.
On the return route the climb is about twice as long but the same invigorating 3-5%.
The route rides equally well from either end.
I like this ride as an out and back, because I love both of the climbs and the descents, but you can loop it with good results. When Mill Creek Rd. dead-ends at Hwy 36/89, turn left and ride 36/89 back to Mineral. You’ll slog up to Morgan Summit, then have a very fast descent back down to town. You’ll see plenty of traffic, and I don’t find the grind up to Morgan Summit at all rewarding, but if you live for fast, straight descents this is your route.
Adding miles: Since this ride is short, you may well want to combine it with another ride in the area. Luckily you have good options. At Morgan Summit you ride past the R turn onto the Lassen Park Road and our Lassen National Park ride. In fact, where I come from a popular way to ride Lassen Park is to begin with Mill Creek Rd., ride to the Park road summit, and turn around. Personally, I find the leg from Morgan Summit to the Visitor Center tedious, and I hate to give up the leg from the park road summit to Summit Lake, so I would drive to the Center and ride from there.
Afterthoughts: Mineral has a very large motel/store complex for such a tiny town (since it’s a southern gateway to Lassen National Park), so you can resupply at what the signage tells you is the Mineral Lodge Motel Restaurant Cabins Gift and Ski Shop Country Store Saloon Cafe Liquors Ice. I’m not kidding. Fancy lodgings and food can now be had five minutes away at the new Highland Ranch Resort at Child’s Meadows (“Luxury in the Forest” is their motto).