Distance: 16-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1302 ft
There are four Bestrides rides in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area—Dog Bar, Red Dog/Pasquale, Willow Valley Road, and Lower Colfax. They are all pleasant up-and-down strolls through nice woods—no grand vistas, no awe-inspiring crags, no waterfalls, nothing of the sort. Dog Bar has the best descent (on Rattlesnake), but it’s also the most built up. Dog Bar goes to Grass Valley. Red Dog/Pasquale and Willow Valley begin and end in Nevada City, and both go through the prettiest woods. But overall the best of the four is Willow Valley, and I’d do it first, in part because it duplicates the best half of this ride—then I’d ride any of the others.
I learned this route from the good folks at the Outside Inn, a dedicated cycling, mountain-biking, and kayaking mecca of a motel, lovingly restored from a rundown old motorcourt and now sporting rooms with outdoor themes like the Singletrack Room. By all means, stay there when you’re in the area, if you can. They used to have a free stash of xeroxed road and trail routes, but I think they’ve stopped doing that—sad.
(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.)
Navigation is a little tricky on this one. From Broad Street, downtown Nevada City’s main drag, ride south out of town on Pine St., which turns into Zion. Continue on Zion past the SPD Market (named after the pedals, no doubt) straight through a busy four-way intersection that clearly marks the end of town. You’re now paralleling Hwy 49/20. The next road on your L is Banner Lava Cap Rd. Take it and immediately cross Hwy 49/20 on a high overpass/bridge. Continue up Banner Lava Cap, a steady moderate climb of 6 miles through pleasant inhabited woods. Take the time to appreciate the houses you’re riding past—they’re all different, all tasteful, all interesting, and all out of your price range. Idaho-Maryland Rd. merges from 5:00 o’clock on your R. The product of the merger is still called Banner Lava Cap. Stay on it until it ends at a stop sign and a T. At this point the climbing for the route is all over. By then the road has changed its name to Banner Quaker Hill Rd. The road sign at the T reads “Banner Quaker Hill Rd.” to the R and “Quaker Hill Rd.” to the L. Turn R. Now hold on—you’re about to go down a short, steep pitch with an obvious road sign reading “31%.” The run-out at the bottom is good, so you can let ‘er go if you want to, but there is cross traffic on this road. You won’t come back this way, so you don’t have to ride it back up.
Soon after the drop, you meet Pasquale Rd. on your L and take it. If it doesn’t show up soon, you’re lost. Pasquale is the real reason you’ve come, a beautiful, mostly level meander on a tiny road with good surface through pristine woods that look like Columbus never happened. Every time I ride it, my heart yearns to build a cabin in these woods.
Pasquale ends at Red Dog Rd. Take Red Dog to the R and it’s a fun, ripping descent with traffic through built-up neighborhoods straight into Nevada City and your car.
Shortening the route: Since there are no cut-off roads, this is a hard loop to shorten. If you’re determined not to do it all, I can only suggest driving to Pasquale Rd. and riding it from end to end as an out-and-back.
Adding miles: In Nevada City you’re surrounded by good riding in all directions. Here’s a good loop to the west of town.
Red Dog and Pasquale are also in our Willow Valley Road loop. Doing the two loops back to back, as a sort of pancake-shaped figure eight, would give you c. 30 miles.
Afterthoughts: Nevada City is a charming place, and you should definitely explore it at least once, but it’s become thoroughly tourist-ified and the food and housing have become accordingly expensive and precious. Cheaper and more down-to-earth is Grass Valley 3 miles away, which used to be a sleepy, working-class, charmless burg but has become quite a pleasant spot, with real stores, interesting, unpretentious eateries, and one of the finest small theatres I know of. Be sure to find out who’s performing there when you’re in town.
Both towns have lots of good places to eat. My favorites are in Nevada City and next to each other: Fudenjuce, a health-food mecca with great wraps and smoothies, and, across the parking lot, The Ham Stand, a salumeria (Italian sausage maker) where all the meats are made in-house and delicious/expensive. The health food store, California Organics, has a good deli with an extensive menu.