Photograph by Scott Markewitz
More than an hour’s winding drive from the nearest interstate, tucked into the Sierra foothills at the confluence of the North Yuba and Downie Rivers, the tiny town of Downieville relies on mountain bikers to keep it alive. Fewer than 350 people reside in what was California’s fifth largest town during the state’s gold rush, and the trails built by prospectors now lure adrenaline-seeking mountain bikers.
Most weekend warriors come to check the Downieville Downhill off their bucket list, but the area offers around 500 miles of trails. While the trail network includes something for every skill level, most of Downieville’s terrain is challenging, steep, fast, and rugged.
A short drive from town, in Lakes Basin, some technical and challenging new trails run along numerous alpine lakes and reach elevations of 8,000 feet. Mills Peak is also a relatively new favorite, ascending more than 3,000 vertical feet from the town of Graeagle to the top of Mills Peak (catch a shuttle if you’re not up for the climb). Locals call the descent one of the flowiest downhills you'll ever ride with just the right amount of technical riding. And the Brewing Lair in nearby Blairsden offers the perfect post-ride brew.
With historic buildings, narrow streets, and wooden sidewalks, Downieville is one of the most picturesque gold rush towns. This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the Downieville Classic, a two-day mountain bike festival that includes a point-to-point cross-country race from Sierra City to the crest of the Sierra Nevada and down to Downieville, as well as a downhill race that drops 5,000 vertical feet in 15 miles. Weekend entertainment includes a river-jump competition, mechanical bull riding, and live music.
Ask a Local
Yuba Expeditions pioneered the backcountry mountain biking in Downieville and was the first to offer shuttles to the area’s popular downhill runs. Owned and operated by the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, a nonprofit trail advocacy group, Yuba’s profits go right back into the trail system. Here are their recommendations.
Built by our parent company, Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, the North Yuba Trail is an awesome newer cross-country out-and-back right from town that features perfectly banked switchbacks, flowing descents, and a climb that earns you a post-ride beer. For speed junkies, there may be no faster singletrack than Third Divide. People have been clocked going as fast as 40 miles an hour. It’s an otherworldly experience.
Budget: The Carriage House Inn was recently remodeled and the rooms now have decks overlooking the Downie River. The continental breakfast and coffee are great.
Plush: The Downieville Loft is a rental above Yuba Expeditions that sleeps six. You can roll out of bed and catch the shuttle.
Budget: At La Cocina Del Oro you can get a delicious $10 burrito made with quality ingredients. Get a table on the deck right over the Downie River.
The only bar in town is called St. Charles Place. It’s rich with history, crusty old miners, and bartenders who will tell you riveting tales about Downieville’s past.
A sixer of your favorite beer, a swimming hole, and a fishing pole. There are tons of great swimming holes within walking distance of town, but a particular favorite is right along the start of the North Yuba Trail.
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