Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Smith River Collection

The Smith River in Del Norte County, California has a vast network of gravel roads and mountain bike trails.  The Smith River Guide produced by the Six Rivers National Forest is an excellent resource and includes an overview map as well as descriptions of all the mountain bike trails.  One major note- the guide shows a permanent road block on the 17N05 road, which was repaired the fall of 2020.  This is an important road to access the Bear Basin Lookout from Highway 199 or to complete various gravel loops.  Some of the scenic drives in the guide make good gravel exploration rides.  

There are many reasons to visit the Smith River including:

Amazing forests of old growth trees and rare plants to view along your ride

Great swimming spots in crystal clear water after a hot ride

Scenic vistas at fire lookouts make great cycling destinations

Multiple campgrounds making great base camps or bikepacking stops

I started a Smith River Collection of routes on ridewithgps.  This is a new format for me.  Instead of describing each ride here as a separate blog post, the rides are grouped by zone and described in ridewithgps.  I'm focusing on gravel and mountain bike routes in the Smith River Collection.

Clicking on the map below will take you to the collection too.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Smith River Lighthouse to Lookouts Bikepacking Route

Distance:  144 miles

Climbing: 25,540'

Difficulty: Epic

    The Smith River in Del Norte County, California is a hidden gem located in the extreme northwest corner of the state on the California-Oregon border.  The route travels through state and national parks as well as two national forests including Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Redwood National Park, Smith River National Recreation Area of the Six Rivers National Forest, and a small portion of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.  Beginning at Battery Point lighthouse on the coast, the route heads straight out of Crescent City to an ancient coast redwood forest.  Within 4 miles the route turns to gravel as it winds through a grove of giant redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  The forest habitats along the route have a high variety of conifer species and unique plants due to diverse topography, geology, and climate.

  • The route crosses all three forks of the Smith River, which is known for its crystal clear water, amazing swimming holes, and abundant native fish and wildlife. The Smith River was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1981.  It is an undammed and free-flowing river.
  • There are many camping options including a backcountry camp, developed campgrounds, dispersed camping, and the Bear Basin Butte USFS rental lookout
  • Two existing forestry fire lookouts provide spectacular views
  • The route utilizes a network of USFS gravel roads that are generally well maintained with several route options.  The route avoids major highways and is limited to less than 1 mile of highway travel.
  • There is year-round water throughout a majority of the route
  • Elevation ranges from sea level to just over 5,000 feet. Recommend riding from June to October due to potential for snow at higher elevations. Prime time is July to September to take advantage of warm temperatures and swimming opportunities
  • Summers are dry and warm with temperatures ranging from 80-100 F. The rainy season from October to April has an average annual rainfall of 90 plus inches
  • The route is climbing intensive with several extended climbs. Recommend ample mountain bike gearing and minimum 2” tires for the singletrack and some rough gravel sections.
  • Recommend 3-5 days, but your YMMV

Friday, July 17, 2020

Ft Bragg- Sherwood Road

Distance:  41.8 miles
Climbing:  5626’
Difficulty:  Hard
Start:  Fort Bragg, CA

On a recent bike tour, I left Highway 1 and cut over to Highway 101 on dirt.  I had just come down through the Lost Coast on my bikepacking bike so I was eager to leave the busy traffic and pavement of Highway 1.  This route was a real surprise.  The first time I tried to ride it, I was stopped by mud in the spring.  This time the road was dry and easy to navigate.  After climbing the first few miles on pavement, you are challenged by some seriously steep gravel grades. Once on the ridge you will be constantly climbing and descending along the ridge towards Willits.  Over the 41.8 miles you will gain 5626 feet.  There is very little signage along the road but most forks are gated and the main road was pretty obvious.

At milepost 6, I was chased by a loose dog at the last house after leaving Ft. Bragg.  It was pretty persistent until I stood my ground.  Judging by the looks of the property, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a regular occurrence.

Once you leave Ft. Bragg, you will be high up on the ridge away from water sources, except for a wonderful year-round spring at milepost 26.  Bring plenty of water during the summer.

The road surface is native dirt with a few ruts.  A gravel bike or mountain bike would be best especially if you are touring with a load.  I road a Salsa Cutthroat in bikepacking mode with a 32 x 46 low gear.  This was a perfect setup, although I did hike a couple of steep sections.

You are traveling through private timberland so expect to see logging trucks during the summer.  There are no public campgrounds or other facilities along the way.

RidewithGPS link Here

Monday, July 06, 2020

Lost Coast Tour

Update: July 6, 2020

I toured this route again on a two day overnighter that included a dirt route from Ft. Bragg to Willits. If you’re interested in that route check out the Sherwood Road post.  This time I was on a proper bikepacking bike, a Salsa Cutthroat, which left no doubt that a mountain-style bikepacking bike is the best choice.  You could complete the route on a loaded gravel bike or touring bike but fit the largest tires possible and make sure to have mountain style gearing.  I was running a 32x46 low gear and only walked a couple of sections. I was able to bomb the steep dirt sections with confidence on 29x2.2 tires and disc brakes.   I’m leaving my original post below intact because it is still accurate, except for a few changes I noted:

  • There is no water at Tolkan campground.  The water system is broken and appears to be permanently decommissioned.  I chose to ride on to Wailaki campground.  Here there is water but you have to filter it from the creek.  
  • Bring a water filter.  I found really nice springs on Kings Peak road after crossing Bear Creek.  There is also a spring on Usal Road between Wailaki Campground and Usal Beach Campground.  
  • Below is the route starting in Eureka at Herrick Avenue on the south side of Eureka.

Original 2011 post describing the route starting in Ferndale.

Cumulative Distance: 93.65 miles
Cumulative Climbing: 14,768 feet
Difficulty: Epic
Type: Mixed, 37 miles of dirt roads
Start: Ferndale

The Lost Coast Tour is an alternative to touring down Highway 101, the Avenue of the Giants, and Highway 1 between Eureka and Fort Bragg. The tour can be included in your coastal tour or completed as a fun short tour that can be made into a loop or a point to point. I completed the ride in the summer of 2011 as a counter clockwise loop from Eureka to Usal and returning via Leggett and Highway 101.

The Lost Coast is shrouded in mystery, myth, and adventure. This post provides a reasonable way to complete the tour including recommended equipment, distances, and stops. I'm sure a maniac could complete it in one day, but I recommend at least 3 days. I believe any experienced cyclist can complete the tour if you are patient and pace yourself.

Here are my recommendations for equipment. I'm sure you could complete the ride on most any bike, but some would be better than others. I would not recommend a road racing bike with narrow tires and overloaded rear rack. A mountain bike or touring bike with ample gearing and wide tires is mandatory. I completed the ride on a loaded steel touring bike with a triple crankset, mountain bike cassette, 650B x 42mm Grand Bois Hetre cushy tires, 40 pounds of gear, 4 water bottles, and spare parts. At times I wished I had ridden my 29er and gone for a superlight off-road setup. There were times when I really wanted to bomb the gravel road descents, but had to carefully pick my lines and control my speed to avoid crashing or pinch flatting.

  • Make sure your bike is in great mechanical condition.

  • Choose reliability over speed.

  • Have extra water carrying capacity such as multiple bike bottles or a hydration pack. Water stops are critical strategic points. Don't pass one up without filling up. It's a good idea to bring a water treatment system such as a filter.

  • Bring extra food. There are only two stores and they are located early in the ride.

  • Don't rely on a cell phone for safety. I had poor cell coverage for most of the ride.

  • Let someone know your route and stick to it.

  • Bring enough clothes to cope with extremes in temperature. I experienced cold 47 degree drizzle to temperatures in the 90s.Don't do this ride in the winter. The Usal road is not maintained during the winter and would be impassable because of the sticky clay surface.

The following are some route recommendations and directions. I won't be overly-detailed, so the ride will still have some adventure left for the rider who chooses to follow these directions. The best advice I read was from John Zilly’s book “Wild Pigs: The Mountain Bike Adventure Guide to the Pacific Coast,” where he describes this same route. If you are used to 100 mile days on a road tour, expect only 30 mile days on the Lost Coast.

DAY 0- Eureka to Ferndale Distance: 16.65 miles
Climbing: 694 feet

The real starting point for the Lost Coast is Ferndale. The ride from Eureka to Ferndale can be easily accomplished by riding down 101, taking the Ferndale exit and following the signs to Ferndale. However, if you want to avoid riding on the Highway as much as possible, follow this description.

0- Start, Herrick Avenue Exit, Highway 101
3.8- Exit 698 for Tompkins Hill Rd toward College of the Redwoods
4.3- Right towards College of the Redwoods
6.9- Right on Hookton Road, turn right and continue over Highway on overpass
7.2- Continue straight on Eel River Drive, don't get on the Highway
9.8- Loleta, Straight or turn left on Loleta Drive to the Loleta Cheese Factory or Loleta Bakery
11.6- Right on Fernbridge Drive towards Fernbridge
12.2- Right on CA-211 towards Ferndale
16.0- Turn right onto Van Ness Ave towards the Fairgrounds, or straight into town for supplies
16.5- left onto 5th street
16.65- Arrive at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds

The camping at the fairgrounds is simple and cheap, but there are warm showers and lots of good restaurant options downtown. Plus, this is the best place to start since it is only 3/4 of a mile from the start of the route.


DAY 1- Ferndale to A.W. Way Campground
Distance: 35 miles
Climbing: 4520 feet

The day starts off with a climb up the Wildcat/Mattole Road. The road is narrow, but there is little traffic and the drivers are polite. If this steep paved climb makes you doubt your fitness, you have not seen anything yet. You should consider turning around because the dirt roads in the King Range are much more challenging. There are two big climbs on the route within the first 20 miles. The first climb tops out at 1909 feet at the 7.2 mile mark. The descent into Capetown will challenge your brakes and descending skills. If you have weak brakes now, consider turning around or adjusting them. The dirt roads in the King Range are much steeper. The next climb isn’t as long, but there are a series of tough switch backs and uneven pavement that will test your bike handling and climbing skills. You get to bomb down the 18 plus percent “Wall” on the way down to the ocean. This is a nice treat if you are used to climbing the Wall during the Tour of the Unknown Coast.

After a nice tailwind along the ocean you head inland climbing towards Petrolia. At mile 29.6, stop at the Petrolia store for supplies. They have a small market with basic supplies, but can also make great deli sandwiches. You are in store for more climbing before you reach A.W. Way. At mile point 30.6 you will turn left after crossing the Mattole River. An alternative camp site is located down Lighthouse Road on the ocean at the Mattole Campground

As you head east along the Mattole River you will be challenged by the last significant climb of the day, the “Dump Hill” at mile point 33. There are a couple of tough switchbacks that will have you fighting your bike. From here it is an easy ride into A.W. Way Campground at mile point 36. The campground has recently been upgraded with a brand new bathroom and hot showers! Pushing on to the Honeydew Creek campground is a mistake. A.W. Way has a nice swimming hole and there are several river-front camping sites to pick from. In contrast, Honeydew Creek is smaller, less private, and has no potable water. There are no showers or flush toilets like A. W. Way.

Day 2- A. W. Way Campground to Wailaki Campground
Distance: 30.5 miles
Climbing: 4921 feet

Today you will get your first taste of gravel road touring. The ride to Honeydew Store at mile marker 8.1 is fairly uneventful with a couple of small climbs. Stock up on water and supplies at the Honeydew store before heading into the wild. The real challenge begins just after the 10 mile mark on Wilder Ridge Road. The road starts to climb and switchback at perhaps the steepest grade so far. A 0.4 mile gravel switchback section challenges you to keep you front wheel from washing out and your rear wheel from loosing traction. After 11.6 miles, the slope becomes more gradual, but the climb continues all the way to Kings Peak Road at mile point 15.8.

Now the real challenge begins on a steep gravel descent to Bear Creek. Your brakes and handling will be challenged as you try to avoid washing out on the tight switchbacks. I once turned back here afraid of what I was in for. Be happy that you don’t have to climb this beast of a road. The only car I saw on this whole dirt section was a Toyota Landcruiser. As I passed them I saw a curious look in their eyes as I bombed down the rutted road on a touring bike. The rough road will challenge you as you steadily climb above Bear Creek and cross several small creek fords. Pass up Horse Mountain Campground for Tolkan, where there is potable water (Update, June 2020, water system broken). This is a great base camp if you want to ride the Paradise Royale mountain bike trail.

From here the climbing continues until you reach Shelter Cove Road at mile point 28.1. If you are short on supplies, it is a tough decision to ride all the way down the descent to Shelter Cove. It’s a little over 3 miles, but it means a tough ride back out. Turn left on Shelter Cove Road and head out Chemise Mountain Road to Wailaki Campground. The nice smooth pavement, shade, and gentle topography are a welcomed change. Wailaki is an important stopping point with nice camp sites along the South Fork of Bear Creek. This is a great place to rehydrate and rest before conquering the ride to Usal. If you choose to push on like I did, expect to spend a long day in the saddle, even though it’s only 22 miles to Usal Beach Campground. It took me nearly 4 hours at a meager pace of 6 miles per hour.

Day 3- Wailaki Campground to Usal Beach Campground
Distance: 23 miles
Climbing: 4025 feet

I had heard rumors about the Usal Road being the worst road on this whole ride. I also heard stories of vehicles getting stuck on the unmaintained road during the winter. The Usal Road lived up to its reputation, but it is totally rideable during the summer. The road varies from hard packed clay to loose gravel. Along the way you will have to pick good lines between ruts left from 4x4s and the small erosion gullies left from winter weather. The road is not maintained in the winter, but it didn’t appear like it was maintained during the summer either. If you are a mountain biker, this will seem like a normal fire road or logging road ride. Riding 23 miles on an unloaded mtb would be less of a challenge. But, it is demanding if you are trying to control a loaded touring bike. During this ride I saw only one SUV and two motorcycles. You will be out of cell phone range and away from help, so ride cautiously!

Chemise Mountain road sounds like a barren and hot ride. However, both Chemise Mountain Road and the Usal Road are covered by a nice canopy of second growth Douglas-fir and tanoak the majority of the way, which provides lots of shade.

At mile point 0.95 you will be greeted by a steep gravel descent. After this white knuckle experience you will love the paved rolling terrain for a couple of miles as you pass the community of Whale Gulch. The real peace and isolation starts when you ride up the narrow and twisting Usal Road 4.5 miles into the ride. There are few landmarks along the way as you seem to continuously climb on the narrow dirt road. After 19 miles of climbing and ups and downs you will bomb down to the Usal Beach Campground, part of the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park

This simple campground features private camp sites up Usal Creek, along the beach, or within a small prairie. There is no potable water here, but water may be available in Usal Creek if you have water treatment options.

Day 4- Usal Beach Campground to Highway 1 and Beyond

If you choose to push on or spend the night, you have 5.5 miles and 1300 feet of climbing to reach Highway 1. Fort Bragg is an additional 28 miles further.
Here are some more resources:

  • BLM King Range Information HERE

  • Sinkyone Wilderness Information HERE

  • Asana Cycling Surly Big Dummy Tour has a fun description of the ride and some video of the adventure

  • John Zilly's "Wild Pigs: The Mountain Bike Adventure Guide to the Pacific Coast" published in 1995 details the route. I used this for my adventure. The only real changes are there are a couple sections of road that have been paved since 1995. It details mountain bike rides all along the west coast and is available at Amazon

  • Amy L's Northern California Bike Loop Advice Blog where she road the Usal road from south to north and then headed east towards Redway.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Somes Bar Gravel Loops

Distance:  20-50+
Elevation:  3,669’-7,000’+
Difficulty: Hard
Start:  Somes Bar, California

The Klamath National Forest near Somes Bar, CA, has miles and miles of backroads to explore as well as great campgrounds.  The Klamath and Salmon Rivers are a bonus for a great cool down after a long bike ride.  Plus there are remote backcountry campsites perfect for bikepacking or backpacking adventures.  Shown below are two loops that start and end in Somes Bar at the Somes Bar Outpost.  These are just two examples of the potential riding the area has to offer.  You could ride them in any direction, skipping, or adding the lookouts along the way.  I haven’t provided a ton of turn by turn directions so you can choose your own adventure.  I do recommend a gravel bike or a mountain bike with good climbing gears.  There are springs and streams along the way so bring your water filter.  Summer temps can reach into the 90s.

Offield Mountain Lookout (site) Loop

This 20 mile loop includes a few miles of Highway 96.  It can be completed clockwise or counterclockwise.  If you do it clockwise you will do the highway segment first, climb up gravel road 12N52, and descend on paved Camp Three road.  If you do it counterclockwise, the climbing is easier on the pavement, you descent gravel, but have to ride the highway back.  There are pros and cons to each way.  The Offield Mountain Lookout is an optional out and back (1.5 miles each way) with a steep grade up to the old lookout site. There is no longer a lookout at the location, just a rock monument.  There are however great views on the way up to the site. It makes a good picnic stop halfway through the ride.

Ukonom Lookout Loop

This 53 mile loop is tough with over 7,000 feet of climbing.  It would make a great overnight bikepacking trip.  There is a nice campground with picnic tables at Stanshaw Campground on the edge of the Marble Mountain Wilderness.  You could camp there and then hike into the wilderness from the trailhead located a the campground.  We did discover a slide at about road point 40, but you can safely walk across the creek.  The lookout is a permanent structure that is staffed during fire season.  It is a 4 mile one-way ride out to the lookout with a steep final climb.

Monday, June 15, 2020

MTB- Ossagon Trail

Distance: 18.5 miles
Climbing: 1347 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Start: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Orick

Updated June 15, 2020

I road this loop recently and found it more challenging than it used to be.  Where the Ossagon trail meets the Coastal trail, the route is very difficult to find due to multiple elk trails and lack of maintenance.  Also, the Ossagon hike/bike-in campsite is no longer maintained for camping.  Just a warning that the route may turn into an adventure.

Original Post
This popular mountain bike loop has a lot variety. It travels through old growth redwood forest, coastal Sitka spruce forest, prairie, and along the beach. The route travels along 6 miles of paved roads before turning to 5 miles of singletrack and 7.5 miles of gravel/dirt roads. The riding is not very technical, but a lot of fun, especially the Coastal Trail which has some fast twisty singletrack. There are areas of special interest such as a cool waterfall, Fern Canyon, and Gold Bluffs beach. You can't avoid getting wet because there are several creek crossings and a particularly troublesome swampy area along the beach. If you choose, you can also camp out along the way.

To get to the start head 40 miles north from Arcata to Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway. Go approximately 1.2 miles and turn left and park near the visitors center. You may be lucky to view a herd of Roosevelt Elk grazing in Elk Prairie.
  • 0- Head north on Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway
  • 5.68- Turn left on the Ossagon Trail
  • 7.38- Cross the creek and take the first trail left, which is the Coastal Trail.

  • 7.42- Take the first trail left through a swampy area.

  • 7.75- Continue straight at the West Ridge Trail intersection.

  • 8.75- Stop to check out the cool 100 foot waterfall.

  • 10.11- Stop to check out Fern Canyon. Bear left to stay on the trail.

  • 10.36- End of the Coastal Trail and beginning of Davidson Road. There is a bathroom located in the parking area at the end of Davidson Road. Continue approximately 4.8 miles along Davidson Road until you turn onto the trail back to the Elk Prairie Campground.

  • 15.17- Left onto "bicycle/jogging" trail. The trail is an old road that has overgrown into fast singletrack.

  • 16.25- Straight over the bridge and continue on dirt road.

  • 16.97- Left on road

  • 17.2- Right on road

  • 17.35- Go through the gate and turn left proceeding through the second gate. Follow the signs back to the start at Prairie Creek Redwoods visitors center.
Click on the map to see a larger view or print it out. The trails are well marked and the map has the major turning points marked for reference.

Schoolhouse Peak Lookout

Distance: 38 miles
Climbing: 4546 feet
Dificulty: Moderate
Start: Orick 

Updated:  June 15, 2020.
Bald Hills Road has been upgraded with more pavement.  Now, only the last 2.3 miles are gravel to the lookout.  I still recommend a gravel bike to tackle the gravel road, but it could be completed on a road bike with tough tires if you are patient.  

A more challenging and fun ride is to start at the Prairie Creek Redwoods Visitor’s Center and incorporate the Davidson trail and Lost Man Creek trail.  For this route you would need a gravel bike or a mountain bike.  You have to ride on Highway 101 just over a mile to reach Bald Hills Road, but the route includes more gravel and trail.   

Original Ride Description:
The Schoolhouse Peak lookout is a great biking destination. It is a 38 mile out-and-back from Orick. I recommend you park in Orick at the Redwood National Park "South Operations" center office building. This ride does not require a complicated route sheet because there are only two turns. Head north on Highway 101 for 0.75 miles and turn right on Bald Hills Road. Restart your computer at the beginning of Bald Hills Road. Ride approximately 17.75 miles up Bald Hills Road and turn left onto the lookout road. There are many side roads along the way, but they are all gated, except for the one fork just past the Elk Camp fire station, where you stay right. You simply stay on the main road all the way up to the lookout. Along the way there are spectacular views from the road. During the climb up Bald Hills Road you will travel through old growth redwood and Douglas fir forest, natural prairies, and oak woodlands. The tallest tree in the world is located in the Redwood Creek drainage below Bald Hills Road. The park has been conducting broadcast burns to try to maintain the open prairies and oak woodlands. For more information, check out their website: You will need a cyclocross, touring, or mountain bike with wide tires to be comfortable on the gravel roads. Thirteen miles up Bald Hills Road the surface turns to gravel. This results in a total of 10 miles of gravel road riding. I completed the ride on 32 mm smooth tires, but I would have been more comfortable on 35 mm or wider knobbies. The first 2.6 miles of the ride are steep. The road grade exceeds 15% in many locations, so I advise appropriate gearing for your fitness level.
  • 0- Start the climb up Bald Hills Road.
  • 2.57- Lady Bird Johnson Grove, bathroom, and hiking.
  • 9.89- Elk Camp CAL FIRE station. Stay to the right at the road fork.
  • 13- Start of gravel.
  • 17.75- Turn left to get to the lookout.
  • 18.21- Lookout
Click on the photo for a larger view. The park had conducted a prescribed burn to maintain the prairies and oak woodlands, which often get invaded by Douglas fir seedlings. View Larger Map

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Showers Pass

Distance: 75.26 miles
Climbing: 12,506 feet
Difficulty: Epic
Start: Freshwater

Miles of gravel roads like this await your exploration.

This is another Humboldt County classic training ride. It has approximately 40 miles of gravel roads. Many of these gravel roads have steep climbs which can reach 18% in many places. This route follows a clockwise direction. Some locals like to do it in a counterclockwise direction, but I think this makes it harder. By doing it in a clockwise direction you can do the last hard climb on pavement rather than on gravel. After 10,000 feet of climbing, the pavement seems much easier.

The best bike for the ride is a cyclocross bike or mountain bike set up with fat knobby tires and plenty of gears. I would recommend a compact crankset with a mountain bike cassette or a triple crankset. A standard road bike with a 53/39 crankset would make the ride nearly impossible, but I'm sure it could be done. Make sure to take lots of food and water. I would recommend at least 3 large waterbottles and/or a hydration pack. During the summer you could encounter 90 plus degree days and even 3 waterbottles may not be enough. This ride inspired the name of the clothing brand Showers Pass, which makes high quality outerwear.

The ride starts at "Three Corners" and heads up to Kneeland Airport and beyond. Once you get beyond the Kneeland Airport there is hardly any traffic. You could also drive up to the Kneeland Airport and start there, saving 26 miles or so. The ride starts in the redwoods but you are soon riding through open oak woodland and Douglas fir forests with magnificent views. The land is all privately owned and used for cattle grazing. During the ride you will likely see a lot of wildlife, especially deer.

  • 0- Start at Three Corners and head east on Kneeland Road. To get there take Myrtle Avenue from downtown Eureka for approximately 4.5 miles. You can park your car in the gravel parking lot on the south side of Kneeland road near its intersection with Myrtle Avenue.
  • 3- Freshwater Park. This is the start of the Kneeland Hillclimb.
  • 7.6- Kneeland Post Office. This is the end of the Kneeland Hillclimb. A fast time is less than 30 minutes from Freshwater Park. Continue climbing.
  • 9.25- Bear right at the intersection heading for the Airport.
  • 11.9- Kneeland School. There is a water fountain near the playground.
  • 12- Continue straight at the Barry Rd intersection.
  • 12.3- Turn left onto Mountain View Rd.
  • 13.2- Kneeland Airport. You could park here and cut 26 miles off the ride.
  • 14.23- Cattle Guard and start of gravel. Be cautious on the descent because there are steep grades.
  • 20.4- Continue strait at the Jack Shaw Rd. intersection.
  • 22.75- Bear right at the Butte Creek Rd. intersection.
  • 23.88- Turn left on Showers Pass Rd. (Note: if you are tired you can go straight to the Kneeland Rd. via Lone Star Jct. and then turn right to go back to Kneeland, which cuts significant mileage. However, you have not truly done the Showers Pass ride unless you complete the second loop.)
  • 30.25- Go right towards Bridgeville at the Kelly Rd. intersection.
  • 31.6- Continue straight (lower road) at the Gorden Rd. intersection (poorly marked).
  • 33.4- Bear right at the Stapp Rd. intersection.
  • 35.95- Bear right over bridge.
  • 37.8- Bear left at the Dairy Ridge Rd intersection (unmarked).
  • 42- Turn right at the Kneeland Rd intersection.

    You are closer to Bridgeville than Kneeland at this point.

  • 42.9- Continue straight at the Redwood House Rd. intersection.
  • 51.5- Continue straight at the intersection with Lone Star Jct.
  • 54- CAUTION- over the next few miles you may encounter dogs at the ranch houses.
  • 62.9- Continue straight towards Kneeland and retrace you path back to Three Corners. If you parked at the airport you need to turn right here.
  • 75.26 Three Corners. Congratulations, you have completed one of the most difficult rides in the area.
RideWithGPS route, note, mileage varies a bit from my notes above.

Lone Star Junction Alternative

The more popular alternative is to just do the Mountain View Road portion of the ride counterclockwise starting from Freshwater Park.  This is the route for the annual Banana Slug Training ride hosted by the Redwood Coast Mountainbike Association.  Don't underestimate the difficulty of this shorter ride which is 48.7 miles and 7526 feet of climbing.  The last long climb on Mountain View Road has steep gravel pitches.

Arcata Backroads Tour

Distance: 49.0 miles
Climbing: 2546 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Start: Arcata

This ride features many great country roads that are popular for local cyclists. You will travel from Arcata to Blue Lake, Fieldbrook, McKinleyville, Westhaven, Trinidad, and back to Arcata. You can delete parts of the ride to shorten it. The ride features flat terrain around Arcata and rolling hills between Blue Lake and Trinidad. Expect the ride to take 3 to 4 hours. Since you are never too far from town, there are plenty of places to stop. I have not included turn by turn notes here, but a link to the RideWith GPS route.

Butler Valley Loop

Distance: 50 miles
Climbing: 5,549 feet
Difficulty: Hard
Start: Arcata

Updated May 23, 2020

The Butler Valley Loop is a favorite among area cyclists because of its challenging climbs, beautiful scenery, and limited car traffic. There are several historic points of interest to visit during the ride. The ride is not for the beginner. It is about 50 miles in length and has two difficult climbs. The weather can be variable as you ride from sea level at the coast to just over 2000 feet inland. It is often 10 or more degrees warmer inland than at the coast. In contrast, it could be beautiful on the coast and socked in with fog or drizzle up in the mountains. So be prepared for all weather conditions by carrying extra clothes such as arm warmers, a vest, or a rain jacket, especially during the winter. During the summer bring plenty of water because temperatures can reach over 90 degrees inland. It is a loop so once you are committed to the ride there are no real short cuts home. The road conditions are variable and include short sections of gravel and rough roads with potholes. Be sure to bring a spare tube, patches, and tools. Most cyclists ride their standard road bikes with 23-mm racing tires and do just fine. The ride should take between 4 or 5 hours depending on your fitness and how often you stop for breaks. The following mile points are based on one bicycle computer so pay more attention to the landmarks.
Detailed Route
Mile Point 0- Start in Arcata at the Jacoby Building, California Historic Landmark No. 783. This is located in the Arcata Plaza at Eighth and H Streets. Head north on G Street; it’s a one way. You will pass four bike shops as you leave town. This is a good time to stock up on supplies. As you head up G Street you will pass the following: Pacific Outfitters at 737 G Street, Adventure’s Edge at 650 10th Street, and Revolution Bicycle Repair at 1593 G. After you pass Life Cycle you will want to follow the signs towards Humboldt State University and Sunset Ave. by keeping to the right.
0.8- At the stop sign at Sunset Avenue turn right and then left on to L. K. Wood Blvd. Follow the bicycle lane north on L. K. Wood Blvd.
1.4- Bear left over Highway 101 on the St. Louis Overpass.
Side trip: To visit Camp Curtis, California Historic Landmark No. 215, go straight a short distance on L. K. Wood before going over the highway. The marker is at the end of the road. The monument is the only evidence that this was a historic military camp from 1862-1865. It marks a dark period in Humboldt County history when the "Indian Wars" were taking place.
1.5- Turn right onto St. Louis Road.
1.7- Turn right onto West End Road at the roundabout. You’ll follow a nice smooth road and bicycle lane as you head through Arcata’s industrial section of town.
2.8- Go straight at the intersection to Giuntoli Ln, staying on West End Road. Here is where you leave the comforts of a bike lane.
3.3- Cross the railroad tracks. The road narrows here and becomes more rolling in nature. Traffic will begin to lighten up also. You will start to enjoy the scenery of the country as you travel through the picturesque Warren Creek Valley. The road surface is in good condition.

9- Turn left onto Hatchery Road and head north towards Blue Lake. In less than a mile you will pass over the Mad River.

Side trip: The Mad River Hatchery is located about a mile down the road if you turn right on Hatchery Road. The hatchery is open to the public and has a small picnic area as well as several ponds of young salmon. There is a restroom at the far end of the parking lot.
10- As you come into Blue Lake bear left towards the Blue Lake Museum. Note: local riders will want to bear right on H Street towards "The Famous Logger Bar" established in 1899. About 100 feet west of the museum on Railroad Avenue is Arcata and Mad River Rail Road Company, California Historic Landmark No. 842. To continue the ride, head east on Railroad Ave. from the museum towards "The Famous Logger Bar." Continue east on Railroad Ave. to the next road point.
10.9- Turn right onto Blue Lake Blvd. You will start to notice a lot of log and lumber truck traffic as you head towards Korbel.
12.2- Korbel Post Office, established 1891. You are in the historic milling town of Korbel owned by the Simpson Timber Company. Follow the road over the historic Blue Lake Bridge, dated 1928. After crossing the bridge you will begin the first of two big climbs of the day. This is a good point to shed some clothes. You will climb an average 8% grade for approximately 2.6 miles and gain about 1100 feet in elevation. A triple crank or large rear gears are recommended for all but the really fit rider.
13.2- The Old Arrow Tree, California Historic Landmark No. 164. Over the years hundreds of people, when passing the tree, would place a twig, an arrow, or a feather in the bark. One story is that Native Americans respected a tall and straight redwood tree and considered it a great warrior and they would shoot arrows into it as a form of respect. Another story is that the Hoopa and Korbel tribes were at war. The Korbel indians won and Native Americans passing the tree would shoot an arrow into the tree to show they came in peace (Turner, 1993, Place Names of Humboldt County, California).
14.9- You are at the top of the climb at the intersection of Bald Mountain Road and Maple Creek Road. Once you start descending into Canon Creek, you may as well do the whole loop. If you turn back now you will have about a 30-mile out-and-back. Turn right onto Maple Creek Road. After a couple miles you start the bone jarring descent to Canon Creek. Use caution on this descent because there are a lot of curves and potholes on the way down.

18.3- Canon Creek Bridge. You will start a short climb out of the creek. This is where you will encounter the first gravel section of road. Ride cautiously for the next 7 miles because there are several short sections of gravel road. You don’t want to be going 30 miles an hour into a curve and suddenly hit gravel. This is a good time to enjoy the scenery and keep your eyes out for wildlife. This section of the ride offers the most solitude and there is very little traffic. The road is narrow and rolling with a few short ascents and descents.

26- Turn right onto Butler Valley Road. You will come to this intersection on a fairly fast descent which makes it easy to miss.
26.8- Mad River bridge stop. This is a beautiful bridge overlooking the Mad River. There are very few cyclists that can ride by without stopping to check out the view. This is a great place to eat some food and stretch your legs. There is a popular swimming hole just below the bridge. Don’t bother bringing your fishing pole. This area is off limits to fishing. As you leave the bridge you will have a short climb up to Butler Valley and the start of the longest climb of the day. From the bridge to the top of the climb, you will ascend 1660 feet in 7.8 miles. This climb is not as steep as the Korbel climb.

32.9- Fickle Hill intersection. Fickle Hill Road is a shorter way back to Arcata, but it is not necessarily easier since the road has several short climbs and one gravel section. However, it is a way to bypass the narrow and busy Old Arcata Road. Continue up Butler Valley Road past this intersection.

34.7- This is the top of the climb. Turn right on Kneeland Road towards Eureka.

36.75- Greenwood Heights Road. Stay on Kneeland Road bearing to the left. Greenwood Heights is an alternative way down to Three Corners. It is approximately the same distance. The descent is more variable in slope and includes some steep descents, flat sections, and one short climb. The Kneeland descent is more gradual and steady. You can easily go over 40 miles per hour on parts of the descent.

41- Freshwater Park. This is a great picnic spot with restrooms. The creek is dammed in the summer to create a swimming pool. As you continue past the park you will pass through the community of Freshwater.

44- Three Corners. Turn right on Myrtle Avenue. This is by far the busiest section of road. The road is narrow and has no shoulder for about 3 miles. This is an especially busy road during the morning and evening commute.

45.8- Go straight past the Indianola Cutoff.

47.7- Go straight past the Bayside Cutoff. The road gets better and there is a wider shoulder.
50.2- Go straight over the 101 overpass.
50.7- Turn right onto G Street and continue north until you reach the Arcata Plaza.

50.9- Arcata Plaza. You are done.