Pioneer and Round Mountain Trails (near Grass Valley & Nevada City)

OTE Ratings: O?/T?/E?
Distance: Pioneer: 5 miles (lower trail); 10 miles (upper trail). Round Mountain: 12-13 miles
Time: ???
Climbing: ???

Rick Brusuelas describes a trip in April, 1994:

Getting tired of the same old trails? Or worse... getting tired of all of the new trail laws?? I was (still am)!! So that meant... ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!

Friday afternoon, I gathered the family and met my friends Phil and Terry Marquand (and kids) at Lake Wildwood (just outside Grass Valley/Nevada City). Since we had never ridden there (I lived there a couple of years ago BM... Before Mtb), I guessed that there would be great riding just off of Highway 20 (between Nevada City and I80) and off of Highway 49 (between Nevada City and Downieville). But to be on the safe side, we decided to look for trail maps and recommendations at local shops (we went to Bikes and Hobbies Unlimited, 1451 East Main Street, Grass Valley and received a free map with 12 local rides).

Pioneer Trail

The bike shop manager recommended the Lower Pioneer Trail and Upper Pioneer Trail, so that's what we rode Saturday am.

Lower Pioneer Trail

Lower Pioneer Trail starts across Highway 20 from the Five Mile House (roughly 5 miles from Nevada City on Highway 20), and follows alongside Highway 20 (going away from Nevada City) for about 5 miles. The trail is almost all singletrack, and it climbs about 800 feet steadily until you get to the turnaround point at White Cloud Campground, where you can either turn back for a fast 5 mile singletrack return, or you can cross Highway 20 and pick up the trailhead for Upper Pioneer Trail.

We chose a slightly different starting place than the Five Mile House. We drove further up Highway 20, and turned left at the Conservation Corp Campground. There we saw tons of fire road and singletrack trails. We opted to head down a trail labeled Nature Trail (actualy, a fire road descent at this point), but soon found out the actual Nature Trail was off limits to bikes. So we continued a short way on the fie road, and found an extremely cool looking singletrack that climbed off the fire road to our left. Since we knew we eventually wanted to get back towards Highway 20, and this trail looked like it headed that way, we started up the steep and technical singletrack. It was a little more than I could handle (steep, narrow, with a few ruts and roots thrown in there), so I had to push some of the way, but Phillip cleared this trail. Soon we hit a fire road, and headed in the direction we thought paralleled Highway 20, and after some climbing we hit the signed (Lower) Pioneer Trail.

This part of the ride (to be honest) got monotonous... sure it was nice singletrack, but the constant uphill pitch made it difficult to build up enough speed to overcome the monotony of a trail that didn't vary much from start to finish.

Upper Pioneer Trail

Fortunately, just as we were to the point of falling asleep, we saw the trailhead for Upper Pioneer Trail across Highway 20, so we carefully crossed the highway and started Upper Pioneer trail.

Ahh! Much better. This singletrack trail (10 miles up and back) is much more diverse in altitude changes, direction (it moves away from the highway), and terrain (forest, manzanita, clearings, and back into forest). While there is not a single long climb, there are a number of short steep drops and climbs. Even some nice rock areas. And the trail gets pretty narrow along one ridge. This trail is rated 6 (on a scale of 6) in both "physical" and "technical" (versus 4 and 4 for Lower)... I would say its a fun advanced beginner to intermediate ride.

Even the Lower Pioneer trail seemed more fun heading back down, in part due to the fun Upper trail, and in part due to the fact we were now heading down the trail, so we were able to pick up a lot of speed, and what few rocks, roots, ruts, and trees present were now a little challenging.

After this 17 mile ride, we headed back into Grass Valley and went to Samarai Mountain Bike shop (10028 Joerschke Dr. Grass Valley) to look for more maps and recommendations. Zachi Nelson (the manager) told us about two awesome organized rides... the Forest City (a 20, 40, 60 mile ride in August) and the Downieville Downhill (a 28 mile ride with a long beater of a downhill). He also sold me a map ($1... worth it) of a ride he and others developed that involved the Round Mountain trail. We opted to take this one on Sunday.

Round Mountain Trail

Sunday, the weather improved (less cloudy and less muggy), so we headed up Highway 49, and followed the excellent directions provided to a parking area near the summit of Round Mountain. We began the ride going down a beautiful singletrack that dropped down along the mountain and passed a nice vista spot called Coyote Ledge. From here, we continued down singletrack, then swooped down and lost are bearings a little (even with map and directions), thus missed out a little more singletrack before catching a paved road that linked us with Purdon Road (a paved then gravel, then rutted, then severely rutted, then hang-on-for-dear-life rutted road) that descended down to the Yuba River. [BTW: The top of Round Mountain is about 3,400 feet, and the river is about 1,600 feet]

After a short break along the river, we caught a well signed singletrack called the Round Mountain trail. This narrow singletrack is a fairly relentless climb that makes six switchbacks that are fairly steep and sharp. At this late point in the ride, I was pretty tired (and the clouds and humidity increased by this time), so I needed to stop and catch my breathe a few times along the way. [Danger Alert!!... this is a very narrow singletrack, and Poison Oak is all over the place. And, very annoying flies that make a sport of going for your eyes]

Once you break free of the fairly grueling singletrack climb, you have a couple of miles of fire road back to the parking lot. Miscellaneous notes: some people start this ride at the river... there is a small parking lot there. Also, some people prefer going the ride in the opposite direction (goes down the grueling singletrack, but goes up the rutted Purdon Road in blazing sunshine). Oh, and for those interested, the ride is about 12-13 miles long.


Lower Pioneer trail (all singletrack, kinda boring going out, kinda fun coming back); Upper Pioneer Trail (a really fun singletrack); Round Mountain ride (some fun singletrack, a fast rutted fire road for those who like Nisene Marks, a nice river, and a grueling PO covered, eye-attacking fies singletrack climb). On Saturday we saw two other riders. On Sunday we saw three other riders. But no radar guns!

Happy Trails!


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