After heaving my heavy mountain bike with bags and gear over approximately the thirtieth fallen, fire-charred tree trunk, I seriously questioned my life choices. This couldn’t be the route, could it? I double-checked, triple-checked, and still came to the same conclusion. This was the route. Instead of a well-maintained forest dirt road, I found myself on an overgrown track, seemingly untouched for years. As it usually happens, it is generally too late when one realizes one’s predicament. I was too far along to turn around, go back to where all of this started, and look for an alternative. I was committed, and the only way was through.

Early Friday morning, I parked my car about three and a half miles west of Portola, a small city in Plumas County, California. I began my adventure at the southern end of Willow Creek Road, a dirt path leading straight into the woods. My goal was to ride the Lost Sierra Loop, a 105-mile bikepacking journey through Plumas National Forest. My surroundings felt familiar to what one would encounter about an hour’s drive south, in the very well-touristed region around Lake Tahoe. Hundred-foot tall pine trees flanked the dirt road for miles and miles at altitudes of 5,000 to 6,000 feet.

Shortly after passing the vicinity of Lake Davis to the east, a scene that would repeat itself over and over for the next three days entered my view. The lush pine forest was replaced by swaths of black, charred trees, stripped of all foliage, without visible signs of life.

Later research revealed that the area the route directed me through was heavily impacted by devastating wildfires in recent years. Most notably, the Dixie Fire (2021), the Fly Fire (2021), and the Claremont Fire (2020). Despite some signs of regrowth, the blackened trees were a stark reminder of the fire’s destruction and would accompany me for long stretches of the route.

After reaching the first high point at 6,500 feet only about two hours into the ride – and needing to get off the bike and push to overcome the 10%+ gradient, I puttered along through this scenery into the early afternoon, following dirt roads carved into the eastern flank of Grizzly Ridge. A swift descent through a narrow valley, with Little Grizzly Creek flowing at the bottom, took me way down in elevation and back onto pavement.

Not long after, I introduced myself to a friendly camp host family and checked into Taylorsville Community Campground around 5pm in what felt like 100-degree heat. As I was about to make dinner, a fellow bikepacker, Tom, rolled into the campground. He had followed my tracks and was also doing the Lost Sierra Loop, extending it to explore areas to the south. We swapped stories, and I learned he had completed the Tour Divide in 2021 in an impressive 28 days.

I’d rather meet the biggest climb of the day first thing in the morning rather than late in the day. This was the case rolling out of Taylorsville on day two, climbing up steep China Grade Road and eventually reaching the top of Mount Hough at 7,221 feet. The view of snow-covered Lassen Peak in the distance and a crystal-clear lake below the summit was breathtaking and invited to linger for a bit. Tom caught up with me while preparing my lunch and disappeared down the trail after a brief chat.

Various outfitters shuttle mountain bikers up Mount Hough to ride the Mount Hough Trail back down towards Quincy. On the way up, Matt from Adventure Monkeys, bobbing down the forest road in his van after dropping off a group of bikers at the top, stopped for me and assured me that going down the trail was no problem on a heavy-laden mountain bike. “Oh yeah, it’s not technical at all, very flowy. I have taken ten-year-olds down the trail, so just make sure your brakes are working and your gear is tightly strapped, and you’ll be fine,” he said.

The ride down was exhilarating, fun, and ideally suited for a downhill chicken like me. My arms were burning when I reached the bottom and made my way into Quincy at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, combined with a hot breeze that made it feel like cycling in a pizza oven. I rested and restocked at the local Safeway with seemingly a half dozen Pacific Crest Trail backpacker enthusiasts.

Some more mileage had to be gained by the end of the day, so I hopped back on the horse, cruised down East Main Street, and found myself on a forest road not before long. Unfortunately, the road turned into an obstacle course of fallen trees. Labeled Cutler Meadow, the forest road turned from simple light overgrowth into toppled over after toppled over tree challenge. Moving the bike around the natural hurdles was impossible, so I had to lift the bike over a good two dozen trees over 1.6 miles, which took me about 1.5 hours.

With the area that followed, some of the forest roads seemed to have been slightly changed and rerouted during the reforestation efforts from the recent wildfires, which added an additional navigational challenge my slightly exhausted mind and body had to contend with. As daylight waned, I was eager to find a place to camp. A road not marked on the map took me down to Fells Flat, where I found a reasonably flat area next to Middle Fork Feather River to hunker down for the night.

The final day mirrored the previous ones, with another steep climb towards Grizzly Ridge on the aptly named Little Long Valley Road in blistering heat. But every climb eventually ends, and the final highlight awaited after reaching the final pass at 6,740 feet: a smooth, swift, and fast seven-mile downhill on a wide forest road back to the car.

I fully stuck to the Lost Sierra Loop route published on BIKEPACKING.COM. Roughly a third of the route takes the rider through areas recently burned by wildfires, however, vegetation is returning and streams for water supply are flowing, particularly in early season.

While technically passable by bushwacking/heaving the bike over roughly a dozen fallen trees, I would like to see the section east of Quincy (miles 69.3-71.2) rerouted to avoid this challenge. However, given some of the land in this area is private property, a suitable (and legal) alternative route on forest roads is likely difficult to find. An alternative could be continuing on La Porte Road south and entering the forest again closer to Feather River.

The start and end to the route is the southern terminus of Willow Creek Road (24N12), roughly 3.4 miles west of Portola. As mentioned in the original route post, there is parking on dirt right after the turn from Highway 70. Portola is roughly a one hour drive north from Truckee, a little under four hours from San Francisco, and just 50 minutes from Reno.

There are obvious resupply points on the route in Taylorsville (Young’s Market), as well as Quincy with multiple options. I came across multiple streams along the route in mid-June and refilled on water from them after filtering.

The amount of riding on rather rough dirt roads (with coconut-sized rocks littering the path) warrants a hardtail mountain bike setup. I went with my trusted and tested Salsa Timberjack, which worked really well and felt appropriate for the conditions.

General Info

Lost Sierra