Photo: Lisa Parsons/Shutterstock

Sacramento Is NorCal’s Booming New Mountain Bike Hub

National Parks Insider Guides Cycling
by Ellen Baker May 6, 2020

Sitting at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills, California’s capital city of Sacramento provides access to hundreds of miles of single and doubletrack mountain bike terrain for riders of every ability. Easy trails along the river and canals can be found in the flat Sacramento valley while the foothills offer undulating flow trails for the more experienced mountain bikers. And those who really want to shred the gnar will find hair-raising downhills lined with rocks and roots.

The area is blowing up so quickly as a mountain bike destination that even Trailforks has to play catch-up to add all of the newly developed trails to its digital system. Add in the thriving food and beer scenes, and Sacramento makes a strong case for being NorCal’s most epic mountain bike destination. Here’s how to make the most out of your time here.

Stop into a bike shop for maps, conditions, and advice

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Upon arriving in town, your first stop should be one of the local bike shops. Here you can get the lay of the land, including what’s on as far as trail conditions go. This is also the time to grab any gear you don’t have on you and rent a bike if necessary. In downtown Sacramento, check out Natomas Bike Shop for maintenance and equipment. The shop is an effective home for the local scene, with a staff of riders who spend ample time on local trails and are generally in the know regarding trail info. For those planning to ride the foothills or in need of a rental, stop by Folsom Bike.

Go for an easy pedal in the heart of the city

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For an easy spin, Sacramento proper hosts the city’s famous Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, a 32-mile paved trail that parallels the American River from Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake. This ride is worth checking out as a “welcome to town” excursion, not only for the scenery but also because of the stop at Tower Brewing near the end of the trail. Because it is a multi-purpose trail, it can become crowded with hikers, cyclists, and horses on weekends and holidays. Look for the singletrack offshoots along the trail to avoid crowds and score some mellow technical terrain. Ride the trail one way and hop on the train to return to downtown Sacramento or complete the loop and ride home on the other side of the river for a full 64-mile day. Aside from the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, an abundance of gravel canals located throughout downtown Sacramento and its outskirts make for an easy day out.

Keep the town itself in your plans even when riding the hills, however, because the city offers an apres-bike scene that makes Tahoe jealous, even if the diehards in Incline Village won’t admit it. The West Sacramento riverfront food and beer garden of Drake’s BARN serves up housemade beers and local food, including the best pizza on this side of town. For a midday break, Sunflower Drive-In is a local vegetarian favorite. Although they provide no meat or alcohol, the smoothies and nut burgers are worthy fuel for an afternoon ride. Finish the day with a pint at Samuel Horne’s Tavern in Old Folsom.

Practice technique around Folsom Lake

Photo: Lisa Parsons/Shutterstock

The west shore of Folsom Lake brings you to the Granite Bay trail network with pristine views of the lake from its nearby summits. Here you will find a mix of singletrack downhill and cross-country terrain, just a 30-minute drive northwest of the city. The sandy, cross-country terrain in Granite Bay is packed with mellow ascents that lead to fast and flowy downhills that often include short sections of rock gardens and a few larger granite drops. A good starting point is Granite Bay Trail, which will lead to many other lines — but watch out for signs that caution horse-only trails.

On the eastern side of Folsom Lake, a larger, varietal trail network sprawls across El Dorado County. Opt for Mitchell Trail with its velvety green rolling hills just off Highway 50 that overlook the city of Sacramento, or head toward the shore for the area’s classic, technical cross-country lines. For the budding mountain biker looking for a challenge, a great place to start is Darrington Trail. It’s a loop that will keep you on your toes in the rocks and will grant sweeping descents in return. For the more advanced rider who enjoys a pedal, opt for Skunk Hollow for steep and challenging ascents followed by fun, fast descents.

On the west side of Folsom Lake, head over to Final Gravity Taproom for a west coast craft beer after your ride. On the east side in El Dorado County, check out Mraz Brewing Company for a local brew and post-ride cooldown.

Freerides, shuttles, and fast downhills

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If you have the option to shuttle, Auburn State Recreation Area is the place for a solid group ride. Arguably the most sought-after downhill riding in close proximity to Sacramento, Auburn produces tight turns, technical rock gardens, sweeping berms, and fast, all-around-fun downhill riding. It’s set in the canyons of the North and Middle Forks of the American River, allowing for a quick swim after a long day of riding, a welcome treat in the warmer months.

For intermediate to advanced riders, Culvert Trail is the area’s must-ride path, with tall berms, fun jumps, and a couple of rock gardens. The Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA) 7 Mile Loop includes Culvert Trail and is a great loop to get a feeling of the terrain in Auburn. Peddle laps on this loop or get some friends together to shuttle this mega-classic ride. For those looking for a more mellow day in Auburn, the Foresthill Divide trail is an 11-mile loop with easy ascents and fun flowing downhill.

Afterward, Ikeda’s is a local and tourist favorite. Make sure to try their famous chicken pot pie and marionberry pie for dessert. The next-door market offers single beers and other organic snacks.

Experience world-class riding within a two-hour drive of Sacramento

Some mountain bikers simply use Sacramento as a home base for big days in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains. In Lake Tahoe, resort riders will find themselves at Northstar California Resort for an all-day shred session while backcountry riders can find anything from flat lake rides to advanced freeriding with mandatory drops, fun kickers, rock stairs, and the inevitable dodging of massive pine trees. Use Sacramento as a gateway to some of the world’s best mountain biking and come back at the end of the day to enjoy the friendly downtown with good food, beer, and people.

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