It’s something all SF mountain bikers dream of—mile after mile of purpose built singletrack not to be shared with horses, hikers, or photo snapping tourists. I went in search of this dirt utopia up along the Lost Coast of California. Around 3 ½ hours north of the city, the Lost Coast is a remote and mostly undeveloped portion of Northern California.
The King Range National Conservation Area (KRNCA) sits at the southern end, a spectacular meeting of steep, forested mountains and ocean, covering 68,000 acres extending along 35 miles of coastline. This untamable ruggedness forced both Hwy 1 and Hwy 101 inland, rendering the area accessible by only a few small backroads and leaving it open to hikers, campers, surfers, bikers, anglers, and any other outdoor lover wanting to leave civilization behind in search of adventure.
Since 2005, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has worked with local mountain biking clubs and the IMBA to plan, develop, and construct an environmentally sustainable mountain bike trail system in the Paradise Ridge area of the KRNCA. The proposed trail network will eventually bring 30 miles of purpose built singletrack to a region where legal mountain bike specific trails simply do not exist on public land. What could be better than that?
Currently, a 14 mile loop named the Paradise Royale Trail has been fully completed. This is what I set out to ride one weekend. Heading north along the 101 from San Francisco, the rolling Sonoma vineyards quickly give way to towering redwoods, complete with oversize Paul Bunyan and Bigfoot statues beckoning you to stop and buy souvenirs or visit the World Famous Gravity House at Confusion Hill.
Heading west out of Redway, leaving the crazy tourist traffic and the 101 behind, you quickly come to realize why this area is known as the Lost Coast. Rough, narrow, winding roads, carve their way slowly to the Pacific. Although well signed, finding the dirt road cut off to the Paradise Royale trailhead and local campground can be a bit tricky.
After navigating potholes and ruts due to the recent heavy rains, I finally pulled into the trailhead, not all too surprised to see a dirtbag van parked there, complete with mountain bike on the back and surfboard on top. The van was occupied by a very nice “dude” from Colorado on an extended road trip to try and figure out what the universe had in store for him. He decided to stick around the Lost Coast area for awhile, as the surfing was great and he regularly rode the Paradise Royale trail when the waves weren’t breaking right (the abundance of marijuana outposts in the region I am sure helped, too).
With the words of Will Gadd filling my head, I wished Mr. Universe the best of luck and set off clockwise to see what the trail had in store for me that day.
The first 4.5 miles were heaven—cruising up and down tacky singletrack that at this time of the year is a bit of a vegetable tunnel. I quickly arrived at one of the mandatory “hike a bike” sections marked on the trail map—the first of two Bear Creek crossings. Normally, it appears as though riders simply hop across large boulders carrying their bike to get to the other side. Not in early season after a bunch of storms, however. This turned into a thigh deep, carry your bike over your head and hope you don’t slip on the slimy rocks into the strong current “hike a bike” adventure. Not ideal when the thermometer read 42°F when I started my ride that morning.
Once safely across, you immediately enter the Prince of Pain—the notorious section filled with 19 steep, technical switchbacks taking you 1,200 feet straight up to the ridge with grades sometimes exceeding 15%. I will be the first to admit I am not the best mountain biker, so found the singletrack here extremely high consequence tight, and the switchbacks very steep and sharp, all not helped by the fact I chose to ride the SPDs vs flat pedals for some reason that day. After quite a bit of hiking and even a full, bruise inducing endo when my front wheel slipped off the trail, I finally reached Paradise Ridge.
From here you are rewarded with views of the Pacific Ocean, and fast riding through open forests and meadows, before a full 4 miles of downhill bliss—numerous optional lines including plenty of whoops, rock drops, jumps, log rides, and steep banked turns. Not to mention another adventurous Bear Creek crossing.
Depending on your riding ability, the full loop takes around 2-3 hours. When finished, be sure to head up towards the Tolkan campground and play around on the beginner, intermediate, and expert level flow trails in the dedicated skills park.
For any SF mountain biker or any biker just visiting the city, the Lost Coast is more than worth the drive for a weekend of singletrack paradise. Not to mention the Bigfoot T-shirt.
Info: For trail map and directions, check out the BLM page here.
Where to stay: Tolkan campground sits further up the dirt King Peak Road next to the skills park. You will find bathrooms and water here. For those looking to sleep in a bed, you can choose from a spattering of guest houses in the small hamlet of Shelter Cove at the coast.
Be aware there is no cell service pretty much anywhere in the Lost Coast region (even Shelter Cove). So, if headed out riding by yourself, be sure to let someone know where you are going or bring a satellite messenger. Although you are technically only 4 miles from Shelter Cove, there isn’t much in the way of services and the mountain biking area is very rugged and remote should you get hurt.
Don't forget to stop at Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa to refuel with a pint of Pliny and a pie on your drive home.