Located on California’s North Coast, Mendocino and Fort Bragg are on the verge of becoming a “bucket list” mountain bike travel destination. Imagine 100+ miles of smooth forested singletrack winding up and down through the steep canyons of Jackson State Forest. Tight, twisty singletrack among redwoods and ferns. Long climbs and flowing descents. Oh yeah!
A decade ago, we visited Mendocino with our mountain bikes to find a trail system in its infancy. We found our way onto some great trails, but also carried our mountain bikes over scores of downed trees. At the time, there were hundreds of miles of logging roads, but not much maintained singletrack. With an infusion of enthusiastic volunteers, mountain biking has taken off. There has been an explosion of quality singletrack in the area. Unlike many areas, locals are also eager to share their trails (as long as you ask nicely and are a good guest). We had three days of incredible riding of beautiful, smooth forested singletrack, and are already planning our next trip.
The Mendocino Coast Cyclists and local volunteers are trying to develop the region as a mountain bike destination. There are thousands of acres of public lands with enormous potential for a mountain bike destination (like Downieville, Tahoe, Oakridge, etc.).
The riding here is completely unlike any other area. Much of it is really tight, twisty singletrack clinging to steep hillsides in dense, lush second-growth redwood and fir forests. Winding through lush forests in dark canyons has a feeling of other worldliness. When you do get a chance to open it up and ride fast, it’s like flying through the trees (not unlike Star Wars Ewoks in Return of the Jedi). Some of the trails on the plateaus also wind through dense rhododendron forests.
As big at the trees are, they are tiny compared to the old growth forest that was here a century ago. Massive old growth stumps are in abundance here, a testament to Mendocino’s logging heritage. The stumps are so large- often 6, 8, or even 10+ feet in diameter, that the current second-growth forest seems puny despite it’s 100 foot tall trees. Our understanding of the forests has certainly changed since the days of rampant clear-cutting. I found myself asking, “Did we really need to cut down every old growth redwood out here? Couldn’t we have left just one per acre and a few stands of old growth giants for future generations?”
The Mendocino Coast has the potential to tap into millions of dollars in healthy mountain bike tourism. Non-motorized recreation also has other tangible benefits- pushing out rampant illegal marijuana grows and meth labs, and displacing dumpers and squatters on public lands. Mountain bikers and hikers/trail runners are a healthy demographic that cares about their forests. Getting traditional land managers to buy into mountain bike tourism is always the biggest battle.
The Mendocino coast has a long history of logging and commercial fishing as its primary industries. The Mendocino coast is also blessed with phenomenal natural beauty. As logging and commercial fishing wane, tourism has become the primary industry. In addition to mountain biking, there is hiking, water sports, fishing, great restaurants, and a beautiful rugged coast.
I’d highly recommend picking up a map from Fort Bragg Cyclery, or printing one of the many ride maps available online from Mendo local Roo Harris. Roo and other Mendo locals have been very generous in posting rides and info online (do a bit of searching on mtbr.com). Expect dozens of unmarked intersections and some route finding.
We did extensive riding in the Mendocino Woodlands and from Caspar Scales- about 80 miles over three days. In no particular order, I’d recommend Manly Gulch, Eagles Roost, Big Trees, Boiler, Forest History, Confusion, Big River Haul Road, Gas Cap, Endo, Ono, Talus, Fury III, Southern Crossing, and the Drive Thru Tree. There are dozens of epic ride combos, and many trails we didn’t get around to riding. Do some research, get a map, and get out there.
This is cross country riding at its finest, be prepared for lots of climbing and descending. There is little flat riding out here.
There are many resources for finding great rides on the Mendocino Coast. Riding in the Mendocino-Fort Bragg area also entails dozens of unmarked (or lightly marked) intersections. Expect to do some trail and error route finding- unless you hook up with a local. Map and compass highly recommended- GPS can be sketchy in deep forested canyons.
Fort Bragg Cyclery has a great trail map available for sale. Fort Bragg Cyclery is located in downtown Fort Bragg at 301 North Main Street.
Catch-A-Canoe and Bicycles Too is another great resource for Mendocino Coast Recreation. They are located on the south side of Big River, just off Highway 1
There are also many internet searchable maps and ride descriptions on mtbr.com.
Photographing in the forest is a challenge. The low is a challenge for point-and-shoot cameras. Nevertheless, here are some pics of our trip.