Riding & eating across the Sierra Valley

Story & photos by Tim Hauserman ·

 

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Stop at Smithneck Farms Cafe in Sierraville for good home cooking and milk shakes.

 

Just 25 miles north of Truckee lies the Sierra Valley. It’s a serene place of tiny towns, sprawling cattle ranches and wetlands filled with birds. It’s also a great place to bring a bike, so you can fully enjoy what this expansive valley has to offer at the pace it deserves: Beautiful countryside, fun, down home restaurants and shops, and a unique farmers’ market.

 

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Sierra Valley features beautiful countryside, fun, down home restaurants and shops, and a unique farmers’ market.

Ride with a view

First, let’s start with the riding. The valley is mostly flat and several well maintained but lightly used roads make for good 30- to 50-mile loops. No matter where you go, it’s fun to pedal around the valley and enjoy the views of meadows, farm houses and the often snow-capped mountains in the background.

One loop begins in Sierraville and heads up to Sattley on Highway 49. Turn right onto A-23 and go 17 miles to the northern end of the valley. If you are an adventurer, and don’t mind taking your road bike on some washboard dirt, you can cut off a few miles by taking Marble Hot Springs Road. It takes you through the heart of the wettest part of the valley and over a few charming one-lane bridges. This is bird land.

On the main route you pass Sierra Valley Farms, then reach busy Highway 70. Turn right, and soon another right onto quiet A-24. Now you cross the valley again, through delightful open terrain. Keep your eyes peeled for hawks lifting off of fence posts or purple lupines lining the roadside. Eventually you reach Highway 49, which after a right turn will bring you to Loyalton. Spend some time in Sierra County’s largest town (which is still not very big) before continuing another 13 miles back to your start at Sierraville.

Another ride begins in Loyalton and heads north on Highway 49 to Highway 70. A right turn takes you to Chilgoot, where a left turn begins a winding climb through spectacular volcanic rock formations along a creek to Frenchman Lake. Retrace your pedals to Highway 49, and then about halfway back to Loyalton, turn right onto Dyson Road, then left onto Sierra Valley Road, which brings you on a straight shot into Loyalton.

 

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Sierra Valley Farms on the northern end of the valley offers the only on-farm farmers’ market in California during the summer.

Explore the small towns

While the Sierra Valley looks pretty empty, the Mom and Pop businesses in the small towns of Sierraville and Loyalton really appreciate your business. When you buy from these small enterprises you help keep these small towns dreams alive and the communities vibrant.

In Sierraville, you will probably find Dwight behind the counter of the little Smithneck Farms Restaurant, which is tucked behind two antique gas pumps. They’ve got coffee, homemade jams, good home cooking and my favorite, the milk shakes, which are the perfect ending to a bike ride. Or, if you prefer you can take a soak at the Sierraville Hot Springs just a bit out of town.

In Loyalton, head to the Old Western style Golden West Restaurant and Bar. It has an eclectic menu and is a good place to meet the locals. In the summer months, the Lil Frosty is the place for burgers and ice cream. Sierra Valley Home Center looks like what you imagine when you think of a great small town hardware store. If you need something, they probably have it. The Milton Gottardi Museum is packed full of Old Western artifacts including a horse drawn hearse, a horse drawn doctor’s buggy, an old classroom, railroad and logging exhibits, and ice cutting tools. It’s well worth a visit.

The Northern end of the valley is the place to be on a summer Friday to visit the only on-farm farmers’ market in California at Sierra Valley Farms. They have fruits and vegetables, bakery items, honey, teas and cooking classes. How about going for a ride first and rewarding your hard work by sampling the market’s wares?

 


 

Lost and Found Gravel Grinder | May 30
You can ride the 60- or 100-mile distances with a route over a combination of dirt, gravel and paved roads, which makes those distances seem pretty long. The ride begins at Lake Davis and loops to the north through beautiful forest and remote valleys. | lostandfoundbikeride.com

Tour De Manure | June 20
This popular metric century (62 miles) begins in Sierraville. It circles the valley and eventually reaches Loyalton, where a climb up Smithneck Road awaits before the return to Sierraville. At the finish, delicious food, great music, and lots of friendly and happy people are ready to greet you. | tourdemanure.org

The Sierra Gran Fondo | Sept. 13
This mass start event begins in Loyalton and provides a variety of distance options. You can circle the Sierra Valley and/or climb into the Gold Lakes and Sierra Buttes terrain nearby. | svgf.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tim Hauserman

Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, as well as “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and the children’s book “Gertrude’s Tahoe Adventures in Time.” Most of the year he writes on a variety of topics, but you will find him in the winter teaching cross-country skiing and running the Strider Gliders program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. He has lived in Tahoe since he was a wee lad and loves to be outdoors road and mountain biking, hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking and cross-country skiing.