The bed of the black pick-up truck is loaded with mountain bikes. Front wheels draped over the tailgate, back wheels buried in helmets, shoes and riding gear. The riders load into the cab and head up Fickle Hill to start their day. The group is eager to push their limits and enjoy a fun day out on the trail.
Brett Watts, 31, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flight mechanic, has been in Humboldt County for three years and has helped bring together a group of young, local riders who share their love of mountain bikes. The group spends their time outside work and college classes building and riding trails that offer a different flavor of riding to the local mountain bike community.
"Some people get excited climbing technical stuff, some people want to go fast and improve on their time, but for the group that I ride with and the trails that I build, time or climbing is not what we're after. We're after just good turns, big jumps, and high speed," Watts says.
This enthusiastic group of riders has helped bring a new level of excitement to the local mountain bike community through dynamic trails and a tight-knit friendship. Watts believes that the North Coast has unique potential for mountain bike specific trails and hopes that sharing it with new riders will help expand the trail systems.
"You're on a super quiet mode of transportation and you're just buzzing through the redwoods," Watts says with a smile after a long day of riding with friends on his favorite trail behind the Redwood Curtain. "You're with these trees that are insanely tall — of course you're happy — your freakin' grandma would be stoked to do it ... your grandma's grandma would love to do it!"
For riders visiting Humboldt for the first time, there are some great trail systems to check out. With easily accessed trails on the coast and destination trail systems in the mountains, Humboldt offers riders a wide variety of single track to experience what the North Coast has to offer.
The Arcata Community Forest, or ACF (Redwood Park entrance at East 14th Street, Arcata), is a great place to start. This trail network spans from West End Road on the north end of Arcata, all the way across Fickle Hill, dropping into Sunny Brae. With approximately 790 acres of city-managed forest, the community has worked hard to develop a diverse network of trails. Popular single track sections behind the Humboldt State campus, like Trail 13 and the South Janes Creek Loop, offer beginner to advanced riders a series of windy turns, rollers and flowy descents through second-growth redwood forest.
The southern side of the ACF boasts a more steep and technical topography. The Sunny Brae directional trail is a great option for intermediate to advanced riders who are looking for a high speed downhill trail. With bermed turns and small jump options, riders can test their skills without risking collision with oncoming traffic. This side of the forest also features the Beeth Creek Loop, which takes trail users through second-growth redwood forest, small tributaries and moderately challenging single track.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park is located about 40 miles south of Eureka on the Avenue of the Giants. Although its trails are mostly closed to mountain bikers, there is one multi-use loop that attracts riders looking for an escape into old-growth redwood groves. The Look Prairie Thornton loop is a 13-mile single track loop for cross country riders (Mattole Road). With 2,700 feet of climbing, riders can expect a hard workout, but the flowy and fun descent through the forest makes the hard work pay off.
Even farther south toward Shelter Cove in Southern Humboldt lies Paradise Royale in the King Range Conservation Area (Tolkan campground). With the oversight of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), trail builders designed a 12-mile directional loop with 2,500 feet of climbing. The trail takes riders across creeks, to the top of Kings Peak with breathtaking views and flying down the other side on a wide-open downhill trail. It offers visitors well-maintained pay-by-the-day campsites with potable water and is only 4 miles from the small coastal town of Shelter Cove. Aside from the main loop, the trail system has an additional out and back trail that links up with the loop as well as a small skills park near the campsite with beginner to advanced line options. The skills park features small to large jumps, berms and wooden wall rides and bridges. Paradise Royale is a great system to visit for mountain bikers passing through Humboldt County.
The most recently developed area and arguably the best for mountain bikers is the Lacks Creek trail system (Pine Ridge Parking Area off State Route 299). About an hour drive from Arcata, the BLM-managed land offers multi-use and mountain bike specific trails all built with bicycles in mind. The trail system currently boasts over 10 miles of single track that wind up and down the steep mountainside into Redwood Valley. Trails like Tomfoolery and Stormy Saddle flow through tan oak groves, restored meadows and pine forests while overlooking western views of the Pacific.
Lacks Creek has easy to advanced trails, including a jump line and a downhill specific trail. For mountain bikers looking to get away from town for a day, Lacks is the perfect place. Camping is available, but check with the Arcata BLM office (825-2300) about campfires. Be sure to bring water, as there is none available.
Check out @MTBhumboldt on Instagram, featuring photos of local trails and an easy way to contact local riders. And visit the local International Mountain Bicycling Association chapter at www.redwoodcoastmountainbikeassociation.org for further information, group ride postings and trail updates.