Lost Sierra mountain biking: Ride Mills Peak for epic views and tasty brews
The view from Mills Peak near Graeagle, Calif., is stunning. Video shows view to east of Mohawk Valley to the east. There's also glimpse of the Sierra Buttes, still holding snow in late August, to the southwest. Graeagle is about 60 miles from Reno. Benjamin Spillman/RGJ
Put this spot on your list of day trip destinations
Don’t be fooled by the ugly bruise on my right hip, my recent ride on the Mills Peak trail was a smashing success.
Located near Graeagle, Calif., in the Plumas National Forest, the Mills Peak trail is a bumpy, 10-mile ride with incredible views and a brew pub nestled in a grove of trees at the end. It's among the most popular mountain biking trails in the Lost Sierra, an area that gets less outside attention than destinations like Lake Tahoe or Yosemite but contains great natural features such as the Sierra Buttes and Lakes Basin.
Those attributes and the fact it’s easy to get from downtown Reno to the upper Mills Peak trailhead in about 90 minutes make it a great choice when time is short and it’s too hot to ride Peavine.
Did I mention there’s a brew pub?
I rode Mills Peak on a recent Sunday. It was my second time on that trail and my first this season.
I suggested Mills Peak because it was a chance to get out of the desert and into the forest without driving two hours to Downieville or dealing with the weekend Tahoe traffic.
The plan was to meet riding partner John Ames and his girlfriend, Laura, in Graeagle. Laura agreed to shuttle us from town to the top of the peak, a distance of about 12 miles by road.
If you don’t have a shuttle driver there is a small parking lot near the intersection of California Route 89 and Gold Lake Highway where you can park and ride up and back.
If you do shuttle it’s best to have a high clearance vehicle for the dirt road that leads from Gold Lake Highway to the peak.
When you get to the trailhead the first thing you’ll notice is the fire lookout building on the peak.
Built in 1933 the lookout is on the National Historic Lookout Record. It’s also still in use today and during fire season a fire lookout person lives in the building full time.
If you arrive during daylight hours you’ll likely find the gate to the lookout tower open which means you’re free to climb the stairs and stand on the balcony overlooking the Mohawk Valley to the east.
Remember, though, even though this is a public space there’s still someone living and working inside so be a courteous guest.
The views from the tower are incredible so you’ll want to make sure to take time for photos. In addition to Mohawk Valley in the east, you can look to the west for views of Gold Lake and to the south you’ll see the Sierra Buttes.
After you’ve taken in the sights it’s time to hit the trail. You’ll find it across the parking lot from the lookout tower near a small day use area with a picnic table.
The top of the trail drops off the peak toward Gold Lake and the Lakes Basin dominates the view. It’s a great segment for photography.
The trail has a short uphill stretch before winding through some huge boulders and resuming descent.
If you’re a Reno rider familiar with Peavine, Mills Peak is a little rockier and a lot more wooded. There were a couple spots up high where I wasn’t carrying enough speed to clear some rock gardens and wound up having to walk my bike a short distance.
Eventually you’ll descend into the forest and find some smoother, flowing segments in the trees. The shade was a nice break from the sun that riders don't get on desert trails.
At about three miles in the trail winds onto an old logging road. It’s wider, straighter and has longer sight lines than the single-track which makes it easier to ride fast. But there are still some blind curves so you’ll want to control your speed to avoid uphill riders.
At about 4.6 miles the single-track forks to the left away from the logging road. There’s a small sign directing riders who want to stay on the Mills Peak trail to go left.
This is the segment where I fell and bruised my hip. It happened as I was taking a corner to the right. There was a loose rock about six or eight inches wide in the middle of the trail. When I swerved to miss it, my front tire sunk in a rut at the edge of the trail and the jolt pitched me off the bike. Luckily, I was no worse for wear, other than the hip bruise.
After picking myself up I continued on the segment that leads to a paved road. Here riders can turn left and continue downhill for about one-third of a mile then take a right off the pavement onto the single track.
From there the trail is straighter than the portions near the peak with more space between the trees which means longer sight lines.
After about a mile you’ll reach the parking area at California 89 at the bottom of the trail. From there just hang a left onto the highway and it’s a little less than two miles on pavement to get to the middle of Graeagle.
That’s where we loaded up the bikes before making the approximately three-minute drive to the Brewing Lair of the Lost Sierra.
Built in 2011, the Brewing Lair is tucked into the forest just north of Highway 70 in Blairsden.
They’ve got a wide selection of beer brewed on site and the setting is superb for a post-ride beverage. Below the brewery there’s a terraced seating area with huge, wooden banquet tables and smaller picnic tables. There’s also a slackline, some ping pong tables and other games.
It’s family friendly, when we stopped by there were as many kids as there were adults. It’s also dog friendly, so long as you keep your dog on a leash and pick up after it.
If you go: Mills Peak Trail
Location: Graeagle, Calif. (60 miles from Reno)
Trail: Approximately 10 miles with 3,344 feet of descent from the top of the peak to the center of Graeagle
Difficulty level: Moderate, it’s not grueling but cautious or inexperienced riders won’t want to ride too fast because the trail is rocky