There’s Mountain Biking GoldIn The Hills Above Fort Bragg

– by Yuri Hauswald

Yuri Hauswald
When he’s not racing his bike or working his day job as Elite Athlete Manager for GU Energy Labs, Yuri spends much of his time seeking the path less traveled with his wife, Vanessa, and their Rhodesian Ridgeback, Kingston.

It’s not easy to get “lost” in California these days, but maybe that’s because we’re not trying hard enough. 164 miles north of San Francisco, and just south of the village of Westport, sits the town of Fort Bragg, perched on the rugged, remote Northern California coastline where little has changed since the area’s gigantic redwoods were just seedlings. Before European settlers, the area in and around Fort Bragg was home to one of North America’s most dense and diverse populations of native peoples, with Pomo being the largest native culture in the area. Today the town is experiencing a rebirth of sorts as an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise and for some very obvious reasons.

Though most folks might venture to Fort Bragg to visit Glass Beach, to hike MacKerricher State Park, to sample libations at one of several breweries in town, to kayak the coastal nooks and crannies of the North Coast, or to take a ride on the infamous Skunk Train through the majestic redwoods, the more intrepid and adventurous can seek out some two wheeled adventures in this coastal town because there are endless opportunities to explore this region by bike.

If you’re looking to get out on your mountain bike, you’ve struck it rich here, because there are over 200 miles of trails and secondary connecting roads that make the zone between Fort Bragg and the town of Mendocino a cyclist’s paradise. For the most part, the miles of single and doubletrack that stretch between the towns of Fort Bragg and Mendocino see little recreational use – and even less fanfare. One might assume that the locals want to keep this paradise to themselves, which spans the Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF), Woodlands State Park, and Big River State Park. But this is not the case. When I ask why more people don’t know about the riding in this area, the answer isn’t quite that simple. The fact is that part of what makes this area so incredible is the coming together of the local cycling community and the unique aspects of the Demonstration Forest.

When it comes to recent bike access success, what’s got long-time local, Roo Harris, most excited is, “the dialogue and cooperation that has picked up between JDSF management and the bike club – Mendocino Coast Cyclist. There are more trails planned for the future and a greater awareness of the extensiveness of the trails and the secondary connecting road system here.”

Let’s start with Jackson Demonstration Forest. Owned by CAL FIRE, it’s the largest of the 14 statewide demonstration forests, spanning 48,652 acres. As the name implies, it’s a place to demonstrate, and learn, and pass on important insights into forest ecosystems and management. But another key mission of the forest is recreation, and recently, CAL FIRE has been working with the local cycling community to make the forest, its gorgeous landscapes and miles of well-maintained trails more accessible – especially to responsible cyclists who understand the forest’s important role in preserving and promoting healthy forestry practices.

The other spectacular extreme in biking Fort Bragg is the easily accessible Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail, a ten-mile stretch of paved multi-use path that runs along the coast, just west of town, winding through  carefully restored coastal bluffs that were hidden behind fences of the former mill site for a century. And not too far off in the future, this scenic coastal path will become  part of the California Trail, eventually slated to run along the entire California coast from Mexico in the south to Oregon in the north.

What does the future hold for this biking paradise? Plenty. “This area is just in its infancy as far as really developing trails,” says  Harris. “The Fort Bragg business community and county politicians are very receptive to the idea of bringing more recreational users to this area and the number of trails and diversity is worth a visit. Ours is a unique riding area which happens to be in the largest state forest in California.”

Looking to immerse yourself in a unique cycling experience? Want to ride in a place that reminds you at every pedal stroke to find the beauty in the natural surroundings and, more importantly, that there are discoveries to be made when you get “lost” on a bike (preferably figuratively). If you want to unplug and challenge yourself with a two-wheeled journey, wander out to the North Coast and explore Fort Bragg.

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