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4,276 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
(Part 1 of 2)

Back in '95-ish, a guy I worked for that got me "into" mt. biking a few years earlier said we're doing a loop in the Royal Gorge/North Fork of the American River area, which included a 2 hour downhill. Sounded fun! When I found out it was only 7-8 miles down, I wasn't sure why it would take so long. Found out back then that it was a rugged and rough trail with lots of view stops and HAB, both up and down... and it was so awesome!

The payoff for surviving the downhill on our hard tail bikes was incredible swimming holes, huge waterfalls and cliff hucking. This is the only photo I have of that ride, me hucking a good 60 footer into a very deep pool.

The way out of there (back then) was a very difficult, 3 mile zig zag up the southern side of the Gorge (called "The Wall"), up to Soda Springs Rd., past The Cedars, and back to civilization at what's now Ice Lakes Lodge.

The New Years Eve storm of '96-'97 was massive, and a torrent of water washed out a section of The Wall, and the Forest Service declared the trail closed permanently.

Over the years, I never considered going back because of the washout/landslide.... but then I recently heard a rumor that the washout was passable... which got me thinking. If it was passable, and the rest of the trail was in decent shape, great. If it wasn't, I'd could just back-track up what I came down, with a possible alternate route part of the way back up.

So, 16 years later, I figured with adequate preparedness (gear), full suspension, better fitness and better bike handling, I'd give this ride another go this past Sunday. Only problem was, I couldn't talk any friends into going... so off I went by myself :skep:

I parked at Kidd Lake, with hopeful intentions of taking a refreshing dip after this adventure, and started pedaling at 10:30am

A quick spin up the fireroad towards Cascade Lakes revealed a nice warming hut with Devils Peak in the background:

Cascade Lake and Devils Peak:

I always like seeing old trail signs... or what's left of them. I was on the right track... Palisade Creek Trail:

I took a side trip out to Long Lake, and was happy I did. Such a beautiful spot!

Back on the Palisade Creek Trail, things started off easy enough:

It got a little rocky here and there for the short bit of climbing I had to do:

Nice view back at Long Lake (foreground) and Cascade Lake (background) and Castle Peak (far background)... and hoping the thunderstorms wouldn't be too rough on me:

Still climbing towards Devils Peak:

One more shot of Devils Peak:

I really wish I had a buddy to take photos of. Pictures of trail can be boring, so bear with me.

I didn't clean it:

Fun (looking back):

Exiting the granite, it started to get green and lush... and it dawned on me that this is probably another trail that the Forest Service is doing zero maintenance on. This and many sections were really overgrown and in need of brushing, but it wasn't unpassable:

Flowy fun:


Funny seeing a No Moto sign fairly deep into the trail, which is now buffed and awesome:

Last little lily pond on the way down:

I was warned by some backbackers (who thought I was crazy) that it would be a frustrating day for me because of all the downed trees, and they weren't kidding. Dozens upon dozens of trees of all sizes were across the trail. I spent a solid 2 hours of my day moving the one's I could, which made a difference, but there are still so many more to deal with :madman:. In '95, I don't remember fallen trees being an issue (or overgrowth). You'd think with an explosion of people "getting back to nature", trails would be in better shape, but they are only getting worse. I saw quite a few backpackers, but they seem indifferent to trees across the trail. One of them said to me "Making it easier for the next time?"... and I said, "Making it easier for everyone! These trails don't clean themselves up."

Another statistic of hard winter(s). The first bridge you cross:

Greenery and buffness:

Tree removal aftermath. I burned alot of energy moving trees on the descent.

Dropping below 5,000' the terrain starts looking different, but its still very fun:

Getting harder and sketchier:

Nice trail work, down to an overlook and backpacker camp:

Approaching the 2nd bridge:


After more descending and tree removal, I hit a split in the trail. The left split headed to Heath Falls, which I wanted to see, so off I went. There was almost no trail. A gazillion trees were down, but I worked my way around and followed the path. I hit this sign, which made no sense and was promptly ignored:

I wove my way through more trees and to a clearing where I could hear water. Laid my bike down and went on foot to investigate. WOW. Sheer cliff walls 200' tall and a narrow gorge. A great place for lunch, especially since the thunder started bellowing and the rain started falling:

I rode a little farther and decided to just hoof it since it wasn't much of a trail... made it to a view point for Heath Falls, which were gorgeous. I decided to not continue on that trail, and leave that for another time... I was already way behind "schedule". Heath Falls:

--- Continued in next post ---

4,276 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
(Part 2 of 2)

Back to more chunk:

Back to more buffness:

Getting deeper in the canyon. I think that's Snow Mountain in the background:

After plenty more technical trail, I finally made it to the 3rd bridge, which crosses the North Fork of the American River and means I'm basically at the bottom:

The smooth granite tells the story here:

This swimming hole had my name written on it, but the weather wasn't quite warm enough and it was starting to get late... I couldn't dally too much, so I refilled my Camelbak.

With great anticipation, I scampered downstream, over polished rocks to see the cliff I jumped off so many years ago. :)

I worked around to get a view of the falls... Rattlesnake Falls. Absolutely beautiful:

It would have been nice to hang out, but it was already around 4:45pm and not getting any sunnier... I had to decide if I was going to shoot for the loop, or backtrack back up Palisade Creek Trail. I decided to go for the loop, which started off with quite a bit of rocky HAB before getting somewhat rideable:

In my research, I used GoogleEarth surprisingly well to see that the trail up to Soda Springs Rd. appeared to still exist. I knew if I followed the trail along the N. Fork, it would go by a round lake/pond, which I was happy to see here:

While putting away my camera, I noticed something move out of the corner of my eye. A second glance revealed lots of things were moving! I was standing in a salamander habitat and they were everywhere! Tons of them piled up and/or crawling away. To the naked eye, they looked greenish, but with the camera flash, they looked a little more orange. It was creepy and cool. I made sure not to squash any of them!

A short while later, I came to where the trail ended in the massive washout of '97. I could see where the trail was on the other side, but while getting over there didn't look impossible, it didn't look too easy:

Then I looked down and saw a rope :D

Descending into the washout was easy enough with my bike....

....but getting up the other side was going to be quite a challenge.

It was steeeeep, looooose and rocky, and I caused several good slides. Hauling a 32lb+ bike up a loose wall was probably the scariest and sketchiest part of the adventure:

But I made it and was quickly on the old trail... pretty stoked about it. Because of the ropes, I knew someone had been using the trail, so I was less concerned about it being completely overgrown and obliterated by time.

While rough in spots, the trail itself was in really good shape. The switchbacks were mostly unrideable (too loose/steep), but between them, the trail was mostly rideable, with the exception of more downed trees. Since it was getting late, I didn't spend any time moving trees.

With a persistent drizzle, more thunder, a bonk coming on, and accepting the fact that I'd be riding Soda Springs Rd. in the dark, I tucked myself under a fir tree and had a snack... documenting my demise should I not make it out ;)

I was getting wetter and wetter from rain and sweat, but the trail was getting better and better:

Approaching the top -- 2,000' feet of climbing over 3 miles -- the view back was nice:

I got to the top, and I couldn't see straight:

Token shot of where the trail hits a fire road, for future reference, since the trail in this direction is not obvious. It would be a good place to drops some folks with chainsaws off...

After descending a nice double track that turned into an overgrown double track spin, I hit Soda Springs Road at 7:15pm and it was getting plenty dark, and still drizzling. I took shelter under a big tree, shed my soaking jersey, put on a dry long sleeve jersey, put on a thin rain poncho, put my helmet light on, and began the spin back to civilization. It was a bit freaky being out there all alone... worrying somewhat about bears, but even in the dark, I recognized much of the terrain from Tahoe-Sierra 100 a month or so earlier when we rode the opposite direction.

It was nice to see the full moon sitting over Tinkers Knob:

After a quick stop at the Ice Lakes Lodge to call my better half, I pedaled another 4 miles or so back to my truck, arriving there at 9:30pm... and with no interest in taking a refreshing dip in Kidd Lake:

Final stats. Less than 6 hours of pedaling 31 miles in 11 hours.

Final thoughts: This was a great adventure, even with the thunder, rain and darkness. I was prepared for it. (I was prepared to spend the night if something really went wrong). I would do it again, especially since I moved so many trees out of the way :). It bums me out that the singletrack portions of this ride (and so many others) are neglected by the Forest Service... Palisade Creek Trail is not unpopular with hikers, but it's in far worse shape now than it was many years ago. That doesn't make sense to me. Are mt. bikers the only ones who care?

Thanks for reading.


5,800 Posts
Awesome job!!!:thumbsup:
I think it might be time to bring back the old screen name - OTBPNorcal.
I have wondered about that area ever since you posted the swimming hole pic last year.

858 Posts
Great report! I rode this area once back in 1991, we started at Donner Lake and rode past Devils Peak to those gnarly switchbacks you have pictured.

At that point we turned around. Brings back memories seeing those pics of Devils Peak, nice job. Sure is BIG rock hiding out in the middle of nowhere!

668 Posts
Final thoughts: This was a great adventure, even with the thunder, rain and darkness. I was prepared for it. (I was prepared to spend the night if something really went wrong). I would do it again, especially since I moved so many trees out of the way :)
Awesomest trip report of the year so far!

But you will have to go back, and huck that cliff again. Imagine how much cooler of a photo you'll get with the extra pixels etc cameras come these days.

1,284 Posts
Great trip Jeff! I rode that back in the day and have not been nor will I likely ever see it again so thanks for the memories. It wasn't in a whole lot better shape when I rode it, but no washout. Great to see pics of the gorge, very few MTBers have ever seen that part of the earth, you are a lucky man!

The hikers just don't care about the trees, they work to their advantage. It's not hard to get around on foot and it keeps the moto's and bikes off of "their" trails. They will never be any different and if I was a devout hiker, I would be of the same opinion.

Once again, thanks for the great story!

4,276 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Thanks, Sean & everyone. Yeah, I don't imagine too many bikes have been down there, which is understandable given the challenging terrain and intimidating return. I did notice a chain ring tooth mark on a few of the trees I hopped over, so somebody had been on it since it fell in disarray.

Rho- if I had a hand saw, I would still be out there sawing :D The washout could be managed with a simple suspension bridge.

S40G- different Long Lake... this is near Donner Summit, not Lakes Basin/Dville. Both are good!

1,680 Posts
Awesome and inspirational

I've been wanting to mount an exploration down to the Royal Gorge for many years. Can never get anyone interested in such a trip... but now you've provided the roadmap trailmap.

Lusus Naturae
2,861 Posts

I've hiked Devil's peak a couple times and its good to see it again. I need to make it out there soon.

The pics of the waterfalls and gorges are incredible and I"m sure it looks much better in person. Is that area doable in a one-day hike?
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