There are plenty of great places to mountain bike in Northern California, but for our money, there’s one trail that could actually be one of the best in North America.
At an impressive elevation of 8,591 feet on the Sierra Buttes Overlook Trail, the Downieville Downhill offers a thrilling 7,000 vertical feet of descent to Downieville, known as the “Tower 2 Town,” making it one of North America’s longest descents. The Sierra Buttes Overlook Trail is not only a technically challenging singletrack descent but also provides stunning views of Lower and Upper Sardine Lakes and cliffside vistas of Young America Lake.
While Tower-to-Town can refer to any route between the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout Tower and Downieville, this specific route is almost the most direct. The ride begins at the Packer Saddle shuttle drop and ascends to the fire tower, offering extraordinary views from the top of the Sierra Buttes. The route involves a combination of intense riding and some hike-a-bike sections, but the breathtaking views make it worth the effort. If you’re daring enough, you can climb the tower’s steps for an even more spectacular view of the Lakes Basin and beyond.
The exciting part is that it’s mostly downhill from this point. Head downhill from the top and ride back to the shuttle drop, passing through Sunrise and the Butcher Ranch singletrack that winds its way to The Gorge. This technical gully feature marks the beginning of the exhilarating Butcher trail.
The route offers a mix of black diamond rock challenges and smooth (though sometimes dusty) magical dirt trailbeds. You’ll come across The Waterfall and The Wall, where you may find stopped riders. Be courteous as you announce your presence and either demonstrate your skills or pull over—well outside the riding line—to watch someone else attempt the obstacles.
Although most of this route follows the Downieville Downhill, you could also take a Tower-to-Town route that includes the Gold Valley Rim to Pauley route or even the Big Boulder.
If you’re new to the sport, this ride may not be the best choice for your first experience. Instead, try the ‘standard’ Butcher Ranch downhill and add options on subsequent runs as you become more confident and skilled.
Watch a full descent of the track: