Most who have heard the word associate it with the most impressive trees on the North American continent, if not the world… either that or the National Park which bears the same name and harbors many of these magnificent trees. What most people outside southern and central California don’t know is that the area also refers to a great National Forest comprising almost 1.2 million acres and spanning elevations from a mere 1,000 feet above sea level to over 12,000 feet above sea level! This stunning region abounds with fantastic scenery… and singletrack. Here’s your guide to hitting the bike-legal Sequoia with your knobbies, as well as other things to do while you’re in the neighborhood.
The Top 10 Mountain Bike Trails in the Sequoia National Forest
The Cannell Plunge is the classic SoCal descent. Actually, it’d be a classic descent anywhere. After climbing to 9,200 feet, the trail turns downward and ends all the way down at 2,700 feet! With the “plunge” part plummeting 4,500 feet in the last seven miles, you can bet your brake fingers will be getting a workout.
“What a blast. This ride is definitely an Epic and one I suggest [that] anybody living in the Southwest get out and try [it]. Every type of terrain imaginable is present and I suggest you be on your ‘A’ game because there is plenty of potential for things to go bad.” -k2rider
The trail name is not just hype — it’s legit. This fast and furious local classic is highlighted by a high speed shred through a literal tunnel of manzanita trees.
“Awesome Sierra adventure!!! From pine trees through the oak woodlands to the high desert chaparral… it was fast, technical at some parts, and an all around fantastic ride!” -Singletracks guest post
A fire this summer charred part of this trail, but it’s still all ridable and still a local favorite. Conditions are usually excellent throughout the ride and, thanks to the addition of the all-new Bull Run trail, longer loops are now possible.
“Traversing the mountains between Greenhorn and Portuguese Passes, this is a favorite Spring/Summer/Fall ride for local mountain bikers. Forested with cedar, pine, and mature black oaks, the trail conditions are usually excellent.” –The Kern River Sierra
Technically just outside the national forest proper, this semi-arid area sits mostly at lower elevations, making it a good winter option. A variety of singletrack, OHV trail, and dirt roads crisscross the area, making for many riding options.
“Great trails and home to one of the best events in California–The Keyesville Classic. Good singletrack, well constructed. River trail goes all the way to Bakersfield.” -Eric Foltz
Being mostly smooth, this popular downhill is consistently fast. With a willing shuttle driver, it’s an easy one on which to rack up multiple laps in a day, getting faster with each run as you learn the lay of the land.
“Throughout the 4,250-foot drop, the terrain changes from a lush pine and fir forest to grassy ridgelines and into the oak-studded high desert terrain of the lower Kern River. The super-fun fast and flowy section at the top leads into a section of tight switchbacks and down into the creek drainage.” –The Kern River Sierra
Close to Kernville, Keyesville, or Bakersfield, this highly-accessible trail gives up quality singletrack throughout its length and can be shuttled, looped, or out-and-backed. Even though it spends a good deal of time paralleling the Kern River, it does go up and over the ridge multiple times, so there will be plenty of climbing for those looking for a convenient workout. For those looking to really amp up the mileage, the Kern River Trail can be linked to the Keyesville Classic.
“With over 20 miles of fast, flowy, smooth singletrack, the Kern Canyon Trail makes for an awesome — yet tough — cross country ride. While enjoying vast mountain views and occasional glimpses of the river, riders will pass some small creeks, meadows, and oak groves along this rolling trail.” –The Kern River Sierra
Another smooth, fast, and flowy trail, Freeman Creek has an extra treat in that it passes through the largest pristine giant sequoia grove outside Sequoia National Park.
“Great fun ride, a few technical sections. Similar to Downieville, but about half as long. Not as demanding as Cannell Plunge.” -Roman Beck
Unlike the area’s big climbs and descents, the High Meadows Loop stays within a relatively narrow elevation band. That and the quality of the singletrack make it an excellent cross country ride through a variety of forest canopy and open meadows.
“The High Meadows Loop is a beautiful and rewarding high alpine cross country ride that weaves throughout the 7,800ft to 8,800ft elevation range. Its a great way to escape the heat of summer, and get a solid pedal in.” –The Kern River Sierra
Remington Ridge is another of the area’s monster shuttle descents. You may have trouble deciding whether to keep your eyes on the trail or on the scenery during this ride; let your speed be your guide.
“Remington Ridge Trail, A.K.A. ‘Hobo Ridge,’ makes an exciting mountain bike ride. After some climbing at the beginning, it transforms into a super sick downhill with incredible views from Lake Isabella to the highest of Sierra Peaks. While there are some incredible sections of flow, it is splattered with several technical and tricky boulder sections that check your speed.” –The Kern River Sierra
Although shy of five miles, the Unal Loop is a local favorite for its primo singletrack, ease of access, and welcoming environment.
“[The] Unal trail loops along Greenhorn Summit, beginning at the Summit Station. Interpretive brochure with stops highlights early Native American use of the area. Moderate climbing and good views.” –CampKernville.com
5 Best Off-the-Bike Activities in the Sequoia National Forest
Giant Sequoias are the world’s largest trees, and any visitor to Sequoia National Park can’t help but be awestruck. The adjacent Kings Canyon National Park adds to the variety with the nation’s deepest canyon (yes, deeper than the Grand Canyon).
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The Kern River offers classic whitewater rafting and the town of Kernville plays host to a number of outfitters ready to get you excited about getting wet.
Of course you need not climb into a raft to enjoy the Kern River and the canyon that houses it. The canyon makes for a great scenic drive, cool tubing on the calmer parts of the river, hiking, cliff diving, or just sitting around and gawking at the environment.
Midway between Bakersfield and the Forest Boundary, the California Living Museum provides both interest and education about native Californian flora and fauna. Of particular note is their rare exhibit of endangered desert bighorn sheep.
Sitting just off the southern edge of the Sequoia National Forest, Lake Isabella offers fishing, boating, picnicking, and camping. It’s a great place to spend a more leisurely day off the bike.
5 Best Campgrounds in the Sequoia National Forest
Just finished up our last meal up here. It's been real Sequoia national forest. Thanks for the yurt we never used and all the awesome places to explore and people we've met as campground hosts. Time to make moves north towards @descendonbend #toyotachinook #yurt #sequoianationalforest #redwoodmeadowcampground
Whether tenting, RVing, or even if you want a yurt, the Redwood Meadow campground has something for you.
If your idea of camping still includes a roof over your head, head for Frog Meadow, where cabins are in or adjacent to the Giant Sequoia National Monument. This campground is also the start of the Frog Meadow Trail.
Beautiful and more remote than most, Leavis Flat provides a relatively-accessible but off-the-grid experience. Be sure to bring your own water.
Immediate river access and plenty of picnic tables make this an attractive option for Sequoia riders wanting the full Kern experience.
Beautiful sites on Breckenridge Mountain with vault toilets, fire rings, and not much else.
3 Most Notable Events in the Sequoia National Forest
With a half-dozen options, you can get multiple shuttles each day and not repeat yourself, all with someone else’s power getting you to the top of the hill, saving your energy for Kernville’s excellent descents!
The Keyesville Classic can be a great test as riders take on cross country, short track, and super D courses, all on the same bike. It’s also a great venue for more casual riders to stretch themselves.
If you’re a Cali rider ready to rip on a ‘cross bike against top-flight competition, this is your event.
Bike Shops Near the Sequoia National Forest
If you’re approaching the Sequoia National Forest from the northwest, the city of Visalia is likely to be your last stop, and Sierra Bicycle Werks is the area’s full-service bike shop.
Bakersfield is the nearest population center to the Sequoia National Forest and Finish Line is Bakersfield’s best bike stop.