Extreme Sports – It’s All Here, or Near Here

For action sports enthusiasts and elite athletes from San Francisco and around the Bay Area, Nevada City is an ideal weekend “base camp” and gateway to Sierra adventure. Within an hour of downtown, epic challenges are available year-round, including:

  • One of the longest and most demanding mountain bike race courses in the U.S.
  • Backcountry skiing and snowboarding on steep north side of Donner Peak
  • Four significant rock climbing areas, with many 5.12a-5.14a test pieces on solid, bolted granite
  • Class 5+ whitewater in high mountain scenery

Outside Magazine named Nevada City one of the best river towns in America.

extreme skiing

Access to Adventure

Access to a full range of Sierra adventure is direct via 49 North or 20 East (toward I-80). These scenic drives start from the heart of town, at an elevation below the snow line and above the fog. Nevada City is ideally situated for starting and ending day-trips into the Sierra, or for waiting out storm closures or chain requirements on I-80 over Donner Summit on a stormy Friday night.

Backcountry Skiing

donner summit backcountry snowboarding skiing

© photo by Colin Hughes

A new generation of freeskiers and snowboarders is making Donner Pass a notable backcountry destination. With huge annual snowfalls (over 411 inches/year), ski zones are always changing and no two trips seem the same. Chutes, big airs and pointers aplenty – and great views.

Access from Nevada City is via Highway 20, which during winter is often a mellow ridge-top drive under a canopy of towering, snow-covered Ponderosas. To get stoked for your next Sierra adventure on extreme skiing or riding terrain, watch Sierroin. To put safety first, check Sierra avalanche conditions. Main attractions include:

  • the insane I-80 jump and backflips off the snowsheds above the Alpine Skills International (ASI) lodge
  • guided sidecountry tours at Sugar Bowl, offered by ASI for alpine, AT, splitboard and telemark
  • chutes, cliffs and bowls within skinning or bootpacking distance of the Old Donner Summit Road; visit summitpost.org for information on West Slope, Lake Run, Heart, Shoulder and Thumb routes
  • Donner Summit backcountry ski courses for advanced and expert skiers at the North American Ski Training Center

Sport Climbing


© photo by Jim Thornburg  | Mike Carville at Bowman Lake

Nevada City is a great weekend stay for San Francisco Bay Area climbers who want good accommodations and hard sport climbs at a choice of areas and elevations to match the season and weather. The nearby Emeralds, at 5,000 feet, climb like European limestone in a canyon setting. Indian Springs and Rainbow offer quiet, one-pitch climbs, smooth granite, and a more alpine feel. Donner Summit, at 7,000 feet, is big, scenic, and renowned.

The Emeralds – Steep (mostly 5.11 and up) un-crowded rock-climbing about 23 miles east of Nevada City via Highway 20. Shade and elevation cool these climbs even in July-August, especially in the Wishing Well area. Prime swimming holes are close by at the South Yuba River. Access is good and the area is active, with close to three dozen newly-bolted .10-.13 lines in the Gorge section (subject to sudden flooding in spring). The well-featured rock feels like limestone. Classics include the immediately-cruxy Resurrection (11.c) and the sporty and overhanging Steel Monkey (5.12a).

Indian Springs – Three levels of short, solid, south-facing, and bolted granite climbs just above I-80, accessed by driving 45 minutes east from Nevada City on Highway 20, joining I-80 east, and taking the Eagle Lakes exit to a trail below the cliffs. Moderate slabs and faces, and swimming at the nearby South Yuba River, make this a fun mid-summer stop on the way to Donner. Zephyr provides one of the Sierra’s most inviting introductions to a pitch of solid 5.10 sport climbing.

Rainbow – About 30 short, mostly bolted routes up impeccable, smooth, dome-like granite. This quiet climbing area, about 50 minutes from Nevada City, is one of the Sierra’s easiest to access and demands ultimate respect for private property and local climbing ethics. At .12c, Monkey Business works your inverted sidepull. Dark Special is a nice, delicate .10a, though a bit runout off the deck. Go east out of Nevada City on 20, join I-80 east, and take the Big Bend exit. The 10-minute approach trail starts across from the Big Bend Ranger Station.

Donner Summit – An hour from Nevada City, Donner is the big daddy of Tahoe region climbing areas, with hundreds of 1-4 pitch routes. Scenic Donner Lake views, a historic feel, pleasant summer afternoons, and high concentrations of fierce sport routes make for a classic Sierra experience. Top climbers who didn’t overindulge in town the night before will opt for Star Walls, where overhanging granite glistens with .12a-.14a gems like Warp Factor (.13a) and A Steep Climb Named Desire (.14a). Refer to Mike Carville’s Rock Climbing Lake Tahoe. Take 20 east, then follow I-80 east to the Soda Springs exit. Go right at the exit and follow old Highway 40 past Sugar Bowl to the cliffs.

Professional Cycling


The Nevada City Classic

Each year since 1960, commonly on Father’s Day, Nevada City hosts the Nevada City Classic, a 90-minute professional cycling race billed as the largest and oldest on the West Coast and the second-oldest in the nation. It is one of the premiere sporting events in the Sierra foothills.

The twisted, hilly 1.1 mile circuit includes 300 feet of climbing and is possibly the toughest one-mile criterium in the U.S. Prior winners include Los Gatos school teacher Bob Tetzlaff, Olympian John Howard, three-time Tour de France winner and California native Greg LeMond, Olympic gold medalist Alexi Grewal, and three-time Tour de California winner Levi Leipheimer.

Visit nevadacityclassic.com for race and course info, categories, and registration.

Tour of California

AmgenNevadaCityDesign v20112010

The Tour of California switches from February to May, and Mark Cavendish of Great Britain wins the opening stage from Nevada City to Sacramento. Seven-time Tour de France champion (and 2009 NC Classic winner) Lance Armstrong, defending Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer and a host of top American and international cyclists compete in the event.


A freak May snowstorm in South Lake Tahoe prompts the cancellation of Stage 1 of the Tour of California. The original second stage is shortened, and its departure point changes from Squaw Valley to Nevada City. Ben Swift of Great Britain claims the stage ending in Sacramento.


Whitewater Kayaking


© photo by John Lillis

Although the whitewater season around Nevada City is brief, usually ending by late spring or early summer, the high mountain scenery makes that short window extremely sweet. The runs described here, all within an hour of town, are somewhat to very advanced.

Yuba Gap, Upper South Fork Yuba River – A wild, gripping, full-day run that begins with a 15’ boof onto a pillow, followed by 7 miles of gorges, big drops, steep boulder gardens, 10’-30’ slides, slots, and several portages (two mandatory). Consistent Class V for 5 miles. Flows around 300 are ideal (600 is too high, 200 is too low). The take-out is the Golden Quartz picnic area on Maybert Road, 2.7 miles east of the town of Washington. The put-in is Langs Crossing on Bowman Lake Road, where a marginal trail drops down to the river. As you drive east from Nevada City, Washington Road (to Washington) and Bowman Lake Road are both well-marked left-hand turns off Highway 20.

Washington to Edwards Crossing, South Fork Yuba – This scenic, 14-mile stretch is easy by South Yuba standards, but several tricky Class IV sections add danger – especially as it gets harder with flows above 1,000 cfs. The run starts with Class II-III rapids and powerful ledge drops. Just before mile 11, portage left around a 20-foot waterfall to a Class IV-V rapid with a consequential, re-circulating eddy. To reach take-out, follow 49 North in Nevada City where it splits from Highway 20, go .3 mile to a right turn onto N. Bloomfield road, and then right again after .6 mile at a T intersection. Drive downhill to Edwards Crossing. Reach the put-in by returning to Nevada City, turning east (toward Truckee) on Highway 20, and going 13 miles to a left at the sign for Washington, a quirky little town right on the river. The put-in is at a campground, with a parking fee, just before the historic district.

North Fork Yuba River – The popular Goodyear’s Bar run drops 8.5 miles through a forested canyon, beginning with 5 miles of Class II and III. The first Class IV rapid, Ramshorn, has two distinct channels to scout, and the next Class IV, Two Pair, also deserves careful scouting. Below those are Maytag and Son of Maytag, Class V- and IV, respectively. Good flows for kayaks are 700-2500 cfs. The Highway 49 Bridge take-out is about 29 miles north of Nevada City on Highway 49, passing the South Fork and Middle Fork Yuba along the way. The put-in is another 9 miles up the river, at a sign for Goodyear’s Bar and a road on the right.

Mountain Biking


© photo by Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship

The foothills around Nevada City are a new hotbed of mountain biking activity. Scenery, terrain, climate, access, new trails, supplies and services, and a local history of elite active sports competition, all contribute to the town’s MTB appeal. This is an area where advanced mountain bikers from San Francisco, Sacramento and Reno can “bring it” for the week or weekend – there’s lots to explore.

Downieville Downhill race course – About 40 miles from Nevada City on 49 North is Downieville, home of the Downieville Downhill, billed as “ the Ironman of mountain bike downhill.” The course follows four trails – Sunrise, Butcher Ranch, Third Divide and First Divide – offering flow, speed, exposure, Sierra views, waterfalls, swimming holes, creek crossings and a drop of 5,000 vertical feet over 17 miles. Singletrack 85% of the way. Check with Yuba Expeditions for trail shuttles and conditions.

Advanced MTB group rides in Nevada City – Advanced riders gather at 6pm on Thursdays for recreational group rides starting from 467 Sacramento Street outside theTour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop (TONC). Visitors welcome. These rides aren’t an official service of TONC, but the shop offers information at (530) 265-2187 or (530) 265-3822, or find them on Facebook for last minute ride updates.

Augustine Agony – A beautiful but grueling 3-hour, 12-mile ride on the way to and from the South Yuba River (with lots of shin-height poison oak along the way). Not very technical, but with nice singletrack, some steep switchbacks, and a challenging 1,800 foot climb. From Nevada City, ride up Cement Hill Road, turn right at Augustine Road and then keep left all the way down to the river. In hot weather, consider taking a swim before the ride out.

Upper Pioneer Trail – A varied roller coaster, with 10-miles of scenic, all-mountain singletrack above 5,000 feet, starting at White Cloud Campground right off Highway 20 about 11 miles east of Nevada City. The main trail, running out and back to Chalk Bluff Road, is moderately difficult and strenuous, but advanced riders can explore a slew of un-named spur trails leading to big jumps and drops.

Across from White Cloud, the easy Lower Pioneer Trail quickly reaches the Old 5 Mile House and Harmony Ridge Market – good stops for refreshment, supplies and trail info. From here, the new Scott’s Flat Trail drops 4+ miles to the reservoir, with dirt-packed berms, switchbacks, and flowy and scenic sections, while the Miner’s Trail continues west alongside Highway 20 to Nevada City. Nothing along these lower trails is especially technical, but they’re nice ways to extend rides from Upper Pioneer.

Pump Tracks – The new Truckee Pump Track is getting great reviews, with a pump park built for advanced skill progression. It’s located at 12200 Joerger Drive in Truckee, CA, an hour from Nevada City. On the way to Truckee, at the Boreal ski resort along I-80, is the Woodward Tahoe action sports training center, featuring an indoor pump track and a BMX dirt park known as “The Trenches”.


© photo by George Lamson

Women’s Triathalon


© Photo: Outside Inn, Nevada City

The annual Celebration of Life Women’s Triathlon draws over 400 athletes to Nevada City for a locally cherished event benefiting the Barbara Schmidt fund at the Breast Imaging Center of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

This September event, which is geared to include every level of participant, starts with a 1/2-mile swim at Scotts Flat Lake, is followed by an 11-mile bike ride, and ends with a 3-mile run. The bike and run segments wind through the hilly streets of Cascade Shores at an elevation of 3,200 feet. Visit www.bsmtri.org for further event information and registration as of June.