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  • Jason Sheck

Downieville to La Porte via Poker Flat and Howland Flat (and bonus through to Bear Valley area)

After seeing pictures from a few other outings I've been on this fall, my dad travelled out to visit and join me on a Jeep outing while Bri was in Wisconsin visiting family. Knowing he was coming all the way from Minnesota to take a ride in the Jeep, I had to choose a trail that would be appropriately difficult and sufficiently long to make a day of it. I looked through a variety of different resources, reviewed a bunch of different YouTube videos, and decided on the Poker Flat route from Downieville to La Porte. The route is somewhere between Easy and Intermediate according to most sources, but for our almost stock Wrangler Sport, it was perfect. Between the descent from the Saddleback Mountain Lookout down to Poker Flat where we crossed the creek, and the rocky and washed-out climb back up to Howland Flat, we had a blast the whole time! There had been some serious rain and snow storms in the weeks prior to our outing, so I wasn't sure what we'd find...but everything was passable. Along the way we stopped to cook lunch, saw the remnants of a ghost town, a well-maintained 100+ year old cemetery, a very old bridge, and a few other sites.


What did I learn?

I've been figuring out how low to air my tires down on these outings. I am at a point where I think 20PSI makes sense for most trails, especially when I have to drive home on pavement, but the rougher and rockier trails like this one probably warrant going all the way down to 15PSI. I'll try that pressure the next time I am on an Easy to Intermediate route.


GAIAGPS Link (Downieville to La Porte)

GAIAGPS Link (La Porte to Quincy)

GAIAGPS Link (Bear Valley)


Some views from the road as we worked our way up Saddleback Mountain. The fire lookout was closed because it's no longer fire season, but I'd like to go back to check out the views from up there some day.


The Canyon Creek crossing near Poker Flat. From watching YouTube videos, a lot of vehicles hit their rear bumper dropping into the creek, but the Jeep was able to navigate around the bigger drop-off, and make it through the creek unscathed.


Perfect spot for lunch.



Climbing out of Poker Flat, headed for Howland Flat. Pictures never seem to capture the steepness or magnitude of the road, but it took careful driving, a few second-attempts at climbing over rocks and roots, and a few rocks hit the bottom of the Jeep. Overall, some of the more challenging driving I have done.


The cemetery near Howland Flat. There were folks of all ages buried in this very quiet and peaceful cemetery, most of whom lived and died before 1900. It's amazing how some headstones that are over 100 years old don't even look a month old. Others have deteriorated badly.


The road got smoother and smoother as we approached La Porte.


The St. Louis Bridge. It's no longer used and clearly falling apart when you walk across it, but I am glad its still standing. At one time it was the main route to Howland Flat, Poker Flat, and other mining camps in the area.


Airing back up near La Porte before heading to the Quincy area. We even had couple guys stop by and ask if they could help. "NorCal Nice", kind of like "Minnesota Nice", but in the mountains.


On the way from La Porte to the Quincy area we crossed what I believe to be Nelson Creek where the early 1900s bridge still stands (it's not used for cars). The steel was stamped "Carnegie", probably THAT Carnegie. We actually come across a lot of old bridges in California's gold country, each has its own charm.


We came across some very dense Aspen trees along Lemon Canyon Road near the Bear Valley Campground. I'll bring Bri back some fall, to see the golden yellow these trees typically turn to.


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