I view this trail with a mix of anticipation and dread. Anticipation because it is one of the most enjoyable downhills I have ridden. Dread because we always wind up doing a doubleloop with Stagecoach and the total amount of climbing just wipes me out.
The Clementine Loop has 1200' of climbing over the first 3 miles of trail and 3 1/2 miles of descending back down to the bottom and it's a great ride to the bottom. If you are out of shape the climbing will kill you. When I first started riding seriously it took me over an hour to get to the top and I am still slow getting to the top. Just don't shuttle this run, if you can't climb it you don't deserve it.
The uphill is about 15% exposed singletrack, 35% dirt road, and 50% paved road. The descent is mostly wide singletrack with a short section of paved road.
If you are doing the double loop start at the Stagecoach trailhead on the Auburn side of the ravine.
Otherwise take I-80 East from Sacramento to Auburn and turn off on the Hiway 49 exit. Carefully follow the signs to Hiway 49 South. Follow Hiway 49 into the Foresthill Ravine until it turns right across the American River. At this point continue straight for another ~1/2 mile and start looking for parking. This area is the confluence of the North and South Forks of the American River. The road will shortly cross the North Fork of the river. The trailhead is on the East bank of the North Fork American River.
The Foresthill Ravine Bridge is one of the coolest bridges in the area. At over 750' tall and with a huge span it is an incredible feat of engineering. If you look down below the base of the righthand pillar you can see a small brown trail. This is the base of the Clementine loop. Eventually we will climb up above the top of the bridge, and then descend down to a big culvert which passes below Foresthill Road.
The trail is relatively flat singletrack which hugs the hillside for about 1/2 mile. The trail is pretty exposed here and there are a few moderately technical hazzards.
After the singletrack section at the bottom the trail starts to climb. The climb is not very steep at this point, but it is constant for the next 3 miles. About 1 1/2 miles into the climb you get an excellent view of the dam and Clementine Lake which this trail was named for.
If you look closely there is a large tree hanging precariously over the edge of the dam. It's been there for at least a year, and a small tree has sprouted near it's base. (Update: This tree washed over the edge of the dam in the heavy rains in spring 2005).
The halfway mark up the hill is when the fireroad ends and the paved road starts. Make certain you continue UP on the paved road. The road is slightly steeper than the fireroad was. Be careful on the road section, there are almost always some cars on this road.
At the top of the road there is a small gravel parking lot with some large rocks. Turn right into the parking area and right again to continue up the hill. You know you're going the correct direction if you are going up a fairly steep hill.
We took a small break in the parking area, but I'm pretty beat at this point. I have improved my time to the top quite a bit, but I am still a big guy and it takes a lot of energy to move that weight to the top of the hill. At this point there is a short steep uphill, a short rutted downhill, another short steep uphill, and then you hit the payoff !
After all that climbing the downhill is a big releif. The downhill starts pretty fast over some wide rutted singletrack and after about 1/3 mile there is a sharp left so be careful. I'm not certain where you wind up if you go straight.
The singletrack narrows and the trail is very rutted and you go over some washboard at this point. There is also some very fun rolling hills and jumps on the upper portion of the descent.
Most people call this the Culvert Loop because of the huge culvert that you pass through to go under Foresthill Road. Riding though the unlit culvert after coming from a bright summer day is an act of faith. There are no hazzards in the tunnel, but your eyes don't have time to adjust so you just point your bike towards the light and pray.
After the culvert the rolling singletrack continues for a little while, then there is a wide rutted curve downhill. The trail gets pretty fast, and then you hit some serious rocky sections. The trail is pretty wide here, but several f the hazzards cover the entire trail and there are some 2'+ droppoffs which you must either ride or hike-a-bike over.
Kevin is navigating the switchback right before the end of the top section. The final downhill of the top section is fairly fast and straight downhill. During the wintertime there is a constant flow of water coming down this section of the trail.
When you hit the bottom of the trail carefully cross the hiway and go down the paved road on the far side. After about 1/4 mile there is a gravel road on the right hand side of the road. Turn right on the gravel road to finish the ride. To the left is an OHV park.
The bottom portion of the Clementine Loop is a very fast/ fun section of trail which follows along the old hiway route. The trail is paved in parts but for the most part is gravel and dirt. There are a lot of jumps and bermed corners in this section so you can really get up to speed.
The biggest problem we had with this section is that we were going so fast and having so much fun we didn't want to stop to take pictures. The character of the trail here is totally different from the rest of the trail, you aren't going downhill as much, it's more cross country, but the trail just begs to be ridden hard. There are sections where you get going really fast, then you hit a section where the road washed out and you have to scramble over a small rockslide to get to the next fast section.
For the lower section of the trail you are following along the South Fork of the American River. There are plenty of opportunities to wander down to the river and take a dip in the cool water. There is also plenty of exposed trail which will drop you down to the water much quicker than you intend.
As you get towards the end of the trail it really widens out from the large amount of foot traffic. This section of the trail offers people fairly easy access to the river so this is the most likely place you will encounter pedestrian traffic. Slow down to cool off and watch for pedestrians. If you are only doing the Clementine loop you are about done for the day. What a great ride.
If you decided to do the Double loop you have quite a bit of suffering left in your afternoon. Once you get to the street proceed back across the bridge and to the Stagecoach trailhead. Click here to go back to Stagecoach.