Biking the Bizz
Enjoy the Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail…
On a sunny summer midweek afternoon, my boyfriend Jason and I are on the corner of Main Street and Gay in downtown Susanville, waiting for the Lassen Rural Bus to pick us up. Our mountain bikes are propped up against the fence and we have backpacks full of water, snacks, a few bike repair tools, layers of clothes and a small first aid kit. There are no services or towns where we’re going, so it’s important for us to be self-sufficient.
We are about to embark on the Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail, a 25.4-mile “rail trail” that spans from Westwood to the heart of Susanville and is open to walkers, runners, horseback riders and bicycles, as well as cross-country skiers in the winter.
The trail is named after former Northern California congressman Harold T. “Bizz” Johnson, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1958 to 1980. During his time in Congress, he successfully secured funds for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to buy the lands from Southern Union Pacific after the company abandoned the rail line. The BLM, along with Lassen National Forest, then converted the former railroad line into the recreational trail.
When we called for information about the best way to do the entire trail, the friendly staff at the Lassen Land & Trails Trust located at the Historic Susanville Railroad Depot suggested that we start at the top of the Bizz on the western side of the trail and pedal our way east, only ascending 300 feet from Mason Station to Westwood Junction and then using the steady decline into town to our advantage.
More of a fan of going downhill than up, we parked our car in Susanville and then caught the Lassen Rural Bus for just $3 per person. After seeing our bikes and telling the driver that we wanted to go to the top of the Bizz, he nodded and dropped us off out in the woods at Mason Station, 4.5 miles north of Westwood.
The Bizz is a well-maintained, easy-to-follow gravel/dirt track that follows the old Southern Pacific Railroad, originally built in 1913- 1914. Railroad ties and nails can still be spotted out near the trail. Accustomed to high-elevation mountain bike riding, we don’t really notice the 300-foot climb for the 7.2 miles up to Westwood Junction except for it being high afternoon and we tended to stop more to rehydrate. This junction of the trail seemed long and straight, but we passed many fragrant mule’s ears, daisies, purple and orangish flowers. There aren’t any services at Westwood Junction, but a mile or so past the sign we came across the first of 12 bridges crossing the Susan River.
The 5.1 miles from Westwood Junction to Goumaz goes below the Hog Flat Reservoir, and destruction from the 2020 Hog Fire that burned more than 9,500 acres is apparent. There’s a rest area and cold- water fountain/spigot at Goumaz, open in the spring through the fall. It is practically the halfway point of the trail, making it the ideal spot to fill up water bottles (I recommend bringing at least three).
In another 6.3 miles, we reached Devil’s Corral, a popular year- round shaded day use area that’s close to Highway 36. The 6.7-mile distance between Devil’s Corral and the Susanville Depot Visitor Center is where things get interesting, so it’s a good place to start if you want to get the most out of the Bizz but don’t have the time or the energy to do the entire trail.
Within a couple of miles pedaling through this scenic stretch, we crossed four bridges and went through two tunnels. After biking three hours out in the sun, entering the dark tunnels felt like heaven, giving us a blast of much-needed AC. The timber-lined 400- and 800-foot- long tunnels are nestled between bridges that are more than a century old. It’s possible to see through the tunnel without sunglasses on, but you can bring a headlight if that makes you feel more comfortable.
We encountered more hikers and people playing in the Susan River as we got closer to downtown Susanville and Hobo Camp, spotting tanagers, orioles, squirrels and ducks in this stretch (although bears, mountain lions and wolves have been spotted in this area as well, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for that).
There are vault toilets near Hobo Camp and towering natural rock features lining the trail, next to the Susan River. In 3.5 to 4 hours total, we ended up at the Susanville Train Depot, greeted by the Union Pacific railcar. From there we biked another mile up to our vehicle on Main Street. Tired, dirty and hungry, we grabbed burgers and a shake at the Frosty Mill, then went home feeling that we had a productive day. •
Bizz Johnson Recreation Trail • www.blm.gov/visit/bizz-johnson