Originally Posted by imi
...Any suggestions as to the best route up the Valley? 99 or smaller roads? I'm in no rush whatsoever....
Smaller roads are better. 99 has a lot of traffic.
There are many pleasant farm roads in the Central Valley that do not have much traffic.
If you happen to make the trip to Yosemite, or if you end up near Escalon, there is a road called 'J6' that makes for good riding north. It connects with other small farm roads that continue farther north.
Hwy 49 south of Grass Valley/Nevada City is busy, and much of it is hilly as well; the roads that are down low enough to be out of the hills make for better riding in this area (for most people at least).
There is an interesting route you might try, if you want to ride through a beautiful part of the lower elevations of the Northern Sierras: Ride north on the farm roads until you start getting close to the greater Sacramento area. Then get on the paved bike path that goes along the American River (it is about 32 miles long, and you can pick it up at various points between Old Town Sacramento and Beals Point, near the Folsom Lake Dam).
If you end up anywhere near Sunrise Avenue (as you are coming up from the south), there is a canal that also has a paved bike path along it. That bike path ends near Sunrise Avenue, near the American River. From there, you can get on the American River bike path, and ride up to Folsom Lake. The bike path continues around Folsom Lake, but it is unpaved shortly after Beals Point. You can take it further around the lake, or get onto Auburn-Folsom Road right away, at Beals Point.
Then from the town of Auburn you can take Dog Bar Road to Grass Valley; then it's a short ride to Nevada City (both of these are nice towns to have a look at). From there, you can and take Purdon - Lake Vera Road to North San Juan (good camping spots along the river near Purdon Crossing).
From there (North San Juan) north, Hwy 49 is not so busy, and it is *very* scenic. You can take it to Downieville and Sierra City, and then get on the road to Gold Lake, and from there get back down to the Central Valley through Quincy.
Or you can stay on Hwy 49 and continue over Yuba Pass (which is low enough to stay open much of the winter, though during a shortly after some storms it can be closed), and down into Sierra Valley, where there are hot springs and some beautiful riding.
That area is one of the most beautiful in California (Downieville-Sierra City-Lakes Basin-Sierra Buttes-Sierra Valley). Much of it is hilly, though -- not steep hills, but long grades, both up and down.