No bikes on Pacific Crest Trail. Despite the hassle, this trail offers some of the most pristine country around. Thanks mostly to values held by the private landholders since the late 1800s, the scenic headwaters of the North Fork American River are the next thing to wilderness. Public trail access for the Painted Rock Trail follows the private road 1½ miles. It continues by Soda Springs and site of the historic hotel that burned down in the late 1800s. Trail begins here. All but one small section of the Painted Rock Trail as it nears the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses private land over public rights-of-way. No camping along the trail or within the private lands is permitted -- including lands along the PCT near Mountain Meadow Lake. You can backtrack anytime to return to the trailhead; the hike to the PCT and back makes a nice day hike.
By connecting to the Pacific Crest Trail along the Sierra Crest, alternative destinations within another day’s hike can be Donner Pass, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, or Barker Pass. You’ll want to arranged transportation at the other end
From the PCT you can drop down the Granite Chief Trail to the Squaw Valley parking lot. Or if you head a little way farther into the Wilderness, you can turn left (east) up the Western States Trail. Continue over the top of the Sierra Crest at the Watson Monument that marks the pass. Drop down through the upper basin of the Squaw Valley Ski Area and you can stop at the bar or restaurant and celebrate a great trip. From there you can hike down the ski area roads or hop the gondola and ride down in style.
One loop opportunity (take topographic map): Leave vehicle(s) at intersection of French Meadows Road #51 and the Soda Springs County Road (see Donner Pass Map). Return via the county road to the trailhead. Turn right (east) and hike up the Painted Rock Trail. At the top of the Pacific Crest, turn right (south) onto the PCT.
If you’re planning to camp and loop back to your vehicle, the best places to overnight are in the headwaters of the Middle Fork American River within the Granite Chief Wilderness. Or with a little more effort you can drop into Needle Lake between Granite Chief Mountain and Lyon Peak.
From Granite Chief Wilderness the easiest return to your vehicle is to follow the Western States Trail from Squaw to Lyons Ridge by heading downriver (west) (see Granite Chief map). Continue down the Western States Trail until it intersects with French Meadow Road #51 in the saddle on Lyon’s Ridge between the North and Middle American Rivers (private land, but trail access permitted). Turn right (north) and return down that road by dropping back into the headwaters of the North Fork American River and to your vehicle (see Granite Chief Map).
Topographic map: Granite Chief. You cannot park here or anywhere on lands owned by the North Fork Association within "The Cedars" and the surrounding lands owned by the Association. So the Painted Rock Trail is best used by arranging for someone to drop hikers off. Or you can leave vehicles by continuing 1.0 mile southwest past the trailhead to where Road #51 intersects from the south. Parking there is okay.
Nice hike, lousy parking.