LENGTH: 4.5 miles each way, out and back (with, of course, some extra time necessary for playing around in the water), can camp out on the beach too if you want a whole river weekend.
DIFFICULTY: Drops 1000 feet in elevation down the canyon. Some boulder scrambling required, a few steep stretches – nothing too technical, but not ideal for running, horses or…if you have a fear of heights. Mostly flat, a little rocky – breathtaking.
DIST FROM SACRAMENTO: About 1 hour, via I-80 E
DIST FROM GRASS VALLEY: Under 30 minutes, following CA 174E to Colfax
LOCATION: 24960 N Canyon Way, Colfax, CA 95713 (Google Maps has got this one down, luckily). The one-lane dirt road I took there from my house made it seem a much more secluded spot than it actually is…since it’s BLM managed the trailhead is well marked.
Hike Fun Fact: Though it’s an old road, apparently this trail was unused in recently history until the 1960’s, when a Boy Scout re-discovered it. Good they’ve got keeping in shape in their motto, huh?Plus…it’s on the National Register of Historic Places – no idea that was possible for a hike!
I’m going to call this hike our N. California version of the Grand Canyon rim trail. Granted, I’ve only seen the Grand Canyon from pictures but this felt extremely grand. Winding around corners where you don’t know what Mediterranean-blue part of the American River you’ll see spilling in big folds towards you next…it’s pure poetry, absolutely.
The trail’s well marked, only a few portions that requires a “go this way” sign. It’s not a hike for when you want some quiet time – the parking lot seems to be regularly filled to capacity judging by the rows of cars parked along the sides of the road up to the trailhead. Still, even with the probably hundreds of people you may pass, that roar of the river below you cancels out the times you’re stuck behind an older couple with their walking sticks plodding along.
Keep your zen going, it’s worth heading all the way down to the final stretch of the river. The trail ends 4.5 miles in at a rocky beach on the river, where a make-shift camping/fly-fishing/swimming/grilling site was in full swing. Of course once the trail ends, it’s time to get wet!
On a hot summer day (or, a March like this one jeez) I’d recommend a big water bottle and another waiting for you in the car too, you’ll be glad you brought it. SO MANY GOOD PICNIC SPOTS. It’ll be hard to choose.
THUMBS UP: Views, views at every turn, with a couple 180 degree stretches where you can see both up/downstream for miles. There’s a waterfall a few miles in, too. Pretty gentle elevation. Well marked.
THUMBS DOWN: Busy, plan to park down the road if you get there after noon on a weekend. Not a lot of shade once you’re on the rim portion. There really isn’t much to knock off about this one!