LENGTH: 9 mile loop for the main trail. Lots of side trails (both well-marked and not), if you’re feeling adventurous. As with the best trails around this area, you can get down to the water (fork of the American River) to cool off.
DIFFICULTY: Gentle overall (about 400 ft elevation gain), except if you take the gravel road down to the river, the hike back up is pretty unforgiving – steepness and shade-wise. But hey, with wet feet on the way back…totally worth it.
DIST FROM SACRAMENTO: 45 minutes, via I-80 E.
DIST FROM GRASS VALLEY: 45 minutes, via 49 S.
LOCATION: You can Google Map “Olmstead Loop Trail Trailhead, 7200 Saint Florian Court, Cool, CA” and it’ll lead you right to it. You’ll park behind the fire station in a well-marked lot. NOTE: $10 to park there, since it’s in the Auburn State Recreation area. The trail markers are pretty regular along the length of the trail (1/2 mile intervals and general guideposts) which is nice, as long as you’re on the main loop. But if you’re anything like me and choose the skinny less-traveled looking offshoots it shouldn’t be too hard to find your way back to a labeled trail intersection either.
The descriptions I read before I went talked about horse and mountain bike traffic, but the weekend I went I didn’t meet horses or bikes, just hikers. And the wildflowers – wow – some of the more beautiful ones I’ve seen anywhere, and that includes the legendary Buttermilk Bend Trail. I had to look a few up when I got home. On the left is the Coast Iris (which yes…you’d think would be along the coast, it sure looks like one though – endangered too) and White Globe Lily (native to CA).
Keep your eyes open, I saw more wildlife on this trail than I have on any other hike around here yet. Foxes to quail to river ducks…and more in-between.
Fun Fact: Olmstead Loop was named for Dan Olmstead in 1993. “Olmstead was an local avid mountain biker and hiker. He dedicated himself to creating harmony between hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians, and to multi-use of trails in this area. He also established a bike and hiking shop in the area.” Sounds trail-name worthy, huh?
THUMBS UP: Well marked, lots of grand oak trees, wildflowers when in season.
THUMBS DOWN: Paying to park, there are a couple confusing forks that’ll lead you onto private land if you’re not careful, pretty rocky (not really a downside, just be aware you may want hiking shoes, not tennis shoes).