Guide To The Great Outdoors

Check out some of our favorite recreation destinations.

Ah, the great outdoors. Sun, sand, trees, trails, water, wildflowers, wildlife. Many such words come to mind when we daydream of summer in all its coming glory. And now it’s here.  •  In our guide to the outdoors, we explore a variety of ways for you to put our region’s great weather and ample natural amenities to good use. From hiking and cycling to swimming, kayaking and more, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So without further ado, let’s take it outside.

Spinning Your Wheels

Sacramento is cycling country, whether you like it flat and wide-open, or steep and winding; smooth as glass, or rocky as the road to ruin. For either road riding or mountain biking, all you need is a bike, a helmet and a direction to head in. And it’s nice to see some pretty scenery along the way.

For road riders, there’s nothing better in the area than the obvious: The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail on the American River Parkway. Stretching 32 miles from Old Sacramento to Folsom, the American River Bike Trail, as it is commonly known, is one of this city’s greatest gifts to itself.

In its downtown sections—which offer beautiful views of the American and Sacramento rivers, the Tower Bridge and the city skyline, not to mention access to Old Sacramento—riders need to look out for foot traffic. Farther into the suburbs, riders again should watch out for runners and walkers, who by law should stay on the soft shoulder but often don’t. The best solution? Keep your speed close to the posted 15 mph limit and be aware that kids, in particular, are likely to zig when they should zag.

West of town, the so-called Winters Ride takes you up along the first ridge of hills that run north/south along the western edge of the Sacramento Valley. Beginning in Davis, ride west to Winters and along scenic Putah Creek to its source at Lake Berryessa. But be warned: The climb up to Berryessa is not called “Cardiac Hill” for nothing. Get good directions for this ride at daviswiki.org/bicycle_rides.

For mountain bikers, in-town choices are minimal—much of the American River Parkway is off-limits to off-road escapades. But hit the highway and you’ll soon find yourself in excellent mountain biking country.

The Bay Area, where mountain biking was born in the 1970s, still may be its hub, but use of its best trails—which mountain bikers call “single-track,” as opposed to the more-available but less-fun fire roads—has been widely restricted in recent years. And there is little reason to drive that far, when our own region offers several great options.

To the west, the mountain bike park known as Rockville is worth a visit. Though often forgotten by local mountain bikers, who tend to head east, Rockville Hills Community Park has some challenging runs on its 630 acres, with 20 miles of trails and unique valley views. It also can be a bit cooler than the foothills in the summer. Get there by taking Interstate 80 to Fairfield, exiting at Abernathy Road, turning left onto Rockville Road, then following the signs to Rockville.

To the east, toward the Sierra, choices get considerably more interesting. Three spots in particular stand out for their manageable challenges and sublime scenery.

The first is the Foresthill Divide Loop, on Foresthill Road off of Interstate 80 beyond Auburn. This 11-mile loop is easily accessed and offers varied terrain and great views of the Sierra. The trail gives you 1,600 feet of climb, which is substantial, but it does so in a way that’s doable for reasonably strong riders, even relative beginners. Access it from I-80 at Auburn, taking Foresthill Road east about five miles. There is a good parking lot; you can’t miss it.

Heading up Highway 50 from Sacramento, you’ll find Salmon Falls Trail, to the north of El Dorado Hills. Take El Dorado Hills’ main exit and head north through town, down into the canyon, and as soon as you cross Salmon Falls Bridge, there’s a parking lot for one of the first dedicated mountain bike trails in the region. At 20 miles out and back, it’s a big challenge and it’s hot in the summer, but the reward can be a cooling post-ride dip in nearby Folsom Lake.

A bit farther northeast, just outside of Nevada City, is the nice, shaded Pioneer Trail, which can give newbie riders a higher Sierra feel and a sense of accomplishment without too much stress. Start in at 5 Mile House on Highway 20, and ride the seven miles to White Cloud Campground and then back, working on your skills on the rather forgiving pine-needle-padded trail.

Take a Hike

Hiking opportunities don’t abound in Sacramento itself. This place is flat!

But the capital city is surrounded by countless hills and mountains, making for nearly inexhaustible, not to mention exhausting, hiking options. The number of choices can, in fact, be daunting. Where to begin? Here are a few spots you may not have thought of, where you can get your thighs working and your blood pumping. Best of all, the natural surroundings will dazzle your eyes: This is one of the most scenic areas in the world.

But first: When you set out on a hike, even a short one, you should take water, at least a little food and sun protection, preferably a hat and sunscreen. Water, in particular, is essential; you may not realize you’re dehydrated until it’s too late.

To start with the least-obvious destination, head west. If you think Yolo County is all flat farmland and marshland—and much of it is—you’re ignoring the hills beyond Winters and Woodland,
which rise to more than 2,000 feet and offer some the region’s most underused hiking trails.

More specifically, Yolo County’s 160,000 acres of hills and mountains surround one of our area’s most unknown and unappreciated jewels: the Capay Valley. Less than an hour west of downtown Sacramento, the Capay Valley is best known for the Cache Creek Casino Resort in Brooks, at the south end. Most people go to Capay to gamble, not to ramble.

But drive north of the casino complex and you’ll find yourself in a beautiful, narrow valley that features impressive rock formations, the white-water Cache Creek and more flowering orchards, profuse wildflowers and, in the spring, native redbud than your eyes can take in.

For beginners and kids, as well as those looking for a new hike, the best trail in Capay is the Frog Pond Trail, named for the frog pond that welcomes hikers for a dip on hot days or entertains them with an amphibian symphony. The trail is 3.5 miles roundtrip and offers views of the Capay Valley, Cache Creek and the surrounding hills. Its 660-foot elevation gain won’t wear you out, but you’ll definitely feel like you’ve gotten away from it all. For more information on the hike, visit the very informative yolohiker.org, which has directions, photos and even a digital recording of the frogs themselves.

One of the Sacramento area’s easiest-to-reach hiking spots lies at the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the American River, in the Auburn State Recreation Area near Auburn. There, dirt trails, swimming holes and lakes range widely in ease and accessibility, but all can be reached just a few miles off I-80 at the Foresthill Road exit. Taking Foresthill Road east to Highway 49, which plunges into the American River Canyon, one soon arrives at the confluence, where the parking is easy (though weekends get crowded) and the trailheads are many. One simple hike is the Canyon Walk, which goes along the river down the canyon, with many opportunities to take a dip in the river as well as to admire the old bridges and dams that were built in the 19th century to bridge or harness the water. There’s also the Western States Trail here, the western end of the 100-mile trail that starts in Squaw Valley and is the venue of the annual footrace that bears its name. Visit foothill.net/fta/maps/conflu.html for a map of the various trails.

If you’re up for something a little more challenging but with even greater payoff—a gorgeous waterfall with four natural waterslides into a lovely swimming hole—check out the University Falls Trail in the Eldorado National Forest, near Georgetown. The falls should be dry by mid-summer, but the hike itself is beautiful, with views of the surrounding mountains and lots of foliage on the often-shaded trail. It’s a three-hour loop hike (5.6 miles), with about 650 feet of elevation gain on a well-maintained trail.

To get there, take Highway 50 to Placerville, then head north on Highway 49 for less than a mile to Highway 193, where you turn right toward Georgetown. At Georgetown, take Wentworth Springs Road 12 miles to Quintette. Try to do this hike on a weekday, as it’s a very popular spot with locals on the weekends. Once you get there, you’ll see why. For more detailed directions, google “university localhikes.”

In the High Sierra, a trail with the greatest payoff for only a moderate effort is the gorgeous Mount Judah Loop near Donner Summit. Take I-80 east, park the car and you’re hiking, and not on just any trail: You’re on the Pacific Coast Trail, hiking through beautiful forest, across talus slopes and up onto a ridge that has 360-degree views of the entire central Sierra—and you can get to the top in an hour! Once on top, you can see all the surrounding peaks, valleys and even Donner Lake. You can’t find a better or more accessible Sierra trail than this—a 4.6-mile loop that you can enjoy and still be back in town (or perhaps Truckee?) for dinner.

To get to the Mount Judah Loop, head up I-80 toward Donner Summit. At Soda Springs, take the exit (old Highway 40) and follow the signs toward the ski resorts. At the very top of the summit, look for the Pacific Coast Trail signs and park just past the firehouse in the gravel parking lot. Take the PCT and then, at the first fork, turn left off the PCT when you see the snowmaking machinery of Sugar Bowl. You’ll slowly circle up clockwise around Mount Judah, with vistas of the entire Truckee Basin off to the north and east. You can summit easily and spend a good hour or two on top, picnicking and enjoying the views. It can get quite windy toward the late afternoon—you are very much on top of the mountain, after all. But that’s just where you wanted to be, wasn’t it?

Wheelchair-Accessible Hikes—There’s absolutely no reason why people in wheelchairs or with limited mobility can’t get into the great outdoors. Three accessible spots well worth exploring are within striking distance of Sacramento.

For nature viewing, the Cosumnes River Preserve has a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail that gives great access to the preserve’s gorgeous wetlands. Only a 40-minute drive from Sacramento on Interstate 5, it’s open only on weekends, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., when the visitor center hosts a variety of activities, tours and opportunities for volunteer work. For more information, visit cosumnes.org.

For a wonderful interpretive trail in the High Sierra that is specifically designed for those in wheelchairs, visit PG&E’s Bear Valley interpretive trail near Emigrant Gap on Highway 20 near the junction with I-80 in Placer County. To get there, take I-80 to the Highway 20 turnoff, then head west for 4.3 miles and turn right at the Bowman Lake Road. This Sierra Discovery Trail is just a half-mile off the highway. Although it is mostly unpaved, it is accessible to wheelchairs, and there’s a 12-foot waterfall as well as interpretive signage along the length of the 0.7-mile loop.

Finally, our area is home to the very first wilderness trail in the country with wheelchair accessibility: the aptly named Independence Trail. Accessed off Highway 49, near the South Yuba River Bridge north of Grass Valley, the Independence Trail features a total of 2.5 miles of maintained wheelchair trail, with views of the Yuba River and the surrounding foothills. For more information, go to nccn.net/~syitrail/ or call (530) 477-4788.

Gone Paddlin’

Paddling the region’s waterways affords you an intimate experience with the great outdoors—not to mention a great upper-body workout. Whether you prefer kayaks or canoes, serene stretches of river or exhilarating rapids, you’ll find there are advantages to living in a place called River City.

The Sacramento River Delta offers a number of places to go kayaking and canoeing. Launch-off locations include Brannan Island State Recreation Area, Clarksburg Marina, Delta Marina, Walnut Grove Public Dock and Windy Cove State Park.

In Sacramento, Discovery Park, at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers, is another popular paddling destination. And Garcia Bend and Miller Park are great starting spots off the Sacramento River.

But for all-around easy access, you can’t beat a day of paddling at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center. No boat? No problem. The center rents canoes and sit-on-top kayaks (and traditional kayaks for those who’ve passed a certification class). Row merrily along or engage in a vigorous workout—the choice is yours, as Lake Natoma’s gentle water is suitable for all levels of paddlers.

The upper American River is an excellent spot for kayakers and canoers craving something a little more fast-paced. With mostly Class II/III rapids, the South Fork of the American River tends to be friendly to the new kayaker. Runs include the three-mile Coloma to Lotus stretch, a Class II ride that offers among its perks easy access. Want to up the ante to Class III? The famous Chili Bar and Gorge runs should do. The bad news: Spring is the optimal paddling time for the rivers. But there are plenty of “play spots” such as Chili Bar Hole to keep paddlers occupied during the summer months. The Middle and North forks of the American River also are popular kayak/canoeing spots, with Chamberlain Falls being the North Fork’s crowning glory. It’s ripe with Class V runs, however, so paddlers will need to be honest about their skill levels. Those looking for a quiet, Class II+ run may find Shirttail Canyon just what they’re looking for.

Whatever Floats Your Boat (or Raft, Rather)

Whether you’re into the serenity of a gentle float or the chills and thrills of white water, rafting the region’s rivers is pure pleasure, offering a fresh orientation to the land and an appreciation for the power of the water that surrounds us.

The Sacramento-area’s backyard pool, the American River (also referred to as the lower American River to distinguish it from the more turbulent upper American), plays host to a number of “chill” activities, with rafting (sometimes referred to as a “float trip” so as not to be confused with its white-knuckle-inducing, white-water sister) being among the most popular. Probably the craziest you’re going to get on lower American are the San Juan and Arden rapids, which offer a slight thrill to rafters, an adrenaline surge for kayakers.

Rent a raft and pack a swimsuit, sunscreen, a cooler and some munchies. You might want to pack one more thing: a water gun, or 10. The AR becomes a battleground for unofficial water fights—don’t say we didn’t warn you. Also note that alcoholic drinks are prohibited on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends.

For those itching for a more exhilarating ride, white water’s the ticket. With rapids ranging in class from I to V and higher, Northern California rivers offer an array of experiences.

Class I refers to runs with the most gentle, easy rapids (think float trip), whereas Class V is the most difficult. Experienced rafters can head out on their own, but it’s optimal to book a trip with a commercial rafting company. They provide the raft, the snacks and, most importantly, experienced guides who know the routes well. Novices, families and people looking for a little adventure likely will want to opt for Class II/III+ excursions. The South Fork of the American River, the Truckee River, Lower Klamath River and Trinity River all fit the bill. Famous rapids along the South Fork of the American include Satan’s Cesspool and Hospital Bar; along the Truckee: Bronco; along the Lower Klamath: Rattlesnake; and along the Trinity: Good Morning America and Sailor Bar.

More experienced or adventurous souls will get their adrenaline pumping with Class III/IV trips (sometimes with some IIs thrown in for a breather) down the Middle Fork of the American and the Upper Sacramento rivers. Famous rapids along the Middle Fork include Tunnel Chute (site of one of the biggest Gold Rush discoveries), and along the Upper Sacramento: Wakeup and Wash Board.

Class IV and V are more treacherous and cater to the more experienced, athletic and, frankly, brazen adventure seeker. Rivers include the North Yuba, North Fork of the American, Tuolumne and Upper Klamath. Famous rapids along the North Fork include Chamberlain Falls; along the North Yuba: Maytag; along the Tuolumne: Clavey Falls; and along the Upper Klamath: Hell’s Corner.

Wild Things

If watching Animal Planet doesn’t satisfy your interest in the other creatures (yet you’d prefer something a little less bloody than “When Animals Attack!”), you live in a good place. Sacramento is surrounded by wildlife areas, and while you won’t see roaming herds of zebras or flocks of flamingos, you’ll likely glimpse rabbits, deer, raccoons and bats, and you’ll certainly see an amazing array of birds.

In fact, birds are by far the most common viewable wildlife in the valley, as our area sits under one of the great migratory routes of the world. You can see white egrets standing on freeway medians in Elk Grove in spring and hear flocks of geese honking overhead during the winter. In summer, things are a bit quieter, but there are still plenty of places to go to the birds.

As for other forms of wildlife, they’re out there—just shy around people. Foxes, raccoons, snakes, coyote, deer, even bears and mountain lions are as close as the American River Parkway. Unless you are a patient, experienced wildlife stalker, or just very lucky, however, you are unlikely to just happen upon one. But spend enough time in the great outdoors—or go a bit farther afield, to wildlife-rich Yosemite and Lassen national parks, where the bears can be a bit too friendly—and your odds get much better.

Lying on the Sacramento Valley’s great floodplain just south of Elk Grove, the Cosumnes River Preserve is a remarkable riparian (river-centered) habitat on the only untamed river on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. That’s right: the Cosumnes, though only 80 miles long, is the area’s only river without a dam on it. That means it floods regularly in the winter and spring, which has created a unique environment—one that animals love. More than 250 birds and 230 plant species have been identified in the preserve.

Even closer to downtown Sacramento—just over the Yolo Causeway—is an enormous wetlands area that includes the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area and the City of Davis Wetlands, which are fed, respectively, by the Sacramento River (when it floods in spring) and by recycled wastewater from the city of Davis.

The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is highly accessible and free to visit. Simply drive over the causeway, get off at County Road 32A/East Chiles Road, turn right at the first stop sign and head south under the freeway to the levee access. This area, a longtime restoration project under the Department of Fish and Game, gets more and more beautiful every year. With many ducks and geese, a variety of plants such as cattails, tules and sedges, and a bat colony with an estimated 250,000 members, the setting is particularly beautiful at sunset, with Mount Diablo rising in the distance.

Within the metropolitan area, the Effie Yeaw Nature Center is as close to a suburban sanctuary as Sacramento has. Nestled in the farther reaches of Ancil Hoffman Park in Carmichael, the center is named for educator and preservationist Effie Yeaw, who started leading tours in the area in 1955 and was instrumental in the creation of the American River Parkway. The Effie Yeaw Nature Center offers all sorts of diversions for kids, who enjoy the wide-open space as well as the live mammals and number of interpretive displays in the center itself. There’s also a replica of a village of the original people of the area, the Maidu, and 77 acres of preserve to explore. Again, you have to be lucky to spot them, and you’ll be luckiest early in the morning or late in the day (note: hours here are only 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), but the preserve is home to wild turkeys, quail, birds of prey, deer, coyotes and other mammals. Just keep your eyes open.

Up into the foothills, the relatively new Hidden Falls Regional Park, originally called Didion Ranch, was opened in October 2006. On its 221 acres, located between Auburn and Lincoln at 7587 Mears Place north of Mount Vernon Road, there are blue oak woodlands, rolling hills and seven miles of trails leading to the year-round waterfall that gives the park its name. Look for eagles, hawks and wild pigs.

The north valley is home to the huge Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which consists of five national wildlife refuges and three wildlife management areas that total more than 35,000 acres of wetlands, starting about an hour north of Sacramento. Nearly half of the birds that pass through the Pacific Flyway land and feed here, so this is one of the most important wildlife areas in the country. To find out more about it, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website at fws.gov/sacramentovalleyrefuges.

Wherever you go, just remember: Don’t feed the animals! 

ride locally—

At centralcaliforniacycling.com, you can find ideas for local routes that take you in loops of up to nearly 100 miles. The site has suggestions and descriptions of a number of rides around the Sacramento area. But your best bet, especially if you’re just starting, is to hook up with other cyclists in a group like Sacramento Bike Hikers, which for 40 years has been sharing rides and ideas for rides. Check out its schedule at bikehikers.com.

triathlon with a twist: eppie’s great race—

Touted as “The World’s Oldest Triathlon,” Eppie’s Great Race, founded by restaurateur Eppie Johnson, challenges participants (individuals as well as teams) with a 5.82-mile run, 12.5-mile bike ride and 6.35-mile kayak. Yes, kayak. (We did say “triathlon with a twist,” didn’t we?) Celebrating 35 years, this year’s race—held along the American River Parkway and benefiting Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services—is July 19. To take part or to volunteer, call (916) 381-0255 or log on to thegreatrace.org.

mountain biking tips—

To learn more about mountain biking, check with the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s local chapter at imba.com. If you’re not a joiner but want some good advice, take a look at mtbsingletrack.com, on which a guy named The Fish has compiled quite a collection of trail maps and descriptions for Nevada, Sierra and Placer counties, including a “Trails for Beginners” page. Very useful stuff.

And remember, wherever you ride: Take water and wear a helmet.

Five Picnic Spots

Perhaps one of the most delicious ways to enjoy the great outdoors is to eat a meal outdoors—an experience both primal and romantic in its appeal. While our area boasts plenty of parks that’ll get the job done, consider one of these regional destinations for a festive and memorable spot to spread your spread.

Amador Flower Farm—Eat among the daylilies at Amador Flower Farm, where grassy trails weave through acres of blooms. Located in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, the farm has lovely picnic areas, dotted with heritage oak trees for shade, that are open to the public year-round and can be reserved for special occasions. Find the farm at 22001 Shenandoah School Road in Plymouth. Parking is free.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park—Have a picnic on the site where James Marshall discovered gold in 1848 along the American River. For an educational day trip, visit the Gold Discovery Museum in the park; for a more hands-on experience, pan for gold in the river. The park is at 310 Back St. off Highway 49 in Coloma. Parking is $5 per vehicle, $4 for seniors 62 and older.

Sly Park Recreation Area—Centered on Jenkinson Lake in El Dorado County, Sly Park Recreation Area is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic in between hiking, horseback riding or boating. Tall pines provide shade, but on especially hot days, why not take a dip in the lake? Swimming is allowed. Drive up Highway 50 to 4771 Sly Park Road in Pollock Pines. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

Gibson Ranch County Park—Brimming with animals, including horses available for guided rides, along with natural marshes, a playground and a lake stocked with fish, Gibson Ranch is a great picnic place for families. The park, at 8552 Gibson Ranch Road in Elverta, allows reservations for large groups—after all, it’s nearly 400 acres. Parking is $5 per vehicle.

Ancil Hoffman Park—Enjoy a riverside dining experience along the banks of the American River in Ancil Hoffman Park. Towering oak trees provide a shady canopy for picnicking, while nature trails winding through the park encourage you to walk off your meal. Leave your bottles at home—no glass containers are allowed. The park is at 2850 San Lorenzo Way off Tarshes Drive in Carmichael. Parking is $5 per vehicle. —Elizabeth Marxen

run with a view—

We asked local runners and walkers to tell us their favorite scenic routes:

Luis Alvarez, Sacramento. “Foresthill to Rucky Chucky along the Western States Trail. This is a great running trail filled with beautiful views of the river and, in the spring, thousands of colorful wildflowers. Be prepared for plenty of downhill with a few good climbs.”

Becky Johnson Sabin, Sacramento. “Foresthill Divide Loop Trail. This widely used trail accommodates runners, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and levels of fitness. From the trail, you get views of both Lake Clementine and the American River.”

Ryan Moore, Folsom. “Go to the Brown’s Ravine boat launch at Folsom Lake. Run along the lake on the dirt trail, jump off at the fork and go right. Get onto Guadalupe Road in El Dorado Hills and head west. Get ready for some hills—and more hills. Then enjoy the climb up Francisco Drive. Take Francisco back to Green Valley Road, back to the boat ramp. It’s maybe seven or eight miles. It’s a beautiful run.”

Jennifer Music, Sacramento. “Start at Rattlesnake Bar in Loomis and run along the American River. This trail has gentle, rolling hills—good for a runner who is new to running on trails. This is a very scenic run.”

Janice Walukones, Sacramento. “I really like the loop around Lake Natoma. It is beautiful and has a lot of interesting variety: cliffs with obvious sedimentary layers, quiet forest, dam and lake views (especially fun when there are rowing events), picnic areas, wildlife, a couple of great hills and plenty of free parking at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.”

surf’s up, delta-style—

Those trademark Delta breezes that cool us off during the valley’s scorching-hot summers also make parts of the Delta a mecca for windsurfing enthusiasts. According to the Rio Vista Windsurfing Association, popular launch spots to catch some wind include Sherman Island County Park, Windy Cove State Park and Sandy Beach Park. For more information on windsurfing in the Delta, including suggestions of places to go and each spot’s amenities, directions and, perhaps most important, an idea of the skill level required, contact the Rio Vista Windsurfing Association via rvwa.org.

under the light of the (full) moon—

What better way to spend a balmy summer evening than on a leisurely kayak ride out on the lake under a rising full moon? Best part, if you crash into the nearby bushes, no one will be the wiser! Dates for the Sacramento State Aquatic Center’s Sunset Paddle are June 13, July 18, Aug. 15 and Sept. 12.

Make a Splash

Looking for a change of pace from the backyard or community pool? Try these summer swimming holes on for size.

For family: South Yuba River State Park. With a visitors center and restrooms, and seeped in Gold Rush-era history, this area is a prime spot for summer swimmers. Kids will get a kick out of the historic Bridgeport Covered Bridge. Built in 1862, it’s the longest single-span wood-arch bridge and one of only 10 covered bridges remaining in California.

For solitude: Little Grass Valley Reservoir. North of Grass Valley, about 115 miles from Sacramento, lies this serene blue mountain lake. It rates a Triple S—for swimming, sandy beaches and scenery—but you have to want to be there. It’s accessed via a “superwindy road,” according to one visitor, but well worth the trek.

For popularity: Beals Point and Granite Bay at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. About 30 minutes from downtown Sacramento, Folsom Lake offers something for beachcombers to boaters, right in our own backyard. Both Beals Point and Granite Bay are popular swimming spots, thanks to sandy beaches, nearby snack bars (which rent beach equipment including sail boards, canoes and canopies for beach dwellers desiring a break from the blazing sun), plus shady areas and barbecue grills perfect for post-swim picnicking.

For convenience: William B. Pond Recreation Area. Runners, walkers and cyclists flock to the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, which passes through this recreation area at mile 13.5. Venture off course to the river and pick a spot to wade in the water, picnic, soak up the sun or pick berries from nearby bushes. You’ll feel miles from the city, yet Arden Way is a mere half-mile away.

For a different direction: Seven Mile Slough. Located within the Brannan Island State Recreation Area, Seven Mile Slough proves the Delta is not just for boaters and windsurfers. With a picnic area (including barbecue grills), lots of parking and restroom facilities, it calls out to swimmers seeking fresh places to get wet. Lifeguards are on duty Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The Gem in Our Backyard: Sacramento State Aquatic Center

Open to the general public, the family-friendly Sacramento State Aquatic Center offers a buffet of water-related fun. Activity-lovers can rent hydro bikes, canoes, kayaks or beach cruiser bikes for play. Triathletes can practice their open-water swimming in the brisk, refreshing lake. And sunbathers and sand-castle builders can relax on the sandy beach. Picnic tables and barbecue grills invite groups to make a day of it.

The facility offers a variety of classes including sailing, water skiing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, boating and rowing. And there are special programs for youth groups and those looking for team-building activities.

Sacramento State students, faculty, staff and alumni association members receive discounts on classes and rentals, but costs are not prohibitive to the general public. The center is at 1901 Hazel Ave. in Gold River. Call (916) 278-2842 or go to sacstateaquaticcenter.com for hours and offerings.

be guided—

Numerous companies offer guided white-water rafting excursions, with staff to help you decide which one is best for you. Trips can be planned for half-days, overnights or longer. Some outfitters offer special trips such as rafting and wine tasting or will cater to a theme, be it a bachelor party, family reunion or corporate team-building event.

stay safe—

To check conditions, including water levels, before proceeding into the water, log on to cacreeks.com or theamericanriver.com.

got gear?—

Rent a raft at one of these two locations: River Rat Raft & Bike, 4053 Pennsylvania Ave., Fair Oaks; (916) 966-6777; river-rat.com or American River Raft Rentals, 11257 S. Bridge St., Rancho Cordova; (916) 635-6400; raftrentals.com.

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