It’s been called the crown jewel of the Sacramento region, and its many sparkling gems reveal themselves anew with every ride. Part of a 4,800-acre ecosystem, the 23-mile American River Parkway is a multiuse wonder that runs through three cities and a state university campus but never feels urban. The paved path from Discovery Park to Nimbus Fish Hatchery lures riders as diverse as road racers in training, couples on tandems, downtown work commuters, older adults on recumbents, ebikers and families with young children just learning on two wheels.
American River Parkway
Distance: 23 miles each way
Parking: If you can’t get on the trail by bike (there are multiple access points), you can park in one of 15 developed recreation areas.
Restrooms: There are 23 bathrooms along the route, including at every recreation area.
Beware: Although it’s 12 feet wide with gravel shoulders on each side, the parkway can get congested, straining efforts to maintain parkway etiquette, especially on weekends when there may be events or families out with kids, dogs or strollers. Stay aware of your surroundings; better yet, pull over safely to the gravel shoulder or sit on one of the many dedicated benches and take it all in. The parkway now has bike patrol crew to encourage proper etiquette and provide riders with directions and help with flat tires.
Things to see and do: Stop atop the Guy West Bridge at Sacramento State, designed to resemble the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The view lets you inhale the breadth of the river; you may see wading fishermen and kayakers and soaring birds of prey. Later, if you’re in the mood for coffee and a pastry, pull off the trail in Carmichael at Bella Bru or, farther up, ride over the Old Fair Oaks Bridge into Fair Oaks Village and sample the French fare at O Cafe. On a searingly hot day, Lake Natoma, with its icy-cold water released from Folsom Lake, is a refreshing pit stop. Nimbus Fish Hatchery, which artificially spawns Chinook salmon and steelhead, is a fascinating stop during peak migration time (October–December).
The trail’s first few miles of the American River Parkway abutting Garden Highway and the area south of Howe Avenue have become havens for many men and women experiencing homelessness. Parkway advocates say that in most cases, riders are not in danger, and that campers generally want to be left alone. But they suggest common-sense safety tips when riding through these areas:
- Ride with a buddy
- Ride during daylight hours
- Pay attention and ride with determination
- Carry a cellphone in case of emergency
- Avoid the areas by starting or leaving the trail at other access points