Fans of the American River Parkway will know this more exerting extension starting at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, down along Lake Natoma and up to Beals Point at Folsom Lake, which in winter and early spring looks more like a moonscape and may be crawling with mountain bikers. The route includes the delightfully fun Johnny Cash Trail before dumping out into the middle of Folsom’s historic district. It finishes on a paved trail along the serene southern side of Lake Natoma.
Distance: 22.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate, with 1,184 feet of climbing
Parking: Nimbus Fish Hatchery
Restrooms: Nimbus Fish Hatchery, Negro Bar, Beals Point along the parkway, Karen’s Bakery (lunch stop)
Beware: Riders have to cross Hazel Avenue through “the cage” to start the route, then choose whether to take a steep or more gradual climb to get to the bike trail at the top of the bridge, which can be dicey, especially when it’s busy.
Things to see and do: You’ll have to leave the trail to cross Folsom-Auburn Road, but Folsom Grind coffee shop is worth the detour. With downloadable bike routes, cycling photos and Folsom Bike next door, it’s a handy stop. Take a breather after the climb to Beals Point to see the fluctuating lake levels. For extra fun on the Johnny Cash Trail, turn right off East Natoma down the bucolic little spur to the prison entrance, then climb back up to finish. Unless it’s a Sunday or Monday when it’s closed, Karen’s Bakery is the cyclists’ shady hangout for coffee, pastries, brunch or lunch.
The Sierra Nevada foothills above Sacramento are idyllic settings for mountain bike rides for extreme and beginner cyclists alike, and through numerous public-private partnerships, the trail systems to support them continue to expand. Brian Joder, who has been in the mountain bike racing scene for decades, points to Auburn in particular as a destination for folks in the know statewide. “Auburn has pretty much everything from the beginner-level Quarry Trail to highly technical routes with a large elevation gain or descent,” he says. “There are downhill-specific runs with jumps, drops and berms. This is a bona fide, all-around mountain biking area. It would stack up well against any other area in the state or even the West in general.”