Go Take A Hike!


In Northern California, any season is a good season for hiking, but the fall weather makes getting outdoors even better. As the days turn cooler, the leaves turn color, creating a visual treat. In this region, there’s a trail for everyone, no matter the age or ability. Check these out.

Difficulty of the trail on a scale of one to five.

South Yuba River State Park

Two paths start at this trailhead about five-and-a-half-miles northwest of Nevada City. The West Trail, one of the first wheelchair-accessible wilderness trails in the United States, is two and a half miles downstream; the East Trail is the same distance upstream. Tiny white signs at various points along the West Trail point out plants and bushes of interest. Take a detour down to Rush Creek; reputed to have cascades, it was a trickle when we visited. Still, it’s a nice spot for sunbathing on the rocks on a warm fall day.
     The East Trail affords periodic views of the Yuba River below. Pass under a “rock tunnel” and notice wild blackberry bushes and wild grape vines along the way. Crossing over several creeks gives a cool feeling to the hike even on a warm day.

Trail: South Yuba River Independence Trail
Distance: 2 ½ miles each way per trail
Elevation gain: None
Difficulty: 1
Parking: Free
Dogs: Yes
Good for kids? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? First half mile or so in each direction
Great for: A nice walk in nature.
Not for: People seeking ups and downs, twists and turns.
Take me to the river: Take the West Trail to Jones Bar Road, go right, and you’ll go down to the South Yuba River. To get back, cross the wooden footbridge at Rush Creek at the South Yuba River to return to the trailhead.
Surprises: The pretty drive along Highway 49 to the trailhead.
Use caution: It’s off-highway parking, so watch out.
Good to know: When driving from Sacramento, continue on Highway 49 toward Downieville to get to the trailhead. If you overshoot 49, you’ll eventually reach Harmony Ridge Market on Highway 20. The affable staff will point you in the right direction. While there, pick up a coffee or some snacks for the hike.
Have a picnic: We saw picnic tables while hiking both directions.
Ponder the fact: You’ll pass over several Gold Rush-era wooden flumes.
For more trails in the area: Stop by the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce at 132 Main St., Nevada City
Directions: Take 80 east to Highway 49 toward Nevada City

Muir Woods

Photography buffs who like working up a sweat will dig this hike, which is abundant with picture-worthy moments. With redwoods and views of the coast, the hike keeps mountain and ocean lovers happy. The coastal views from the Dipsea Trail are the true highlight. Watch for deer and bobcats on the Ben Johnson Trail. Evening hikers, take note that the park closes at sunset. We got back to our car half an hour late and found the ranger waiting for us.

Trails: Starts off as the Dipsea Trail, which connects to the Ben Johnson Trail, and then to the Hillside Trail. It ends up at the Muir Woods Visitor Center.
Distance: 4.35-mile loop trail
Elevation Gain: 1,070 feet
Difficulty Level: 3
Parking: Free, but admission to the park is $5 for adults, free for children 15 and younger
Dogs: No
Good for kids? Older kids
Wheelchair accessible? No
For more of a challenge: Do the trails in reverse.
Check out: The Visitors Center to learn about the redwoods and the history of the area.
Worth a post-hike stop: Muir Beach.
Good for: Hikers who don’t mind crowds.
Not for: Hikers who do mind crowds.
Calling all photographers: For optimum shots, schedule your hike for the morning or late afternoon.
Good to know: The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset, even on holidays. In October, the sun sets around 6 p.m.
Directions: Take Interstate 80 west to Highway 37 west to Highway 101 south and take the Highway 1 (Stinson Beach) exit. Follow the signs to Muir Woods.

Lake Tahoe

It’s hard to beat the beauty of Lake Tahoe. There’s something about driving along Highway 50 toward Tahoe, rounding the bend and catching that first glimpse of the sparkling lake that makes us want to rush out and slap “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers on our cars. The fall colors of Tahoe—especially of the aspens—are legendary, and several hikes showcase their beauty.
     The hike to Marlette Lake from Spooner Lake is mostly uphill, but gradual, not gasping-for-air uphill. About three-fourths of the way along, you’ll come around a curve and see Marlette Lake. Stunningly clear, it could take your breath away. Perhaps that’s why there’s a bench for weary hikers to take a load off and gaze. Once at the lake, explore the shoreline or just plop down and eat lunch. What goes up must go down, so relax—the hike back will be easier.
     Views of lakes, green meadows, streams, trees and flowers, and many awesome mountain peaks—including the famous Pyramid Peak—are perks of the hike from Echo Lake to Lake Aloha. Breathe fresh, crisp mountain air and swim in clear lakes; they’re cool this time of year, but invigorating. Huge granite rocks invite you to sit and snack while you admire the view. And while we didn’t see Lake Tahoe on the drive to the trailhead, we caught glimpses of it during our hike.

Trail: Echo Lake Trail, connecting to the Pacific Coast Trail, which takes you into Desolation Wilderness and Lake Aloha
Distance: 5 miles each way
Elevation gain: 1,000 feet followed by a 150-foot drop into Lake Aloha
Parking: Free parking in the lot and along the road
Difficulty Level: 4
Dogs: Yes
Good for Kids? Older kids
Wheelchair accessible? No
Take this hike: If pristine mountain scenery and “roughing it” appeal to you.
Too much? Just hike the Echo Lake Trail section; it’s five miles round trip, and the scenery is just as beautiful.
Keep your eyeballs peeled for: Small mammals, including birds, marmots, chipmunks, pikas. The elevation is too high for most bears, deer and bigger mammals.
Dizzy? People bothered by high-altitudes should skip this one.
Directions: Take Highway 50 east, turn left at the Berkeley Camp/Echo Lake sign, left at Echo Lake Road, and continue to the end of the road.
Post-hike stop: Los Hermanos in Pollock Pines (45 minutes down the hill toward Sacramento). If weather permits, sit on the patio with a margarita and chips and salsa.


Trail: Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake
Distance: About 9 ½ miles, round trip
Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
Difficulty: 3
Parking: $7
Dogs: Yes
Good for kids? Older kids
Wheelchair accessible? No
Watch out! There’s a short span of trail where you’ll want to be extra careful to keep your balance.
Hallelujah! Restrooms at the trailhead are plumbed.
Lunch spot: Marlette Lake, the turnaround point of the trail.
Take this hike: If you want to end up at a body of water.
Don’t: If you find any kind of incline treacherous.
Directions: Take Highway 50 east, turn right at Lake Tahoe Boulevard, turn left on Highway 28 and turn right at Spooner Lake State Park.
Treat Yourself: On the way home, stop at the Red Hut Soda Fountain for a Rim Trail: vanilla ice cream with strawberry topping covered with mini chocolate chips and almonds. Want real food? Pop into the adjacent Red Hut Cafe.

Cosumnes River Preserve

Located just south of Elk Grove in Galt, the Cosumnes River Preserve offers trails for the whole family. The Lost Slough Wetlands Walk is especially nice in the fall when geese, ducks and sandhill cranes are prevalent. View the cranes—a big attraction in the fall—at sunset, and see 100 to 500 cranes, some a mere 20 yards away in the wetlands habitat.

Trail: Lost Slough Wetlands Walk
Distance: 1-mile loop
Elevation gain: None
Difficulty:  1
Parking: Free
Dogs: No
Good for kids? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Good to know: Insect repellant will be your best friend.
Be sure to: Stop by the Visitors Center to pick up a brochure detailing points of interest. Kids will get a kick out of playing “Name These Tunes,” matching birds—including the California quail, great horned owl and yellow-billed magpie—with the sounds they make. Later, can the kids recognize the sounds on the trail? The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
Great hike for: Bird-lovers.
Just say no: If you’re looking for a kick-ass workout.
As an alternative: Consider The Cosumnes River Walk, a three-plus mile loop trail that begins and ends at the Visitors Center, which takes you to the Cosumnes River.
Directions: Take Interstate 5 south to Twin Cities Road and turn left, then turn right at Franklin Boulevard. The preserve is at 13501 Franklin Blvd. in Galt.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

More than 1,000 giant sequoias live in the North and South groves of this 6,000-acre state park near Angel’s Camp, but it’s the big-leaf maples, dogwoods and hazelnut trees that elicit oohing and ahhing as Mother Nature ushers out summer and welcomes fall. Visit from late October through Thanksgiving, especially after a heavy rain, and find the park blanketed with vibrant yellow and red leaves. Take the five-mile South Grove Trail, which runs past two of the park’s largest trees—the Agassiz and the Palace Hotel. Tack on the more strenuous, couple-mile Bradley Grove Trail, which heads uphill the first mile or so, and you’ll be rewarded near the end when you spot Beaver Creek. It’s the perfect lunch stop.

Trails: South Grove Trail, Bradley Grove Trail
Distance: South Grove: 5-mile loop;
Bradley Grove: 2 ½-mile loop
Elevation Gain: South Grove: 300 feet;
Bradley Grove: 280 feet
Difficulty: South Grove: 2 / Bradley Grove: 3
Parking: $7
Dogs: No
Good for kids? Older kids
Wheelchair accessible? No
Like shade? This is the hike for you.
Surprises: Calaveras Big Trees State Park is an easy two-hour drive from Sacramento.
An alternative: The North Grove Trail. Signs every several feet tell stories of surrounding trees including Old Bachelor and Siamese Twins. Explore Father of the Forest, a hollow, fallen tree that people can walk through.
Ponder the fact: Some of these trees are 2,000 years old.
Directions: Take 99 south to Highway 4 east. Follow Highway 4 to the park, which is three miles east of the town of Arnold.
Post-hike stop: Angels Camp World Mercantile & Gallery of Arts for a giant scoop of “Speckled Frog”: mint ice cream with crushed Oreos. (You do know that Calaveras County is frog country, right?)

San Francisco on a Sunny Day
Northern Californians know San Francisco can be wintry in the summer and warm come October. It’s prime time for an urban hike. The paths are as limitless as the imagination—and your fitness level. Park at the Ferry Building or Pier 39 and walk to Coit Tower. Climb all the way to the top for a 360-degree city view. Or hike Lombard Street, reputed to be the most crooked street in the world, and admire expertly manicured shrubbery and beautiful houses all the way. Other options: Stroll through Golden Gate Park; stops at the de Young Museum (the King Tut exhibit runs through March 2010) and the Japanese Tea Garden sweeten the deal. Walk along Ocean Beach or find your favorite neighborhood. When was the last time you perused the Haight or wandered through Chinatown? Now’s the time.

Hike for a Cause
Join hike leader Bob Tribe on an outing to such popular Northern California hotspots as Point Reyes National Seashore, Mt. Diablo, the Marin Headlands, Tahoe and the Napa Valley, and feel good doing so: Tribe donates the proceeds ($25 per person, per hike) to various charities including Heifer International, the AIDS Foundation, St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children, and the Headlands Institute. For more information, log on to mountaintribe.org. 

Energy Bar Star
Maybe you steer clear of energy bars because you’re not a fan of chewing cardboard. Yet for long hikes, energy bars provide quick nutrition. We found one to get excited about: the Kashi Go Lean protein and fiber bar. It tastes good and most are about 180 calories. Our fave: Chocolate Peanut, found at Whole Foods Market on Arden Way.

Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Sure, the hot, hot days of summer may be gone (or are they?) but you can still get burned.