Nothing brings a body more in tune with nature than a good tromp in the woods, across a hillside or up a mountain—especially near a lake or river or with a view of the ocean. In Sacramento, we’re close to so many of Northern California’s trails, including some right here in town, plenty in the Gold Country foothills and more up near Lake Tahoe and into the high country. Lace up your boots and pick your preferred level of intensity.
For a moderately challenging and very scenic hike within an hour of Sacramento, the Homestead Trail near the south end of Lake Berryessa is a 5.1-mile loop that’s easy to get to and easy to follow. The trail is accessible year-round and is popular with hikers and trail runners alike. Climbing about 1,500 feet—mostly gradual but with a few short, steep spots—gets you to a lookout with breathtaking views of the lake. Along the way you’ll cross a stream and walk among scrub oak, bay and manzanita trees, but the lake views are definitely the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
LOGISTICS: Shade is scarce and poison oak plentiful. Don’t skimp on sunscreen, hats and water, and stay on the trail.
GET THERE: From Winters, follow Highway 128 west just past Canyon Creek Resort and turn right at the signs for trailhead parking. Just south of the parking lot is a trailhead exhibit and self-registration kiosk.
GOOD TO KNOW: Putah Creek Cafe in Winters serves a mean weekend brunch (bacon waffle with fried chicken, anyone?) complete with mimosas and bloody marys, as well as lighter options in case you want to keep that post-hike healthy feeling lasting all day.
If steep climbs aren’t your thing but you’re still willing to put in some miles to get some lake views, the Jedi Trail in Beeks Bight Nature Area serves up 5.2 fl at miles on an out-and-back route just east of Granite Bay. If you can walk for two hours, you can hike Jedi Trail, and the views are just as good no matter how many times you stop. There are plenty of smaller trails stemming o from Jedi Trail that lead to sandy beaches along the Folsom Lake shorefront, so packing in a beach towel, swimsuit and lunch is likely to get you a private beach day you won’t fi nd in Tahoe. Interpretive panels placed along the route by local schoolchildren offer insight into the natural history of the oak woodland ecosystem you’ll traverse, making it a great hike for school-aged kids.
LOGISTICS: Plan to pay $12 cash to park within the recreation area. If you’re an overachiever (or overly frugal), you could park outside the recreation area and bike to the trail, as the area is well trafficked by cyclists as well as hikers.
GET THERE: From Roseville, take Douglas Boulevard east to the Folsom Lake recreation area. Follow Park Road north to the Beeks Bight parking lot.
GOOD TO KNOW: Dogs are welcome on the trail but must be kept on leash.
South Yuba Trail
For some river fun on a different river, the South Yuba Trail stretches out over 20 miles in total but can be easily tackled in shorter sections. Starting at the Purdon Crossing Bridge, about 20 minutes north of Nevada City, you can hike east to the Edwards Crossing Bridge for a fairly easy 4.5-mile trek with great swimming holes in the emerald-green waters of the South Yuba River. Go out and back for a 9-mile hike or go with a group and park one car at the end. Some sections of the trail o er views of the river from high up on the rocky walls, while other parts are deeper in the wooded valleys of the creeks that feed into the river.
LOGISTICS: The proximity to the river along the majority of this hike makes for lots of options to swim, float and cliff jump, but be prepared with plenty of bug repellant, shoes that can get wet, and dry clothes for the ride home.
GET THERE: From Nevada City, take Highway 49 north to N. Bloomfield Road. At the T intersection, turn left on Lake Vera Purdon Road and continue for 5.5 miles. There is limited parking in a lot immediately before the bridge.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you’re into tubing, you can take a biathlon approach to this hike by tubing downstream and hiking back.
Dave Moore Nature Trail
This trail is a 1-mile loop near Lotus, jogger-stroller accessible, with easy river access, clean bathrooms and some educational signage about the area’s rich gold-mining history.
Looking for a rugged hike you don’t need four-wheel drive to get to? Stevens Trail is a diffcult 9-mile out-and-back route near Colfax that’s just o the freeway but provides plenty of challenging terrain to explore. The hike starts off in a forested area and passes a waterfall at Robbers Ravine, after which it moves onto an exposed ridge about 800 feet above the visible river. The trail is quite narrow at some points, and navigating around other hikers can pose an intimidating challenge for anyone who’s afraid of heights. A gradual descent of about 1,700 feet eventually leads you to Secret Ravine and ultimately to the riverbank. The trail, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is accessible year-round and open to dogs as well.
LOGISTICS: The trail can get pretty muddy if it’s rained recently, so sturdy shoes and hiking poles are a good idea for ensuring you feel safe and steady.
GET THERE: Take Interstate 80 east to Canyon Way (exit 135), turn left on N. Canyon Way and drive 0.7 miles to the Stevens Trail parking lot.
GOOD TO KNOW: Dine N Dash Pub and Grill is a favorite local Colfax spot just 1.5 miles down Interstate 80 from the trailhead. Open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, it’s the perfect spot for a pre-hike omelet or post-hike burger.
Cosumnes River Preserve
The Cosumnes River Preserve in Galt includes 11 miles of well-maintained trails within its 50,000 protected acres and is home to more than 250 species of native birds. There are three separate trails to choose from, ranging from the 1-mile ADA- and stroller-accessible Lost Slough Wetlands Walk to the 3-mile River Walk Trail and the Rancho Seco Howard Trail, an out-and-back hike traveling 3.5 miles each way. Within the preserve, you can walk along the river or through groves of trees, and from whichever trail you choose, you can expect to see a wide variety of birds hunting mice, splashing in the water and soaring overheard. The terrain is fl at and all trails are well marked.
LOGISTICS: Park near the visitor center and pick up a free map to get tons of information about the flora and fauna you’ll see.
GET THERE: The preserve is located at 13501 Franklin Blvd. in Galt; parking lots at the visitor center is ample and free.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you opt for the Rancho Seco Howard Trail (the longest of the three distinct trails), the trailhead is located in the Rancho Seco Recreational Area, where there is a $10-per-vehicle entrance fee.
Effie Yeaw Nature Center
The center is part of a 100-acre nature preserve and home to three self-guided pedestrian trails (no dogs or bikes) that are each less than 1 mile round trip, beginning and ending at the nature center. It’s perfect for kids, with reliable wildlife viewing.
Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Home to a 1.2-mile loop trail located near West Sacramento where you can expect to see mustard blossoms in spring, sunflowers in summer and a plethora of bird activity year-round. Bring binoculars.
Sly Park Lake Loop Trail
The Sly Park Recreation Area provides some of the best car camping within an hour of Sacramento, but you can also get a taste of the area with a day hike along the Jenkinson Lake Loop Trail, which travels about 8 miles around the lake near Pollock Pines. The overall elevation change is fairly insignificant at 650 feet, but small hills are present all around the lake, and over the course of all 8 miles they can feel like more climbing than that. If you opt for a day hike from the trailhead, located at the southern tip of the lake, you’ll have to hike along some sections of paved road through the campgrounds along the north side of the lake, so some hikers opt for an out-and-back route along the southern side of the lake instead of doing the full loop. For a shorter, easier hike to the Park Creek Waterfall, located at the northeast end of the lake, park at Hazel Creek Meadow, cross the footbridge across Hazel Creek and walk about 1 mile in.
LOGISTICS: Expect to pay $12 day use to park in the campground area, or reserve a campsite through the El Dorado Irrigation District at eid.org. GET THERE: Head east on Highway 50 to the Sly Park Road exit and follow the signs.
GOOD TO KNOW: Although the waterfall is the highlight of this hike, Jenkinson Lake offers boating, fishing and stand up paddle boarding, so pack your water toys if you’ve got them.
Wrights Lake to Grouse Lake
If you’re looking for something adventurous and athletic with views that beat the gym, Wrights Lake to Grouse Lake is a 4.3-mile out-and-back trail near the campground just north of Kyburz, scaling about 1,200 feet of elevation gain. You’ll be rewarded with springtime waterfalls and summer wildflowers between two lakes that are worthy destinations in and of themselves. The trail runs across granite slabs in some spots and can be tricky to keep track of, but gracious hikers routinely assemble cairns that can be followed in these areas until the trail is more easily tracked.
LOGISTICS: Wrights Lake sits at 7000 feet, so depending on how much snowfall the winter saw, you might see some frosty patches. Once the weather warms up, the lake is a happy habitat to many mosquitoes, so arm yourself accordingly.
GET THERE: Get to Wrights Lake by taking the Ice House Road exit off Highway 50 and following it past Ice House Reservoir until it turns into Wrights Lake Road. The campground is located on the southwest end of the lake, or you can follow the road until it ends at the trailhead, located at the northeast end of the lake, where there’s plenty of free parking.
GOOD TO KNOW: You’ll need a permit to enter Desolation Wilderness, so make sure to fill one out at the self-serve permit box located at the trailhead.
Bear Valley Trail
As spring temps begin to climb, Bear Valley Trail in Point Reyes is a perfect escape from the heat and offers up some stunning panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Beginning at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, where parking is plentiful and rangers are helpful, you’ll make your way on a well-marked 9.1-mile out-and-back trail that many guidebooks rate as moderate, although that rating is attributed more to the mileage than the diffculty of the terrain, which requires less than 700 feet of total elevation gain. If you’re up for the challenge of 9 to 10 miles, Bear Valley Trail will reward you with well-shaded stretches through forested areas, scenic expanses along ridgelines, a waterfall and hard-earned ocean views. The trail is used by mountain bikers as well, so stay alert and share the trail.
LOGISTICS: Plenty of amenities are available at the visitor center, and additional bathrooms are present at mile 2. Bring plenty of water and food, a swimsuit if you’re prone to frolicking in waterfalls, and an outer layer in case the fog rolls in.
GET THERE: The Bear Valley Visitor Center is located a half-mile west of Olema, just off Highway 1 along Bear Valley Road. The center is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
GOOD TO KNOW: Although trail maps and guidebooks might tout Arch Rock, near the very end of Bear Valley Trail, as a highlight of this hike, the arch actually collapsed during winter storms in 2017. Never fear, the hike is still totally worth the effort.
UC Davis Arboretum
Stick to the 3.5-mile main loop through the UC Davis Arboretum or meander your way between the 17 different themed gardens. Picnic tables are behind Putah Creek Lodge or in the Redwood Grove. Parking is free on weekends. Hit up the Davis Farmers Market on Saturdays between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. to stock up on local picnic goods.
Ancil Hoffman Regional Park
The park has a well maintained network of fl at trails within its 396 acres, plus a picnic area that can be reserved for large groups or parties. For a more romantic a air, tote your picnic basket to the riverbank, where you’re likely to have plenty of peace and quiet, save for some curious deer.