12 Great Hikes Around Sacramento

Take to your feet for some time on the trails and around Sacramento
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12 great hikes around sacramento
Photo by Gabriel Teague

TIME TO LACE UP YOUR WALKING SHOES. The outdoor season is afoot, and the greater Sacramento region is rich with hiking opportunities. To help you get going, here is a sampler of 12 hikes we enjoy. They include a family-friendly stroll along quiet Putah Creek, several treks to waterfalls, and a canyon descent to a place called Satan’s Cesspool. Whether long, short, flat or hilly, all the hikes on our list have something in common (well, OK, besides poison oak). Each offers us a chance to slow life down for a few hours and tap into that restorative energy nature is always ready to provide.

Homestead Trail & Blue Ridge Loop – Solano County

homestead trail and blue ridge loop hike
Photo by Gabriel Teague

Blue Ridge, high in the Vaca Mountains, is just . . . wow. You’ll walk a narrow spine that drapes from peak to peak, offering 360-degree views of the Vaca range and Lake Berryessa below. It’s an exhilarating top-of-the-world feel.

START: Park in one of several dirt lots off Highway 128, 9 miles west of Winters, just beyond the bridge over Putah Creek. (Some hikers walk to the trailhead via the culvert under the road.)

DIFFICULTY: The 5-mile loop is strenuous. Head out on Homestead Trail, then climb to Blue Ridge. You’ll ascend 1,500 feet, with little shade, and you’ll likely do a bit of boulder scrambling.

QUICK TIPS: There is a parking lot restroom. Dogs are not allowed on the trail. Bring a few dollars for the donation box near the Homestead trailhead.

POST-HIKE REFRESHER: Berryessa Brewing is a popular roadside stop on the way back to Winters. Or drop into Winters’ quaint downtown for sidewalk pizza.

BTW: If you like this hike, you’ll like Valley Vista Trail out of Rumsey in the Capay Valley. There, you’ll get distant views of Mount Shasta, Mount Lassen and the Sutter Buttes.

Beale Falls Loop – Nevada County

Beale Falls Loop hike trail
Photo by Gabriel Teague

If you love waterfalls and swimming holes, this gentle hike is worth the convoluted drive. We count three swimming holes fed by two waterfalls and an assortment of smaller cascades.

GETTING THERE: From Wheatland, head northeast on Spenceville Road. Turn right on Camp Far West Road, then left at the Y. (If you cross the bridge at the reservoir, you missed the turn.) Make a right on Spenceville Road (again), which will take you 2 miles to the trailhead.

WARNING: The last few miles are a gravel road that will leave your car in need of a wash. The parking lot is free. No restrooms.

DIFFICULTY: The 5-mile loop is rolling and relaxed, passing through open fields and oak woodlands. You’ll see families with kids, dogs and picnics.

PAYOFF: Dry Creek comes bounding down a rock staircase from a tight canyon. The taller drop, often called Beale Falls, plummets into a starkly beautiful pool flanked by cliffs.

BE AWARE: The waterfalls will dwindle in summer. Before you head out, check on alltrails.com to see what recent visitors say about the latest flows.

FOOD AND REFRESHMENT: You’re not near anything out here. So pack in a light picnic, and maybe stow a cooler in the car with after-hike drinks.

Phantom Falls – Butte County

Phantom Falls hike trail
Photo by Gabriel Teague

The volcanic mesas that form the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Butte County are a geological and botanical wonder. Spring here is alive with a half-dozen ribbonlike waterfalls spilling from flowering plateaus.

BE AWARE: Those falls are seasonal and will be dry by late spring unless a late rainstorm hits. Hikers who like creeks and cascades should bookmark this hike for next March.

START: Park in the free Phantom Falls trailhead lot about 7 miles north of Oroville on Cherokee Lane. There are restrooms on-site.

FEE: Beforehand, buy a state Fish & Wildlife “lands pass” online or via phone. Cost is $4.89 per person. The phone number is (800) 565-1458. The online site is wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/lands-pass. There is a trailhead sign with a QR code if you neglected to get a pass beforehand.

Phantom Falls hike trail
Photo by Gabriel Teague

DIFFICULTY: Phantom Falls Trail is an easy, undulating 4-mile out-and-back walk, some of it on private land. There is no shade, though. And the trail is rocky and hard to track. Our phone GPS app came in handy.

AVOID CROWDS: If you’re here on a crowded spring day, consider peeling off for side visits to Beatson Falls or Lower Ravine Falls.

POST-HIKE REFRESHER: For a sweet reward, stop at Unicone ice cream in old downtown Oroville.

Putah Creek South Fork Preserve – Yolo County

Putah Creek
Photo by Gabriel Teague

This creek-side stroll near Davis is great for families with young kids, or for people just looking for a nice spot for a contemplative moment.

START: Park at the free lot off Mace Boulevard 2.5 miles south of Interstate 80, south of the city of Davis. There’s a portable toilet on-site.

DIFFICULTY: The pathway is flat and partially shaded. You can stroll to an observation deck over the creek a quarter mile from the parking lot. Or you can do a 3-mile circuit that traverses open fields.

WHY GO: You get an up-close view of valley riparian habitat. The display boards are detailed. One tells you everything you need to know about galls, starting with: What the heck’s a gall?

BONUS: There are working beehives on the south side of the preserve. We walked past them, but it’s easy to steer clear of them.

FOR THE DOGS: Dogs are not allowed at the preserve. But Grassland Regional Park, 2 miles farther south, also on Mace Boulevard, has a large dog park in a former orchard.

South Fork American River Trail – El Dorado County

South Fork American River Trail
Photo by Gabriel Teague

This is a go-to trail if you want a wilderness fix just minutes from suburban Sacramento. The full trail runs 9 miles point-to-point through woodlands from Folsom Lake to Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park on Highway 49.

START: We propose biting off a 7.5-mile out-and-back chunk from Skunk Hollow to a spot on the river called Satan’s Cesspool. Park in the Skunk Hollow lot ($10 fee) at the Salmon Falls Road bridge, a few miles north of El Dorado Hills. Restrooms on-site.

DIFFICULTY: There is a rocky uphill switchback that gives way after 1.5 miles to an easy-rolling single track.

VIBE: You may glimpse a modern-day gold miner sluicing in the shallows, a reminder this canyon once teemed with 49ers. It’s peaceful here now, “like walking through a mystical wood,” says Elena DeLacy of the American River Conservancy.

South Fork American River Trail hike area
Photo by Gabriel Teague

PAYOFF: That allegedly satanic “cesspool” is in fact a lively river rapid. Hikers can wade in side pools or perch on boulders to watch whooping rafters and kayakers bounce through.

POST-HIKE REFRESHER: Keeping with the pioneer spirit, head to Sutter Street in the Folsom Historic District.

Monroe Ridge and Monument Trails Loop – El Dorado County

Monroe Ridge and Monument Trails Loop
Photo by Gabriel Teague

Here, in picturesque Coloma north of Placerville, it’s not just about the hike. It’s a chance to travel back to a pivotal moment in California history. You’ll start and finish your walk in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

START: Park in the Gold Discovery Museum lot off Highway 49, or in lots across the street ($8 fee for cars). The Monument trailhead is at the base of the hillside behind the museum. You’ll transition to the Monroe Ridge Trail a half mile up the hill.

DIFFICULTY: It’s an easy 3-mile hill climb. You can add a mile by including the Gam Saan Trail, which stems off of Monroe. If you have children, consider doing only the Monument Trail portion. It takes you to the James Marshall statue, perched on a panoramic overlook.

BONUS: At hike’s end, cross the street to the spot where Marshall, who was John Sutter’s contractor, collected those fateful first gold flakes in 1848. (Marshall never benefited financially. He lived much of the rest of his life in poverty.)

POST-HIKE REFRESHER: Coloma has lovely riverside picnic areas. For more bustle, head to historic Main Street in Placerville.

BTW: A half-dozen miles up Highway 49, you can hike to the river in the new Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park.

Hidden Falls Regional Park – Placer County

Hidden Falls hike
Photo by Gabriel Teague

Hidden Falls outside Auburn offers a smorgasbord of hiking on 30 miles of interconnected trails that curve around wooded knolls and overlook creeks. Everybody loves this place: Expect to say hi to horseback riders, dog walkers, cyclists and runners.

START: The parking lot is off Mears Drive and Mears Place, two rural lanes that stem from Mount Vernon Road. Restrooms on-site. There is a picnic area on the knoll above the parking lot.

BE AWARE: Online advance parking reservations ($8 full-day, $4 half-day fees) are required on weekends and some holidays. Parking is free, though, with no reservations on weekdays.

DIFFICULTY: Most trails have gentle slopes, and junctions are well-marked with signs.

Hidden Falls Hiking trail
Photo by Gabriel Teague

THE FALLS: The straightest shot to the waterfall is a 3.3-mile round trip. Here’s our preferred 6-mile alternative: Take Poppy Loop trail from the parking lot, then string together Blue Oak Loop, Seven Pools Vista, the lower portion of Seven Pools Loop and finally Canyon View Trail.

AVOID CROWDS: Hike beyond the falls on any of these trails: River Otter, Deer Creek, Grey Squirrel and Creekside.

AFTER-HIKE REFRESHER: Moonraker Brewing and Knee Deep Brewing near Auburn Municipal Airport are practically a must for beer fans.

Lake Clementine Trail – Placer County

Lake Clementine hike
Photo by Gabriel Teague

The Auburn State Recreation Area is our region’s Disneyland for hikers. Easy hikes. Steep hikes. River hikes. Swimming holes. Waterfalls. If you like steep stuff, tackle Training Hill Trail. If you want long and rolling, amble along Quarry Trail. But if you’re looking for a casual climb, let the Lake Clementine Trail be your introduction to the “Auburn confluence” area.

START: The trailhead is at the bottom of Old Foresthill Road, near Highway 49, where the north and middle forks of the American River join. You’ll likely park on the side of the road, but you still pay the $10 day-use fee. Restrooms are next to the ranger booth.

DIFFICULTY: Clementine is a 4.5-mile hill hike, but the gradients are modest enough to be kid friendly. Dogs are allowed on leash.

WHY CLEMENTINE? For the waters. At the upper end of the hike, you’ll overlook Lake Clementine Dam’s roaring spillway. On a hot day, you can swim at Clark’s Hole, a popular spot a short distance from the start.

BE AWARE: It can be busy on weekends. Get there early. Or get there in the afternoon when parking spots start to become available again near the trailhead.

Foresthill Bridge
Photo by Gabriel Teague

THAT BRIDGE: Way overhead, that’s the Foresthill Bridge. It has the tallest deck height in California and was built when a planned Auburn Dam would have turned this canyon into a lake.

Mount Diablo Summit – Bay Area

Mount Diablo Summit
Photo by Gabriel Teague

This is one for serious hikers who enjoy tough summit treks. Mount Diablo stands 3,800 feet tall. You’ll climb the equivalent of 350 floors. There isn’t a lot of shade. There are tarantulas, though. Seriously. (More about them below.)

START: Mitchell Canyon parking lot and visitor center is near the town of Clayton in Contra Costa County. Vehicle entry fee of $6. Restrooms available.

SUMMIT PATHS: We suggest the route via Mitchell Rock and Eagle Peak. It’s steep, but the terrain and views are great.

DIFFICULTY: It’s a 13-mile round trip. You have to be in shape. It’s one thing to make it to the summit. But it can be risky returning down gravelly slopes on rubbery legs.

WHY GO: For one, bragging rights. Then there are the views in every direction. Plus, you can buy ice cream bars and cold drinks at the top. The summit is not pristine, though. It’s a paved parking lot.

Mount Diablo Summit hike
Photo by Gabriel Teague

BONUS: Tarantulas live in abundance on the mountain. In late summer and fall, mature males are out looking for a mate. Steer clear of them and their burrows. They won’t hurt you, but you could harm them by stepping on a burrow.

Briones Regional Park – Bay Area

Briones Regional Park hike
Photo by Gabriel Teague

If you want a peak Bay Area hiking experience but aren’t ready for Mount Diablo, try the easier summits of nearby Briones and Mott peaks. No tarantulas. But plenty of stubborn cows.

VIBE: Briones Regional Park, near the city of Martinez, is a vast East Bay wildland area with fold after fold of hills and vales, crisscrossed by numerous wide trails. You might catch a cooling bay breeze on its hilltops when the weather is sweltering in Sacramento.

DIFFICULTY: You don’t need to hit the peaks to have a lovely hiking experience here. There’s a multitude of routes, most of them pleasant rollers that take you for miles.

Briones Regional Park
Photo by Gabriel Teague

SUMMIT: The easiest route to Briones or Mott peaks is from the upper end of Briones Road. A popular start point with a big parking lot is the Alhambra Creek Staging Area. It offers trails in several directions. A small parking lot at Reliez Valley Road and Gloria Terrace also has a path to the top up the steeper Blue Oak Trail.

POST-HIKE REFRESHER: The Main Street area in downtown Martinez has upped its game in recent years, becoming an enjoyable waterfront locale for dining, shopping and bayside strolls.

Ancil Hoffman/Effie Yeaw River Loop – Sacramento County

Ancil Hoffman loop
Photo by Gabriel Teague

This riverside nook in Carmichael is one of many pocket-sized walking areas on the American River Parkway. Many of the best are east of Watt Avenue where the levees are set wide, allowing for a more natural river environment.

VIBE: The Hoffman/Yeaw area is popular for good reason. It’s easy to access, mainly flat, and you usually get to see deer and turkeys from a short (but respectful) distance. For that reason, dogs are not allowed in the Effie Yeaw portion of this walk.

DIFFICULTY: Three miles long and flat, it’s a Sunday stroll.

START: Park at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center lot in Ancil Hoffman Park. The car fee is $5 at the kiosk on the road or at Effie Yeaw. Restrooms on-site.

HIKE LOOP: Cross the street and wooden bridge from the Effie Yeaw lot to the dirt trail that loops along the back of the gaming field. Circle the golf course, then head back along the river.

picnic by the river
Photo by Gabriel Teague

POST-HIKE REFRESHER: Picnic at Effie Yeaw. Or sit on the patio at the Ancil Hoffman golf course bar and grill.

OTHER RIVER WALKS: Rossmoor Bar in Rancho Cordova, Bannister Park in Fair Oaks and William Pond area in Arden-Arcade.

Howard Ranch Trail – Sacramento County

Howard Ranch hike
Photo by Gabriel Teague

If you appreciate wide-open spaces and subtle beauty, Howard Ranch will inspire. This hike is just plain pastoral. There is zero shade. But you can swim in Rancho Seco Lake afterward.

START: Rancho Seco Recreation Area off Twin Cities Road in south Sacramento County. Fee is $12 per car. Trail parking is on the north side of the lake on the gravel road. Restrooms are available near the trailhead. The area is open till 6 p.m.

DIFFICULTY: The 7-miler is flat. But it’ll get hot. Start early when the air is cool.

VIBE: You get vernal pools and flowers in spring. You get cows. Lots of cows. And you get a big sky that stretches to snow-capped Sierra peaks.

PAYOFF: Partway through, you’ll find yourself on a grassy ridge. The Mokelumne River valley spills out below you like the bucolic opening scene of a cowboy movie.

howard ranch
Photo by Gabriel Teague

THOSE TOWERS: To the west are the twin cooling towers and bullet-shaped reactor building of the former Rancho Seco nuclear power plant.

POST-HIKE REFRESHER: There’s a store and snack bar on the south side of the lake next to the swimming beach.