50+ Ways To Play In Our Parks


Green, shady and filled with possibilities for fun, area parks beckon when you’re feeling the urge to get out and do something.

You don’t have to travel far—or pay much—to find fun, get some exercise and create happy memories. The Sacramento area is resplendent in nature preserves, sports complexes, biking and hiking trails, rivers and lakes. Or maybe you’re seeking that perfect picnic table in the shade. We searched the four-county area to root out ideas—some classic and time-honored, others best-kept secrets and downright offbeat—to get you started in the quest to enjoy our parks.

  Go for the gold at Gold Bug Park in Placerville. The 61-acre park, north of Highway 50 on Bedford Avenue, showcases the Gold Bug Mine, where visitors can tour the tunnel mine opened in 1888 and try their hand at hard-rock mining.

 Get into a game of horseshoes at the Granite Regional Park pits off Power Inn Road and Ramona Avenue in Sacramento.

 Take the controls at the Sacramento Area Modelers Airpark and Runway in south Sacramento County. Pilot a remote-controlled model airplane—or watch other enthusiasts—at the air park near Florin and Excelsior roads. One of the premier model airplane flying sites in the country, the air park features a paved pit area and runway, with an adjacent grassy strip for belly landings and gliders. Check out sacramento-rc-flyers.org for more information.

 Go back in time at Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, the oldest restored fort in the United States, at 2701 L St. in Sacramento. Built in 1839, the fort was the first non-Indian settlement in the Central Valley. One Saturday each month, the fort has living history days or pioneer craft demonstrations. 

Get in touch with Native American culture at Maidu Interpretive Center in Roseville. The center’s loop trail takes visitors past ancient petroglyphs—or rock art—and hundreds of bedrock mortars, or acorn grinding holes, the legacy left by Nisenan Maidu tribes who lived in the area for thousands of years. After that, make some goals at Roseville’s new indoor soccer arena in adjacent Maidu Park. 

Camp practically in your back yard at Cache Creek Canyon in Yolo County’s scenic Capay Valley. Located along Highway 16 about six miles north of Rumsey, the 700-acre Cache Creek Canyon Park has fishing, tubing and trails for hiking and horseback riding. Linda Fiack, Yolo County’s resource manager, says the park’s campgrounds are among Sacramento’s best-kept secrets—they’re close and they’re beautiful. “You can leave after work on Friday and be camping that night,” she notes.

 Zip down the 180-foot waterslide at the new Barbara Morse Wackford Community Aquatic Complex, 9014 Bruceville Road in Elk Grove. 

Admire arts and crafts made by local seniors at The Elder Craftsman, 130 J St., in Old Sacramento. This city parks program encourages senior artisans to sell handcrafted items, pass on their skills to the next generation and give back to their community by donating their works to local causes. The store sells quilts, wooden toys, hand-stitched clothes, afghans and art. 

Kayak in the south fork of the American River at Henningsen/Lotus Park in El Dorado County. Visitors can bring their own kayaks or choose from among about 50 commercial kayak outfitters and guides, says Mike Gray, manager of the El Dorado County parks and recreation department. “It’s got a large beach and picnic areas,” he says. “The river widens and slows down, making for a good old-fashioned swimming hole. It’s a pleasant place to kayak or canoe.”

 Take aim in a pistol range. Sacramento’s Magnan Rifle and Pistol Range, located at 34th Avenue and Bradd Way, south of Fruitridge Road, is open to the public. New state-of-the-art equipment makes Mangan Range one of the top pistol ranges in the nation.

 Float your boat at Lake Natoma in Folsom. Because of low winds in the mornings, this pretty little lake is considered one of the best in the country for rowing. California State University, Sacramento’s Aquatic Center has beginning sculling, or rowing, lessons. Click on csusaquaticcenter.com for information on rowing classes, and other water sports. 

Try fly-fishing at Putah Creek Preserve near University of California, Davis. Not only is it a great area for trout fishing, the creek was the inspiration for “Green River,” the 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival song by Tom and John Fogerty, who used to visit the creek as kids. 

Get splashed on the log ride at Funderland Amusement Park, at the corner of Sutterville Road and South Land Park Drive. A folksy fixture in the heart of Sacramento, the park also has a mild-mannered dragon-shaped roller coaster and pony rides. To round out the day, visit Fairytale Town just across the street in William Land Park, where you can walk the Crooked Mile and climb on the Old Woman’s Shoe, along with the Sacramento Zoo.

 While at William Land Park, wander through the park’s rock garden, located near Fairytale Town.

 Float the afternoon away on Cache Creek, sitting in an inner tube at Camp Haswell, an old Boy Scout camp located two miles north of Rumsey on Highway 16 in Yolo County. 

Say hi to Arnold. Take a free guided tour of the California State Capitol, both a beautiful, historic building and where California’s governing bodies do their work. The Capitol is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and tours take visitors through the main building and several restored offices.  Go inline skating at Johnson/Springview Community Park’s new skate park at 5480 Fifth St. in Rocklin.

For the younger set, Skate Sacramento, the city’s youth skateboard program, meets at Sutter’s Landing Regional Park (28th and B streets in Sacramento). Skateboarders, under supervision of park staff, are invited to “ollie and grind” at the quarter pipes, fun boxes and grind rails set up in the Baler Building.

Buzz around Folsom Lake, where you can rent personal watercraft by the hour at Folsom Marina, located at Brown’s Ravine. Go to folsomlakemarina.com for more information, prices and reservations. 

Visit Griffith Quarry Park at 7405 Rock Springs Road in Penryn. Its granite once was used in construction of the Golden Gate Bridge; today people can enjoy the quarry’s many winding trails and a small museum.

 Life’s a picnic at Elkhorn Regional Park. So take a basket and, for the $6 day use fee, enjoy the 55 acres of lush riparian vegetation and wildlife between the levee and the Sacramento River, just south of Interstate 5 on Old River Road in Yolo County. 

Windsurf at Rancho Seco Lake, 25 miles south of Sacramento on Highway 104. The water is comfortably warm in the summer and no gas motors are allowed, making it a great “learning” lake. Day use and boat launch fee: $8.

 Stroll through Roseville’s Sculpture Park, 350 N. Sunrise Ave. Each year, local elementary schoolchildren compete in a bronzed-dough sculpture contest, and the winning art is placed in the park.

 Go fish at Lumsden Park in Placerville, where kids can put in a line for free.

 Play a round of disc golf at Orangevale Community Park, corner of Oak and Hazel avenues. It’s one of the few 18-hole disc golf courses in the world, free to the public and no reservations are required. Don’t forget to visit the disc golf pro shop there. 

Try a round of boccie ball at East Portal Park at 1120 Rodeo Way in East Sacramento. 

Saddle up at Gibson Ranch, a 300-acre working ranch in an urban community, on Elverta Road near Watt Avenue in Elverta. A four-mile guided horse trail ride along Dry Creek costs $28 and will take you about an hour. 

Clean up a creek in Elk Grove while learning about the importance of our region’s creek system. Saturday, April 23 is Elk Grove’s annual Creek Cleanup Day, when up to 500 volunteers gather to pick up litter and have a barbecue.

 Breathe in the fresh air at Foresthill Memorial Park, 24601 Harrison Road in Foresthill, a Placer County mountain park that’s cool in the summer, with large, shady lawns, picnic areas, and tennis and basketball courts.

 Don’t forget Fido. The Sacramento area is now home to many offleash dog parks, including Carmichael Park, Marco Dog Park in Roseville and Howe Dog Park in Sacramento. Check out dogfriendly.com for a complete list of dog parks in the Sacramento region.  sidebar:

Six Nature Preserves

Get back to nature at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, an award-winning environmental and cultural education center in Carmichael, where a 77-acre nature preserve with oak woodland and riverbank trails allows visitors to get a glimpse of deer, coyote, migratory songbirds and birds of prey.

Look for fairy shrimp at Mather Vernal Pools, tiny watery gardens dotting the grass at the former Mather Air Field off Highway 50 in east Sacramento County. Spot a white pelican at Vic Fazio Wildlife Area, 25 square miles of wetlands preserve in the Yolo Causeway and home to nearly 200 species of birds, including loons, grebes, herons and cormorants. Get wild at the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, more than 4,000 acres of wetlands and grasslands that serve as an oasis for migrating birds just 12 miles from the state Capitol. The refuge, situated along Interstate 5 near Elk Grove, is open for viewing two days a month and for special guided tours. Call (916) 775-4420 for more information. Take a driving tour of Cosumnes River Preserve, 13,000 acres of wetlands off Twin Cities Road. The wetlands are open for self-guided tours on foot or by vehicle from dawn to dusk every day. Some areas are open only for special guided tours. Visitors also can also kayak on the preserve. Visit www.cosumnes.org for more information. Look for ducks and songbirds at Traylor Ranch Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve, 1910 English Colony Road in Penryn, a 90-acre park with trails and picnic areas.

 Take a Hike

About a half-mile south of Cache Creek campgrounds in Yolo County is Frog Pond Trail. Perfect for families with little ones, the trail is a moderate five-mile loop that includes a stop at a pond full of frogs.
The Blue Ridge Trail, which also starts out at Cache Creek campgrounds, is a steep challenging climb, but the reward is an awesome view of the Capay Valley and Sierra Nevada range. For a family hike, check out Miner’s Ravine Trail on Auburn-Folsom Road just east of Douglas Boulevard in Granite Bay. Self-guided tours amble through oak trees and along the creek on nice, wide trails. An easy 10-mile loop around Lake Natoma starts at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, says Tony Loftin of the Sierra Club. He recommends taking the American River Parkway bike trail over Nimbus Bridge on Hazel Avenue to the north side of the river.

 Follow the bike trail east to Folsom. Cross the new Folsom Bridge and have pizza on Sutter Street in Historic Folsom. Then continue on the south side of Nimbus back to the fish hatchery. In Auburn, try the Quarry Road hike, part of the Western States Trail. Start at the American River confluence at the west side of the river, a fairly level walk in an abandoned railroad bed. The terrain starts to get rougher as you turn toward Cool in a 12-mile loop.   The Monroe Ridge Trail takes hikers on a 2.3-mile trek through the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma.

 Six Great Bicycle Rides

“We are blessed with on of the nicest trails in the country,” says Curt Wylie, local cycling captain for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. The team uses Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, the 32-mile-long paved trail from Folsom to downtown Sacramento, for training. But families looking for a more casual adventure can start at one of the many parks dotting the trail, bicycle as far as they want, stop for a picnic and turn back. The trail also can be used for hiking, inline skating, jogging and strolling. Here are some other trails Wylie suggests for a range of biking skill levels:

Coloma/Thompson Hill Loop is a moderate to difficult 13-mile ride, short and steep, with a total climb of 1,700 feet, but the scenery is well worth it, Wylie says. The ride, which takes about an hour and a half, starts at Highway 49 and Lotus Road in Coloma.  In El Dorado Hills, a 34-mile loop beginning at Latrobe Road and Investment Boulevard, is longer, but easier and fun, and especially nice in spring when wildflowers are in full bloom. “Difficult but gorgeous” is how Wylie describes the Salmon Falls/Lotus Loop, a 45-mile ride at Folsom Lake, with a total climb of 3,500 to 3,900 feet. A good family bike ride can be had along Auburn-Folsom Road to English Colony Road, Wylie says. “You can go anywhere from 25 to 55 miles on flat terrain,” he says. “It has nice, wide trails, drinking fountains and restrooms.” In Davis, try the Canalow Loop, a favorite of the Davis Bike Club, starting from Davis High School and stretching to Lake Berryessa.