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12 Top-Rated Hiking Trails near Sacramento, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Dec 2, 2019

Sacramento is surrounded by great hiking trails and places to explore. The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail runs adjacent to the American River from Sacramento, heading 32 miles northeast towards Folsom Lake and the Sierra Nevada foothills. Within these foothills, less than an hour from the city, places like Auburn State Recreation Area and Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park offer day hikes that highlight the river canyons, historic bridges, and gold-panning prospects of this iconic California region.

The nearby Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is a hot spot for hiking and multi-use trails like the Darrington Trail, which appeals to hikers and mountain bikers alike.

Farther east into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests contain a treasure trove of hiking trails and outdoor recreation near Sacramento, including portions of the historic Western States Trail. Two hours from Sacramento, Lake Tahoe hiking trails often see trailhead parking lots filled to the brim on weekends.

It's not just the Sierra Nevada Mountains that are accessible from Sacramento. Great hiking trails are found in every direction. To the south of the city, within a short drive, areas like Cosumnes River Preserve and Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge offer varied hiking experiences throughout the year. The Bay Area is also a two-hour drive from Sacramento, where the summit of Mount Diablo offers great views of the coastal environment.

Plan your outdoor adventures around the California capital with our list of the best hikes near Sacramento.

1. Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, American River Parkway

Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail | Ray Bouknight / photo modified

The American River Parkway follows the banks of the American River between Discovery Park in Sacramento and the Nimbus Dam within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. The paved Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail runs the entire length of the parkway and beyond to Beal's Point, and dozens of access points line this protected riparian habitat.

The trail is popular with bicyclists and joggers and for any non-motorized method of transportation, and several dirt hiking trails parallel the 32-mile Jedediah Smith Trail that enable visitors to go off pavement.

The terminus at Beal's Point also lends access to one of the best campgrounds near Sacramento, and intrepid campers can bike their gear from Sacramento to stay at the Beal's Point Campground.

Numerous scenic spots line the entire trail, particularly along the other reservoir within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, Lake Natoma. Picnic spots, restroom facilities, and other public parks also line the trail.

Official site: https://arpf.org/

2. The Quarry Trail, Auburn State Recreation Area

Middle Fork of the American River on the Quarry Trail | Lucas Gilbert / photo modified

Forty miles northeast of Sacramento, Auburn State Recreation Area encompasses a scenic landscape surrounding the North and Middle Fork of the American River. Over 100 miles of multi-use trails span this massive recreation area, where other popular activities include white-water rafting, camping, and gold panning.

One of the most accessible trails, and perhaps the area's most scenic corridor, the Quarry Trail follows the Middle Fork for 5.6 miles with a moderate grade.

Popular with equestrian use and day hiking, the Quarry Trail has numerous opportunities for side hikes and loops, including junctions with the historic Western States Trail. The mighty rapids of the American River can be seen and heard along the trail at the ominously named Murderer's Bar, and remnants of the old quarry also line the route.

Other scenic trailheads extend from the Quarry Trail parking area, including a short trail that leads to No-Hands Bridge.

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=502

3. Darrington Trail, Folsom Lake State Recreation Area

Darrington Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the South Fork of the American River within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, the Darrington Trail is popular for hikers and mountain bikers alike. Also known as Salmon Falls, this single-track trail spans the shore of the river arm and connects to the Peninsula Campground.

With undulating elevations and less than 800 total feet of elevation gain, the 8.5-mile trail is most challenging at the beginning, with some steep cliff edges.

Hikers from Sacramento can reach the Darrington Trailhead within a 45-minute drive. Limited water access on the trail and hot temperatures during the summer make packing hydration necessary when planning a trip. Hikers and mountain bikers often share the trail, as well as the gorgeous views of the American River Valley.

Numerous other lakeside hiking trails span the South Fork of the American River, including the Sweetwater Creek Trail on the other side of the Salmon Falls Bridge.

Address: Salmon Falls Road, Pilot Hill, California

4. River Walk Trail, Cosumnes River Preserve

Bird observation platform at the Cosumnes River Preserve

A 30-mile drive south of Sacramento, the Cosumnes River Preserve is a designated wildlife habitat and home to over 250 species of birds. The looped River Walk Trail is a good place to explore the preserve and witness the resident wildlife. This 3.5-mile route follows raised levees as it traverses the riparian habitat, making it very accessible and popular for family hikes.

The Lost Slough Wetlands Walk is another universally accessible, one-mile trail at the preserve with ample viewing platforms.

Address: 13501 Franklin Boulevard, Galt, California

Official site: http://www.cosumnes.org/

5. Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park

Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Just north of Folsom Lake and near the Gold Rush community of Coloma, Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park is an hour's drive from Sacramento. Nestled into the Sierra Nevada foothills, over 12 miles of trails span the rolling woodlands of Cronan Ranch, as well as the ambling waters of the South Fork of the American River. Operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the most popular trailhead to access Cronan Ranch is found off Highway 49.

Offering different landscapes to explore throughout the year, the trails at Cronan Ranch range from retired forest roads to sunny trails that climb across the rolling topography. A universally accessible trail system can be found just east of Cronan Ranch on Highway 49 at the Dave Moore Nature Area. Offering a one-mile loop with a great vantage point of the South Fork, this accessible trail was built for everyone to enjoy some Sierra Nevada Mountain splendor.

Location: Pilot Hill, California

Official site: https://www.blm.gov/cronan-ranch-trailhead

6. Independence Trail, South Yuba River State Park

Bridgeport Bridge, South Yuba River State Park

In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, South Yuba River State Park is parceled along the South Yuba River north of Sacramento. Lending access to historic mining sites, gold panning opportunities, and numerous hiking trails that navigate the verdant river canyon, much of South Yuba River State Park is less than a 90-minute drive from Sacramento.

One of the most unique hiking trails of the area, the Independence Trail utilizes wooden flumes that once directed water to gold-mining operations in the area.

These retired wooden flumes make the Independence Trail one of the nation's first recognized wheelchair accessible wilderness trails. Offering both an East and West trail, the wooden planks of Independence Trail West span over two miles above the South Yuba River and offer great views of the canyon.

Other trails in the spread-out South Yuba River State Park include the Buttermilk Bend Trail and the Point Defiance Loop. Both of these trails are in the vicinity of the Bridgeport Bridge—one of the oldest covered bridges in the American West.

Address: CA-49, Nevada City, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=496

7. Western States Trail

No-Hands Bridge on the Western States Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A trail trodden by the steps of history, this natural route across the Sierra Nevada Mountains was first traveled by indigenous cultures of the region. Gold miners later traveled the route between Nevada and California during the 1850s Gold Rush, and now the Western States Trail near Sacramento is home to one of the most challenging ultra-marathons in the world.

Spanning 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn State Recreation Area, the Western States Endurance Run also includes over 40,000-plus feet of thigh-busting elevation change.

The entire historic Western States Trail stretches from Salt Lake City to Sacramento, and the Western States Endurance Run utilizes the trans-Sierra portion of the route.

You don't have to be a long-distance runner to enjoy the trail, and while much of the trail crosses through wilderness areas that are hard to access with a car, the trail's western terminus near Auburn is easy to reach from Sacramento. The scenic No-Hands Bridge, near the Quarry Trail Trailhead, is one of the easiest places to step onto this historic route.

Official site: https://www.wser.org

8. Lake Clementine, Auburn State Recreation Area

Foresthill Bridge on the Lake Clementine Trail

Among the 100 miles of multi-use trails in Auburn State Recreation Area, located forty miles northeast of Sacramento, the two-mile trail leading to Lake Clementine is one of the most popular. With less than 500 feet of elevation gain, the trail to Lake Clementine follows the banks of the North Fork of the American River and includes impressive views of the Foresthill Bridge, one of the tallest bridges in California. Alongside this often-photographed attraction, the scenery surrounding the North Fork is also very photogenic.

After nearly two miles on the Lake Clementine Trail, hikers reach the paved Lake Clementine Road. Following Lake Clementine Road for less than a quarter mile, hikers are then greeted with a cascading view of Lake Clementine Dam. The overlook of the dam, complete with a constant mist-shrouded waterfall, is a great place to eat some lunch before hiking the two miles back to the trailhead.

Address: 139 Old Foresthill Road, Auburn, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=502

9. Gold Discovery Loop, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

Sutter's Mill on the Gold Discovery Loop | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Within the charming community of Coloma, 45 miles from Sacramento, this historic park commemorates one of the biggest discoveries in California history. At this scenic site in the Sierra Nevada foothills, James Marshall discovered the first gold in California in 1848—spurring a Gold Rush that would forever change the land and culture of the state.

Interpretive opportunities and preserved artifacts line the park, and the Gold Discovery Loop is a family-friendly loop that tours the historic surroundings.

Address: 310 Back Street, Coloma, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484

10. Rubicon Trail, South Lake Tahoe

Rubicon Trail at D.L. Bliss State Park

The sparkling blue water of Lake Tahoe attracts millions of visitors each year and can be reached from Sacramento in just over a two-hour drive. Great for weekend visits and extended vacations, the resort and campground dotted shores of South Lake Tahoe also offer many hiking trails to explore. One of the best hiking trails near South Lake Tahoe, the Rubicon Trail, connects two of the most scenic state parks found on this side of the lake.

Spanning just over four miles between D.L. Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay State Park, the Rubicon Trail traverses this postcard-worthy shore with an undulating route and relatively low elevation gain.

Hikers can head in either direction on the Rubicon Trail, and without a shuttle placement it's a near 10-mile, out-and-back hike. The views are outstanding no matter which way you head, and parking at either state park is competitive, particularly on summer weekends.

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/ltbmu/

11. Blue Heron Trails, Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

For an easy escape into nature, the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is located 20 minutes south of Sacramento. A haven for migratory birds and native wildlife, this urban refuge protects over 17,000 acres from future development.

The Blue Heron Trails at the refuge offer great day hikes for the whole family, with paved hiking loops. The trails are universally accessible, and a vault toilet is at the trailhead. The best season to visit is between October and May.

Address: 1624 Hood Franklin Road, Elk Grove, California

Official site: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/stone_lakes/

12. Mount Diablo Summit, Mount Diablo State Park

Mount Diablo

One of the best hiking trails near San Francisco, Mount Diablo State Park can be reached from Sacramento with a two-hour drive. Numerous hiking trails span this 20,000-acre park, including a few different options to reach the summit of the 3,849-foot Mount Diablo.

The route leading to the summit from the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area provides the longest route at nearly eight miles in length, as well as the largest diversity of landscapes along the way.

Beginning at the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area, the route utilizes fire roads and the Eagle Peak Trail to reach the summit. Great views are afforded from the high vantage points and ridge routes along the trail, which also lend to over 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

For a much shorter hike to the summit, visitors can access the Summit Visitor Center via personal vehicle and hike the one-mile Mary Bowerman Interpretive Trail to the summit.

Address: Summit Road, Walnut Creek, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=28159

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