Take A Hike Out Of Your Chair Into Fresh Air
The physical benefits of hiking, as an excellent form of aerobic and muscle-building exercise, are well known. Add in the varied terrain, fresh air, flora, fauna and the whole wild world, and hiking becomes extraordinary. Hiking as a family gets us doing something interesting, educational and together. Away, for the moment, from technology, television and video games, families find an opportunity to bond with each other and with their environment, and see what an ecosystem actually is, firsthand.
Wilderness Program Manager and Volunteer Coordinator Jon Erickson and Ranger Stephanie Ellsworth, who are with the United States Forest Service at the Pacific Ranger District in Pollock Pines, provide an evocative description of the effects of hiking. “Hiking is not just beneficial to the psyche but it is beneficial to the body and its health; it helps build strong muscles and heart,” Erickson and Ellsworth say. “In some important way the experience gives meaning to one’s life and helps to define who one is in relation to the world. It is also felt at a level deeper than the merely intellectual; natural environments seem to be the primary setting for spiritual experiences. For the nature-lover, trees and other natural entities can evoke awe-inspiring fascination and reverence. The forest or wilderness may seem like a paradise on Earth, a magical place of eternal mystery and perfection, far removed from the mundane world of everyday life.”
The Desolation Wilderness area of the El Dorado National Forest southwest of Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for many types of wilderness hiking, at all levels of difficulty. Another good hiking area is the Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA), which contains more than a hundred miles of trails. “You can choose the level of difficulty,” says Sheila Toner, a retired Army colonel who now leads hikes for the Sierra Club. “A lot of these trails are out and back so you can go just as far as you’re comfortable and come back again.”
Toner also helps at the American River Conservancy (ARC), which is a non-profit organization in the central Sierra Nevada foothills. The ARC works with government agencies, private donors and foundations to acquire, preserve and care for natural areas. Michael Dotson, director of development and communication for ARC, says that there are many reasons he goes out on the trails. “I can break away from civilization, get away from that daily routine, the grind of work and the frustrations that come with it,” he says. “You don’t think about anything else but the trail that you’re on, the scenic views you take in…For me, I’m not much to go into a gym and work out, so my exercise is hitting the trail, hiking, being outside.
Going into a wilderness area requires preparation, so it’s a good idea to gather as much information as possible before heading out. Erickson and Ellsworth offer the suggestions below for hikers.
- Obtain a map of your destination and determine which areas are open to your type of travel.
- Make a realistic plan and stick to it.
- Always tell someone of your travel plans.
- Contact the land manager for area restrictions, closures and permit requirements.
- Check the weather forecast for your destination, but note that weather can change unexpectedly.
- Plan clothing, equipment and supplies accordingly.
- Dress in layers and always carry a jacket.
- Carry a compass or a GPS unit and know how to use it.
- Carry water and emergency supplies, even on short hikes.
- Choose appropriate footwear for the terrain.
- Solid, lightweight hiking boots are best.
- Sandals can be used on trails in summer and around your campsite.
RULES AND COURTESY
Know your own physical, mental and technical abilities and your restrictions.Stay on the trails; don’t wander off. Don’t litter. All you should leave are your footsteps.Be environmentally aware.
Dehydration can kill and may be the biggest danger on the trail; many people underestimate the amount of water that they need, especially while engaged in vigorous activity. Carry at least 1/2 to 1 quart of water for each hour you intend to hike, and don’t wait until your dehydration becomes a life-threatening emergency.Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures for several days and have developed dehydration. Try to find the nearest cool and shady place, drink plenty of water and remove any tight or unnecessary clothing.Just as dangerous as the poisonous creatures are the parasites you may encounter on the trail. Don’t ever drink or swim in stagnant water, which can be the home of worms, bacteria and even deadly amoebas.
Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado County residents are fortunate to have access to many different types of natural and wilderness environments. Some are accessible only on foot or horseback; others, while natural and full of native wildlife, include conveniences that allow an opportunity to ease into a different element. A group of volunteers—known as Canyon Keepers—have come together to assist State Park rangers in ASRA to provide information on area trails. Their Web site, along with ARC’s, displays a plethora of this information, but if you’re ready to lace up your hiking boots and head out, here are some great areas to start your adventures.
Dave Moore Nature Area
Dotson suggests the Dave Moore Nature area as a good introductory hike for families, in a location with great natural beauty. The site is two miles west of Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma off Highway 49, and has a loop trail about a mile long that makes for pleasant hiking, picnicking, nature study, bird-watching, jogging, and is handicapped and stroller accessible. “You get to hike under the riparian zone tree canopy,” Dotson says. “You’ll also have the chance to hang out by the South Fork American River, as the trail goes along a couple of small beaches on the river. Pets are welcome and it’s a great hike for small kids.”
Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
The Blue Heron Trail at Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is at 1624 Hood-Franklin Road in Elk Grove. The approximately one-mile trail and seating pavilion is fully accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Animal and bird tracks imprinted in the concrete walkways are fun for visitors to identify. A soon-to-be-completed natural playground will be mainly geared to 3-5 year olds. The wetlands area attracts numerous varieties of birds and other wildlife. Sandhill cranes are one of the main attractions in the fall. “It’s really great to have a place where you can just come for a couple hours and sit in the pavilion,” Assistant Refuge Manager Beatrix Treiterer says. “You can just kind of be quiet with nature.”
American River Bike Trail
Easily accessed by car at many points along its 32-mile length, the trail accompanies the river from Old Sacramento to Beal’s Point in Folsom. This paved, year-round, two-lane path is used for walking, biking, rollerblading, horseback riding, and is wheelchair accessible.
Quarry Road Trail
The trailhead is two miles south of ASRA park headquarters at 501 El Dorado Street in Auburn. Take Highway 49 south from Auburn, and turn right across the American River toward Cool. Turn left on a small dirt road, 1/4 mile south of the river crossing. The trailhead is beyond the parking area at a green gate. This trail is wide, level, and has picnic tables along the first 1 1/4 miles; total trail length is 11.2 miles roundtrip and goes through “some of the best scenery available in the American River Canyons.” There is little shade so plenty of water and sunscreen are advised.
Hidden Falls—an approximately five-mile loop trail of easy to moderate difficulty—is part of the 221-acre Hidden Falls Regional Park at 7587 Mears Place, located north of Mt. Vernon Road, between Auburn and Lincoln. A wooden platform affords a view of the series of small falls, and a side trail that goes down to the creek near the falls, which is good for wading. “It’s great fall, winter and spring hiking,” Toner says. “In the summer, it’s very hot.”
To reach the parking area, which is on N. Canyon Way in Colfax, take I-80 east from Auburn to the second Colfax exit and turn left on N. Canyon Way, which is a frontage road. The small parking area is 0.6 miles from the exit and a sign marks the beginning of the trail. Although easily accessed from Colfax, Stevens Trail is remote, steep and narrow in places, so it is preferable not to hike it alone. Good for both hiking and biking, it’s mostly shaded, but hot during summer months.
South Fork American River Trail
This trail system connects public lands along the South Fork American River with state and federal public lands around Folsom Lake at the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. Three trailheads are accessed from Highway 49: Greenwood Creek river access, four miles north of Coloma; Magnolia Ranch Trailhead, five miles north of Coloma; and Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park, located on Pedro Hill Road, 6.5 miles north of Coloma. A fourth, Salmon Falls/Skunk Hollow Trailhead, is on Salmon Falls Road, six miles south of Pilot Hill.
“The South Fork Trail is moderate in difficulty, due to its length and some slight elevation gain and loss, but it’s totally suitable for even younger hikers,” Dotson says. “It’s not a beginning hike for kids, though. If people have seasoned kid hikers, maybe 11 and 12 years old and older, then it’s worth considering. Mountain bikes and horses/equestrians are permitted on the South Fork Trail and Cronan Ranch. Dogs on leash are also allowed.”
Pointed Rocks Trail
The trailhead is on Highway 49, 1.75 miles south of ASRA park headquarters at 501 El Dorado Street in Auburn. Take Highway 49 south from Auburn toward Placerville; after crossing the American River, park on the right (off the highway) and walk to the trailhead through the green gate. “From the Mountain Quarries railroad bridge, if people really want a strenuous hike, they can go up into the Pointed Rocks Trail, which is very steep,” Toner says. “The local runners and horseback riders know it as the ‘training hill’ because they train for the Tevis Cup and the Western States 100 by going up and down that hill, because it’s so steep.”
Wright’s Lake Area of Desolation Wilderness
From Sacramento going east on Highway 50, about eight miles past Kyburz, turn left on Wright’s Lake Road; the lake, with parking area, will be at the end of the road. There are a number of trailheads near the campground at the lake. Permits are required for both day and overnight visits in Desolation Wilderness. Day visit permits are available at the various trailheads and at United States Forest Service offices in Pollock Pines and South Lake Tahoe.
- All Trails, alltrails.com
- American River Conservancy, arconservancy.org
- Canyon Keepers, canyonkeepers.org
- Dave Moore Nature Area, blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/folsom/dmna.html
- El Dorado National Forest, fs.usda.gov/eldorado
- Sierra Club, sierraclub.org
- Sierra Nevada GeoTourism, sierranevadageotourism.org
- Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, fws.gov/stonelakes