hiking the American River Trail near ColomaIf you’re looking for a easygoing place to stretch for five minutes, explore the short but sweet new path that stretches from near the Sierra Nevada House to Henningsen Park right along the river. Several pull-outs along Lotus Road allow easy access. From the off-road parking lot, there is wheelchair accessibility for about a hundred feet to several picnic tables and benches.

If you need a more structured exercise routine, Henningsen Park also features a .42 mile-long loop concrete sidewalk, along with a parcourse with six specially designed stretches. Dogs are welcome. On the south side of Lotus Road, the park also includes a great play area for children, plus soccer and baseball fields. There are admission fees; gates close at sundown.

The Dave Moore Nature Area, on the south side of Highway 49 about .8 mile north of the junction of Highway 49 and Marshall Grade, features an easy 1.1 mile loop through shady forest with some wheelchair accessibility. A fine river beach is one of the highlights of this pleasant walk. Springtime wildflowers can be spectacular.

Coloma itself offers some fine walking/running opportunities. Just ambling around the park and savoring the historic structures can be good fun. For a bit more exercise, however, consider heading by foot up to Marshall’s Monument, which stands on a hilltop overlooking the town. Reach it either via a short but steep trail from the picnic area behind the museum, or via the narrow zigzag road that drops down from the monument; a trail parallels the road for part of the way. For even greater exercise, continue from the Marshall Monument parking lot on up along Monroe Ridge; this lovely but heart-thumping trail ends across Highway 49 near the North Beach picnic area (at the northern edge of the state park). The effort is well worthwhile, as you’ll enjoy spectacular views of both the Coloma and Lotus valleys.

hiking the American River trailFor another great walk, start at North Beach, following riverside paths upstream to the Sutter’s Mill replica, then follow Highway 49 for a short distance around the Grange Hall and go across the one-lane bridge that leads across the river toward Coloma Resort. For an easy stroll, go right on Bayne Road; the reward here is a fine view of Troublemaker Rapid. More ambitious sorts can continue up Bayne Road, which becomes very steep and turns to a narrow dirt road after about half a mile. If you choose not to turn on Bayne Road, keep going up steep and rugged Mt. Murphy Road. After about half a mile of steep climbing, you’re rewarded with beautiful views of the town. Uphill from here, the views dwindle, but in spring you’ll encounter beautiful fields of wildlflowers all the way to the top.

Several backcountry paved lanes are great for both bicycling and walking/running (but be cautious on the blind corners). Bassi Road in Lotus parallels the river and boasts some great views; just be careful of heavy traffic, especially in the summer. Prospector Road, once the main road between Garden Valley/Georgetown and Coloma, now has only light traffic. Its steep grade will challenge most bicyclists and those on foot. Thompson Hill Road, a few miles from Coloma, is narrow lane that links Lotus Road and Cold Springs Road; here you’ll find sweeping vistas of the hills surrounding the valley as well as of higher Sierra Nevada peaks.

Hikers, runners, horseback riders and bicycle riders have access to 9 to 12 miles of trails on the 1414-acre Cronin Ranch Regional Trails Park, once privately owned and now open to the open to the public under administration by the Bureau of Land Management. From the Pedro Hill Road entrance just off Highway 49 about 4.8 miles north of the junction of Marshall Grade/Highway 49, hike 1.1 miles through sweeping meadow vistas to the river, or explore some of the other trails on the old ranch. Eventually a river’s-edge trail system will connect Lotus to Salmon Falls at the upper end of Folsom Lake.

When exploring the wildlands in and around the valley, keep a few common-sense precautions in mind. Dress comfortably and in layers; weather can change quickly. Bring water, hat, sunblock, insect repellent and perhaps a light snack. And, as in the rest of rural and wilderness California, be aware that mountain lions and rattlesnakes–rarely seen–make this region home, too. Travel in groups, watch where you’re stepping, keep track of one another and be alert.

Cronan Ranch and the South Fork American River

Most of all, have fun!

For more places to hike in El Dorado County, see the El Dorado County Visitor’s Authority.