Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park is located in Pilot Hill, California. The Park contains 12 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, bird watching and other passive recreation. The borders of the Park follow the South Fork American River, Highway 49, Pedro Hill Road and private lands. The Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset year round. There is a wide variety of terrain to choose from, including gently sloped to challenging hills, oak woodland and gentle riverfront trails. Each season offers a diverse experience. Spring wildflowers on the ranch are not to be missed. Summer offers golden hills and hot temperatures. In fall, the ranch is full of changing colors and winter rains bring hills of green.

Cronan Ranch near Coloma, California

Natural History

The vegetation of the Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park is very representative of the landscape of the Sierra Foothills. The primary vegetation type consists of introduced annual grasses, however, there are also isolated populations of California’s State Grass, purple needlegrass (Nasella pulchra) and other native perennial grasses such as deergrass and California melic that can be found. In spring, the hills of the ranch turn various colors of white, blue, lavender and orange with a spectacular display of lupines, fiddleneck, California poppies and other wildflowers common to the Sierra Foothills. Blue Oak savannah is also present, which gives way to Foothill Woodland, with blue oak, foothill pine and interior live oak in the canopy, and manzanita, coffeeberry and poison oak in the shrub layer. Poison oak is prevalent on the Park, so please stay on the trails. Along the South Fork of the American River, you may find willow trees, ponderosa pine, foothill gray pine, California buckeye and bush lupine.

The diverse habitat types found on the Park support a wide array of wildlife species. Deer, bobcat, fox, coyote, mountain lion and several species of rodent inhabit the ranch. Among the many bird species that have been observed at the Ranch are red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks, California quail, turkey, western meadowlarks, tree swallows, kingfishers and bald eagle. the Park also supports a nesting pair of white-tailed kites. Pacific tree frog, western toad, western fence lizards and alligator lizards can all be found on the Park. Several species of fish, including rainbow trout, Sacramento pikeminnow, and brown trout can be found in the river, along with playful river otters and ringtail cats.

Cultural History

old ranch buildings at Cronan Ranch near Coloma

People have lived on this land for centuries. Early on, Native Californians migrated up from the hot Central Valley in the spring and summer to fish, hunt and gather plants to eat. These first families camped near the river until it became too hot and then moved east on up to the cool conifer forests for the late summer season.

During the Gold Rush beginning in 1849, parts of the South Fork American River were mined for gold. One of the early miners was William Bacchi who left his home town of Canto Ticino in 1851 to come to America. For most, the gold rush fever did not last long and by 1856, Bacchi had acquired land and cattle in El Dorado County marking the beginnings of the Bacchi Ranch.

What is today called the Cronan Ranch was first acquired by the Central Pacific Railroad through a Federal land patent in 1887. Michael Cronan acquired the property from the Central Pacific Railroad in 1891. The ranch was grazed by the Cronan family until 1918 when it was sold to George and James Murphy. The Murphy family used the ranch for a time and then sold the property to Byron and Francis Bacchi in 1945 for inclusion in the Bacchi Ranch. Although this portion of the Bacchi Ranch was sold in 2004 to create the Park, the Bacchi Ranch remains active today on nearby lands.

The land for this park and river trail corridor was purchased by the American River Conservancy, BLM and other partners over a period of 16 years and placed into public trust to be used for recreation and wildlife conservation. The purchase was made possible through generous donations by individuals, private foundations and government agencies, including the Wildlife Conservation Board and the California State Resources Agency. Ultimately, the Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park will connect with the South Fork American River corridor trail that will run from Greenwood Creek to Salmon Falls.

A map of the Ranch is available.

Cronan Ranch and the South Fork American River

This article taken from materials prepared by the BLM in conjunction with the American River Conservancy.