I backpacked the American Discovery Trail segment from Auburn to Sacramento this week. This is my second time on this segment (ADT: Auburn to Sacramento 2012-05), and the reasons I went again were to see the American River North Fork while the draw-down of Folsom Reservoir exposed more of it, and to create a GPS track of the trip.
I took the Amtrak train to Auburn, then walked to the trailhead at Auburn Staging Area, and then down into the canyon to sleep. I took a few wrong turns in the dark, but quickly realized and corrected (and I have corrected the GPS track). Not far into the canyon, I noticed the sound of the river much stronger than I remembered it. The night was cloudy, then cleared to brilliant stars, and at dawn there was a light drizzle. I headed down the Cardiac Bypass Trail, which is better signed that it was two years ago. These signs are unusually clear for a state parks-managed area, so I presume they were designed, paid for and installed by a volunteer organization.
Folsom Reservoir at full pool reaches to Oregon Bar, just upstream of where the trail first reaches the river, but now it is nowhere to be seen. No matter my thoughts about drought and water storage, and they are mixed, it is a joy to see and hear the living river flowing as it was meant to. The magic sound accompanied me all the way to Mormon Ravine, where the current head of the reservoir is. Of course the bathtub ring is ugly, but it is not hard to imagine the healing that would start if the reservoir were not there. Seeing the reservoir again at Mormon Ravine, I was disappointed, but there was the advantage of the ban on motor boats from the reservoir. All the way to the dam it was amazingly silent, unlike two years ago when the buzz-saw roar of boats was a constant. The photos below show the view from high above down towards Oregon Bar and westward. I don’t have matching photos from the place where the trail reaches the river, nor points downstream, but I there are several photos in my set from this trip that show the river flowing.
Spring is just beginning. The buckeye trees are mostly leafed out, and the poison oak leaflets are just coming on, a pretty mix of red and green. There were a few flowers, not many, far less than in May. I saw a few horse people and a few hikers on the trail, but had it mostly to myself except in the Granite Bay area where it was somewhat busier, and of course the American River Parkway section where it is alway busy.
The entire length of this 55-mile ADT segment corresponds to the Pioneer Express Trail, and 32 miles of it with the American River Parkway. The ADT data book waypoints don’t distinguish between Pioneer and Parkway trails where they overlap, but for at least one-third, there is an adjacent natural surface trail in addition to the paved Parkway trail. If you find the paved American River Parkway too crowded, check out the adjacent natural path. The signing of each piece is inconsistent, so you may have to guess which side trails are the “official” and which are not. Sometimes there is a post with the trail name, more often a post with a hiker and no bicycles symbol, and sometimes just no bicycles. The Pioneer Express Trail is closed to bicycles for its entire length, so far as I can determine. You will run across the Pioneer Express Trail mileposts on the natural path, but the closer to Sacramento, the less maintenance of the signs there is. One advantage to being off the paved route and on the dirt is that there are some remarkable natural areas hidden just out of sight, if one is willing to “get off the beaten path.”
I did the trip in about two day. I’d planned on three, and that would have been more rational, but my left knee was hurting and the only time it felt OK was moving and warmed up, so I decided to just keep on walking and went all the way home. I did skip the last part to Discovery Park, though, and went back to finish that on Friday, on my bike.