Bike Rides & Hikes

Weekend Hike: Judge Davis Trail in Lake County

A grove of oak trees on the 10.6-mile out-and-back Judge Davis Trail in Lake County.
A grove of oak trees on the 10.6-mile out-and-back Judge Davis Trail in Lake County.

Whenever I think about Cache Creek, I automatically default to “casino.” I forget that there is, like, a creek there. And rolling, oak-studded hillsides. And verdant valleys. And, you know, wildlife and stuff.

Turns out, a jackpot of trail heads line highways 16 and 20, and I’d wager that nearly all of them either terminate at or cross Cache Creek. One of the best is the Judge Davis Trail, chosen as your Weekend Hike.

The trail parallels Highway 20 for only a tenth of a mile before it winds southwest away from civilization. A half-mile in, you will reach a junction with the Cache Creek Ridge Trail veering left. Follow the sign to the right for “Judge Davis.”

It starts out flat, but by the time you reach the top of the ridge at the 1.3-mile mark, past some fairly runnable switchbacks, you will have climbed 527 feet. (Only on the return trip, coming downhill over the same terrain, do you notice the lupine and clover stubbornly hanging on even in summer.)

You’ll be ready for a little break by the time you reach the summit of the first ridge (actually, the high point of the entire hike, at 2,227 feet).

You’ll need that break to get your bearings and figure out the confusing signage. The confusion actually begins about 0.2 of a mile before the junction with the Cache Creek Ridge Trail. A fire road suddenly appears on your right. Do not turn right and go up the fire road. Instead, merge with the road and keep following it left. When you reach the Y junction, that’s when you take the trail to the right. It’s confusing because the sign post on the right says “Cache Creek 4 mi.” But if you look closely near the bottom, you’ll notice that a helpful soul has written in small white letters, “JDT.” You will want to head right and downhill toward the creek.

Once assured that you are on the correct trail, it’s mostly rolling downhills to the creek. The terrain is primarily open space, so it gets hot in the summer, and the openness gives the purported mountain lions plenty of opportunity to spot and stalk you. However, there are some spectacular, gnarled manzanita bushes amid the sage and greasewood. You’ll also hit several copses of blue oaks at which you can stop for a respite or picnic.

Because the trail is well-groomed and mostly absent of rock gardens, you can be safe in peering down into the gorgeous views of Wilson Valley, but you’ll neither see nor hear Cache Creek until you are less than half a mile from it on an overlook.

Weekend Hike: Judge Davis Trail, Lake County

Trail length: 10.6 miles

Directions to trailhead: From Sacramento, take Interstate 5 north to the Williams exit (Highway 20). Take Highway 20 west for 22.6 miles. Just past the Colusa-Lake County border, turn left into the trail head parking lot. Alternate directions: Take I-505 to Highway 16, and travel about 30 miles to the junction with Highway 20. Turn left and go to the county line and park at the trail head.

Route: From the trailhead, go about 25 yards to the right of the toilets until you find a single-track trail starting between two wooden posts. (Do not go to the fire road just to the left of the toilets.) The Judge Davis Trail parallels Highway 20 for the first 0.1 of a mile before veering left. At 0.5 miles, veer right at a junction to continue of the Davis trail uphill, weaving through switchbacks. At 1.3 miles, a junction appears. Go right downhill (southwest) on a trail marked “Cache Creek 4 mi.” with a hand-printed “JDT” scrawled underneath. Continue on the trail over rolling ridges and down to the creek. Retrace steps back to the trail head.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Toilets: Yes

Water: No

Parking: Free

Call The Bee’s Sam McManis, (916) 321-1145. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcManis.