Bike Rides & Hikes

Weekend Hike: Western States Trail, Michigan Bluff

Ever wonder about some of the rugged terrain that trail runners experience during the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, that Super Bowl of suffer-fests held each June?

Head over to Michigan Bluff, about 5 miles past the town of Foresthill in Placer County, and test yourself on an extended out-and-back stretch to the Swinging Bridge. You’ll come away not only with a newfound appreciation of the athletic ability of ultrarunners, but also get a soul-satisfying dose of natural beauty, plus some Gold Rush history, along the trail.

The great thing about an out-and-back trek is that you can shorten (or, I suppose, lengthen) it depending on your mood and level of fitness that particular day. If you go all the way to the Swinging Bridge, it’s 20 miles with nearly 6,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and some killer switchbacks. If you turn around at Devil’s Thumb, you cover 16 miles and almost 5,000 feet of elevation. If you go short and turn around at El Dorado Creek, it’s 5.5 miles and 1,700 feet of elevation.

You’ll pass black oak, gray pines and manzanita, Deadwood Cemetery and an old wagon trail that’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Weekend hike: Western States Trail, Michigan Bluff to Swinging Bridge

Distance: 20 miles (or shorter; it’s an out-and-back course)

Directions to trailhead: From Sacramento, take Interstate 80 to Auburn. Exit at Foresthill Road and drive 18 miles northeast to Foresthill. Continue 3.2 miles and turn right on Michigan Bluff Road. Follow the road 3 miles until it dead-ends. Park on the street, away from residential homes.

Route: Go past a stone marker inscribed with “Michigan Bluff to Last Chance Trail.” Follow a gravel road uphill, then go left at a green cattle gate with a brown “WS Trail” sign. At a large sign, veer right on the trail, not left on a fire road. That officially begins the trek. Go mostly downhill 2.7 miles to El Dorado Creek, climb slightly right and then left and follow a snaking trail for 5 miles to Deadwood. Look for trail signs and go slightly right on the single track (which runs parallel with a fire road) to Devil’s Thumb. At the junction, go downhill on switchbacks to the Swinging Bridge. Turn around and retrace steps.

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