Health & Fitness

Spend a year on the trails with 12 hikes

January: Nancy McClure of El Dorado Hills walks on the South Side Trail just after crossing the New York Creek Trail Bridge with her dog Bandit. The Folsom Lake "South Side Trail" from Browns Ravine to Old Salmon Falls is 22 miles. (11 out and back) . You can drive to various trailheads and park to shoot different aspects, so you don't have to trek the entire 22 miles. At Brown's Ravine, the trailhead is on a small hill to the right of the guard shack. Another trailhead is at Old Salmon Falls. Tuesday, December 6, 2011.
January: Nancy McClure of El Dorado Hills walks on the South Side Trail just after crossing the New York Creek Trail Bridge with her dog Bandit. The Folsom Lake "South Side Trail" from Browns Ravine to Old Salmon Falls is 22 miles. (11 out and back) . You can drive to various trailheads and park to shoot different aspects, so you don't have to trek the entire 22 miles. At Brown's Ravine, the trailhead is on a small hill to the right of the guard shack. Another trailhead is at Old Salmon Falls. Tuesday, December 6, 2011. Sacramento Bee file

January

The trail: Folsom Lake South Side

The distance: 12 miles (one way; can be shortened via out-and-back)

Why here: This trail is never boring. You can choose, at many points on the trail, to swivel your head away from the El Dorado Hills mansions and look left at what remains of Folsom Lake and, later on, the narrower American River. And you can safely do so because unlike the more popular Pioneer Express Trail on other side of Folsom Lake, the trail is not that rocky or bulging with roots, so you won’t do face-plants.

Why now: Even if it rains heavily, the trail does not turn to slop.

Directions to trailhead: Take Highway 50 to the El Dorado Hills Boulevard exit. Go west to Green Valley Road. Turn left. Enter the Browns Ravine entrance to the Folsom State Recreation Area. After the guard shack, turn right and climb a short distance to the trailhead/assembly area. If starting from Old Salmon Falls, take El Dorado Hills Boulevard, which turns into Salmon Falls Road after Green Valley. At about 4 miles, turn left into a dirt lot with the sign “Falcon Crest.” Take a paved road downhill a few hundred yards to the Old Salmon Falls staging area. It is closed for the winter, so park in the dirt lot and walk down to the trailhead.

Route: From the Browns Ravine trailhead, follow the markers with icons of a hiker and a horse that appear every half-mile. There are, however, several unmarked trail junctions. At 1.5 miles, go left at the unmarked fork. At 2.4 miles, veer right uphill. At 2.8 miles, go straight at the fork and then cross a gravel road to resume the trail. At 3.5 miles, go left at a fork. When you reach a large meadow at 3.8 miles, keep veering left, away from the road and head uphill. There are no significant unmarked forks for the rest of the trek. Have someone with a car meet you at Old Salmon Falls or return to Browns Ravine for a 24-mile trek.

Difficulty: It’s not crazy steep. It follows a serpentine path of the shoreline with no single climb gaining more than 50 feet and all ascents and descents short in duration.

Toilets: Yes, at Browns Ravine

Parking: $10 state parks fee

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: Not legally, but many use the trail

February

The trail: Foresthill Divide Loop, outside Auburn

The distance: 9.5 miles

Why here: It’s easy to tell that the Folsom Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition built and maintains this trail. The single and double tracks are mostly free of invasive weeds poking out. The fire roads on this loop are smooth and easily navigable. The hills are not gaspingly difficult. Even the few rocky, technical ravines are passable. Sometimes, for a hiker or runner, it’s nice to follow the tire tracks and not to have to forge your own path.

Why now: Bears are hibernating. Yours truly encountered a bear here last summer and while it ran off not 10 feet from me, it’s nice to know these ursine trail users are snoozing. Winter is a good time for this trail, anyway, since there’s a lot of exposure.

Directions to trailhead: Take Interstate 80 to the Foresthill Road/Auburn Ravine exit. Drive east over the Foresthill Bridge for 8 miles to the large parking lot on the left, shortly after the junction with Drivers Flat Road on the right. The trailhead gate is No. 128.

Route: From the trailhead, head left onto the trail. At 3.3 miles, cross the gravel road and continue on the trail. Go left at the next fork that will lead to Foresthill Road. Cross the road, veer left back onto the dirt trail. Follow the sign saying “Drivers Flat Road 5 Miles.” Follow the trail signs first left, then right. Turn left briefly on a double-track road, then turn right at the trail arrow. Cross a bridge, then turn left at the trail sign. Reaching the Drivers Flat staging area, continue straight through the parking lot to the single-track trail behind the portable toilet. Follow single track to Foresthill Road; cross the road to the finish.

Difficulty: Moderate (2,050 feet in elevation gain)

Toilets: Yes, at both trailheads and the Drivers Flat staging area

Parking: $12 or state parks pass

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: Yes; they built it

March

The trail: Mount Diablo Summit, Clayton

The distance: 13 miles

Why here: Because it’s there. Mount Diablo, the twin-peaked upthrust of rock, ascends to nearly 4,000 elevation. Don’t you want to brag to friends that you’ve summited it?

Why now: Depending on weather patterns, the flowers might start blooming. But even if not, the mountain probably will have turned from brown to green. Plus, the views!

Directions to trailhead: Take Interstate 80 to I-680 to Highway 4. Exit at Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg. Drive 4 miles over the foothills. Railroad turns into Kirker Pass Road. Turn left onto Clayton Road. Go one mile to Mitchell Canyon Road and turn right. Mitchell Canyon ends at the trailhead.

Route: From the trailhead, go four miles on the Mitchell Canyon fire road. At the junction, turn right and go 1.5 miles to the Juniper campground. Pass through the parking lot and, at sign on the left, take the single-track trail “toward the lower summit.” At the summit parking lot, go right on the Summit Trail, then left on the North Peak Trail for about three miles. Turn left on Prospectors Gap, then right on the Meridian Ridge fire road. Turn left at the single-track Back Creek Trail for 2 miles to the Bruce Lee Trail, left back to the trailhead parking lot.

Difficulty: Trails such as this need to be approached with a water-bottle-half-full mindset: Yeah, so the first 6.8 miles are uphill to the summit, the map informs you. Gee, so that must mean the final 6.2 miles are downhill, right? Well, actually, there are some decent climbs amid the otherwise severe downhill descent.

Toilets: Yes, at trailhead

Parking: $12 or state parks pass

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: Allowed only on Mitchell Canyon fire road

April

The trail: Independence Trail, outside Nevada City

The distance: East branch: 4.4 miles (out-and-back); west branch: 3 miles (out-and-back); 4-mile Jones Bar loop

Why here: The trail is smooth and flat, absent of roots and rocks, its hard-packed dirt only slightly dusty and lined with decaying leaves. You wouldn’t call it manicured, nothing that artificial, just well-maintained and easily navigable. Such a surface in a wild and scenic setting north of Nevada City invites people of all abilities, especially those who navigate via wheelchair, to enjoy traversing the great outdoors free of obstacles and limitations.

Why now: Spring is a great time to breathe in the cedar and ponderosa pine, ogle the twisted madrone and live oak, drink in the views of the South Yuba River, experience history by trekking across the wooden platforms for flumes that, back in the mid-1800s, served as the Excelsior Ditch, which transported water 25 miles to hydraulic monitors in Smartsville.

Directions to trailhead: Take Interstate 80 to the Highway 49 exit. Continue on Highway 49 through Auburn, Grass Valley and Nevada City. Turn left at the sign “49 to Downieville” and continue about 7 miles to the pullout just after a sign for the Independence Trail.

Route: From the trailhead, follow signs either east or west for the out-and-back courses. For the Jones Bar loop, take the Independence Trail west (passing the junction for the Jones Bar Trail on the right at 0.2 miles) and continue straight to the end of the Independence Trail at Jones Bar Road (2.4 miles). Turn right, downhill, on Jones Bar Road and go about one mile to Jones Bar. Follow the fire road right over a suspension bridge over Rush Creek. Look for brown sign saying “To the Independence Trail“ on your right. Follow that uphill 0.6 miles until it dead-ends at the Independence Trail. Turn left and go 0.2 miles to the trailhead.

Difficulty: Easy (out-and-backs); moderate (Jones Bar loop)

Toilets: Yes, at visitors center

Parking: On roadside pullout, free, several disabled spaces

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: Not allowed

May

The trail: Western States Trail, Auburn

The distance: 21-mile loop that encompasses two-thirds of the Way Too Cool course, which shares about 12 miles of the Western States Trail

Why here: Trail runners make special trips from all over the world to huff and puff on these trails. You can do it any weekend.

Why now: You can say you’ve traveled the same path as those masochists who compete in the Western State 100 Mile Endurance Run each June. Only you’ll only have to do a small portion.

Directions to trailhead: From Sacramento, take Interstate 80 to the Elm Avenue exit in Auburn. Make two lefts onto Highway 49. Drive 2.5 miles down to the American River Confluence. Turn right at the confluence to stay on Highway 49. Make a quick left into the Quarry Trailhead parking lot.

Route: Follow the Quarry Trail (which becomes the Western States Trail) beyond Browns Bar to the junction at Maine Bar. Turn right uphill, then take a quick left, following by a right onto the brown-signed Waterfall/American Canyon Trail. Go 1.2 miles and cross a rocky creek to continue on the American Canyon Trail going uphill. At the Dead Truck junction, continue on American Canyon over two creeks for about 2 miles to the Robie/Western States Trail. Turn right and go about 7 miles. After crossing a wooden bridge, turn left (still on the Robie/Western States Trail) and go 0.3 miles to the unsigned Goat Hill turnoff. Ascend Goat Hill’s switchbacks and continue for about 2.5 miles on a technical single-track with distinct elevation gains and losses until you reach the upper Highway 49 crossing. Cross carefully and follow the trail to a meadow in Cool. Veer right and follow brown signs for the Robie/Western States Trail downhill about 2 miles to the confluence. You’ll need to cross Highway 49 again to get to the Quarry parking lot.

Toilets: Yes, at trailhead

Parking: $12 or state parks pass

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: Not allowed on single track

June

The trail: Mount Tallac, Lake Tahoe

The distance: 9.5 miles

Why here: Tallac isn’t the highest peak in the area (Freel Peak is the highest at 10,881 feet), but it is the highest peak rising from the shoreline. And it’s the peak most Tahoe tourists first see in town. You see lakes and traverse a lot of scree, but the views from the peak are sublime.

Why now: In these drought years, snow is gone by June. But you might have to put it off another month.

Directions to trailhead: Take Highway 50 to South Lake Tahoe. Veer left onto Highway 89 north. Go 3.9 miles and turn left at a sign for the Mount Tallac Trailhead. (The turnoff for Baldwin Beach is on the right.) Go 1.1 miles to the trailhead.

Route: Follow Mount Tallac Trail, circling around Floating Island Lake. At 2.2 miles, head straight at the junction of the Fallen Leaf Trail, which heads left. A sign says “Cathedral Lake,” which is the next junction. At Cathedral Lake, veer right around the lake, climb switchbacks. Look closely as the trail becomes faint amid boulders. Follow switchbacks up the Cathedral Basin headwall to a meadow. At 4.6 miles, you reach a junction with the Gilmore Lake Trail. Turn right and ascend 0.2 of a mile to the summit. From summit, retrace steps to trailhead.

Difficulty: The trailhead is at 6,440 feet. By mile 2, it’s 7,200. Then 8,000 by mile 3 and 9,100 by mile 4. So, even though the trek is only 9.5 miles (half downhill, too), you still should bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need.

Toilets: No

Parking: Free

Dogs: Not allowed

Mountain bikes: Not allowed

July

The trail: Redwood Park Loop, Oakland Hills

The distance: 7.5 miles

Why here: The 3-mile French Trail, the highlight of this trek, is transcendent, weaving through the heart of aptly named Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. Mostly shaded year-round, this forested canyon is vertically challenging but worth every micro-tear in your quadriceps muscle. You get it all: tall redwoods, dappled sunlight, running streams, lush hazelnut leaves, bay laurels, oaks, madrones and other foliage too numerous to catalog.

Why now: The aforementioned shade, as well as the cloud cover the stays around most of the morning, makes for a nice change from the Sacramento heat.

Directions to trailhead: Take I-80 to I-680 to Highway 24. Exit at Fish Ranch Road, turn left on Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Turn left on Skyline Road. Park at the Skyline Gate staging area just past Pine Hills Drive.

Route: From the trailhead, go 0.5 miles on the West Ridge Trail. Turn left on the French Trail. Go about 3 miles to the Chown Trail. Veer slightly right and go uphill and around switchbacks to the West Ridge Trail. Turn right and return on West Ridge for about 3 miles.

Difficulty: Strenuous (on French Trail and Chown segments), or easy (on West Ridge)

Toilets: Yes, at trailhead

Parking: Free

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: Allowed only on West and East Ridge trails

August

The trail: Palomarin Trail, Bolinas

The distance: 10.5 miles

Why here: Southern flank of the Point Reyes National Seashore, around Olema and Bolinas. There, wedged between the ridges of the San Andreas Fault Zone and the bluffs overlooking the ocean, lies what guide books call the “Lakes District.” In a 5-mile stretch along the Coast Trail are five lakes – Bass, Pelican, Crystal, Ocean and Wildcat – and, farther inland, a sixth, Mud Lake. Add the Alamere Creek and Falls and assorted vernal pools and ponds, and this seemed the perfect antidote for your parched summer eyes. Oh, yeah, the ocean is below, too.

Why now: You’re guaranteed to see water. Plus, the fog will be refreshing to we inlanders.

Directions to trailhead: From Sacramento, take Interstate 80 west to Highway 37. Take the Atherton Avenue exit. Go on Atherton Avenue until it turns into San Marin Drive. Turn right on Novato Boulevard, then left on Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road. Continue on Platform Bridge Road, make a right on Sir Francis Drake, then left on Highway 1, South. After 9.1 miles, veer right on an unsigned road. Take the road (Olema Bolinas Road) 1.5 miles toward Bolinas. Turn right at Mesa Road and drive 4 miles (the last mile of which is not paved) to the trailhead.

Route: From the Palomarin Trail head, take the Coast Trail about 4 miles. At the junction with the Ocean Lake Trail, go left on Ocean Lake for 1.3 miles until the loop rejoins the Coast Trail. Turn right on the Coast Trail and retrace steps to the Palomarin Trail head.

Difficulty: Moderate, 2,368 feet of elevation gain

Toilets: Yes, at trailhead

Parking: Free

Dogs: Not allowed

Mountain bikes: Not allowed

September

The trail: Tilden Seaview Loop, Berkeley

The distance: 8 miles

Why here: The initial 3-mile ascent to the top of Tilden Park, albeit taxing, will result spectacular views of the bay and San Francisco (provided there’s no fog) and, turning to look behind you, a gorgeous view of the San Pablo Reservoir and the verdant (or brown, depending on the time of year) hills of Orinda.

Why now: It’s a great back-to-school run. You’ll see few Cal students tramping along, since classes don’t start until late in the month. Plus, the climate is temperate. You might even need a windbreaker.

Directions to trailhead: Directions to trailhead: Take Interstate 80 to the Albany exit. Turn left on the frontage road, left on Buchanan Street, right on Marin Avenue for 2.5 miles. Turn left on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, then right on Wildcat Canyon. Take an immediate left on Canon Drive, then a right on Central Park Drive. Turn left into Lone Oak parking area.

Route: From the trailhead, go 1.5 miles on the Meadows Canyon Trail. Cross Wildcat Canyon Road and go about 2 miles on the Seaview Trail. Near the apex of the climb, turn right onto the Arroyo Trail and take it 0.83 miles to the Big Springs picnic area. Go right on the shoulder of the paved South Park Drive to the Quarry Trail. Take the Quarry Trail 0.81 miles to the Big Springs Trail, 0.21 miles. Turn left on the Seaview Trail, heading downhill, cross Wildcat Canyon Road and make a sharp left onto the Curran Trail (0.62 miles). Turn right at the Wildcat Gorge Trail and return to the Lone Oak trailhead.

Difficulty: Strenuous uphill on Canyon Meadows; the rest is moderate.

Toilets: Yes, at trailhead

Parking: Free

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: Only on fire roads

October

The trail: Rockville Hills Regional Park, Fairfield

The distance: 6 miles

Why here: Follow a crazy maze of trails, ranging from lush and challenging single track to wide and accessible fire roads. There’s always another hill, short and steep, beckoning. There’s always another side trail tempting you to make a diversion. There’s always another shady blue oak providing a spot for a pleasant respite. There’s even a lake smack dab in the middle of the park, lined by picnic tables.

Why now: Do it before the rains begin because, if the rains come, those rocks get awfully slippery.

Directions to trailhead: Take Interstate 80 west to the West Texas Street/Rockville Road exit in Fairfield. Follow Rockville Road west for 3.6 miles to the trailhead on the left.

Route: From the trailhead, go right (north on the Lower Quarry Trail until it dead-ends at a paved road). Go right onto the Unknown Trail for about 1.5 miles, staying to the right at trail junctions. After ascending switchbacks, join Jockey Junction Trail for 0.2 miles, looking for signs for the Mystic Trail. Take the Lower or Middle Mystic Trail to the Black Oak Trail, where you will turn right. Black Oak dead-ends at the Green Valley Trail. Turn left and ascend to a fire road leading down to the lake. Take the fire road on the right side of the lake to a paved road. Go right on the paved road to a connector to the Lower Tilley Loop. Follow the Lower Tilley to the Devil’s Backbone junction. Turn right and go about a mile back to the trailhead.

Difficulty: Short, sharp hills, tricky footing on rocks.

Toilets: No

Parking: $3; pay at kiosk

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: Allowed

November

The trail: Briones Reservoir Loop, Orinda

The distance: 13 miles

Why here: The Briones Loop nearly qualifies as a “secret” for in-the-know East Bay locals. Its low profile stems from belonging to the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which, in typical utility-company fashion, requires trail users to buy a yearly pass (only $10, but still), carry said pass at all times on the trails and sign in (with a permit number and your vehicle license-plate number) at the staging area. Another, albeit lesser, reason that Briones isn’t better known is that it often is confused with Briones Regional Park, a neighboring but separate entity run by the East Bay Regional Parks District.

Why now: The trails can get awfully crowded on weekends. You can find some solitude here, then drive through the Caldecott Tunnel and over the Bay Bridge and do Christmas shopping among the hordes at Union Square.

Directions to trailhead: Take Interstate 80 to I-680 over the Benicia Bridge to Highway 24. Exit at Camino Pablo in Orinda. Go right for 2 miles. Turn right on Bear Creek Road and park at the Overlook trailhead parking lot on the left.

Route: Pass through metal gate and join the Bear Creek trail heading right for 3.5 miles. When you reach the Bear Creek Staging Area at 4 miles, you’ll cross through a creek and climb to meet up with the start of the Oursan Trail. Stay on Oursan, a fire road, for the next 9 miles. After peaking atop Sobrante Ridge, the trail leads downhill to the dam. You’ll pass a series of looming power-line towers. After going through two cattle gates, you bottom out at what looks like a construction or dumping area on your left. The Oursan Trail unofficially ends at this point, but do not take any of the jutting side trails meandering off toward San Pablo. Stay on what becomes a gravel road, which leads to the dam. After crossing the dam, stay on the now-paved road for perhaps 100 feet, until you see a marker for the single-track Bear Creek Trail on the left. Return to trailhead.

Difficulty: Some big climbs on the second half of the trek

Toilets: Yes, at trailhead

Parking: Free, but there’s a $10 yearly East Bay MUD online fee

Dogs: Allowed

Mountain bikes: On the Oursan Trail

December

The trail: Rodeo Valley Loop, Marin Headlands

The distance: 7.5 miles

Why here: This is one trek on which you will want to bring your camera – if only to snap shots of yourself on the bluffs above the Golden Gate Bridge to send to jealous relatives in the Midwest.

Why now: It’s hit or miss, due to fog, whether you’ll be able to get that gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge from atop the Coastal Trail.

Directions to trailhead: Take Interstate 80 to Highway 37 in Vallejo, to Highway 101 South. Exit the freeway before the Golden Gate Bridge toll booth (Sausalito exit). Go left at a stop sign, right onto Conzelman Road, and then an immediate left into the parking lot at the base of the bridge.

Route: The Coastal Trail begins at the north end of the parking lot near a booth (look for sign). On the trail, cross Conzelman road at two-tenths of a mile and continue on the Coastal Trail. At 1.1 miles, go left at the junction to stay on the Coastal Trail. At 1.5 miles, cross McCullough Road, remaining on the Coastal Trail. Veer right at a dirt lot, through a gate and onto the Coastal Trail fire road. At 3.1 miles, go around a white gate and, a tenth of a mile later, cross Bunker Road. Turn left on a dirt path paralleling the road for 100 yards until you see a parking area at the trailhead on the right. Cross the bridge and turn right onto Rodeo Valley Trail. Go about 1.5 miles on Rodeo Valley Trail until you turn right on the SCA Trail. Follow that 1 mile to the Coastal Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

Difficulty: Two moderate, extended climbs, totaling about 1,500 feet in elevation gain, and the wind is something to contend with.

Toilets: None at the trailhead, but there is one on the Coastal Trail after crossing McCollough Road

Parking: Free

Dogs: Not allowed

Mountain bikes: Allowed

Sam McManis: 916-321-1145, @SamMcManis

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