Three Northern California routes provide diverse hiking experiences

A hiker and his small dog run down Middle Trail during a hike of Donner Canyon-Eagle Peak Loop at Mount Diablo State Park.
A hiker and his small dog run down Middle Trail during a hike of Donner Canyon-Eagle Peak Loop at Mount Diablo State Park. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Even though Northern California has received significant rainfall, plenty of sunny, comfortable days have accented the region’s conditions leading into spring, providing abundant opportunities for people looking to get out and active.

The three following hikes have been taken from Sacramento Bee reporter Sam McManis’ previously published collection of 12 hikes. They are appropriate to late winter and early spring and provide diverse ground to tread.

Happy hiking.

A well-known peak

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

An invitation to all

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

Coasting along the lakes

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. Need more water? Add the Alamere Creek and Falls and assorted vernal pools and ponds. Oh, yeah, the ocean is below, too.

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

Sam McManis: 916-321-1145, @SamMcManis

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