South Fork American River 2021-03

Last week I completed a backpack trip from the east end of the South Fork American River Trail at Greenwood Creek trailhead to Folsom. The new section for me was the eastern part, about 13 km.

I started out with a dayhike with my friend Steffani and dog, which is how I got to a place that is definitely not transit accessible. When she headed home, I walked a short ways to camp, then explored around. I had thought the trail right next to the river was the main trail, but it is not, the main trail stays up higher on the hillsides. I walked to Greenwood Creek, down along the river, and back to my campsite.

The next morning I did more walking to warm up from a night colder than I was expecting. The meadow/old pasture a short ways in from the Magnolia Ranch trailhead was full of early morning birds, including man pairs of mountain bluebirds which I rarely see, maybe using the nest boxes. The canyon was filled with fog in the morning, which gradually burned off.

Hastings Creek is the first water, quite a large creek for such dry country, with a fancy bridge. From there the trail climbs and descends heading west and southwest. I saw almost no one until close to the Cronan Ranch road (not open to the public but used by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians), where there were suddenly a lot of people out enjoying the day, almost a crowd. A few of the grassy areas had a lot of flowers, but most did not, with the best abundance on shallow rocky soils (maybe with some serpentinitic influence. The river is visible below in many places. The main trail never dips down to it, but side trails reach it at a few points. I used the Norton Ravine access trail and spent some while on the sandy beach.

South Fork American River near Norton Ravine

The trail passes through a section of chaparral, that had very few flowers this time of year, but a rare plants sign indicates there is more here than meets the eye. The chaparral, which often forms on drier south-facing slopes, is so very different from the rest of the trail. Chemise is the most common plant, manzanita probably next.

From the side trail to Satan’s Cesspool, where I had been before, the trail continues to climb through grassy hillsides and oak groves before reaching a saddle with broken down picnic tables. The trail then roller coasters through semi-chaparral, and then enters Pine Hill Preserve, host to four rare plants and four endemic and rare plants, though I’m not sure if all these are present in this section or south of the river in the main preserve area.

The trail descends to Skunk Hollow raft take out, and ends there. A walk across the (new) Salmon Falls bridge and along the road a short ways leads to the Salmon Falls raft take out, and the start of the Sweetwater trail.

Folsom reservoir (I refuse to call reservoirs lakes) is down quite a bit, 396.2 feet elevation on Friday, so the (old) Salmon Falls 1925 bridge is exposed, and the river flowing beneath it, and I walked out to it. Along with a lot of other people – it was quite a popular destination. Though the water level was much lower in 1997 and 2015, I did not see it then, so this was a first for me. It also exposed the Natoma Ditch, alongside the river, that I’d also like to explore. In 2015 Salmon Falls itself was apparently exposed, downstream from the old bridge, but it takes a lower water level, and I’m not sure how low. The water is currently rising, slowly, so I imagine now is the time. It will drop again in the fall, perhaps to a near record low, if the drought pattern that is setting up continues. The best information about the Salmon Falls area, and in fact the entire Folsom Lake SRA, seems to be Kevin Knauss, You’ll have to poke around a bit to find his blog posts, or just buy the book!

Though I am aware that low reservoirs means water restrictions later in the year, I am so pleased to see a free-flowing river where there is normally stagnant reservoir water. Nature heals, if allowed.

I camped near a water source just beyond Sweetwater Creek. Saturday I continued west on the Browns Ravine trail, which has mileage markers from 17 near the Old Salmon Falls staging area, down to 3.5. West of 3.5 they are missing, and the trail is not as obvious across the dike, through the picnic area, and on towards Folsom Lake Crossing, where it exits to the intersection at two barely visible places. I think there is a plan to improve this section, and maybe rename it the June Cash trail.

From there I followed the Johnny Cash trail/bike path down into Folsom, had iced tea at Reset: Cafe, and then headed home on light rail. Sutter Street in Folsom is quite busy on Saturdays, with a farmers market in the morning and two blocks of the street closed to cars, for people to wander and enjoy.

My hiking distance was about 64 km. The three sections are available in my GaiaGPS account:

Photos on Flickr:

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