When a trail is described as “one of the top bike trails in the nation,””world-renowned,” or the “jewel of Sacramento” I just have to check it out for myself. The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (also called the American River Parkway) located in the Sacramento area is a paved 32-mile trail that parallels the American River and crosses through a number of California State Recreation areas. One end of the trail is located at Discovery Park in Sacramento while the other end is located at Beals Point Recreation Area in Folsom. You can view (or purchase) a comprehensive map of the entire trail from the American River Park Foundation. In case you were wondering who Jedediah Smith was, he was a great frontiersman, explorer and famous fur trapper who led expeditions through dangerous and unknown territories making a name for himself.
Last weekend we explored a section of the trail closer to the Folsom end, starting from the Sacramento State Aquatic Center located at Nimbus Dam to the Willow Creek Recreation Area (map of trails in the area). Both the Sacramento State Aquatic Center and Nimbus Dam Recreation Area have parking ($10 per vehicle fee) with the latter having a much larger parking lot. One benefit of parking at the aquatic center parking is that it allows you to see the dam from below (and the center rents muscle powered boats like kayaks, canoes, stand up paddle and pedal boats), but the Nimbus Recreation Area has park ammenities like restrooms and large picnic areas and would be the better one to park at if you are planning to spend the day there. Regardless of where you park, the trail is very easy to get on and we found it to be very well-maintained. It hugs the American River much of the time and although it is considered a popular trail, it never felt crowded.
We had about an hour before sunset, so we were limited in how far we could go before it got dark. Even though we left the Bay Area right after my daughter’s volleyball practice at 2 pm (no shower for her!), we didn’t get there until 4:45 pm due to traffic. Our plan was to ride out 30 minutes and then return (sunset was around 6 pm), but of course we stopped too many times to admire the scenery and we only got as far as Willow Creek Recreation Area which was 2.6 miles before we needed to head back, making it a short 5.2 mile bike ride. If you have time, the Folsom Powerhouse State Park is 5.4 miles (almost 11 miles round trip) from the aquatic center and has one of the oldest hydroelectric facilities “in the world” (doesn’t anything “in the world” pique your interest too?).
We jumped on the trail at the back of the parking lot and made our way to Nimbus Dam Recreation Area.
The trail takes you through the Nimbus Dam Recreation area, but be on the lookout for the trail to head inland away from the river through the parking lot (after you see the restrooms on the left look for the trail to continue on the right side of the parking lot, there are no signs). Don’t worry the trail will lead back to the river and there will be many opportunities to see the American River in all its glory. At first I didn’t care for the roadway noise from the busy Lincoln Highway (Hwy 50), but I got used to it and didn’t mind it too much since my attention was focused on the river side. The beautiful scenery and trail made it worth some roadway noise, but I am now curious if there are other sections which are a bit more quiet – with the same incredible views of course (not demanding at all). 🙂 If we had headed in the opposite direction (south), the trail would have led further away from Lincoln Hwy and eventually reached Sunrise State Recreation Area in four miles.
The setting sun slowly making its way down behind the dam was beautiful, but the full moon (ok, technically the full moon was the next night) against the colorful backdrop of the setting sun stole the show.
We really enjoyed this bike ride on the Jedediah Smith Memorial trail and although we wished we had more time, the views of the American River at sunset were gorgeous and worth coming to see even for a short time. It was our first time on this trail and we liked that it was a trail with rolling hills, beautiful scenery and varied terrain to keep us busy and entertained. This is a multi-use trail and we encountered hikers/walkers, casual bicyclists like us, as well as serious cyclists, all courteous and seeming to enjoy being outdoors. We will definitely be coming back to explore more of this interesting 32-mile trail. Hope you keep this trail in mind if you’re ever in the Sacramento area, it really is a “jewel of Sacramento.”