Sunset Bike Ride on the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail

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 aΒ 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 boatsΒ 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?).

Nimbus Dam viewed from the Sacramento State Aquatic Center parking area

We jumped on the trail at the back of the parking lot and made our way to Nimbus Dam Recreation Area.

The area above the dam, Lake Natoma Reservoir
Followed the path through the recreation area past the first parking lot

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). πŸ™‚ 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.

Trail bridge
View from the bridge
River view
American River
Kayaker gliding across the calm river
Well-maintained trail
There is a dirt path that parallels the bike path
Willow Creek Recreation Area has a boat (kayaks and canoes) launch
Willow Creek Recreation Area river access next to the picnic area
Bike trail was easy, but rolling hills elevated your heart rate at times
Wide open areas with river views
The American River was very calm with many areas for river access
The dirt path was hard packed and well maintained for bike riding
There was wild turkey on the island across the way
Wild turkey (and geese)
Setting sun back at Nimbus Dam Recreation Area
Area above Nimbus Dam
Nimbus Dam Recreation Area is popular for water activities with its calm waters
Easy entry into the river here with steps leading right into the water

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.Β DSC_9983

Back to the van before dark

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.”

22 replies to “Sunset Bike Ride on the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail

  1. Wow! What a trail! The views are marvelous and the well maintained paths look perfect for bicycling. Never knew this existed in Sacramento…will look for it the next time we are there. Wonderful photos of the river and bridge…and what a treat after volleyball practice! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautiful sunset and moonrise photos! Love the serene views of the American River–trails that parallel the water like that are my favorite. If only we had bikes! And lived in CA. πŸ˜€ All of your fantastic biking posts are inspiring me to consider buying bikes for the hubby and me. The kids have theirs, but they ride by themselves at the park. I love the way you make it a family affair. Fighting 3 hr traffic, no less! (I spy the campervan–hope you got to avoid traffic and camp!) I so admire your commitment to living an active/outdoors lifestyle; hope we get to try this path someday!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your kind words 😊. We are fortunate to have an REI in our neck of the woods and a friend of mine found, what is now, my bike at a “scratch-and dent” sale for a steal (I can’t get rid of my squeaky brakes, but hey it let’s people know when I’m passing). I then handed down my old (!) bike to my daughter. I guess what I’m trying to say is we didn’t invest a whole lot in bikes, but the return we get from them is priceless. I bet there are some amazing trails in Hawaii, in fact I just looked at – you guys are so lucky!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Great call on the scratch and dent sale! My brother’s partner scored a great deal on a Marmot tent at one of those, too. Great advice; I should totally check Craigslist or something similar first. Thanks for the link!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, what a beautiful jaunt. Thank you for making the time to share your outing with us. So many great pictures and the narration helped us follow along on our map. There are many things in the world that pique our interest and it’s great seeing the ones we all have in common. Loved the last shot and it was so apropos in that you were the last ones leaving the lot after a wonderful day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing a lovely outing with great pics. Trails looked good but really enjoyed the river pictures and the stiking ones of sunset and moon rise. Happy and active family time!!. Can see why you would like to revisit this area.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is my favorite blog post in a log time! Because I live just a few miles from where you took this bike ride and you captured the essence of my many bike rides around this same area very well! I have rode through this area probably 50+ times and this year started hiking the same area to get a different perspective and capture it better with my camera. You can see some videos I posted on youtube of a sunset at the Aquatic Center and under water videos in the Willow Creek area if you are interested.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I envy you for having a camper van. It is a dream of mine to get either a camper van or Class C RV to travel the 49 states and Canada full time. I watch tons of people on YouTube that travel full time in their RV and wonder where I would go if I did that. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think that’s a great dream! There is so much to see out there. My list of places I want to see is so long, I know I won’t be able to get to it all. But it’s good to have dreams πŸ™‚


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