If there's one thing about the Sierra Nevada foothills, it's that there is a variety of trails in the area. If you can run it, it's probably been run.
We run anything that has dirt, and we've jotted down a few for you. Hike or run the trails to get ready for a number of races we have in northern California.
Always check the source website to see what the trail status is. Temporary trail closures may occur due landslides and/or trail maintenance.
(TH = trailhead)
"Training is a process, not a test. We are constantly growing and pushing and sometime we don't take the time to realize how far we have come because we are so focused on where we are going."
Grass Valley Area Trails
Loops, Lollipop, and OAB
~14 miles of trail within the Park boundaries
There are two main parking areas - Penn Gate Equestrian Area and the official Park entrance. Trails are currently open from 7am to 8pm (restricted hours) and Covid guidelines in place. No parking fee, but please check the State Parks website for the most current information.
Although each trail is 1-3 miles, linking trails can give you 8+ miles of running or hiking in the park by linking a Hardrock/Osborn Hill loop on the Penn Gate side and another loop on the Gold Hill side.
The Penn Gate Equestrian parking area is always free to park, and by using that as the trailhead, a long run would start with the Hardrock Trail to the Osborn Hill Loop trail and back (lollipop loop). Approx 4 miles. If you wanted a longer run, Hardrock, Osborn Hill, and then make your way back to the Hardrock Trail but turn towards Highway 174 (turn right/east from Osborn Hill Loop Trail onto Hardrock), take the Orleans Trail up the hill to Highway 174, cross the highway and catch Lower Union Hill Trail on the other side of the road. The Gold Hill side is a bit more hilly. You can do a loop on that Gold Hill side that is about 4 miles (Lower Union > Upper Union > Indian Ridge Loop > Pipeline > Upper Union > Lower Union), then make your way back to Penn Gate.
9-10.2 miles Round Trip (RT)
Gracie Road TH 39.240156, -120.996346
Red Dog Road TH 39.259087, -120.974991
You can park at either of the two THs: Gracie Road or Red Dog Road. To park at Gracie Road TH, the parking area is on the east side of the road about 700' down from the intersection of Gracie Rd and Banner Lava Cap Rd. To park at Red Dog Road TH, take the Broad Street exit in Nevada City, turn left and continue on Broad Street until it becomes Red Dog Road. At Pasquale Rd, note your mileage and in 0.3 miles look to the right where you will see a canal and a gate with a "Public Parking Prohibited Sign." So don't park in front of the gate! Continue up the hill to find parking on your right along the shoulder. This is a flat dirt trail used by hikers, dog walkers, and mountain bikers as well as runners. Watch your step as rocks and roots tend to come up and grab your feet. You can extend your run by 1.2 miles by taking the Orene Wetherall Trail, which you pick up at 3/4 mile east on the Canal Trail from the Gracie Rd TH. Click on the links to read about interesting things you may see along the trail(s).
Approx 5 miles RT
Trailhead is off of Cement Hill Rd in Nevada County; google map to 115 Cement Hill Rd, Nevada City. The parking area is on your left. Starting at the TH, you walk/run past Hirschmann Pond on gently rolling hills on singletrack until you get to an uphill section to paved road. That's the end of the line. Turn around and come back 2.5 miles. Watch for mtn bikers.
5 miles RT and 4 miles RT, respectively
Flat and fast trails featuring old flumes used back in the gold mining days. These trails, especially in the first mile each side, can be crowded. Combine Independence Trail West and East for 9 miles RT.
0-50 miles RT
Harmony Ridge Market 39.286755, -120.945464
White Cloud 39.317830, -120.845609
Washington Overlook 39.317515, -120.816064
Skillman Campground 39.318237, -120.790322
Chalk Bluff 39.306209, -120.766572
One option is to park at Harmony Ridge Market on Highway 20, across from Five Mile House. The trailhead is well marked; there are a few other trailheads going east along Highway 20: Lone Grave, White Cloud Picnic Area, Washington Overlook, Skillman Campground, Upper Burlington Trailhead, Chalk Bluff Trailhead, and Lang Crossing. Be aware of mtn bikers and equestrians along this slightly rolling dirt trail that runs along Highways 20 east. If you ran the entire length of the trail, you can get in 25 miles one way. Most of the trail is forested, though there are a few spots that you can see the valley below. The trail will afford views on meadows, flumes, and rocky bluffs. The Pioneer Trail is an old wagon trail that was used for pioneers back in the 1800's on their way to find gold. On the eastern end, the trail connects to the Grouse Ridge area, which will add another 41 miles of trails for your enjoyment.
Rock Creek Nature Trail to Horse Trail, Nevada City
Scotts Flat Lake Trail, Nevada City
~10 miles RT (but you can make it shorter if you turn around at Casci Ranch Road at 3.7 miles for a 7.4 mile out-and-back)
Harmony Ridge Market 39.286755, -120.945464
Park at Harmony Ridge Market. To find the trailhead, cross the street to the Five Mile House parking lot and look for the trail on the east side of the lot. The trail parallels Highway 20 for a short section then the trailhead directs you to turn right. The downhill is constant... Down, down, down. Cross Casci Ranch Road to end up along the shores of Scotts Flat Lake. The dam is the end of the line. Turn around and head back (up, up, up!) the same way you came to your car. Watch out for mtn bikers.
Auburn Area Trails
West TH 38.942671, -120.982730
East TH 38.973719, -120.954249
Don't be fooled by the 8.2 mile distance indicated on the link above. Plan on 11 miles over a total climb of 2100 feet. The loop is rolling hills that afford a few beautiful vistas. There are two parking areas: 1st parking lot - "West" (aka Grizzly Bear House turnout, where there used to roam grizzly bears in the 1800s til we shot them all) and 2nd parking lot - "East" (aka Driver's Flat). Both parking areas have porta-potties, and both are State-owned, so either pay the $10 parking fee or bring your Poppy Pass. The "West" TH is 4.5 miles from the intersection of Lincoln Way (where Raley's is) and Foresthill Rd. The second "East" TH is 8 miles from Lincoln Way/Forest Hill Rd. Although you can hike/run/bike it either direction, most people travel counter clockwise. From the West TH, you will take a left after walking up a short hill. Along this side of Foresthill Rd, you'll run under oaks, pass through a star thistle meadow, and be able to look over a valley east toward the American River. It's primarily single track, but there's some fire road to traverse. After getting up a fairly steep rutted single track, you'll meet up with Foresthill Rd and have to cross it at about Mile 5.5. Walk along Foresthill Rd for a short way, and on the other side is the parking area and the East TH. Take a potty break here if you need it because this will be the last porta potty you see until you reach your car (and pulling aside to pee in the wild is iffey because of the poison oak and heavy traffic). The last mile of this loop is tricky; once you are spit out onto Foresthill Rd again, you'll have to cross it and backtrack along the road to get on the trail again. Keep an eye open for your chance to jump up on the trail. It's less than a mile from this point back to your car. If possible, take someone who knows the Loop with you the first time because there are a few turns you might miss if you don't know the trail well. And this Loop is a mtn bikers paradise, so keep listening for bikers coming up on you from behind.
Loop or Out-and-Back
Hidden Falls is one of my favorites. To get there, google map 7587 Mears Place in Auburn CA. There are many trails that can keep you seeing new things for many runs. The first 0.75 miles is downhill (which means uphill on the last leg of your run!). The spring brings oakworm larvae that hang from the trees, so wear a hat. And the summer brings hot temperatures so carry plenty of water. In winter, the Park may close due to muddy conditions, so check their Facebook page for up-to-date information. Porta-potties are scattered throughout the park. Deer, mountain lion, coyote, and even boar can be seen in the park, so keep an eye out. The trails are plentiful, and please stay on them! Too many people blaze their own trails and it can become an erosion problem for the environment. There are other things to be aware of, such as limited parking. Make sure you check out their website before you go. Note: Hidden Falls now uses a reservation system for their busiest times, and on weekends and some Fridays a pre-purchased daily permit is required.
Meadow Vista Canal Trail
0 to 12+ miles RT
Park at the canal access area on the east side of Placer Hills Road across from Sugar Pine Rd (Winchester Estates). Cross over the canal using the metal bridge, and start on the singletrack trail that runs along the canal eastward, crossing local streets. The first street crossing will be Meadow Gate Road at a wee bit over 2 miles in. Then Crother Road at about 4.5 miles. The trail is well-used for the first 5 miles or so, then it can become overgrown and a little secluded. Crother Road is a great place to turn around to make it 9 miles RT. If you are running close to sunset, bring a flashlight or headlamp as it gets dark on this trail even before sunset.
2966 State Highway 49 in Cool CA. Park behind the fire station. There's a parking fee ($10 at the time of writing this) or use a Poppy Pass. Mtn bikers galore here. And equestrians. And runners. Best times of year are Spring and Fall. There's not much shade in the summer and the trail gets hot. Take a trail map because it's easy to lose the main trail. This is a great place to use your map skills and branch off Olmstead (used to be known as Knickerbocker Trail til it renamed for Mr Olmstead) Trail to make a 10+ mile run.
Out-and-Back or Loop
The parking lot is on Highway 49 on the south side of where the North and Middle Fork of the American River meet (Confluence Area); porta-potty at the TH & bring cash for parking ($10 at the time of writing this) or a Poppy Pass. If you follow the "gently" rolling trail to the end, it's a 5.5 mile run one way (11 miles RT) which follows the American River. However, you can create a loop by running to the Western States Trail (WST) by way of one of the three uphill side trails: WST at Murderer's Bar (2-mile mark), Brown's Bar Trail (3.3-mile mark), or Maine Bar Trail (5.5-mile mark). Starting at the Quarry Trailhead, at the 2-mile mark, look for a trail on your right. Follow the trail (which is WST) up to the WST (labeled "Wendell T Robie Trail" on the markers) and turn left. You can follow upper WST all the way to Maine Bar where you'll choose between going left (back down to the Quarry Trail) or right (to "3rd Gate" in Cool). Another trail you can take from the Quarry Trail to WST is Brown's Bar Trail. If you time it right, be prepared for stream crossings!
Quarry TH > Brown's Bar Trail > Upper WST > Maine Bar Trail > Quarry Trail > Quarry TH/parking lot = ~15 miles
Maine Bar Trail is steep, rutted, slick-rocked, and poison oakey. Fun. (Not really.) There are porta-potties along the first 1.3 miles of Quarry Trail, and after that you are on your own. At the end of Quarry Trail at the 5.5 mile mark, there is no need to turn around. You can keep adventuring out to various places along the American Canyon Trail (see image on right). Note that mountain bikers are allowed on Quarry Trail but not on the side trails, upper WST, or American Canyon Trail.
To park, take Placer Hills Road to Sugar Pine Road, which is the entrance to Winchester Estates. There's a large area at the corner of Placer Hills Rd and Sugar Pine Rd under some trees. Park there or drive up about 500 ft and look to the left where a pullout is located, across from the entrance to 1100 Sugar Pine Rd. Once parked, to get to the trailhead follow Sugar Pine Road west toward the entrance of Winchester Estates. Where Winchester Club Dr continues and Sugar Pine Rd turns right, look for the well-marked trailhead on your left. (If you find the paved path, turn around because you just missed the trail!) The dirt trail is used by equestrians and mnt bikers as well as runners and walkers. Loop the trail in either direction, though as a first-timer you'd be best running it clockwise. There are mile markers along the route. Be careful of poison oak and carry plenty of water as the trail can get hot and dusty, and you'll be out in the sun for a lot of it. Most of the trail is rolling hills but some sections are steep switchbacks (30-ish in one section) on the west side of the loop for a total of 1200 ft elevation gain over 6.5 miles. There's also a paved path looping around most of Winchester Estates along Winchester Club Drive.
If you still haven't satisfied the inner runner in you, check out other websites which may provide other exercising opportunities.