Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

Visit for more information about Desolation Wilderness. Visit or call 1- 877-444-6777 to make park reservations. Visit Campfire Permits to get a permit online. More about Leave No Trace principles.

April 08, 2010

Dutch Creek and Johntown Falls in Coloma, CA. updated 10-2012

Dutch Creek Falls and Johntown Falls feature cascades, historical features related to the Gold Rush era,

and hiking is on unmaintained trails (maps and GPS included below) with abundant spring wildflowers.  Mt. Murphy will be draped in golden poppies and the waterfalls are gorgeous with snow melt runoff.
This year I went in May 2012, then again in September and must warn of more hazardous trail conditions than ever due to erosion, and even more plentiful poison oak that was impossible to avoid contact with. Ticks are another hazard.
Distance: Plan to hike 2-5 miles.
Difficulty: Moderate to advanced skills.
Directions are written at the end of the article. Wikiloc link included.
Elevation min: 748 feet, max: 1,194 feet
Accum. height uphill:
420 feet, downhill: 456 feet

Lower Dutch Creek Falls 2010. 

 The above photos are Johntown Falls. 

This is the entry gate you'll look for.

You are greeted by the Coloma rolling hills, and at this time of year the poppies are blooming. Look for a typical locked green forestry gate on your left (complete directions below) with the ordinary signs like snake warnings, and a State Park Boundary sign.  Climb over or through the gates.  The trail is easy to see and follow at first. It winds through the grasses (sometimes quite tall) and then into woods (wearing long pants and even gaiters are good). Watch out for ticks and poison oak too.
On the right, the trail is paralleled by the creek but it's down below. You'll see the historic rock wall remnants that were built to guide the water.

Winding your way into the woods is beautiful and cool. The trail is not maintained, so any debris will remain and the trail changes over time to avoid the obstacles like fallen trees.

If you bushwhack a little, you can get down to the water and find some serene and picturesque views upstream. Beware, the rocks are very polished by the water, and slippery. One of our hikers took quite a slip and fall onto the rocks even though he was wearing good quality hiking boots! If you have trekking poles, they can come in handy.  We also saw plenty of wildflowers, mostly fairy lanterns and poppies up on the hillside, but also some lupines, vetch, and some butterflies.

There were salamanders galore this May 2012!  The ripple is from the little guy coming up for air.

To go to Lower Dutch Creek Falls you will see a trail heading down to the right that has a small boulder on either side of it. The trail winds a little to the left and after that the surface is hard and slippery with nothing to dig your boots into for traction.  It is a steep, butt-slide trail down to the falls and pool at the base.  There is shade and a great boulder overlooking the falls you can sun on, and an excellent wading pool at the base of the double falls.

Lower Dutch Creek Falls May, 2012

Once past the lower falls turn off, the trail here, and in a couple of places, goes almost straight up.  I didn't worry about going in but wondered about footing on the way out!

 The local vultures collected when they noticed we made it to the upper falls....hinting that our chances of getting out safely may be questionable!  (Chuckle, really!)

This May, 2012 photo doesn't do the trail damage justice, but you can see the erosion pattern and how narrow the trail is currently.  It is also less flat and more angled downhill.

Besides Lower Dutch Creek Falls, there are numerous small cascades along the way.

If you do continue on upstream along the narrow, steep at times, rough trail, you get to the falls below, Dutch Creek Falls and Johntown Creek Falls merging into Dutch Creek. We accomplished this pleasure in May 2010, 2011, and 2012.  We missed out in February 2010, having lost the trail! In April of 2011, we bushwhacked to a high point overlooking both falls!  The water flow was generous and the view was wonderful!

April 2011 Johntown Falls

April 2011 Dutch Creek Falls taken from the boulder 
overlooking both falls and the canyon.
Dutch Creek Falls May 2012

I love the rock structure to the right of the falls. 
We refer to her endearingly as the "Ancient Lady".

  • From Highway 80, take the exit for Elm Street at Auburn, CA.
  • Make a left at the stoplight.
  • At the next signal make a left.
  • The street veers to the right or has an option to go straight ahead. Veer right to go on Highway 49.
  • Go straight ahead at the next signal at Lincoln Road.  Now the road winds.
  • Take Highway 49 towards Coloma. 
  • An option is to park in the state parking and pay at the kiosk ($10?) 
  • You can park along the roadway across the bridge on the left, but you have to go to the museum and pay there. (There are pit toilets in the parking area.) 
  • Walk to Bayne road by crossing the single lane bridge across the river from Highway 49 and turn right. 
Walk up the road  then follow the trail as described above, starting at the green gate on your left.

Allow for a 2-4 mile hike and try to go early in the year for the best water flow over the falls. The later in the year it gets, the more dry the fields get and you encounter stickers galore, poison oak year around, and a less satisfying view of waterfalls. You can decide how much bushwhacking you are up to and can keep it mild-moderate or push it into a more technical-difficult hike.
Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, snacks, hiking poles if possible and shoes with deep tread.

Click on photo to enlarge.

April 04, 2010

Quarry Trail, Browns Bar, WST

My hiking companion and I had plans for a hike, our first in two weeks, but we were undecided about our trail for the day. Having gotten a late start, we headed up to the familiar foothills Confluence area. To avoid paying the $10 parking fee at the Quarry Trailhead, we parked along Highway 49 near the bridge and with our backpacks full (for conditioning value) we headed out on the Quarry Trail. The website below has historical information, a trail map (that does not show many of the trail offshoots), and exact driving directions.

We had a hard time feeling motivated, between our lack of recent hiking, my friend's new backpack break-in period, and the weather looking potentially formidable. The first part of the hike is a very wide trail that leads parallel to the river on your left, and along the way are several tables and a couple of bathrooms. We passed those areas and stopped by the mine that is blocked with a very heavy locked iron gate, but you can see quite a ways into it.


Using your flash you can get an interesting photo. Unfortunately, the outer cement bridge remains are covered in vandalism spray paint, taking away from the historical feel of the old mining site.
Hiking on, we crossed two creeks and came to Brown's Bar Trail at the 3.5 miles point. This trail is only .8 miles long but provides difficult footing at times, and heads upward to connect to the Western States Trail. The elevation range is recorded as 1320'-680'. It was steep, rocky, deeply rutted from weather drainage, and muddy from recent weather. It ran alongside a creek (or sometimes the trail WAS a creek) and the area was green, shady and lush. Our mission was to follow the WST back to the PG&E trail that would lead us back down to the Quarry Trail and then back to the car.

Finally we peaked at the WST junction. It has been a goal of mine to see this section of the WST, and it was very pretty this time of year. The problem was that it is not very clearly marked as to which of the several intersecting trails we should take to get back to the Quarry Trail instead of going to Cool.We used our senses of direction and chose the path to our right which took us through neighborhoods, crossing the unmarked street. The trail did not go straight across though, so there was a mini-search for the connections. The only markers were metal poles with horseshoes welded to the tops and two horseshoes painted on the pavement. There were large, slippery muddy trail sections and numerous creeks to cross.
Poison Oak was plentiful and unavoidable!!!

We were getting tired, and the uncertainty along with our late start made it more stressful. In the worst case scenario we had everything we needed. We finally broke out to a view of the burned hills across the canyon that runs along the river, so we were sure we were still on the right track. The trail headed downhill with a more gentle slope back towards the canyon, which we gladly followed. It was pretty amusing to come across a family of four who asked us for directions and we were glad to be able to confirm they were going the right way back to their neighborhood. The "mom" looked every bit as stressed as we had been just minutes ago! They were all obviously relieved, just as we had been!

My hiking companion estimated we had hiked about 10 miles, but we had forgotten the GPS in the truck.
I would do the hike again, but enjoy it more with drier ground. My curiosity is roused about the trails that came off of WST, and I would like a map that shows those options. It would also be nicer to have the GPS along to provide distances and elevation changes of the whole hike. It took us about 5 hours without a lunch stop.
And of course, I always will welcome input from any of you who know more!

"Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush."
Doug Larson