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 30, 2012

American Canyon Trail and Waterfalls

One of several cascades we enjoyed finding, Tarzan vines and all!

Hike Length: 4.3 miles out and back, but there are a variety of options so you can choose up to 18.9 miles one way by hiking to Auburn, or other options that take you down to the river and connect with the Quarry Trail or WST. The trails are marked with mileage signs and trail names at forks.
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous depending on your choices.  Getting to some waterfalls is narrow and steep.
Elevation range of this hike: 891-1822 feet.

 As you can tell from the photo, we had the good luck of nice weather.  The trail has lots of shade and along with the creek, waterfalls and pools, it was a nearly perfect day!

The trail starts out wide and heads downhill, but soon enough it will narrow and occasionally the footing is less secure.    My hiking poles help me balance in the steep areas.  Good shoes help too.  At the first fork, go right, down toward the stream.

Wildflowers were blooming profusely in open sunny areas.

There are several creek crossings even for a short version of the hike but they are equipped with stones you can usually step across.

We sat at the top of this waterfall, in the shade, cooling off from our hike through dense, tall, rather pretty poison oak to get to this spot along the stream.  It involved a little boulder scramble and creek crossing too. We made it with dry feet and hardly any biting bugs!

For the adventurous, there is even a Tarzan vine hanging over the falls
and pool!  I am not saying try it out, but tempting, huh?

Downstream view of a pool from our snack/rest rock at the top of the falls.

Our next challenge was to get from our resting boulder up this stream to another waterfall and pool without wearing waders!  Some of the rocks are slippery, but we made it, more wet from sweat than the creek.

We arrived at this tranquil, inviting waterfall pool, and even more fun was the knowledge that we had a secluded wilderness experience right downhill from a neighborhood of hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians, but got the trails and pools to ourselves.

***The following photos are from Sept. 20, 2012.  Water was so low that I couldn't get a decent shot of American Falls, so settled for a few of the hike and the creek:

My first view of the canyon on this day's hike.

Beware of this evergrown area. 

 A rattler hissed and rattled but I froze.  I couldn't see it or tell where it was.  I finally shot straight up then forward and he missed me.  Stubborn snake didn't just slither into the vines, but hung out in the shade of the berry growth.
Looking for places to experiment with my new camera, I headed down the canyon farther and at this creek crossing found this fella.  You can see how little water was flowing.

Just another pretty bend in the creek with colorful foliage.

Driving directions:  Take Highway 193 east from Cool, California for 5.8 miles. Turn left on Sweetwater.  This is known as the third gate of the gated community.
If you see the sign for the town of Greenwood, turn around. On the day we went here the street sign was missing, so all I can suggest is drive slowly, watch your mileage, and make sure you don't pass the sign for Greenwood.
When you have turned, you will see the small free parking (in spring of 2012) at the trailhead on your right before the gated entry into Auburn Lake Trails Community.

ASRA ~ Auburn State Recreation District
Hikes By Locations
Peachy Hiker's Table of Contents

Updated 7-2013
Edited May 2014

April 26, 2012

Fairy Falls

This moderately easy 5 mile hike is rewarded with beautiful Fairy Falls, with natural pools perfect for swimming and rocks to sun on nearby. 

Miles: 5
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate only due to length and hills, and the area for viewing the large falls.
Elevation changes: 200 feet
Use for equestrians, bicyclists, and leashed dogs.  Nearby camping available.

     The day I chose was hot and I hadn't thought of bringing a swim suit; I regretted it!  If you are going with a group and opt for ice chests, get ones with wheels!  I saw two young men struggling with carrying a full sized ice chest each.  They had to stop frequently to put them down, rest and eventually emptied out some ice to lighten their loads. 

     I walked around a gate to cross this old concrete bridge and took the trail to the right, known as Old Spenceville Road Trail.  I didn't see any signs and had to guess, so keep that turn in mind.  The trail wound lazily through grassy hills lined with pastures occupied by cattle grazing and mooing under a variety of oak trees!

     In April the postcard perfect grasses were dotted with various wildflowers including Brodiaea, Popcorn Flowers, Tufted Poppies, Blue Dicks, Grass Nut, Fairy Lanterns, and glossy Cinqefoils.

The creek wound away from the trail and I hiked following a wide trail/road.  In the heat of the day, sweating profusely, I noticed there wasn't much shade and virtually nowhere to sit for rest but he ground.  The trail turned to the right, crossed a small creek with a gate to pass through, then remains in full sun heading uphill. 

     Near the top was a cattle crossing that looked out of place in an open field, but the trail veered slightly to the left to a fork in the trail at the bottom.  I chose the one signed "Upper Fairy Falls", pictured above.  It is narrower and generally uphill.  Birds called and lizards rustled through the grasses as I approached. I read there are turkeys and pheasants, but none crossed my path.

     Watch for poison oak sprouting along the way.  It was so pretty, rich green with glossy leaves, but the trail to the waterfalls was well-maintained so just be aware of it if you find a place to sit, or go off trail!

     The narrow Upper Fairy Falls Trail joined a wide trail again and made a slight left.  By now I could hear the  falls, so my anticipation for cooling off grew with every step.  The cliffs were guarded by chain link fence so visitors could more safely view and photograph the falls.  In that area the trail is steeper with less stable footing.
     The falls are also know as Dry Creek Falls, Beale Falls, and Shingle Falls.

     I hiked upstream to find a shady place to rest, soak, and snack.  The trail was not maintained, finally left the stream, and returned to the hills through a barbed wire fence.  I found a nice small pool to sit by but for anyone allergic to poison oak, this area was thick with it so if you go earlier, the hike would be more pleasant and a closer, less hazardous spot would be easier to find.  For those sensitive to little black flying devils, take some bug spray and enjoy yourselves more.  Sunscreen too!

     Above, the photograph is of the top of the large falls, a popular swimming hole for groups who lounged in the afternoon shade of the hill.  There is a smaller waterfall below with a couple of pools great for swimming, and families grouped there.
     I returned using the lower wide trail, came back to the fork and retraced my way back to the car which I predictably found covered in a blanket of dirt.  I hiked 5.94 miles because if my upstream trek.

Driving Directions:
  • From Highway 80, go north on Highway 65 into the town of Lincoln, California, and make a right at the stoplight at Highway 193.  
  • Turn left at the next stoplight onto East Street.  
  • After several blocks, make a right where the street ends at a school.  
  • At the next stop, make a left onto McCourtney Road.  
  • Follow it until you come to Camp Far West Reservoir and cross the one lane trestle bridge.  Just after the bridge turn right onto Camp Far West Road.   
  • Soon it becomes a dirt road and goes north away from the lake.  
  • In about 4 miles you come to a T-junction at Spenceville Road and turn right.  
  • Drive about 2 miles to parking and the trailhead at the end of this road. 

* You can find out more about this area and hike in the book Northern California Waterfalls by Ann Marie Brown, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws, and Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California printed by the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Peachy Hiker's Table of Contents