The Truckee-based hiking club that I belong to is always ready to start hiking by early May. Often the biggest challenge so early in the spring is finding routes that are clear of snow. This year the first hike of the season was in the Auburn area, within the Auburn State Recreation Area. The projected hike distance from the outskirts of Auburn to the charming unincorporated community of Cool and back was 8-10 miles, with an easy-to-moderate climb. For a first hike of the season, when everyone’s legs were still getting re-acclimated to trail hiking, 1800 feet of climbing seemed in retrospect to earn at least a “moderate” rating. The route was a double-teardrop or balloon-with-two strings format, with a portion of the return trip taking a different trail from the corresponding outbound trip.
There are numerous trails in the area, providing almost unlimited alternative possibilities for enjoyment of the Recreation Area. Not all of the junctions are signed, though, so it was helpful that the hike leader was familiar with the area and the intended route.
The hike started at the Russell Road trailhead for the Stagecoach Trail, which goes down the side of the canyon carved by the American River to the confluence of the North and Middle Forks. The Stagecoach Trail descends steadily, about 700 ft in just over 2 miles. Approaching the river at the bottom of the canyon, the Foresthill Bridge soars high above the water.
This bridge is the tallest in California and is in the top 5 tallest in the United States. It was designed to span the reservoir that would have been created if the Auburn Dam had been completed. (Dam construction stopped in 1976.) The current bridge construction work is a seismic retrofit project. The bridge crosses the North Fork just upstream of the confluence, which is quite pretty in its own right.
As is typical in the American River area, if you want to go from one place to another, “what goes down must go up” and vice versa. After walking across the much lower bridge on CA Hwy 49, we started up a different trail that went up the other side of the canyon and over a hill toward Cool. There are a number of trail options, and our outbound path went up the relatively steep Training Hill Trail. I had wondered if this was a favorite training location for participants in the Western States Endurance Run, but it was impressive to encounter a number of folks running up and/or down the hill on the Thursday afternoon of this hike. The elevation profile shows the elevation gains and losses and illustrates very clearly that the training hill, roughly between miles 3 and 4, is much steeper than the other parts of the hike.
The actual Training Hill Trail is about 0.9 mile and rises 800 feet, for an average (and pretty steady) 17% grade. Near the top there was an impressive view across the rows of Sierra foothills.
Just at the top of Training Hill there was a small pile of rocks, where a lizard appeared to be sunning itself and surveying its surroundings.
The remainder of the hike into Cool is relatively flat, with gentle rolling hills through open areas with scattered trees. It was especially pretty with the spring green resulting from the just-completed rainy season.
A short distance after cresting Training Hill, our route was a portion of the Olmstead Loop Trail. At a trail junction not far from Cool it was amusing to see a sign reminding us that Olmstead Loop really is a loop.
I think that some of the trails in the area must have multiple designations. Approximately the last 1.3 miles leading to Cool was along the Olmstead Loop. Near the junction with the sign pictured above, we saw examples of the rocks that give Pointed Rocks Trail its name.
So I think we must have simultaneously been on Olmstead Loop Trail and Pointed Rocks Trail, and Training Hill Trail seems to be designated as Pointed Rocks Trail on some maps. Perhaps experienced local hikers can keep these different designations straight, but the rest of us were glad to have someone with local knowledge guiding us. The trail we took for the return trip, avoiding going down the Training Hill Trail, was partly a trail for which I did not see a name on a sign or map and was partly a short section of the Western States Trail, which is the main route for the Western States Endurance Run. As seen on the elevation profile, the grade was considerably more moderate for the descent back down to the confluence. We then went back up Stagecoach Trail to the trailhead.
Although we didn’t encounter many spring wildflowers, it was a great day for a hike and an excellent way to begin the hiking season. And although we had stopped for several breaks during the hike, everyone was happy to make one last stop afterward for a welcome treat at the Scoops ice cream shop at the Foresthill Rd exit for I-80.