Tuesday, May 26, 2009

American River Parkway

My family and I spent the weekend cycling along and around the American River Parkway aka Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail in Sacramento County, California.

The American River Parkway is a marvelous paved multipurpose trail that follows the lower American River from Folsom Lake 32 miles down to its confluence with the Sacramento River. Mile markers every half mile let you know how far along the trail you are, with mile 0 at Discovery Park just north of downtown Sacramento.

Ideas and tips

We brought our bikes to Sacramento on Amtrak Capitol Corridor, which has very convenient bike storage. For the Memorial Day weekend, the bike areas were all full but we were able to get our four bikes on board.

In the Sacramento Amtrak parking lot there's a sign pointing cyclists to the American River Parkway. It directs you up and over a bridge with narrow lanes you're sharing with lots of traffic over the railroad tracks and, if you're not paying attention, you might end up in West Sacramento on the wrong side of the Sacramento River. A better way to the Path: Ride west across the Amtrak parking lot so you're going underneath all of the freeway interchanges. You're headed to 2nd Street at I Street and Old Sacramento. Google Maps for this location just shows a mess of freeway interchanges, but it's all paved underneath and bike accessible. Go South on 2nd (low traffic and bike friendly), right on J into Old Sacramento, visit the rail museum and history museum, then walk your bike across the tracks to the bike path along the Sacramento River. Turn right (north) to get to the American River Path.

Old Sacramento and downtown Sacramento are bicycle friendly, so if you're doing a car-free trip, get your room there if you can. I'm a cheapskate and got a room way out by the Cal Expo / Arden Fair area, which is a pain in the neck to navigate by bike. I paid a local homeless guy to be our guide -- Bobby showed us all the back alleys and parking lot cut throughs, which helped a lot.

The American River Path follows both shores of the American River from the Sacramento River east to 16th Street. The southern path, though, stops abruptly at 16th, and bikes are not allowed on the 16th Street bridge crossing the river. Some route finding is necessary to pick up the trail by cutting across dead-end residential streets to get the SNRR bike bridge to cross to the north side of the river and to pick up the trail again. If you intend to go east of 16th Street, it might be easier for you to cross to the north shore of the American River at Discovery Park, crossing on the Jibboon Street bridge where bicycles are permitted.

At mile 20 is the popular American River Raft Rentals concession on Sunrise Boulevard. You can lock up your bikes and gear, rent a raft for about $50, float down the river and take a shuttle back up to Sunrise Blvd. They quit renting rafts after 1:30 PM, and reservations are recommended for holiday weekends.

The posted speed limit is 15 mph on the path, but that's a lie. Many cyclists also think of "On Your Left" as completely optional. Ride single file, check back before passing, and move completely off of the path when you stop.

Besides the occasional water fountain with metallic tasting water and a portable john, there are no services, concessions or vending machines on the path, even at the numerous parks and boat launches that line the parkway. Bring your food and drink. Sacramento gets very hot in the summertime, so bring plenty of water. Be sure to apply sunscreen, also -- you'll need it in Sacramento.

Bring a camera. You'll see egrets, coyotes, snakes, lizards, turkeys and other critters along and on the trail.

Sacramento Transit runs a Light Rail route that runs all the way from Sacramento Amtrak to near the American River Trail terminus at Folsom Lake. You could take Light Rail to Folsom Lake and then ride your bike down stream back to Sacramento if you want for only $2. Paul Dorn calls this the best deal in transit.

Get a trail map online from the American River Parkway Foundation for only $5.50. This map lets you know where you are in relation with civilization. I have the copy Paul Dorn gave to me, and I'll pay it forward and pass it along to the first person who asks for it -- leave a comment here if you think you'll visit Sacramento in the near future.


  1. That's just unbelievable -- I was just talking to my wife about doing this same trip (we're in the Bay Area on the Capitol Corridor line) yesterday.

    I'd love to have the map, and I'll pass it along when our trip is done.

    Thanks for the tip on getting from the Sacramento Amtrak to the parkway...I was trying to figure that out!

  2. The map is yours, Greg. Shoot me a note with your mailing address.

  3. Fritz: Great post, glad you enjoyed the parkway. Sorry you took the ugly detour, yikes. So, where's the Flickr photos? Best, Paul

  4. I finally got the photos uploaded here.

  5. maybe you were sharing a train with Jen Rizzo, who got off in Suisun and biked the Wooden Valley and checked out wineries. A much nicer trip if you ask me :)

  6. Glad you're all enjoying the bike trail. I live in Sac and use it regularly. Here's a link to a free map of the trail and a printable 11"x17" pdf.
    http://www.saccycle.com/bikewaymaps/map6.htm The other maps at that site aren't as good. Enjoy, Mike