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Hike Along Stevens Trail
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Summary and Ratings:

This is a great year round hike from a trailhead near I-80 in Colfax, California, down to the North Fork of the American River.
Overall Rating:
four stars
Out and back
four stars
Two stars
five stars
About 8 miles round trip
Time of Year:
All year, spring best
Overnight Possibilities:
Few spots
Detailed Description:
This out-and-back trail is a very pleasant hike from Colfax, California, down to the North Fork of the American River. The trail-head is but a stone's throw from Interstate 80, making it easily accessible. You can find plenty of parking at the end of Canyon Way, which parallels the freeway from the eastern Colfax interchange, the North Canyon Way exit 135.
Butterfly Companion
railroad embankment
Stevens Trail
North Fork American River
You can click on the little camera icons above for a few pictures taken along Stevens Trail.
The trail starts out among the thick growth in the area along the south eastern side of the freeway. At this point, it is a wide path cut through the forest, and is very popular with horseback riders and mountain bikers, as well as hikers. At about the three-quarter mile point, the trail ends at a rough forest road. There, you need to turn right and climb-up for a few hundred feet in elevation to a little saddle. The trail turns left at this point, away from the forest road and, blessfully, from I-80 and its incessant noise of constant traffic.
From the saddle, you start the gentle descent that ultimately ends at the bottom of the canyon, on the edge of the river, some three miles later. Almost immediately, you'll encounter a fork in the trail. There are two options, labelled for hikers on the left and for bikers and horses on the right. The right option is, consequently, much wider and presumably missing a few tight spots that you'll encounter along the left option. The two trails meet again about a half-mile later, at which point the trail becomes but a narrow path. From this point on, bikers and horses are definitely not recommended. During our hike, we took the left option, the one for hikers. A few hundred yards beyond the trail split, you get the first glimpse of the North Fork of the American River looking down, and the Union Pacific (original Southern Pacific) track embankment looking up. The railroad above looks spectacular, and seems almost straight up from the trail. As we stood there in awe, a train rolled by; we couldn't help but hope that the workers who originally build that structure knew what they were doing...
Moving on, the trail skirts a massive rock formation along its left side, which was a surprise to us at this low elevation. Very soon after, our trail joined-up with the biker and horse trail that split earlier. There are mentions of some mining activity ruins along the biker and horse trail option, which we hope to explore on our next trek along Stevens Trail. There are other remnants from the past along the trail, including some bridge elements down at the river, from the days when Stevens Trail served as the main route from Colfax to a nearby settlement called Iowa Hill.
The most beautiful part of the trek begins from this point on (second photo from left in the map above). The trail is built into the steep canyon slope and affords great views of the river below as it descents to the bottom. Flowers are in abundance here during the blooming season. The trail is narrow and tends to get hot in the summer as you descend; the canyon is narrow and deep. Finally, after about two and a half miles, you arrive at the bottom by the river, at Secret Ravine. There are plenty of spots here for a picnic along the river, and to rest before the long hike back. There is also a not very private camping spot for those wishing to stay overnight, but it's one of few obvious places to pitch a tent along this trail. We saw another spot about an eighth of a mile from the end of the trail, about half-way in elevation between the river and the trail.
The return hike back to the trail-head is all up, but mostly gradual so it's not too stenuous. The biggest issue may be heat. On the day of our hike the temperature was in the high 80's and low 90's with narry a cloud in the sky, making the return hike up-hill seem much tougher than it actually was.
Other Points to Consider:
Stevens Trail is very popular, so you should expect to have plenty of company during weekends. We hiked during a weekday, and met only a few fellow hikers along the way.
If you hike this trail in the late spring, summer, or early fall, on a hot day, bring plenty of water - you'll need it. As an alternative, some form of water purification can be used to drink water from one of several streams along the way, or from the river itself.
There is poison oak along the trail, so be mindful of it. It's not everywhere, and we managed to avoid contact.
The canyon wall is steep and the narrow trail is cut into that wall for the last two and a half miles or so to the river. The trail isn't technical of course, but you should keep in mind that a fall off the edge of the trail would be very dangerous.
Useful Map GPS Files:
We have two map files with GPS gathered data for Stevens Trail that we can share with you. First, is the file created with DeLorme Topo USA and the DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 receiver. You can dowload the file from here.
Stevens Trail with DeLorme Topo USA 7.0
Once you open the file in Topo USA, you can add waypoints to the track and upload either the waypoints, the track, or both to your PN-20 receiver for navigation along the trail.
The second file was created with National Geographic TOPO! California and the Magellan Triton 500 GPS receiver. You can download the file from here.
Stevens Trail with National Geographic TOPO!
As with the Topo USA 7.0 file above, once you have this file opened in TOPO! California, you can add waypoints to the track and upload either the waypoints, the track, or both to your Magellan Triton series receiver. You can also upload any map area defined around the trail to your Triton. Any device in the Triton series will work, not just the 500. Also, you can open the file in the National Geographic Weekend Explorer 3D Sacramento, Reno, Lake Tahoe Areas software.
If you have a GPS receiver other than the Magellan Triton, you can upload either the waypoints, the track, or both to your device, but not the maps. You can find the most up-to-date list of compatible GPS receivers on the National Geographic website.
You may have noticed that the track made with either the DeLorme PN-20 or the Triton 500 does not appear to represent a smooth trail descending along a canyon wall, in either the lateral plane or in the profile. This is due to the fact that we have not kept the receivers in optimal positions for satellite reception during the entire hike. Tree coverage along the first third of the hike, and in a few other areas, also may have affected signal reception. Having said that, we think that the GPS data presented in these files is a good, general representation of Stevens Trail.
A word about any issues that you encounter when using these files. We try to create files that are fully compatible with Topo USA and later versions of the DeLorme software, and with National Geographic TOPO! 4.x or later products. However, you may encounter a problem with these files and your particular installation of the software. We expect any such issues to be rare, but nevertheless possible. Please understand that we cannot offer technical help in resolving these; your best bet would be to contact the vendors directly.
We're providing this description as additional information for your hike. Please do not consider it to be an exhaustive description of the trek along Stevens Trail. We urge you to get a trail description and good paper maps of the area before you set-out. You take full responsibility for your adventure.
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