Hiking on the Stevens Trail
Just east of the town of Colfax, at an elevation of 2,500 feet, you’ll find a delightful short hike that’s perfect for the occasional fair days that come our way this time of year.
At the end of an easy 1.5-mile jaunt, you’ll be rewarded with views of lovely Stevens Creek Falls – more a series of tumbling cascades, really – as well as gorgeous views across the deep canyon of the North Fork of the American River.
Give it a try the next time the sun comes out and you’ll find yourself returning again and again to experience its charms all year long.
Stevens Creek Falls lies about one-third of the way down the popular Stevens Trail, which begins at the top of the river canyon’s western slope and winds 4.5 miles one-way down to the bottom.
To get to the trailhead from Grass Valley, take Highway 174 some 13 miles to Colfax. Where 174 ends in a stop sign at Auburn Avenue, turn left, then take another left at the next stop sign, which will take you over the I-80 overpass.
At the next stop sign, across from the Chevron station, turn left again. Go straight through the next intersection onto North Canyon Way, which runs parallel to I-80 East (look for the yellow road sign reading “Not a Through Road”). Drive seven-tenths of a mile and park in the well-marked lot on the left.
I took the hike to Stevens Creek Falls for the first time during our recent unseasonable warm spell.
Grass Valley temperatures were in the 60s when I hit the trail, but I packed a sweater for the hike anyway, expecting conditions to be cool on the shadier portions of the trail – turns out I didn’t need it.
The trail enjoys southern and western exposures for most of its length, which keeps conditions moderate until early afternoon even on less balmy days.
After leaving the trailhead, the trail heads north down a gentle forested slope, crossing several small, clear creeks and winding along through oak and madrone woodlands.
This section of trail runs close along I-80, so quite a bit of freeway noise filters down from the freeway and mingles with the streams’ friendlier music. It’s soon left behind for the peace and quiet of the woods, however.
After half a mile or so, the trail makes a sharp turn to the east at a clearly-marked junction and follows a wide dirt road uphill through brushy, open country.
After about a quarter of a mile you’ll come to an unmarked three-way intersection; go straight, then take an immediate left at the sign.
The trail becomes intimate and narrow again here and leads downhill through black oaks, laurels, madrones, and Ponderosa pines. Intermittent rock outcroppings provide visual interest, and the tall madrones cast long shadows along the trail.
You’ll soon come to a point where the trail splits into two sections, one for hikers, the other for cyclists.
As you take the left-hand track, pause to listen for the sound of the falls booming in the distance. It grows louder from this point on, increasing the sense of anticipation with every step.
As you approach the falls, you’ll traverse a series of picturesque stone stairs. Here you’ll be treated to a breathtaking view of the opposite slope of the American River canyon and ridge after ridge of mountains beyond.
This is wild, mysterious country that beckons to the adventurer in us to push on and explore further.
If you have the time, the inclination, and the stamina, you may want to do just that, continuing on to the trail’s end 3 miles below. Be prepared for a stiff return hike, however. The trail drops more steeply from here on, and the canyon darkens early at this time of year.
A few yards past the stone steps, Stevens Creek crosses the trail and falls free to the rocks below. Take some time to sit and enjoy the sight and sounds of the falling water.
To view the series of cascades that falls above the trail, you’ll need to clamber uphill a bit and peek up between the rocks. You’ll be well rewarded for your efforts. (Be sure to watch your footing when crossing the creek, as the water is swift and the rocks slippery.)
Hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are allowed on the Stevens Trail. There are no amenities on the trail or at the trailhead, so be sure to bring plenty of water, especially in the summer.
For more information, including the trail’s Gold Rush history, go to the Web site http://www.ca.blm.gov/folsom/stevenstrail.html or call the Bureau of Land Management, Folsom office at (916) 985-4474.
Sylvia Jordan is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grass Valley. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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