Mary West: Exploring Magnolia Ranch Trailhead
Highway 49 trailheads provide several South Fork American River access points in El Dorado County. Each has its own character and makes for a nice hike in all seasons.
Magnolia Ranch Trailhead between the towns of Pilot Hill and Coloma is one option. This popular equestrian trail network has caught on with mountain bikers and hikers alike. Offering primarily two trails from the parking lot, an upper trail, Gerle Loop, at an easy 2.5 miles and the South Fork American River Trail just slightly longer. Gerle Loop accesses Hastings Creek and Cronan Ranch if you want to extend these hikes. Be prepared for direct sun in the beginning, but oak trees provide shade as you make your way. Wildflowers in the spring are an added bonus.
Gerle Loop is a popular trail running path that runs along mid-slope and is a bit less trafficked. The more popular of the two trails, the South Fork American River Trail, offers several opportunities to access the river, some with sand beaches.
South Fork American River Trail at 2.6 miles can also be taken as a loop from Magnolia Trailhead. If you head south on the trail from the parking lot, it takes you directly to the Greenwood Creek put-in Beach. From the beach you can follow the trail along the river.
The trail takes you back up hill and to a wide-open trail uphill that meets back up to Gerle Loop and returns you to the parking lot.
Watching kayakers and rafters drift by, the sun setting behind the trees on the hill across the river, listening to the water lap at the shore, skipping rocks, this is a great place to hang out anytime of year.
Magnolia Ranch Trailhead is about five miles north of Coloma on Highway 49 or 14 miles south of Auburn.
Mary West is author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guide I, II and III (Available on Amazon). The books are a collection of the Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond. West was the recipient of the 2017 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Column and the 2020 Craft Award for her second book in the series-Day Hiker Gold Country Trail Guide by the Outdoor Writers of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram.
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