Outdoor Areas to Explore in the Greater Sacramento Region
There’s no need to travel to far-flung outdoor destinations. If you live in the greater Sacramento area, there is plenty to explore right in your own backyard! Sacramento is in a primo location for nature lovers, with rivers, mountains, waterfalls, wetlands, meadows and forests just a short car ride away. In fact, the greater Sacramento area has acres upon acres of natural space ripe for discovery.
No matter what outdoor activity you’re into, whether hiking or birdwatching or climbing (or simply taking a casual stroll), there are plenty of spots where you can get away from it all in the greater Sacramento area. Following are some of our favorites.
Cosumnes River Preserve
Located in southern Sacramento County near Galt, the Cosumnes River Preserve is a bird-watcher’s paradise! The area is home to hundreds of species of birds and is a resting spot for migratory birds, including Sandhill Cranes, which arrive in the winter. The preserve is also a great place for hiking, with over four miles of flat trails along the marshes. Paddler? You can even kayak or canoe through the sloughs and waterways, passing through woodlands and forest along the way.
Deer Creek Hills Preserve
Part of the Sacramento Valley Conservancy, Deer Creek Hills Preserve is one of the largest nature preserves in the Sacramento region. Located in the eastern part of the county near Sloughhouse, it comprises a working cattle ranch and more than 4,500 acres of Blue Oak woodlands, seasonal creeks and grasslands. Self-guided hikes must be scheduled in advance, and docent-led hikes and equestrian rides are held throughout the year. Come summer, the preserve opens for mountain biking along single-track trails and ranch roads on Monday nights.
American River Parkway
Most people associate the American River Parkway with its world-renowned bike trail, one of the best in the Sacramento area. But the parkway actually has much more to offer, including miles and miles riverside spur trails for hiking, cycling and horseback riding; kayaking and rafting; and wildlife viewing and bird watching. Some spots to explore are the Sunrise Recreation Area, which has a boat ramp and equestrian staging area, and Lake Natoma, part of the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, which offers kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding.
Folsom State Recreation Area
Although the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is located within Placer, El Dorado and Sacramento Counties, much of the recreational areas to explore lie in Placer County. In fact, the lakeshore near Granite Bay is a popular summertime haunt, with a sandy beach, buoyed swim area, barbecue pits and a snack bar. Nearby Beal’s Point follows suit, and has access campsites and access to the American River Bike Trail. Both offer kayak and paddleboard rentals so you can explore the water’s edge. Further north, access points at Avery’s Pond near Newcastle and Horseshoe Bar near Loomis offer rural hiking trails with views of the water.
Auburn State Recreation Area
Camping, hiking, rafting, boating, even gold panning are some of the popular activities within the Auburn State Recreation Area. Nestled between Auburn, Foresthill, Cool and Colfax, the area follows the North and Middle Forks of the American River. In fact, it’s anchored by the confluence of the two, where many popular trailheads are located. Striking river canyons, peaceful forests and emerald green water make it a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. Once teeming with gold miners, there are even historic bridges and ruins to explore. Lake Clementine has an impressive falls over its namesake dam, and Mammoth Bar has an off-road vehicle/motorcycle riding area.
Hidden Falls Regional Park
Hidden Falls Regional Park is an expansive natural area in Auburn known for its namesake waterfalls, accessed by a short and relatively flat hike and featuring a viewing platform. But much of the rest of the park is often overlooked. There are more than 30 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding along Coon Creek and Deadman Creek, as well as refreshing swimming holds, scenic historic bridges, and picnic areas. You may even see sheep or goats grazing throughout the park! Please note: to keep the number of visitors to a minimum, parking reservations are required in advance.
El Dorado County
Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park
Located near Pilot Hill, Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park features 12 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. It has a diverse landscape, with airy grasslands, gentle hills and oak woodlands. It’s known for its colorful spring wildflower displays. Part of the American River Conservancy, it follows the river’s edge and offers peaceful spots for picnics and wildlife viewing. Remnants of an old movie set can also be viewed from the trails, consisting of old-timey outbuildings.
Sly Park Recreation Area
Located in Pollock Pines, the forested Sly Park Recreation Area surrounds Jenkinson Lake. The lake itself offers ample opportunities for swimming, fishing paddling and boating, and it offers miles of lakeside trails for hiking and horseback riding. There are also lakeside campgrounds for those who want to make a night of it! Peaceful meadows offer a brilliant display of wildflowers in the spring, and interpretive trails tell the history of the area. There’s even a waterfall in the northeast corner of the lake, as well as a chimney poking through the water, a remnant of an old stone house.
Crystal Basin Recreation Area
Further up Highway 50 is the Crystal Basin Recreation Area, an expansive area within the El Dorado National Forest. There are numerous lakes and streams to explore, all of which are ideal for swimming, boating, fishing and paddling. Dozens of campgrounds in the area make it a popular spot during the summer, and there are over a hundred miles of hiking trails crisscrossing the area. There are even trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during the winter. Surrounding by pine forests, Union Valley Reservoir also has a paved bike trail along one of its edges.
Putah Creek Riparian Reserve
The Putah Creek Riparian Reserve is a 640-acre creekside ecosystem operated by U.C. Davis. In fact, part of it cuts through the Davis campus and forms the U.C. Davis Arboretum. Several trailheads dot the reserve, offering a glimpse into the rare riparian habitat. Bird watching is a popular pastime, as is swimming and fishing.
Capay Open Space Park
Part of the Cache Creek Conservancy, Capay Open Space Park in the small town of Capay has more than 40 acres of restored grassland and riparian habitat. Walking trails have interpretive signs about the flora and fauna of the park, which includes native oak savanna, riparian and grassland habitat, and pollinator habitat that attracts bees and butterflies. The park is especially impressive in the spring, when native wildflowers like lupine and poppies bloom. There’s also an access ramp to Cache Creek.
Cache Creek Regional Park
Near the Yolo County town of Rumsey, Cache Creek Regional Park is smack dab in the middle of the beautiful Cache Creek Canyon. More than 600 acres of wilderness features peaceful meadows, oak woodlands and pine forest. Hiking trails are found throughout the area, including the challenging Blue Ridge Trail, which ascends Fiske Peak. Cache Creek is also a popular spot for rafting and camping.
Category Auburn, Davis, Folsom, Neighborhood Guides, Sacramento
Elizabeth Penney is a content writer for Lyon Real Estate and the Lyon Local blog. A Sacramento native with a marketing background, she shares her insider knowledge on restaurants, attractions and outdoor activities throughout the greater Sacramento area and beyond.