Snow has arrived early this year to the Sierra, so it is time to start hitting the trails in the lower elevations. A great family-friendly place to visit is Magnolia Ranch in Pilot Hill. Travel out of Coloma on Highway 49 in the direction of Auburn about 3.0 miles and find ample parking at the trailhead (detailed directions below). This is a fun, easy hike, with a lot of river access. There are two interlocking loops within the ranch, providing you with a variety of hiking options. The following describes just one of the possibilities.
From the parking area, walk past the service gate and start your hike in a counter-clockwise direction on Gerle Loop Trail. In about 0.25 miles, there is a fork in the trail. Continue straight here until you reach the next fork. At this fork, if you go to the right you will be on the Connector Trail taking you down to Hastings Creek, and then on into the Cronan Ranch multi-use area. Instead, go to your left here to continue on the smaller of the two loops.
After a short uphill climb, you arrive at an area with a great view down to the river. This area also has a picnic table for a short break. Continuing with the loop, you come to a three-way intersection where the two loops meet. To reach the river, take the trail to your right at this intersection (the one signed for no horse access). You walk down a steep, wide, dirt path that takes you down to the South Fork American River. At the river, you need to locate the foot trail on your left.
Along the river trail, there are numerous river access points, picnic tables, and a very interesting outdoor composting outhouse. This is a leisurely upriver walk, with spurs inviting you out to enjoy the rushing waters. Be aware that water levels can fluctuate without warnings as releases are made for the kayakers and rafters. You can put your pack down in a dry area, only to find it 15 minutes later getting wet. Never tie up your dog near the river and leave him unattended.
This portion of the trail ends at the Greenwood Creek access point where kayakers launch. From this area, find your trail heading away from the river to the left. If you continue straight here, you will end up in the parking area for Greenwood Creek. Instead, head away from the river, on a slight uphill, and rejoin the larger loop trail. Turn right onto this trail, finishing this loop back to the parking area.
Two dog-friendly places to visit after your hike are Venezio Winery (call 530-885-WINE for tasting room hours) just across Highway 49 from the trailhead parking area, and Sierra Rizing Bakery back 3 miles towards Coloma on your right. Sierra Rizing has an outdoor patio seating area available for you and your dog. If you find you forgot any dog supplies for your visit, you can pick up whatever you need at Coloma Feed & Hardware (7170 Highway 49), and of course, your dog is welcome.
Unfortunately, Toots will not be running on the trails at Magnolia Ranch or anywhere else for the next six weeks. She tore the cruciate ligament in her knee and needed surgery to reattach it. The surgery went well, and she should be back in hiking shape soon.
Directions to Magnolia Ranch: On Highway 49 coming from Coloma, you will find the parking area for Magnolia Ranch on the left, 3.2 miles from the bridge crossing the South Fork American River. Coming from Auburn on Highway 49, continue 2.8 miles from Pilot Hill to the entrance on your right. Parking for cars is on the right side of the large parking area, with the remainder reserved for horse trailers.