About this Itinerary
The American River Bike Trail (ARBT) is a scenic riverfront pathway that follows its namesake, the American River, for 32 miles between downtown Sacramento and Beal’s Point at Folsom Lake in California. This popular paved route is used by a variety of trail users, from recreationalists to cyclists commuting from the suburban enclaves of the Sacramento metropolitan area. It isn’t hard to see why—the ARBT is an accessible two-lane trail with mile markers, restrooms and water fountains along its entire course. It hugs the banks of the river, passing through the parks and riparian habitat of the American River Parkway while connecting historic neighborhoods and districts full of shops, eateries and other attractions. The bike path also meets with the Sacramento Northern Bike Trail to extend north from downtown Sacramento along the former right-of-way of the Sacramento Northern Interurban Railway.
Though there are multiple access points along the trail, we suggest riding the full length of the ARBT beginning and ending in Old Sacramento, a 28-acre National Historic Landmark District and State Historic Park. You may opt for a long round-trip day ride, a leisurely two-day trip with an overnight in Folsom, or a one-way ride shuttling either to or from Folsom on Amtrak‘s Light Rail (the Sacramento Amtrak Station is two blocks away from Old Sacramento). Though the ARBT is an urban trail and never far from a major street and the possibility of finding a meal, consider packing enough food supplies to get you to the far end of the trail without having to leave it. Much of the trail is shaded but be prepared for sun exposure and heat, particularly during the summer months when the temperatures can be high. Bicycle rentals are available at Practical Cycle in Old Sacramento.
The western trail terminus of the ARBT is a large parking area in Discovery Park, just north of downtown; there is a $5 fee per vehicle to enter the parkway and park here. This trailhead is also easily accessible to bikes via the Sacramento River Bike Trail which connects the ARBT to downtown hotels, museums and restaurants. There are many choices for overnight lodging in Sacramento: Amber House B&B, Inn and Spa at Parkside and the Citizen Hotel Autograph Collection are three popular choices in the downtown and midtown districts. You can also stay closer to the trailhead at Best Western Sandman, one of several chain hotels nearer to Discovery Park.
The trail begins off of Jibboom Street at the western end of Discovery Park, just north of the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. The ARBT runs east for two miles through this large city park which offers picnic tables, a beach, boat ramp and riparian and open water habitat for wildlife. In fact, the entire American River Parkway was designed to protect the region’s native flora and fauna. Riparian forests and scrubs, grassland, oak woodland and marshes provide home to a range of wildlife, from river otters to the California quail and Western Rattlesnake. On the trail itself, pedestrians generally walk and jog on the trail shoulder and equestrian riders use an unpaved trail that roughly parallels the bicycle path. Be respectful of all trail users and keep in mind that the bicycle speed limit for the entire trail is 15 miles per hour. The American River Parkway Foundation provides an excellent brochure on the parkway’s natural history as well as rules and regulations.
After crossing under Northgate Boulevard, the ARBT leaves Discovery Park and enters a more industrial landscape. Look for the junction with the Sacramento Northern Bike Trail just before the ARBT crosses a rail line and cuts under State Highway 160. At mile 4, the path crosses under another rail line and begins to veer away from business parks back into open space. In another mile, Bushy Lake and Cal Expo, site of the California State Fair, lay to the north of you. When the river and ARBT begins to curve south, shoot east on Northrup Avenue for a quick coffee and food detour to Panera Bread or stay on the path as it runs 0.5 miles alongside the eastern edge of Campus Commons Golf Course. Shortly after that, you’ll see Sacramento’s own version of the Golden Gate Bridge (the Guy A. West Memorial Bridge, mile 8). You can cross the river to get to California State University, Sacramento campus or remain on the east side of the river to stay on the ARBT.
For the next five miles to the William B. Pond Recreation Area, the ARBT heads in a northeasterly direction sandwiched between the towns and neighborhoods of Arden-Arcade to the north and the river to the south. There are several boat launches and picnic areas along this stretch. The recreation area (mile 13) features a warm water fishing pond stocked with trout, largemouth bass and more. The American River Parkway Foundation’s Visitor Center will eventually be located here. At the northeastern edge of the recreation area, the ARBT crosses the American River for the first time. For the next mile, you cycle through River Bend, an oak-filled park that is habitat for deer and wild turkeys, so keep an eye out for unexpected trail crossings. This park can also be busy with vehicles and people during rafting season as it is a takeout point for rafters.
Leaving River Bend you will see the farm fields of Soil Born Farms to your right, just a glimpse of the much larger agricultural economy that shapes central California (foodies may want to visit the region in September during the annual Farm-to-Fork Celebration), followed by Hagan Community Park (mile 16) and the half-way point of the trail. Across the river is Ancil Hoffman Park and Effie Yeaw Nature Center. The next four miles to Sunrise Bridge is a popular stretch on the river for boaters. the ARBT remains inland from the waterway a good chunk of the time (except for the equestrian trail), but you may be able to spot rafters and kayakers riding the rapids of this Class I-II river. Or you can get on the water yourself by renting a boat from American River Raft Rentals, which is located on the east side of Sunrise Blvd (take S. Bridge Street from the trail before the Sunrise Boulevard under pass).
Another popular past-time along the river is fishing and the urban-nature of the American River is a unique setting for the spectacular fall migration of king salmon. The Sunrise Boulevard area is considered the best area for viewing the annual spawning ritual; the peak migration time for salmon is October through December. You might see salmon jump more than 20 steps to the top of the fish ladder at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, three miles farther, which offers self-guided tours and educational displays at their visitor center. The hatchery also honors the return of the great king each year by hosting the American River Salmon Festival.
Just past the hatchery, follow the bike trail that takes you over the river via Hazel Avenue. Once on the other side you’ll need to loop back under Hazel Avenue to continue east past Nimbus Dam and along the northern edge of Lake Natoma Reservoir. The next five miles between the dam and Rainbow Bridge in Folsom are relatively secluded and undeveloped, and pass through Mississippi Bar and Negro Bar State Park. From the historical railroad truss/pedestrian bridge (mile 28), you can continue on the north side of the river to the trail terminus at Beal’s Point in the Folsom Lake Recreational Area. At Beal’s Point, there is overnight camping, a sandy beach, snack bar and beach equipment rentals including boats and shade canopies.
Another option is to cross the Rainbow Bridge over the river to the Historic Downtown Folsom District. You will pass by Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, a site preserving an 1895 alternating current hydroelectric power station, to connect to the streets of downtown which are lined with museums, boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars. The Folsom Amtrak Station is close by as well. Take time to explore Folsom by checking in for an overnighter on the river’s banks at Lake Natoma Inn. You might head to Lockdown Brewing or Folsom Hotel Saloon for a cool-down drink, Karen’s Bakery & Café for a sweet or caffeinated pick-me-up, or straight to Sutter Street Steakhouse for a more substantial surf and turf meal. On the way, enjoy beautiful local artistry at Sutter Street Artist Gallery and, last but not least, let the local theatre group entertain you after an evening meal with a performance at Sutter Street Theatre. Enjoy your time in Folsom and a slightly downhill pedal or a leisurely ride on the Amtrak back to Sacramento.
Walk the streets of the Old Sacramento district after your trip down the ARBT. Surrounded by historical buildings, you’ll feel transported back to the era of the California Gold Rush and the Pony Express. Learn about the life of the early American pioneer at the Sacramento History Museum or, to really get a feel for life in the 1850s, visit Sacramento during Gold Rush Days, an annual heritage celebration held each Labor Day weekend. The CA State Railroad Museum is a must-see for rail enthusiasts. It is an extensive complex which includes 21 restored locomotives and cars as well as the Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot, presently used as the passenger station for the museum’s excursion train ride. Though the ARBT is not situated along a former rail corridor, the railroad certainly shaped the early history of this region and museums at both ends of the trail elucidate this past. As a side note, there are more than 30 museums in Sacramento and they are all open free of charge (or nearly) on Sacramento Museum Day, the first Saturday in February.