Cardiac Hill - Hiking

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Cardiac Hill, in Auburn, California lives up to its name as it drops sharply through a series of switchbacks to a rocky bend in the American River. The hike down is a breeze, but the haul back up, will get your heart pumping.

Written by

Rashael Parker


3.0 miles

From the parking lot, the trail follows a canal for approximately three quarters of a mile to a sign marking the top of Cardiac Hill. There the trail heads down for nearly a mile to the American River. Overall, you can expect to hike a little over 3 miles round trip.

Destination Distance From Downtown

35.3 miles


4 of 5 diamonds

The trail starts out flat along a canal, but don't be fooled—cardiac hill lives up to its name as it drops sharply through a series of switchbacks to the American River. The walk down is a breeze, but the haul back up, will get your heart pumping.

Time To Complete

2 hours

A small break beside the fast moving American River is hard to resist. If you are short on time, and in peak physical fitness, you could shave off 30-45 minutes.


All Seasons

Fall and Spring are optimal times to trek up cardiac hill with moderate temperatures and green hillsides. During summer months, temperatures can be brutal with full exposure on the switchbacks, so we recommend an early start. During the winter, after a recent rain, the trail is muddy and water run-off follows the trail.

Dog Friendly


Dogs on leash are allowed on the trail. Our two seasoned trail dogs regularly accompany us with their remote collars. They love the water features at the top and bottom of the trail. Post-hike be sure to check for deer ticks (notorious carriers of lyme) and wash up—poison oak is abundant year-round. The trailhead has signs posted for rattle snakes and mountain lions. We haven't witnessed either, but we exercise caution nonetheless.

Fees Permits


There is a State operated parking lot at the trailhead that requires a $10.00 parking fee and self-registration. However, locals tend to park along the road slightly past the trailhead to avoid the fees. Always have a checkbook or cash on hand in case those free spots are filled.



Cardiac Hill is the perfect trail for a morning adventure, mountain conditioning, or for an easily accessible, yet less-traveled taste of the Northern Fork of the American River. 

The trailhead starts out friendly-enough, snaking along along Auburn’s Shirland Canal and revealing sweeping views of the American Canyon. Yet don't be fooled—Cardiac Hill lives up to its name as it veers sharply away from the canal, dropping nearly 800 feet in an eighth of a mile down the mountainside. The hike down is a breeze, but the haul back up, will get your heart pumping.

What Makes It Great

The diversity in this short trail is truly splendid. The canal dates back to Gold Rush days, and although sections of the trail have eroded precariously close, the historical waterway still flows beneath a canopy of trees. Along this effortless path, there are several viewpoints over the American Canyon and the silver ribbon river still carving its way through.

A little over half a mile down the path, a brown sign marks the spot where the Cardiac Hill trail drops, veering left, nearly a mile down the canyon. In the springtime, tall green grasses flank the trail spotted with fairy lanterns and wild hyacinth (an edible blossom unfortunately named ‘blue dicks’). Swallowtail butterflies flicker between the tall blue and white blossoms. As the trail descends more aggressively the trail narrows, digging deeper into the red earth from years of water erosion. Exercise caution when using your hands to steady yourself as poison oak is widespread and often right beside the trail.

 Cardiac Hill intersects a series of trails known as the “Cardiac Bypass”, longer, more gradual switchbacks weaving in and back out. Take these well-marked detours for a slower and more knee-friendly approach. To stay on Cardiac Hill continue straight ahead, following the trail downward.

You’ll find yourself stepping onto a gravel road at the bottom of the hill; follow it with the rumbling of the river to the right. In the summer, it's tough to resist sitting on the sun-bleached, river-scarred boulders and dipping your feet into the cool, mountain waters.

Who is Going to Love It

Outdoor enthusiasts looking to get a quick fix love Cardiac Hill for its breezy descent, unspoiled destination, and challenging return. It's rarely visited by families, considering the challenging nature of the trail. But for those looking to get into shape, it’s an excellent conditioning hike: hard, but effective.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Cardiac Hill is located in Auburn, California off of Maidu drive, near the China Bar recreational area. Signs posted say the recreational area is open until sunset. There is a State-operated parking lot at the trailhead requiring a $10.00 parking fee and self-registration. Locals tend to park along the road slightly past the trailhead to avoid the fees. There are outhouses year-round at the parking lot and a ranger’s post that is open seasonally in summer.

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