Stevens Trail drops approximately four miles to a remote section of the northern fork of the American River. At the bottom you can extend your mileage by following the river for an extra half mile or turnaround and head back up the hillside.
Destination Distance From Downtown
3 of 5 diamonds
Stevens Trail is a favorite for local hikers and trail runners due to the steady grade, destination waters, and American Canyon panoramic views. Yet, even with the steady grade, the eight mile round trip and haul out of the river canyon can be overwhelming for a beginner.
Time To Complete
With a seasonal waterfall, an old mining cave, and a few prized sandy beaches at the river, there is plenty to explore and discover on Stevens Trail. If you are a hardcore trail runner without time to spare you could do the trail in two to three hours. In contrast, the leisurely outdoorsman or hiking novice will want to reserve four to five hours to complete this trail.
Open all year-long and at 2,400 feet in elevation, this trail falls beneath the typical snow line. However, spring is the best time to visit when the hillsides are green and aglow with a spectrum of blossoming trees and wildflowers. In the summer months the waterfall dries to a trickle and the vegetation turns brown and crispy. Fall and winter seasons offer moderate temperatures. Although, after a solid winter rain, the waterfall is too dangerous to cross.
On Leash Only
Dogs are often seen on the trail. You'll only want to bring a pup when you know the waterfall is low so they can cross. Also, the narrow trails and steep canyon walls can make footing tricky. Only bring well-trained, trail-savvy pups, and keep them on leash for peace of mind.
Once a toll path connecting two bustling gold rush communities, Stevens Trail, is now a popular weekend trail to escape the city and get a taste of what made the West so wild.
The trail starts at 2,400 feet in Colfax and drops to 1,200 feet at the banks of the American River. The journey begins walking beneath a canopy of fragrant bay laurels followed by woody forests of mottled light. After a brief jaunt down an access road the trail branches left into a manzanita wilderness of twisted red limbs and ashy leaves. Mountain misery, a thick fragrant shrub earning its name from its clingy leaves, covers the ground. Relish in the shade, for the trail opens up and the scenery dramatically changes, a characteristic which makes Stevens Trail such a favored destination.
What Makes It Great
A rocky overlook is easily accessed, opening up views of pine-covered hillsides and a flat section of land once settled by Chinese railroad workers known as Burnt Flat. The trail leads to and crosses a seasonal waterfall. This section of the trail is rocky, steep, and awkward. Only cross when the waterfall is running low, use trekking poles—or better yet—have a friend lend you a hand across.
The trail drops with more earnest past an old mine and down a large section of shale scree. We imagine this is reminiscent of the mining or railroad work completed here, but have yet to get concrete evidence of such. The trail begins to narrow and snake along the edges of the Northern Fork American Canyon walls with severe drop offs along several stretches of the path. Along the way you’ll be awarded with several lovely vistas of the American River curving and carving its way through the Sierra mountains.
In the springtime, the hillsides are ablaze with wildflowers from every color spectrum. Lupins, fairy lanterns, peachy monkey flowers, and red strokes of long indian paintbrush are abuzz with bumblebees with hind-legs so full of pollen, they struggle to fly.
The trail ends at a remote (although, not isolated due to your fellow hikers) section of the American River where you can eat lunch, dip your feet, and cool down from the heat of the sun exposure. The roar of the river twisting and edging its way around the mountain bends is absorbing. Take it in and try not to think about the haul back out.
Who is Going to Love It
Stevens Trail is a fantastic year-round conditioning trail, and due to the gradual grade, athletes can push themselves for time or work on their uphill endurance running.
For the intermediate hiker, Stevens Trail enhances your endurance with nearly 3,000 ft overall elevation gain over eight miles. For the novice hiker, we recommend taking on Stevens Trail slowly, and going only as far as feels comfortable, remembering the climb back out will likely double your time and triple your effort. There is so much to see on Stevens Trail, there's no shame in working up to the full eight miles. Most importantly, no matter what your fitness level, bring plenty of water.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The trailhead is right off of eastbound Interstate 80 at the North Canyon Way exit. You’ll want to veer left along North Canyon way past the Colfax cemetery. There is a large paved parking lot with pit toilets and information signs. No parking fees or permits are required. Dogs are often seen on the trail, yet use extreme caution. You'll only want to bring a pup when you know the waterfall is low so they can cross. Also, the narrow trails and steep canyon walls can make footing tricky. Only bring well-trained, trail-savvy pups and keep them on leash for peace of mind.