Trainer Hill provides several off-chutes to lengthen your mileage. We recommend paying close attention to signage to avoid getting getting lost.
Destination Distance From Downtown
3 of 5 diamonds
Trainer Hill is the kind of hike that never gets easier, per se, you’ll simply get faster at struggling through it. Meaning, Trainer Hill dishes out the punishment along with the results. This is a staple, year-round hike for getting and staying in mountain shape.
Time To Complete
Even if you are in excellent shape, the climb is slow, steady, and grueling. Although, trail runners, you'll shave off about an hour circling back on the top of the hill, and then descending on gradually graded switchbacks.
Spring and fall provide the most moderate temperatures and green grasses. In spring a flowering tree, called California Snowdrop, lights up the trail raining blossoms on the ground beneath. The first half of the trail gets quite crispy in the summer. The fog and light rain in the winter turn Trainer Hill into something quite magical, if you don't mind the mud, that is.
On Leash Only
Trainer Hill is a great trail for dogs with wide pathways and giant meadows becoming their playgrounds. You'll occasionally share the trail with equestrians, and ticks and poison oak abound, so prepare accordingly.
Trainer Hill is a dog of a climb and appropriately named for whipping rears into shape. At its most taxing, Trainer Hill climbs 1,000 feet in .9 miles. Your calves will burn–oh yes–they will holler. Thankfully, you get this over with early. The remaining four-ish miles are quite pleasant, meandering through meadows and oak trees, followed by a moderately graded descent.
What Makes It Great
Beneath the community of Auburn, the American River crashes and carves through the earth without apology. The trailhead to Trainer Hill sits across from the confluence, where the northern and middle forks of the river converge in a tumultuous rumble of current and rock. A wide path behind gate #150 leads to the historic ‘no hands bridge’, built by a railroad in the early 1900’s. The local newspaper attributes the name to a vivacious woman—Ina Robinson—who rode across the bridge on horseback, before it had guard rails, without her hands on the reins.
The route leading to Trainer Hill is marked by a brown sign with an arrow for Cool. It branches up to the left at the start of ‘no hands’ and climbs quickly to a forked T-junction. You’ll spot Trainer Hill easily; it's the right prong pathway—pitted, ragged, and straight up. Fortunately, the climb has several recovery zones where the trail flattens briefly to catch your breath.
Once you’ve conquered the ascent, the trail flattens out into fields of wild grasses, oak trees, and the fractured remains of exposed metamorphic outcroppings that old gold rush miners called ‘tombstone rocks’. Several signs will mark trails heading to the town of cool, yet instead, follow all trails leading left. This will circle around to switchbacks on the back side of the hill, roaming through isolated marshy creek beds, chaparral, and forests of pine and poison oak. The trail loops back to the T-junction.
[Author's note: Our tradition at this point is to stare down trainer hill, trash talk, and run up it once more until our legs fatigue. Real talk: we don’t get far. From the t-junction, we follow the trail back to no-hands and out to the cars.]
Who is Going to Love It
Athletes hate to love Trainer Hill for the efficient workout and median mileage. Those seeking a good hike, who don’t mind a bit of a challenge, will appreciate the trail. You’ll see families at ‘no hands’, but they typically skip the climb. During summer, many sections of the trail get quite a bit of exposure, the landscape bristles and cracks, and the heat makes the climb persecuting. If you only go once, visit in the spring when the meadows are green and covered in wildflowers. If you go often, get on the trail early in the summer months.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Sacramento take Interstate 80 east. Take exit 119B in Auburn, California and follow signs for Highway 49 towards Placerville. After you descend down a winding road and reach the river, Highway 49 jogs right crossing a bridge over the confluence. Take the right, crossing the bridge, and you’ll see cars parked along the right side of the road. We recommend parking there as it is one of the few spots left in the area not requiring a parking fee.
Trainer Hill is a great trail for dogs. There are a few creek crossings on the backside of the hill in the last mile or two, but otherwise, we recommend bringing them plenty of water for the first half of the hike. Equestrians take advantage of the trail, so be sure to have your four-legged hikers on restraint and give the horses and their riders a wide berth. Also, ticks and poison oak abound, so prepare accordingly.