Quarry Road Trail to American Canyon

The Quarry Road Trail in Auburn State Recreation Area is perfect for trail running, easy mountain biking or hiking. It’s also dog and horse friendly. The trail is six miles long, and gently climbs a few hillsides along the river.

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It has finally rained in California!  Not enough to save us from the drought, but at least the grass is a little less brown.  The snow conditions still aren’t great (heavy, wet snow) so rather than braving the holiday weekend crowds, we decided to saunter in the foothills. The next best thing to do after some rain is to go see a waterfall! So many waterfalls in California seem to just spring up out of nowhere for a few short weeks or days each winter. This one actually has water for a decent portion of the year.

Basics:  The Quarry Road Trail in Auburn State Recreation Area actually follows a portion of the Western States Trail.  It’s a wide dirt path that is perfect for trail running, easy mountain biking or hiking.  It’s also dog and horse friendly.  The entire trail is nearly six miles from beginning to end.  We extended our hike another mile by heading up the single track American Canyon Trail to some small waterfalls and a deep little hidden pool.

Distance: 13.7 mi | Elevation: +4300 ft / -4300 ft | Download gpx

Permits and Fees: This hike is located in Auburn State Recreation Area. At the time of this posting, there was a $10 fee to park in the lot at the trailhead. Fees are subject to change so check the website before heading out there. It is a self-pay system; bring exact change. Alternatively, there is some free parking along the road.  State Park passes are also accepted.

Directions to Trailhead: From I-80 in Auburn, exit Elm Ave and turn left. Turn left again on High St, following sings for Highway 49 South. Drive 2.4 miles down the hill to the confluence of the North and Middle Fork American River. Turn right onto Highway 193. The trailhead is a gravel lot (barely visible from the road) on the left side, approximately 0.3 miles past the bridge.

Trail Description: It was gloomy outside and there was a chance of rain in the forecast. Seemed like great weather for a long hike to a waterfall. I did not anticipate how crowded Auburn SRA would be on a rainy day. Perhaps people are training for the Western States 100? We saw dozens of trail runners.  Also, several groups of mountain bikers.  The trail is actually a road, so it’s plenty wide to accommodate everyone.

There was still plenty of parking when we reached the trailhead lot – many people choose to park on the side of the road.  We paid the iron ranger and hit the trail.

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The first mile or so is entirely flat.

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Eventually, the trail reaches a picnic area where the road splits off to the right. Follow the sings for the Quarry Trail and Hawver Cave. The trail heads up a small hill.

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Shortly after that first junction, a spur to the right leads to the old quarry; it’s marked with another sign for “climbing area.”  We followed the main trail to the left and passed Hawver Cave.

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Hawver Cave looks interesting, but I don’t actually know much about it. Apparently quite a few prehistoric fossils were discovered here at some point.

After Hawver Cave, the trail is almost boring, but it pleasantly follows the Middle Fork American River with a few small ups and downs for the next 5-ish miles.

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The Quarry Trail ends at Main Bar. There is a picnic bench under some oak trees. This is the end of the road for mountain bikers. Hikers can continue up to the right on the single track Main Bar trail. We climbed a short distance up the hill then turned left onto the American Canyon Trail.

After leaving the Quarry Trail, follow signs for American Canyon Trail.
After leaving the Quarry Trail, follow the signs for American Canyon Trail.

To reach the hidden pool and waterfall, follow the American Canyon Trail for 1.1 miles to the junction with the Dead Truck Trail. The trail passes some smaller cascades, then crosses the creek.

Small cascades in American Creek.  Keep going past this to reach the hidden pool.
Small cascades on American Canyon Creek. Keep going past this to reach the hidden pool.

Climb steeply up to the signed junction, away from the creek. Directly opposite the mileage sign for the Dead Truck Trail, a steep use trail descends back down to the creek. Follow this trail down to the waterfall.

Once you see this sign, the use trail down to the falls will be behind you.
Once you see this sign, the use trail down to the falls will be behind you.

It’s actually quite difficult to see the waterfall without somehow standing in the middle of the creek. Don’t fall in!

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The rocks in the steep little canyon were wet, mossy green and pretty.

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After a quick lunch at the hidden pool and waterfall, we packed up and headed out the way we’d come. It took us two hours to get back to the car. The wind picked up as we got closer to the trailhead, but it never rained on us – probably because I had a brand new rain jacket that I was excited to try out!

More Info:  Additional resources for Auburn State Recreation Area (including trail descriptions, fees, and camping info) can be found on the State website: Auburn SRA.

More details on the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100 mile endurance run (which comes through this area) can be found at the Western States 100 website.  If you hike in the area or have any general interest in trail running, I highly recommend watching the documentary Unbreakable: The Western States 100.

This hike appears in the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Sacramento.

2 thoughts on “Quarry Road Trail to American Canyon”

  1. Very good hiking information! I think that I did the Quarry Trail when there wasn’t any fee, several years back and haven’t been back since. Interesting that they now seem then to support climbing, as back then it was disallowed or banned, due to the nature of the rock or something. There was some moron rescue that made the news, idiot hiker trapped on some ledge, even a helicopter brought into it. Being that I climb on Jeff Davis Peak, pretty crummy rock, maybe they changed their minds. The old Club said they did climb on Limestone Rock up canyon, maybe top roped it’s safe enough for helmets and real careful climbers, this is all through for me, aside from safety concerns. I’ll have to take a look at this scene, again! Thanks!

    1. Thanks Pete. Yes, I think the trailhead parking fee and the climbing access are both relatively recent developments. According to the posted signs, climbing in the old quarry is limited to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. But it’s definitely a great place to hike any day of the week.

Any thoughts?