Hike the American River Parkway: Fair Oaks Bridge to Hazel Ave.

Rate this Adventure Lake Tahoe Upper Sunrise Recreation Area

Added by Jeff Driscoll

In less than 5 miles see one of the Sacramento Area's prettiest sections of trail. This trail is perfect for a quick hike before or after work, or with family on the weekends.

This area is possibly one of my favorite stretches of trail along the American River Parkway (for my route, click here. On this trail, you'll get great views of the American River, experience lush fern gullies, and depending on the seasons can see all sorts of wildlife, mostly birds along with the occasional deer and coyote. During salmon and steelhead season the river is full of fisherman. If you hang around long enough, you can often see one of them get a catch. Earlier this year we saw someone catch a salmon close to 25lbs.

My favorite direction to do this hike is from West to East; head up the river and turn around at the Fish Hatchery. Near Sunrise Avenue, there are many places you can start from to access the trail. For this hike, I parked at Upper Sunrise County Recreation Area. Please note, that it costs $5 to park here unless you have purchased a County Parks Pass which pays for itself in 10 visits. If you live in the Sacramento Area, and you like hiking, it is definitely worth it. Also, this website doesn't recognize Upper Sunrise Recreation Area on the map, but it's the portion of the park East of Sunrise Blvd, click the link above for more info.

From the Upper Sunrise gravel parking lot, cross the bike trail and head towards the boat launch area. Look for a dirt trail on the right-hand side of the boat launch area and follow it. For most of the hike, you'll be following side trails like this and not the main bike trail. You'll follow this trail until you eventually reach an open area with a few benches facing the American River, the bike trail, and a parking area on the other side of the bike trail. At the end of this open area, I usually follow the bike trail up the very gentle hill until another dirt trail comes up on the left.

Follow this trail for a bit and you'll end up in another clearing with a big grassy mound with trails up the sides of it. Hike to the top for a great view (see above). From the top, you'll see an old gravel road down below, head down to it and follow it towards the river.

Not too far down the road take a hard right over the rope fence and up a hill along another small dirt trail. You'll start going through some lush green sections with piles of rocks left over from the mining days that have begun to grow over with grass and vegetation. Through here you'll cross many different path options, I always stay on the trail furthest to the left and stay as close to the river as possible when going this direction. Shortly you'll reach a section with what looks like an old amphitheater cut out of the ground. It appears now that people use it for illegal campfires.

After this section, you'll continue to stay on the trails to the left, and you'll go through one of the lushest areas I've seen along this part of the American River. I commonly refer to this area as the "fern gullies" because of the lush vegetation. Stay on the trails, winding your way through until you pop out on a small bluff along the American River.

Once on this bluff, you can follow trails that get down closer to the river, or you may have to take one of the trails on your right back to the bike trail. It all depends on how much water is flowing down the river at the time of your hike. Either way, you will eventually have to head right to get back up to the bike trail.

Once you are back on the bike trail, keep heading upstream until you see some more trails branching off to the left. Make sure the water levels are low enough and if so cut back down to the river as soon as you can and follow the dirt trails all the way to an open area near the Fish Hatchery. I usually continue up to the Fish Hatchery and then turn around.

The way back has many options. Take the bike trail or go back the way that you came. I usually get creative on the way back and try to mix things up. Often, I will follow the same way back until I reach the first place to turn left. Turn left and from this point on there are many more intersections and options. All the options will lead you back the way you came as long as you follow the river downstream if you get lost. On the map shown on this page, I stayed to my left until I got back to the bike trail.

Going this way, the trail will drop you out on the bike trail at the top of the gentle hill you started to climb on the way in, only now further up. From here follow the bike trail a bit longer until you see another dirt trail on your left, on the opposite side of the bike trail.

You can follow this trail through a much more open forest passing through an area with some interesting man made statues and symbols made out of river rock. After not too far you will reach the paved road that runs through Upper Sunrise Park. Follow this back to the gravel parking lot and your car.

After you finish, if you are hungry and/or thirsty there are lots of great options in Gold River. My favorite post-hike spot is Beach Hut Deli where you can grab a tall, cold beer and a giant sandwich.

Pack List

  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • $5 for parking
  • Hiking/Trail Shoes (preferred)
  • Camera (optional)
  • Fishing Gear and License (optional)
  • Book (optional)
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



4.7 Miles

Elev. Gain:

249 Feet


Dog Friendly
Family Friendly
Food Nearby

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Added by Jeff Driscoll

I want to help other people get outside and experience nature with their own eyes by using sites like this or my blog, www.frosworld.com. Just please leave nature as you found it by following leave no trace principles. Thanks!

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