All-terrain Sweetwater

I’ve been spending an awful lot of time along the north fork at Folsom Lake lately, so the other day I decided it was high time to return to the south fork — specifically, the Sweetwater Creek/Salmon Falls area. I prefer to get out there in the morning because I have the sun at my back; and even though I arrived a bit late (10:15) and the small gravel lot at Falcon Crest was already packed with cars and horse trailers, I was still able to hike without running into a horde of people.

Above, you can see my alternative route from the car park. I correctly guessed this gravel drive would be empty compared to the slightly more scenic dirt trail. This gated access road is marked on Google maps as Easy Lane — which is pretty funny when you’re returning at the end of a long hike and have to drag yourself up this neverending “false flat” back to your car.

Not quite the middle of nowhere

You’re standing on the side of a steep hill. You can see the surrounding foothills covered in manzanita and deer brush; below you is a layer of pine forest and beyond that, the waters of Folsom Lake. If you listen carefully you can hear the repetitive rat-a-tat of woodpeckers in the trees and the sigh of the breeze as it offers relief from the bright morning sun. But a glance to your right reminds you that this isn’t the wilderness — there is a small slice of suburbia, with its driveways full of cars, expansive lawns, and meticulous landscaping. The only thing to do is to keep hiking, to head down the hill and into the trees. The neighborhood will still be there, but thankfully you won’t be able to see it.

A look back up the hill

This beautiful bit of forest was planted in 1972 by the Institute of Forest Genetics, and I noticed small tags attached to some of the trees along the trail.

It’s all downhill from here! (And then back up again…)

Sweetwater Creek, searching for the lake

The old Salmon Falls Bridge is a popular hiking and mountain biking spot whenever it’s exposed by low lake levels.

On the flats around Sweetwater Creek and the narrow channel of the river AKA Folsom Lake, it was very easy to spot my fellow hikers and steer clear. The only others using the area were a small bunch of cows, a few Common mergansers, and some extremely raucous Canada geese.

I found the remains of a weir as I walked along the path of the Natomas Ditch. Houses are visible on the hill in the far distance.

I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of the local bald eagle before heading back to my car

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