9 Easy-to-Epic Microadventures Near Sacramento
There are a million and one reasons why we love adventure.
That rewarding flip of our stomachs as we punch through a hole in a raft or kayak on a whitewater trip. The satisfying vertigo we feel when we’re on an exposed rock face. The burn in our quads and shoulders as we trek through pristine wilderness with everything we need to survive strapped to our backs. The return to civilization with a slowly-smoldering ember of content burning in our hearts.
For many of us, though, we’re only lucky enough to find what we truly love about outdoor adventure on weekends or a few times per year when we can schedule the time, budget the resources, and manage the logistics of getting our favorite adventure partners all in one place at the same time.
In short, there is a lot of hassle and planning that goes into creating the perfect adventure. But that’s where microadventures come in.
A microadventure is just what it sounds like—an outdoor adventure that’s smaller in scale, logistics, price, and time. It’s a trail run at dusk in the middle of a work week or a sunrise paddle snuck in before your 8 a.m. meeting. It’s a lunchtime ramble through your local park, a weekend picnic snuck into a day of errands, or a backyard campout under the stars.
The best part about a microadventure is that it fits into your daily routine without fuss or compromise. It gets you “out there” while still staying close to home.
And if Sacramento is home, or at least, home base for travelers passing through the region, microadventurers have a wealth of trails, waterways, and outdoor pursuits to choose from. Here are a few ideas to get you out there:
If you only have a few hours…
Go for a long and scenic bike ride
The American River Parkway – Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail is a 32-mile paved path that extends along the American River from downtown Sacramento to Folsom. With several access points scattered throughout, it’s convenient for people throughout the Sacramento region. The best part is that there are several areas where you can get down to the river, jump in and cool off after a long ride or run.
Cast a line
Fishermen and women might be surprised to learn that your odds of getting a bite within the Sacramento urban region are actually pretty good. A popular casting site is just below the Lake Natoma dam, also along the American River.
Discover lakeside trails
If you don’t mind a bit of a drive and want to leave the urban scenery behind for a few hours, head up to Sly Park/Jenkinson Lake in Pollock Pines. Drive past the second dam to reach the popular trailhead for a 9-mile trail running and mountain biking trail that circumnavigates the lake.
If you only have a day…
Raft the American River
Head up to the Sierra Foothills and meet up with an outfitter first thing in the morning to raft the Middle Fork of the American River, one of the most exciting stretches of whitewater near Sacramento. This challenging and adrenaline-pumping Class IV-V rafting trip comes with lunch on the river and plenty of splashes on those hot summer days.
Learn to Sail
The Sacramento State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma offers a very different way to get out on the water. Here you can learn to sail, windsurf or rent kayaks and other watercraft that will let you explore this scenic flat water on your own.
Hit the trails
If you would like a little exercise (or prefer a dirt trail rather than waterways), stretch your legs at the Auburn State Recreation Area. Take the 5.6 mile Confluence Trail along the Middle Fork of the American River—the trailhead is easily found at the bottom of Highway 49 (on the north side of the bridge) at the Old Foresthill Road intersection.
If you only have a weekend….
Backpack into the Desolation Wilderness
For a quick but challenging backpacking trip, drive up Highway 50 and hike from Horsetail Falls to Ropi Lake. This is a 5.6-mile out-and-back trail that features 1,500 feet of elevation gain. Be sure to get a permit at the local Forest Service office if you plan on spending the night in this incredible granite landscape.
Spend the weekend on the river
For an action-packed weekend, head to Coloma, the epicenter for American River rafting. From here, plan to tackle both Class III stretches of the South Fork of the American River—Chili Bar and the Gorge—which are best experienced over two days. In between whitewater sessions, pitch a tent or rent a pre-set platform tent at OARS American River Outpost, a great base camp for folks looking to spend the whole weekend riverside.
Sleep out under the stars
Just a quick 90 minute drive gets Sacramento outdoor lovers prime access to both the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests, which are ripe with places to car camp. While there are plenty of options, North Fork Campground off Interstate 80 near Emigrant Gap is an ideal home base for hiking at Donner Pass, exploring the agricultural Gold Country Region, and of course, playing in the nearby rivers and streams. Don’t miss nearby Lake Spaulding, with its boat access, hiking trails, and picnic areas.