Sunday, October 28, 2018

Olmstead Loop Trail

Olmstead Loop: a horse trail (also used by hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers)

The Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA) with the Olmstead Loop Trail is a trail el dorado in El Dorado County, California.

The Olmstead Loop is a nine-mile-long round-trip trail through the Sierra foothills between Highway 49 and the North Fork American River west of the community of Cool. The trail was named in 1993 for outdoor enthusiast and mountain biker Dan Olmstead, who owned and operated the Bike & Hike Shop in nearby Auburn.

Kiosk with Auburn State Recreation Area map
The “official trailhead”—the 0-mile point—of the loop trail is located at the St. Florian Court/Hwy 49 junction. The parking lot, equestrian staging area and an information kiosk with a trail map and a biographical sketch of Dan Olmstead are all located behind Fire Station 72 (proudly serving the Community of Cool). The Olmstead Loop Trail can also be accessed from the Cave Valley Gate at the Northside Elementary School about two miles south of Cool and the Catecroft Gate (Gate 158 near the Niegel Lane/Hwy 49 junction) about three miles south of Cool.

Olmstead Loop Trail
Olmstead Loop Trail near its junction with Cave Valley Trail
The section of the Olmstead Loop Trail that runs close and parallel to Hwy 49 passes through meadows with stands of oak and pine trees and a few blackberry patches. The section halfway between Hwy 49 and the North Fork American River includes two steep canyon descents/ascents: Knickerbocker Creek and Salt Creek. On a hot summer day, you certainly will welcome the shade and water you can find there (before the creeks may dry out in late summer).

The first three miles (if starting in Cool) take you to a line of four radio towers. Soon after passing the 3-mile post the trail bends north. Find the beautiful trail intersection, at which the Catecroft Trail (a shortcut from Gate 158) and the Luken's Mine Trail meet the loop trail. On your way to the westernmost point of the loop near McElroy's Spring, you will pass the 4-mile post.  Past the spring the trail soon descends into Knickerbocker Creek. Between the latter and Salt Creek you will cross a paved road. Instead of continuing the loop route, here you get the chance to shortcut and head east: back to the Cave Valley Gate or northeast to the fire station.

Reach the mile-6 post shortly before crossing Salt Creek. The twenty to thirty minute climb out of Salt Creek canyon on a dirt road gets you to the mile-7 post and the northwest tip of the loop. This is the Pointed Rocks area. Lichen-covered outcroppings of various size point towards the sky. The Training Hill Trail connects this place with the Western States Trail and the Wendell T. Robie Trail. To now conclude the loop (back to the fire station), it takes less than two miles—the last half mile or so with Cool in view.

References and more to explore

[1] Olmstead Loop Trail, description and trail map: [accessed Oct. 28, 2018].
[2] Jordan Summers: 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Sacramento. Menasha Ridge Press, Birmingham, AL, 2008.; Hike 34, pp. 182-186.
[3] Ogre's Trail Guide to Northern California Mountain Biking > Olmstead Loop (Cool): [accessed Oct. 28, 2018].
[4] Cool Horse Trails > Olmstead Loop (part of the Auburn State Recreation Area): [accessed Oct. 28, 2018].