In 1839 pioneer John Sutter traveled down the American River and landed where it converged with what it now the Sacramento River. Sutter recognized the potential of establishing a river town and built Sutter’s fort. Soon after, and with the help of the California gold rush, this settlement became a bustling gold mining town and the two rivers became Sacramento’s connection to the rest of the world.

     Aside from being the Capital of California, Sacramento is truly a river city that has grown around the American River; which is fed from the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada. Today, the American River Parkway offers a variety of recreational opportunities for Sacramento residence and visitors alike.

Rafting in the American River

     The south fork of the American River, the same area where James Marshall discovered gold in 1849, is considered to be one of the best and most popular white water runs in California. Only an hour's drive from the city, the river’s granite boulders and create famous rapids such as Satan’s Cesspool, Fowler’s Rock or the Meatgrinder.  Many white water rafting companies provide guided trips down the river. You can choose from an exciting day trips or plan 2 or 3 day excursions down some of the most exciting rapids in the state. Prices for guided trips range anywhere from $65 per person for short trips up to $350 per person for multi-day camping trips. Usually with a guided river run meals are provided.

     If rapids are not what you’re looking for, then try paddling or kayaking your way down the bottom section of the American River. The calm currents wander through Sacramento’s neighborhoods and parks offering a great relaxing get away right in the middle of town. Raft rental companies are scattered along the river, usually starting just west of Nimbus Dam, and provide transportation for you and the raft back to your car. Raft rental prices range from $60 to $160 depending on the size of the raft. These trips down the river are self guided and can be great fun for the family or a group of friends.

     Remember, the American River, like any river is a living, powerful body of water. Always take precautions when rafting or kayaking. Protect yourself from the sun and drink plenty of water, especially since a summer afternoon in Sacramento can easily reach over 100 degrees. Never consume alcohol while on the river and always wear a life jacket. 

American River Bike Trail

     Do you enjoy cycling, jogging, rollerblading, or a nice family bike ride? Well, the American River Bike Trail was made just for you. Officially named the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, is a 32 mile long paved pathway that follows the shores of the American River from downtown Folsom to downtown Sacramento. There are numerous trail access points from many of the major roads that cross the American River and many of the parks along the way provide parking and a good place to start your ride. The trail, which is mostly flat, runs through a riparian habitat and is rich with wildlife. You can commonly see deer in some of the more heavily wooded areas and, if you’re lucky, you may see a coyote standing on or near the path. Bird life is also abundant with hundreds of different bird species making their homes in the woods. You may also see an occasional turtle, racoon, rattle snake or garter snake which sometime sun themselves on the trail. If you’re extremely lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the North American River Otter skimming along the surface of the water.

     The trail is not just for cycling. The well-maintained dirt pathway on the shoulder is perfect for joggers or for those on an evening walk. For the roller  enthusiast, the trail offers miles of smooth pavement with plenty of shade. Parks along the way offer amenities such as picnic areas, bar-b-que grills, restrooms, swimming in the river and miles of hiking trails. Some of the more popular parks are Goethe Park, William B. Pond Recreation Area and Discovery Park at the start of the trail near downtown. Ansil Hoffman park includes a golf course and the Effie Yeaw Nature Center which provides guided nature walks in its 77 acre nature preserve.

     The 15 mile per hour speed limit on the trail makes it perfect for small children on their bicycles and provides a   for a family outing. Pack a picnic lunch in a backpack, park near one of the many access points and cycle your way to the perfect resting spot. Or, if you’re a hard core cyclist, jump on your light weight road bike and take the trail all the way to downtown Sacramento where you can enjoy a snack in one of the many café’s found in Old Sacramento. Then head on back the trail for a relaxing return ride.

     Because the bike trail can be so popular in the summer months, it is smart to take some precautions. Always bring plenty of water for yourself. If you’re jogging or walking, use the dirt path on the left side of the path so you don’t block the way for cyclists. If you’re biking with small children, teach them to pull to the far right when faster cyclists are approaching from behind. If you are a serious cyclist, always be courteous of others using the path, obey the 15 mph limit and announce your presence when you approach slower riders. If you are a cyclist who routinely rides over 15 mph or is easily annoyed by slower riders in your way, the bike trail is not for you.

     The American River Parkway is maintained by the County of Sacramento Regional Parks District but volunteer support is also provided by the American River Parkway Foundation. Because of their efforts, visitors to the parkway can enjoy miles of recreation on the water and under the trees. It is considered one of Sacramento’s jewels and offers a beautifully relaxing get away from the hustle of life, right in the middle of the city.