2 Hour Trail: American River Parkway from Watt to CSUS

(Important update: the bridge access to the bike trail at Watt Avenue (north side) may be closed intermittently between May and November for levee construction. It was closed weekdays this week (beginning June 3). As the weather heats up, we figure it’s cooler on the north side of the river, and therefore it may be best to do this loop starting on the south/CSUS side since there’s a bit more shade on the north side. This morning – with the high projected for 95 – it was 72 when we started at 10:40 a.m.nand 84 when we finished at 11:50. Whew!)

We’re “frequent fliers” of this trail for combo running and walking, a 4.2 loop that allows us to enjoy both sides of the river. My husband, who is a regular runner, likes to run the whole route, while I run half of it and walk or walk/run the other half.

A highlight on Saturday was seeing a mother and father quail escorting a half dozen small offspring right next to the bike trail. When a few of the babies lagged, Mom skittered back and prodded them along before urging them into the safety of the blackberry brambles.

Start by walking west on the north side of the river from the Watt Avenue bridge. No one ever seems to know this, but runners and walkers are supposed to walk facing bike traffic, using the decomposed granite shoulder when possible. Depending on the time of day, however, we “shade surf” to take advantage of wherever the large oaks and riparian forest create cool shadows.

You’ll get the most views of the river (and see the most wildlife) from the bridle trail that parallels the bike trail, closer to the river, but you’ll have to contend with foxtails and check yourself for ticks later.

After about 2 miles, the bike path will take you under the Howe Avenue bridge, and you’ll see the City of Sacramento’s water intake structure. You can’t miss the Guy West pedestrian and bike bridge that crosses over to Sac State, and it’s a great place to get a view of the American River. With water levels low this spring, it’s a lovely pale green through which the river cobblestones are clearly visible.

Head back in the direction you came on the far side of the river, and eventually cross back over at Watt Avenue (unless you parked at the American River Parkway lot off of Riviera Drive). You’ll pass through Alumni Grove and a veritable tunnel of trees. Note that the south side of the river has a fraction of the bike traffic, so if you want to avoid speeding cyclists, you might walk or run back and forth on the south side rather than doing a loop that takes you on both sides of the river.

Trail tips:

  • Start and finish: Usually takes us about 1 to 1 1/4 hours
  • Blister count: 0
  • Don’t miss: the view from the Guy West pedestrian and bike bridge. You’ll see little lizards, lots of birds and the occasional bunny or hare. We’ve seen otters swimming in the river, and even a deer crossing from one bank to a sandbar. The wide pedestrian lane on Watt Avenue also has an attractive bench for surveying the river below (and it’s very safe, protected by a waist high concrete divider).
  • Watch out for: speeding cyclists!
  • Whew! No rattlesnakes spotted yet this year, but we’ve seen them on the bridle trails before
  • Head count: Lots of bikes, walkers, dogs (on leash) and the occasional equestrian

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