Self Guided Walks

Self Guided Walks

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Plant walk descriptions and plant lists
El Dorado National Forest, El Dorado County (Plant list)

A large portion of El Dorado County is open to the public, thanks to the Eldorado National Forest. This large and varied forest is centered around Highways 50 and 88, covering almost 600,000 acres, with elevations ranging from as low as 1,000ft in the Middle Fork of the American River to over 10,000ft at Pyramid Peak. Plant communities found here are equally varied, including Interior Chaparral, Oak Woodlands, Lower Montane Forest, Upper Montane Forest and the Subalpine Zone. For more on these communities read here.

The Forest includes four major Sierran watersheds- those of the Cosumnes, Mokelumne, Rubicon, and the American Rivers. It also includes two beautiful mountain Wildernesses: Desolation Wilderness west of Lake Tahoe, and Mokelumne Wilderness south and west of Carson Pass.

Watch our website for occasional field trips to the Forest conducted by our chapter in Summer and Fall.

Bassi Falls, El Dorado County

Elevation: 5,500 ft.

Directions: High clearance vehicles (not a sedan) recommended. From Highway 50 about 20 miles east of Placerville, watch for the sign to Crystal Basin Recreation Area; turn on to Ice House Road. Stay on the main paved road for 16.6 miles to pass Union Valley Reservoir. After crossing the bridge over Big Silver Creek, watch for Big Silver Camp on the left. Directly across the road from the parking area is a dirt road (Road 12N32A). Drive 0.2 miles to a junction and turn left at the forest gate, then drive 0.8 miles to see the big “mushroom rock” (you will know it when you see it!). Continue another 0.7 miles to the parking area.

Description: A leisurely hike along a trail through mixed-conifer forest and open granite outcrops will lead you to this magnificent, 120-foot waterfall.

Best time to walk: May (during snow melt) for the falls; through June and July for plants.

Level of difficulty: Easy.

Buck’s Bar, El Dorado County

Elevation1,500 ft.

Directions: Take Highway 50 east to Missouri Flat exit; go south on Missouri Flat and turn left at Pleasant Valley Rd/Highway 49; go east 5 miles to Buck’s Bar Road (at a stop sign and small country market); turn right and take Bucks Bar Road south for 3.1 miles to take the Missouri Flat exit off Highway 50 and head south on Missouri Flat until it deadends at Pleasant Valley Rd/Highway 49; turn left and go east 5 miles to Buck’s Bar Road (at a stop sign and small country market); turn right and continue on Bucks Bar Road for 3.1 miles and look for pullouts along road (with guard rail; park there and walk along the guardrail until you see the trail heading down to the right. (If you reach the bridge across the river you have driven too far.)

DescriptionExplore the flora of the unique, granite-rich area near Bucks Bar on the Cosumnes River. Enjoy a leisurely short walk, with alternating areas of dense wildflowers, open forest, and woodland. Those who wish may descend further into the canyon for a peek at the North Fork Cosumnes and its roiling spring waters. The canyon and boulder views here may make you think you’ve landed in Yosemite. This is a popular rock climbing destination. Wear sturdy walking shoes and be prepared for uneven ground.

Best time to walk: Wildflowers are best April to early June; hiking is excellent year round, with the exception of mid-day during the summer.

Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate due to uneven ground.

Camas Meadow, El Dorado National Forest (Plant list)

YouTube Video – Camas Meadow, June 30, 2020

YouTube Video – Camas Meadow, July 20, 2020

Elevation: about 7,000 ft.

Directions: Camas Meadow is off Eldorado National Forest Road 11N37F, accessed from Ice House-Wright’s Lake Road. Take the forest road 11N37F north from Ice House-Wright’s Lake Road for about 1 mile until you find a wide turnout on your right. Park and walk to the east a couple of hundred feet to the meadow.

Description: The meadow is surrounded by upper montane forest, dominated by lodgepole pine. The meadow has myriad wetland species, and the ecotone between meadow and forest has a diversity of “edge” species, as well as forest understory plants. This ecotone is especially hospitable to members of the Heath family (Ericaceae), with Labrador tea (Rhododendron columbianum), red mountain heather (Phyllodoce breweri) and others. Another main “attraction” is the orchid family – three species here! A lovely meadow full of native grass species, sedges, rushes, and herbaceous plants with gorgeous flowers – and many pollinators!

Best time to walk: Summertime! It’s nice to visit several times over the course of the summer, as the blue camas (Camassia quamash ssp. breviflora), for which the meadow is named, blooms rather earlier – June – and other flowering plants bloom later. It would be fun to visit as soon as the road is accessible and then maybe once a month (?) until the fall when the roads close to see the succession of flowers as the season progresses.

Carson Pass, Alpine County (Plant list)

Elevation8,650 ft.

Directions: Highway 50 to Pollock Pines; head south on Sly Park Road; past Sly Park Reservoir turn left on to Mormon Emigrant Road; continue 25 miles and turn left on to Highway 88; proceed about 17 miles to Carson Pass visitor center.

DescriptionThe Greater Carson Pass region has several delightful trails, which can be used for either day hikes or overnight backpack trips.  In just 1 mile or less, one can access subalpine meadows and forests from Highway 88.  To the South, the wildflowers can be simply spectacular enroute to Winnemucca Lake, Round Top Lake, and Fourth of July Lake. To the North, following the Pacific Crest Trail takes you to equally showy slopes and meadows enroute to Meiss Col and Showers Lake, with access to high ridge cross country traverses and Red Lake Peak.  In either direction, hikes can be tailored from short to long. This is a very popular area, but for good reason.

Best time to walk: May through October, with July – early August best for wildflowers.

Level of difficulty: Easy to strenuous, depending on distance chosen. 

Cronan Ranch and Magnolia Ranch

Elevation700 to 1,300 ft.

Directions: East on Highway 50 to North Shingle Drive/Ponderosa Road (this is one exit after Cameron Park Drive exit); left onto Ponderosa Road at stop light and over freeway; right at stop light onto North Shingle Road; continue on this road for about 10 miles (about halfway along, the name of the road changes to Lotus Road); left at stop sign/T-intersection with Highway 49; continue on Highway 49 for three different access points: 1) at about 3 miles, Greenwood Creek (on left); 2) at about 3.5 miles, Magnolia Ranch on your left (just across the road from a vineyard); 3) at about 5.3 miles turn left on to Pedro Hill Road a short distance and straight ahead.

DescriptionThis area includes open grassland, oak woodlands, and streamside habitats. Easy walking access to the South Fork American River. The open nature of the landscape makes hiking off trail very easy. Spectacular views on the ridgelines. Extensive trail system of 25 miles links over 2,800 acres of open space.

Best time to walk: Wildflowers are best April to early June; hiking is excellent year round, with the exception of mid-day during the summer.

Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on trail selected.

Darrington Trail

Elevation400 to 800 ft.

Directions: East on Highway 50 to El Dorado Hills Blvd.; head north to Green Valley Road, cross Green Valley Road and street becomes Salmon Falls Road; continue on Salmon Falls Road until crossing bridge at Salmon Falls; turn right into parking lot. The trail is north of the parking lot and can be accessed by following the trailhead at north end of parking lot.

DescriptionThis area includes open grassland, oak woodlands, and streamside habitats. The trail follows the South Fork American River toward Folsom Lake. The trail is used heavily by bicyclists, so be on the look out! The area upslope of the trail is the South Fork Ranch. The ranch is not open to the public; contact American River Conservancy for a schedule of guided hikes to the ranch.

Best time to walkWildflowers are best April to early June; hiking is excellent year round, with the exception of mid-day during the summer.

Level of difficulty: Moderate since there is no trail on the ranch.

Dave Moore Nature Area, El Dorado County (Plant list)

Elevation: 650 ft.

Directions: From Placerville head 11 miles north on Highway 49 to gate on left side of highway.

Description: This 1-mile loop trail meanders through foothill shrub and woodland plant communities and down to the river. Nice swimming beach for kids and families. There are picnic tables in the shade. Nestled in the heart of Gold Rush Country, the trail is lined with remnants from nearly 150 years ago when Chinese laborers channeled creek water by hand with pick and shovel for gold mining. Tailing piles from the Gold Rush period blanket the area which lend to the characteristic landscape that makes this area so unique. About half of the trail is constructed to be fully accessible to people with wheelchairs, walkers and strollers.

Best time to walk:  Year around, with March-June best for flowers.

Level of difficultyEasy

Grass Lake, El Dorado County

Elevation7,800 ft.

Directions: Take Highway 50 and turn onto Highway 89 (just before Meyers); Grass Lake will be on your right in about 7 miles; park along side road.

DescriptionGrass Lake is the largest Sphagnum bog in California and is considered the best representative floating bog in the Sierra Nevada. This is a large site with a complex association of habitats ranging from aquatic and meadow types through upland forest types. This diversity, along with a largely intact watershed surrounding the marshlands and meadows, contributes to the value of this site. This site supports a number of boreal plant species unusual in the Sierra Nevada. In addition, several species of plants occur locally at substantially lower elevations than typical elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada. Along with a few uncommon or disjunct plants, the wetlands support three species of carnivorous plants and four species of orchids. The plant associations are relatively pristine with virtually no introduced plants in the bog and meadow associations. The bog and meadow associations are diverse, with 11 types described. This area is a research natural area managed by the El Dorado National Forest.

Best time to walkLate July to September depending on snow melt.

Level of difficulty: Easy.

Island Lake, El Dorado County

Elevation: 6,900 to 8,120 ft.

Directions: From Kyburz on Highway 50 go 5 miles east to Wrights Lake Road. Turn left (north), and go 8 miles to the Wrights Lake campground. The trail starts at the northeast end of Wright’s Lake. This trail enters Desolation Wilderness and requires a wilderness permit for day or overnight hikes. Information about permits can be found on the Eldorado National Forest Desolation Wilderness website.

DescriptionTrail winds upwards through red fir and meadows, and then into lots of open granite. The lakes have a nice assortment of alpine plants.

Level of difficulty: Moderate; 3.5 mile each way; 1,200 foot elevation gain.

Kanaka Valley, El Dorado County (Plant list)

Elevation: 1,000 to 1,266 ft.

Directions: Highway 50 east to Cameron Park Blvd exit, go north on Cameron Park Blvd about 3.2 miles, continue across Green Valley Road onto Starbuck Road; turn left at Deer Valley Road and then right onto Kanaka Valley Road. Look for the green gate on the left side of the road and park.

DescriptionWalk freely in a lovely meadow with streams running though, and with valley oak woodland and creek habitats. A portion of the plant preserve with the Pine Hill plants is just north of the valley and the confluence of the South Fork American River, and Weber Creek is downslope of the northern end of the valley.

Best time to walkYear around except maybe mid-day in July and August.

Level of difficulty: Easy in the valley; more challenging if one heads to the confluence of the rivers.

Lava Caps, El Dorado County

Elevation4,000 ft.

Directions: Highway 50 to Riverton (east of Pollock Pines) at the Ice House Reservoir turn. Head north on Ice House Road. At the top, take a left at Peavine Ridge Road. Drive west on Peavine Ridge Road, continuing for 3.3 miles. As you drive you can intermittently see the open lava caps on the slope below you to the south (left). When you reach a fork in the road that has three choices, take the left. Drive 1.1 miles until you reach an old cattle guard. The metal structure is still standing at the end of this. Park in a safe place nearby and walk up the hill upon a two-track road, after about 200 feet you will see an opening ringed by manzanita. You will see the old fence associated with this cattle guard on your right (east). As you arrive at the circular rocky opening, the road forks. You may walk either right or left. To the left you will soon see an additional rocky opening on the ridge. To the right you will almost immediately encounter a small streamlet where there are five spot, sticky monkeyflower, white brodiaea, and many others. This road has been closed to motorized vehicles, so pedestrian traffic only, please.

DescriptionLava caps are volcanic tabular ridges formed from andesitic lahars or mudflows of the Mehrten formation. The soils are rocky and thin, very subject to erosion. The eroded areas provide habitat for many spring annuals. Special plants to see: Pleasant Valley Mariposa lily (Calochortus clavatus var. avius), Yellow bur Navarretia (Navarretia prolifera ssp. lutea), and Pratten’s buckwheat (Eriogonum prattenanium), Mewuk manzanita (Arctostaphylos mewukka ssp. mewukka).

Best time to walkDue to the shortness of the season on lava caps, the best time to walk is early in May. Additional trips in late May, or even early June will have a different display. If there is snowpack late in the spring, call the El Dorado National Forest visitors center for information on accessibility.

Lyons Creek, El Dorado County

Elevation6,680 to 8,400 ft.

Directions: From Kyburz on Highway 50 go 5 miles east to Wrights Lake Road. Turn left (north), and go about 7.5 miles to the Lyons Creek trailhead on the Wrights Lake Road. If you reach Wright’s Lake, you have gone a short bit too far.

DescriptionBeginning at the Lyons Creek trailhead at 6,750 feet, hike up Lyons Creek to about 7,200 feet, about 4 miles round trip. You will encounter open granite, mountain meadows, and fir-lodgepole conifer forest, all under the shadow of the beautiful Crystal Range. The wildflowers are gorgeous in the early summer. We do not usually go all the way to Lyons Lake. If you do, be aware that the last two miles to Lyons and Sylvia Lakes are inside the Desolation Wilderness boundary and require a wilderness permit.  Information about permits can be found on the Eldorado National Forest Desolation Wilderness website.

Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate.

See “Cronan Ranch and Magnolia Ranch” above.

Pine Hill, El Dorado County (Plant list 1Plant list 2)

Elevation: 1,600 to 2,059 ft.

Directions: Highway 50 east to Cameron Park Blvd exit, go north on Cameron Park Blvd about 3.2 miles, turn right onto Green Valley Road; continue about 1 mile and turn left onto Ulenkamp Road; continue about 0.75 mile and veer to left onto Pine Hill Road; continue a short distance to the base of Pine Hill. Park near the metal gate.

DescriptionA gentle ascent of Pine Hill takes place on a paved road. The road passes through several plant communities, and six of the eight rare plants endemic to the area can be seen from the road. Take care not to wander off the road since all land (except the very top) is private.

Best time to walk: Non-summer months best; rare plants follow beginning early April to beginning of June.

Level of difficulty: Moderate. The trail is on a flat paved/gravel surface up to the top of Pine Hill. Distance to the top is 0.75 miles.

Pipi Campground Trail (Plant list)

YouTube Video of Pipi Campground Trail – June 25, 2020.

YouTube Video of Pipi Campground Trail – May 27, 2020.

Elevation: 4100 ft.

Directions: Pipi Campground is off North-South Road at the Middle Fork of the Cosumnes River.

The campground can be accessed from Highway 50 via Sly Park Road and the Mormon Emigrant Trail (Iron Mountain Road) to North-South Road, heading south. You can also reach the campground from Highway 88 via Omo Ranch Road to North-South Road, heading north. All of these roads are paved, and so are fine for any street-legal vehicle.

Description: The campground is within a gorgeous lower montane forest habitat along the beautiful Middle Fork of the Cosumnes River. At Pipi, the river widens and calms revealing multi-hued river cobbles and supporting large stands of umbrella plant or Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltata). Also, along the river are large expanses of rock, within which you can see a number of mortars that were used by the native Miwok and Maidu people to grind seeds, especially acorns from California black oak (Quercus kelloggii), or tele’li. The accessible trail begins near the river within the mixed conifer forest and winds along the river side of the campground, with several platforms along the way with benches to sit and enjoy the river and surroundings. You will see many individuals of the diverse understory shrubs and herbaceous plants. Toward the east end of the campground, you will come to a lovely wet mountain meadow, ringed by trees such as black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) and mountain dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), and filled with corn lily (Veratrum californicum), big-leaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), and cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum). Other plants you’ll see are too numerous to list here, so see the plant list posted and use links provided to view videos of plant walks at Pipi from May and from June visits.

Best time to walk: The flowering plants of the Forest at this elevation begin blooming in late spring, and you will see flowers through most of the summer. In the fall, the dogwood leaves will change color to reds and purples, as will the umbrella plant in the river. In fall, you won’t see much in the way of flowers, but the colors of the deciduous plants are wonderful, the air cools, and you’ll have a lovely way to celebrate autumn with a picnic lunch along the river.

Schenk Camp and Leek Springs Valley, El Dorado County (Plant list)

Elevation7,200 ft.

Directions: Highway 50 to Pollock Pines; head south on Sly Park Road; past Sly Park Reservoir turn left on to Mormon Emigrant Road; continue 20 miles until you reach Silver Fork Road on the left; turn right on to a gravel road; travel about 100 yards and park. About 2 miles beyond Schenk Camp, a right hand turn onto a gravel road takes you a short distance to Leek Springs Valley and meadow area.

DescriptionThese are meanders (not a hike) through two interesting areas. Schenk Camp has a rich volcanic soil, spring fed streams, and varied topography that supports a great variety of plant life. Attractions include alder thickets full of lilies and orchids, open woods with an understory of wild currents, Phacelia and baneberry, a rocky hillside covered with steer’s head, spring beauty, buckwheats, saxifrages, and five spot. Leek Springs Valley is one of the largest meadows (about 60 acres) in this part of the Sierra Nevada. This is the headwaters of the North Fork Cosumnes River. The meadow proper is an ecological preserve (State of California) and has no trespassing signs.

Best time to walkMid-June to July. Mormon Emigrant Road is not plowed; sometimes snow remains until July 1; call the El Dorado National Forest visitors center to make certain it is open.

Level of difficulty: Easy.

South Fork American River Trails, El Dorado County

This trail system has numerous points of access along the river. Magnolia Ranch, Greenwood Creek, Cronan Ranch and Salmon Falls Ranch are highlighted here. For a map, click here: {297DAEBE-1FFA-413C-8866-6AA8965863F7}/SFAR_trail_press_rgb.pdf”>South Fork American River Trail Map (pdf)

Thunder Mountain, Amador County

Elevation: 7,840 to 9,410 ft.

Directions: Take Highway 88 east of Silver Lake; the trailhead is located about 0.2 miles past Carson Spur on the south side of Highway 88.

DescriptionThere are a variety of habitats from red fir forest, open juniper and scattered Lodgepole woodlands, to rocky openings and open hillsides. Anemone drummondii is found just past the volcanic Sentinels along the trail. There are spectacular views of the high Sierra along this ridgetop trail.

Best time to walk: Late July to August depending on snow melt.

Level of difficulty: Moderate. It is 3.5 mile to the top of Thunder Mountain, but much can be seen on a shorter trip.

Traverse Creek Special Interest Area, El Dorado County (Plant list) (More detail from Calflora)

Elevation: 2,400 ft.

Directions: From Placerville go north on Highway 49; about 0.75 miles from Placerville take Highway 193 towards Georgetown; about 10.5 miles out turn right onto Meadow Brook Road; continue 1.2 miles to intersection with Bear Creek Road. The parking area is straight ahead and slightly to the left.

DescriptionThe Traverse Creek Botanical Area is a distinctive serpentine plant community. The area contains a wide variety of microhabitats—rocky outcrops, chaparral, and streamside—and is an area of geological interest. Interesting plants include: Bitter root (Lewisia rediva), Tripod buckwheat (Erigononum tripodium), Congdon’s onion (Allium sanbornii var congdonii), and Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae).

Best time to walkMay and June.

Level of difficulty: Easy.