“A half dirt/half pavement loop; perfect for a quick after-work ride with easy access.
— Richard B.
Some smooth and relatively flat sections on the south side of the lake are easily handled by younger riders. Lots of places for picnics and rest-stops. Parallels the paved American River Bike Trail.
Per Folsom Lake SRA/Cal. State Parks Gold Fields District superintendent's order almost all trails on the north side of Lake Natoma are OFF LIMITS to BIKES. Info on trail designations and restrictions are available on park map at: parks.ca.gov/pages/500/file…
or at the info boards at the park or district office.
This is an easily accessible trail in the Lake Natoma area of Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. On the south side of the river (Hwy 50/Folsom Blvd side) the dirt trails are all multi-use and legal to mountain bikes. Almost all of the dirt on the north side of the lake is off limits to bikes. The only bike-legal dirt on the north side is a section of fire-road from Snowberry Trailhead and Shadow Glen stables (Mississippi Bar Service Road) and the switchback trail by the horseshoe curve at the Nimbus Dam that climbs the bluff to the Lake (Nimbus) Overlook parking lot off Hazel Ave. Please refer to the Park Map for info.
The general dirt surface is smooth decomposed granite with some sections featuring "baby heads" (smooth river rocks embedded into the trail surface) to navigate. The local plant life ranges from oak woods to sweet grasses and includes blackberry tangles along the trailside.
The dirt trail parallels the paved American River Bike Trail and allows for riders to ride the dirt or pavement at choice, which is good for riding with children. Along the route, there are many entrances from the surrounding suburban neighborhoods so you can start the loop at any point.
Need to Know
This loop can get very busy with trail users, on both the dirt and paved sections, usually in the afternoons and weekends. Show courtesy to runners and equestrians.
Water is available at the Nimbus Flat day use area and at the Sac State Aquatic Center at the west end of the lake and at the Negro Bar Recreation (picnic) Area at the east end of the lake.
Parking is available in the State Park by fee or at Old Folsom with time limits. There are several parking areas in the State Park. Do NOT park at the Sac State Aquatic Center; you'll be ticketed and possibly towed if you do not have business at the Aquatic Center.
Some sections of the dirt east of the Willow Creek Day Use Area have a lot of "baby head" rock areas to navigate. The closer you get to Old Town Folsom the trail gets more winding with lots of blind corners and encroaching blackberry bushes (thorns!) Near where the dirt travels under Folsom Crossing there is a short section of stairs built out of railroad ties.
A typical point to start this loop is either at Old Folsom or at the Nimbus Flat day use area. Since the parking is free but just time-limited, the preferred parking/start is at Old Folsom. Start on the paved section first as a spin to get warmed up before you ride the dirt. Inflate your tires higher to roll better on the pavement, then deflate a bit when you reach the Sac State Aquatic Center.
Get on the paved bike path on the Lake Natoma Crossing Bridge, accessed across the street from Bicycles Plus. Cross the bridge. At the other side of the bridge, turn down the bike trail to your right (on a little paved switchback). Get on the American River Bike Trail and ride west.
You'll first cross through the Negro Bar Recreation Area. There are water and a restroom here. You can stay on the trail or cross the parking lot and go down to the water where there is a little beach where people swim, kayak, barbecue, and run from the resident geese.
The trail continues along the water underneath the Rollingwood Bluffs. Watch out for rocks that have fallen from the bluffs. At the end of the bluffs, the trail will climb a hill. Continue on through the Mississippi Bar Conservation Area.
When you reach the Nimbus Dam ride underneath the Hazel Ave Bridge. The trail will loop around and deposit you on the bridge. Ride across/down the bridge. Keep an eye on your speed and for other path users.
At the end of the bridge take the paved path to the right (drops down towards the Nimbus fish hatchery.) At the trail intersection, continue to the right, follow the trail under the bridge and around to the Sac State Aquatic Center.
After you pass the park entrance kiosk look for a dirt trail on the right. This is the beginning of the Lake Natoma Loop dirt. If you had inflated your tires to roll better on the pavement now is the time to let some air out.
The dirt path will parallel the paved path and cross it here and there. The ride takes you through some trees and along Hwy 50 for a little bit, crossing the paved trail spur that goes over the freeway to Aerojet Rocketdyne. After this crossing, the trail again rolls under the trees until it gets to Alder Creek. Merge with the paved trail just to cross the wood-tie bridge, then look for the dirt trail to continue immediately after the bridge on the left.
The trail runs along the river's edge most of the way to Old Folsom at this point onward. There are a couple of short sprint climbs with baby-heads to navigate until you get to the bluffs across from the Folsom Factory Outlets. You can watch rowing competitions and practices from here. Ride along the top of the bluffs until the dirt ends at the paved trail. Follow the trail to the left, looking for the dirt start again and to drop away from the pavement in about 30 feet or so.
You'll ride through a little section of woods, meandering back and forth a bit until you get back to the pavement. Ride the pavement past the Willow Creek Recreation area entrance, cross the next bridge, then immediately get onto the dirt on the left. This is a fun little section that starts some rolling up and down. The baby-heads get more numerous here, and eventually the trail gets twistier and more encroached by foliage.
You'll hit a section of whoop-de-doos (there is a trail bypass) so feel free to session.
A little before the trail crosses under the Lake Natoma Crossing Bridge there is a short section of rail tie stairs. Use caution, as the spacing sucks for riding down. Roll to the end of the trail after the crossing bridge. The trail gets very rocky and goes steep uphill to the paved section behind Bicycles Plus. This is the end of the ride. There are lots of food and beverage choices in Old Folsom or connect to the Folsom Bike to Granite Bay Connector
by riding through Old Folsom and crossing the Rainbow Bridge (turn right and ride uphill - paved only!)
History & Background
This loop passes through an area rich in Gold Rush and mining history. There are piles of river rock from the extensive gold dredging of this section of the river, the Old Folsom Power House, Old Folsom itself, and bits and pieces of mining infrastructure still visible in the area.
For more information check the Folsom Lake SRA webpage at: parks.ca.gov/?page_id=500
or the Wikipedia entry at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folso…