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Stories from the valley

The El Dorado Trail

Contributed by Carl Gwyn

Following the old Southern Pacific and Michigan-California rail lines, the El Dorado Trail crosses much of the Gold Country of El Dorado County. While the entire trail is suitable for mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians, the paved Class I bike trail is of special interest. With the addition of the recently completed section between Placerville and El Dorado, the trail offers 12.5 continuous miles of paved, well-maintained surface, which is ADA accessible and accommodates all levels and ages of outdoor enthusiasts. 

Historically, lumber traveled from the Michigan-California Lumber Mill in Camino by train to Placerville. There it was transferred to the Southern Pacific Railroad and joined by other goods for a journey to Folsom and then on to other destinations. With the decline of logging in the area and expansion of long-distance trucking, the mill closed, and the sounds of rail travel disappeared from this section of the Foothills. The rails remained, and the right of way has been turned into the trails that now delight residents and visitors alike. 

 Starting at the far west end of the Class I trail at the El Dorado Community Hall, El Dorado, travelers meander through fields along a delightful rolling pathway with road crossings controlled by signals. Upon arriving at Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, you transition to the next section of the trail that travels over a landmark of the county. 

About three-quarters of a mile from the Missouri Flat trailhead stands the Weber Creek Railroad Bridge, an impressive landmark over 100 feet tall. Constructed in the early 1900s, the bridge has been improved and provides a wonderful view while crossing over Weber Creek. Continuing toward downtown Placerville, you will see clinkers—large black rocklike cinders that were removed from the locomotive’s fireboxes—at several places alongside the trail.

You will soon arrive in Placerville and travel down historic Main Street. There are several restaurants where you can stop and refuel, but be ready to turn left on Bedford Avenue where the trail leaves Main Street and begins its trek up the hill to Camino.

From here, the next five miles will take you through a railroad tunnel with delightful echoes, and then you will ascend through a mixed forest of cedars, ponderosa pines, oaks, and madrones. By the time you reach the end of the paved section in Camino, you will have passed natural springs and a large growth of horsetails (a plant used by miners during the gold rush to scour their pots) and enjoyed beautiful views of the Sacramento Valley in the distance. The trail actually ends about one mile past the pavement at Highway 50.

There are several parking lots along the trail where you can park and travel a section the length of your desired outing. For locations of parking areas and maps of the trail, please click here. A new parking area, not shown yet on the published maps, is located in Camino Hills on Halcon Road.

Have a wonderful time exploring this great outdoor resource in the Placerville area.