Winding your way up Interstate 80 on the way from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe, you'll pass through or near Placer and Nevada County communities ranging from modern suburbs to historic Gold Rush-era settlements that look plucked from a Western movie set. Save time for them, by all means, but don’t pass up open-space gems such as 30,000-acre Auburn State Recreation Area, offering myriad dog-friendly hiking opportunities; Hidden Falls Regional Park, delightful in fall even though the falls may not be running; and Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park, offering trails leading to picnic spots on the banks of the always scenic American River.
If wine tasting is on your agenda, you’ll find numerous venues clustered around Loomis and Auburn. Most of the 20 wineries and tasting rooms on the Placer County Wine Trail welcome tail-waggers, so pick a region to explore and let serendipity be your guide. A good place to start in Auburn is at Vina Castellano, whose Abuelito Red, a Spanish blend, is a multiple award winner, and whose facilities are some of the most extensive and dog-welcoming in the region. Let the tasting-bar manager walk you through a flight of Spanish and Rhone wines while spinning a bit of family history.
For some of the region’s best fall color, make a half-hour detour from Auburn up Highway 49 and tuck into Nevada City or Grass Valley, where red-leaf maples and other hardwoods planted by descendants of 19th-century miners lend a New England-like look to the landscape. Empire Mine State Historic Park outside Grass Valley encompasses 800 acres, boasts many of those colorful trees, has 8 miles of dog-friendly trails and makes a great picnic spot.
Also eminently worthwhile is the Independence Trail, which starts five miles north of Nevada City on Highway 49. Dogs love clambering over the reconstructed wooden flumes that make this trail, part of South Yuba River State Park, so unique. And it's OK for their people to go slow, as this is truly a trail for all, from wheelchair users to hard-body hikers who use it as a jumping-off point for more strenuous pursuits. Go west from the trailhead for about a mile to encounter the highlight, a 520-foot-long switchback ramp leading to a scenic swimming hole where Rover can splash while you dip your feet. The east branch of the trail features ravine-bridging flumes and dizzying views.
Photo Credit: Rick Cooper (CC)