Not all hikes lead to a specific destination, but those that do are rewarding—especially when the weather is warm, the destination wet and the scenery in between bright green and streaked with patches of purple lupine and smears of yellow goldfields.
Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park, a 1,418-acre hiking and equestrian preserve between the Gold Country towns of Auburn and Coloma, offers multiple ways to access the swift, cold and scenic South Fork of the American River. Twelve miles of trails and an easily cycled ranch road roll over mellow, oak-studded hills and through long, shallow valleys, offering glimpses of the river racing through the canyon below.
In spring, hillside meadows glow green, wildflowers color the sides of the paths and butterflies seem to be flittering everywhere you look. Trails vary in difficulty (Long Valley is easy; Down and Up is a workout), but all end up along the shady shores of the river, where dogs can cool off and their people can rest or picnic while watching kayakers and rafters sweep by. A loop trip utilizing any combination of trails will put 4.5 to 6 miles under your boots.
Cronan Ranch is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, whose tolerant attitude toward dogs means it’s OK to let Duke and Daisy off leash. Just be sure to get a grip and move to the side of the trail when horses, cyclists or other hikers approach.
For an after-hike repast, cruise about five miles on Highway 49 to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where John Marshall in January 1848 picked up a gold nugget in the tailrace of a sawmill he was building for himself and Sacramento founder John Sutter. Dogs aren’t allowed on trails winding into the hills, but the two of you are welcome to wander around the cluster of historic buildings near the reconstructed mill, and you’ll find several casual restaurants where the two of you can grab a bite to enjoy at any of several picnic areas.