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Colfax, California, United States

Stevens Trail - Colfax

7.5 mile trail near Colfax, California

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 (7 votes, 6 reviews)
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 7.5 miles / 12.1 km
Duration: Half day
Overview: Stevens Trail is about 7.5 miles long located near Colfax, California. The trail is great for hiking and normally takes a half day. It is very scenic, rich in history and is on the National Register of Historic places. Built by Truman Allen Stevens it was used as a toll road for miners that needed to get from the mining town of Iowa Hill to the railroad town of Colfax. The trail was forgotten but then rediscovered in 1969 but a boy scout, Eric Kiel, and recharted as part of his scouting project. Today it is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.

Tips: Don't miss the lady bugs at Secret Ravine if you hike this trail during the winter.

Points of Interest


Trailhead and Parking Area

The trail is said to be very popular and a good one for horseback riders and mountain bikers, but we only encountered hikers on our December day hike. In fact, at 9:30 am, there was only one other car in the lot, but there were several there in the afternoon when we got back. There is a restroom (one of those concrete port-a-potty types) in the parking area, which we always appreciate after long drive.

From Sacramento, take Interstate 80 east and exit at North Canyon Way (exit 135) at Colfax. Turn left on North Canyon Way, which parallels the freeway, and after a short distance you'll see the parking area sign on the left side saying Stevens Trail.

On the opposite side of the parking area from the restroom, you'll see a sign marking the trail. It says 4.5 miles (9 miles round trip), but our trip to the North Fork American River and back was 7.5 miles total. Maybe it depends how far you walk along the river once you get to Secret Ravine.

Slaughter Ravine

After about half a mile, you'll cross a seasonal tributary to Slaughter Ravine with a narrow (maybe too narrow for some) board to cross. After crossing it you'll see a trail sign directing you to the right.

Stevens Trail

Stevens Trail leaves the graded road and heads toward Robbers Ravine. Look for this metal post marked "TRAIL" and an arrow pointing left.

Hiker - Biker - Equestrian Junction

Bikers and equestrians will take the trail to the right (lower) here. Hikers should take the trail to left and head past Cape Horn toward the rocky gourge crossing at Robbers Ravine.

Union Pacific Railroad

Look to your left and up on this section of trail to see the 1000 ft cliffs of Cape Horn and the still active portion of the Union Pacific Railroad. According to the literature I've read, this wall was constructed by Chinese workers in the 1860's as part of the original transcontinental railroad.

We also saw many red-headed woodpeckers along this section of the trail.

Robbers Ravine

This may be the trickiest crossing of the hike, so be careful, the rocks can be wet. In December 2011, when we hiked this, there was only a trickle of water. We passed some other hikers here on the way back and overheard them saying that this was the lowest they have ever seen the water level.

Gradual Decent

After the Robbers Ravine crossing, the trail climbs a little and then merges with the bike trail again. From here it follows the river and runs along the canyon side, gradually taking you down to the river over the remaining 1.5 to 2 miles. Also along this stretch is an abandoned mine, but we didn't see it (maybe next time). The mine is said to be unstable and extremely dangerous.

While admiring the spectacular views of the American River, you should also be able to see the Iowa Hill - Colfax Road Bridge.

Secret Ravine

You'll have to cross the creek at Secret Ravine. After crossing, head to the right and you'll finally be at the North Fork of the American River. If you do this hike in the winter, check the nearby trees and plants for 1000's of lady bugs clustering for the winter.
Pictures in this guide taken by: Achaetes
Today we started out early to avoid the heat and picked this trail because it was well shaded and ended at the river to cool off. Great path-narrow but well maintained. When we started off two canine guides joined us. Our most loyal guide, Penny, met us at the end of the trail to bring us back out. Nice bonus! My only advice on this trail is to make sure you are covered up. There was a lot of poison oak all along the trail--just finished up giving my dog a bath and cleaning up my gear to hopefully avoid the rash!
Visited on Jul 05, 2014

by scrubjay on Jul 05, 2014
Great day hike...but-we brought gear to camp but the crazy hobo miners by the river changed our minds. We had a spot all picked out and then one rolled up and was creepily curious about where we were camping and how many of us were there. Then came back to where we were sitting about 10 minutes later and wanted to make sure we were going to camp here for the night all the while eyeballing our gear. We found another campsite but it was literally covered in trash and bad juju. We decided to hike back in the dark to the parking lot and then decided to hit up the Auburn Alehouse for a well-deserved beer. Like I said- great hike but not a good trail for overnight camping.
Visited on May 16, 2014

by Crippler on May 28, 2014
Great hike. We set out before 9 and the mosquitos were wicked. Once we moved lower, they were better. The trail down has a few steep spots and tricky footing around the first waterfall area. A bumper crop of poison oak this year; would recommend long pants as it creeps over the trail in spots. Beautiful, expansive views, the river was amazing and felt wonderfully cool on our hot feet. The hike back up is a workout and then some. We took the left fork of the trail onto the bike side to avoid negotiating the fall area with a dog. It definitely felt like a steeper grade and isn't well marked. We came to another fork and went left.... don't. Go to the right. Thank heavens for gps on the phone! (There is great cell service the whole way.) Take A LOT of water.... with the elevation gain, it's a serious workout and there isn't much shade on the way back up.
Visited on Apr 27, 2013

by iknit2 on Apr 28, 2013
This is a favorite trail my friends and I frequent! It is beautiful with several waterfalls along the way.(note the rainfall before in case) We have taken a little dog before and were able to cross one of the bigger waterfalls with him. My more extreme friends run and bike this trail( there is a shale mountain a girlfriend of mine slipped on while running! Be careful!)
Easy enough for a few beers along the way so long as you bring a lot of water. My friend Aaron and I brought Back in Black canned beer and were cooling them in the water when a couple of senior ladies hiked by, the older of the two said she and her husband found an unopened beer once and were so pleased to drink it on the way back we decided next time we would leave one for someone to find as well!
Another hiker warned us he saw a rattlesnake one day but we didn't see any animals other than the billions of ladybugs having too much fun in the blue lupin flower bushes along the trail. ;) so many lovely plants and flowers along the way :) I'd recommend bringing an identification book for fun! Also the same male hiker warned us about poison ivy in the summer..I didn't notice an abnormal amount but if you have a dog with you maybe wash them up a bit in the river before bringing them back in the car, just in case.
But do take this hike! Oh another warning, don't be tricked by the all downhill beginning to this hike. You have to go all uphill on the way back..if you aren't as in shape as ahem some of your crazy running friends, do not be tempted to lay down on the trail you will be eaten by ants! Also I almost forgot! There are ticks! Check your animals and yourself. My friend noticed the one on my arm but it wasn't until that evening the one on my back became present..yeah don't lay down hah.
Haha and yet I love this trail. :) :) :) each of the 'bad' things came up once never again once you are aware you can prepare!

by LaurelRae7.5 on Dec 18, 2012
My sister and I went on this hike and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, we were pretty exhausted from the ups and downs and the heat, so by the time we got to robber's ravine, we decided to turn back. We'll be doing it again in the future so we can go all the way to the river. Don't miss the rock outcrop that is about 50 feet before robber's ravine. It's just off the trail to the right and the views from the rocks are stunning!
Visited on May 31, 2012

by AngelaTheGeek on Jul 11, 2012
I really liked this hike. It was full of gold rush era history and had great views of the North Fork of the American River. An unexpected surprise were hundreds, maybe thousands of lady bugs clustering for the winter and Secret Ravine.
Visited on Dec 03, 2011

by Achaetes on Jan 24, 2012

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We're starting to train for a 4 day Inca Trail hike in 2012. We're new to hiking, but getting hooked...

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