General Overview of Trail
The American Discovery Trail enters California on the Tahoe Rim Trail on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at about 9000 feet. Lake Tahoe lies a few miles to the south and its magnificence can occasionally be seen from the trail. From Palisades Tahoe the ADT follows the Western States Trail, descending from 8,700 feet at Emigrant Pass in the Sierras to 1,300 feet at Auburn while dropping into and back out of several very deep canyons. En route, the ADT follows the 2,600 mile long Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail for several miles as the ADT passes through the Granite Chief Wilderness.
The Pioneer Express Trail and the American River Bikeway lead past Folsom Lake and along the lower American River to Sacramento. From Sacramento the ADT traverses the flat agricultural region known as the Delta before reaching Antioch. From Antioch the ADT follows a series of trails to the summit of Mt. Diablo, through the city of Walnut Creek and Brione and Tilden Parks in the East Bay Hills to the University of California campus at Berkeley.
After crossing the San Francisco Bay by ferry, the ADT follows the Embarcadero, other bayside streets and a bicycle/pedestrian bayside trail to reach the Golden Gate Bridge. The ADT follows the Bay Area Ridge Trail through Marin County into the Muir Woods National Monument. From here the ADT uses a series of trails to continue to the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes National Seashore. On these trails the ADT passes along Bolinas Ridge, crosses Highway 1 and the San Andreas earthquake fault zone and finally follows the shoreline on the Coast Trail to Limantour Beach on the Pacific Ocean.
Detailed Trail Description
Total length of the trail in California is 376 miles and consists of nine segments.
Nevada State Line to Highway 89 at Truckee River Bridge – 22 miles
After entering California on the Tahoe Rim Trail, the ADT follows a southwesterly course through forests and mountain meadows roughly paralleling the northwest shoreline of Lake Tahoe at a distance of several miles. An exceptionally fine panoramic view of the lake can be seen from the ADT directly south of Martis Peak. About 20 miles from the state line, the ADT leaves the Tahoe Rim Trail and follows the Western States Trail, which goes steeply downgrade for 2 to 3 miles to the Truckee River Bridge on Highway 89. The Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe upstream from the Truckee River Bridge.
Hwy 89 to Lewis Campground at French Meadows Reservoir — 27 miles
The ADT follows the Western States Trail most of the way through Palisades Tahoe (a major ski resort area) and passes the Watson Monument Immigrant Pass marker on the ridge at an elevation of 8,700 feet. Less than a mile downgrade from the marker the ADT leaves the Western States Trail onto the Pacific Crest Trail. A few miles to the southeast, the ADT leaves the Pacific Crest Trail and passes through the Whiskey Creek primitive campground and Picayune Valley, passes by the Talbot and Ahart campgrounds, and ends this segment at Lewis Campground at French Meadows Reservoir. (The ADT enters the Granite Chief Wilderness near where it turns onto the Pacific Crest Trail and leaves this wilderness about a mile from the Talbot Campground.)
French Meadows Reservoir to Foresthill – 46 miles
The ADT rejoins the Western States Trail a few miles west of Lewis Campground. It uses the Western States Trail through the Middle Fork of the American River watershed, which is within the Tahoe National Forest. The trail crosses tributary streams of the Middle Fork at the bottom of deep forested canyons. These are the Duncan, North Fork of the Middle Fork, Eldorado, and Volcano streams. On the trail, historic gold mining towns no longer in existence are Last Chance and Deadwood. The trail passes through Michigan Bluff, an historic gold mining town which today has a few residences and a couple of cemeteries. This segment ends at Foresthill, a former gold mining and lumber industry town which is growing today as a retirement community.
Foresthill to Auburn – 33 miles
The ADT descends from Foresthill on the Western States Trail to Fords Bar on the Middle Fork of the American River. The trail then follows the river downstream to the Ruck A Chucky Campground. From here the ADT leaves the Western States Trail and goes upgrade on the Drivers Flat Road to the Foresthill Loop Trail, a few miles on this trail to Foresthill Road, downgrade on the road and the Confluence Trail brings the ADT to the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River. After rejoining the Western States Trail and crossing the American River on the No Hands Bridge, an historic abandoned railroad bridge, the ADT goes upgrade to Robie Point and then to the Pacific Avenue Trailhead for the Western States Trail in Auburn.
Auburn to Sacramento at Discovery Park — 52 miles
From Auburn the ADT follows the Pioneer Express Trail into the American River Canyon, downstream alongside the American River and in the foothills on the WNW side of Folsom Lake in the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. After leaving the Pioneer Express Trail, the ADT follows the American River Bikeway. It passes Folsom Dam, Folsom Prison (which is on the other side of the river below the dam), the historic bridge across Lake Natoma to Old Town Folsom, Lake Natoma, Nimbus Dam, and the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. The ADT then continues on the American River Bikeway (also designated as the Jedediah Smith National Recreation Trail) for over 20 miles through the American River Parkway to the end of this segment at the mouth of the American River where it flows into the Sacramento River in Discovery Park.
Sacramento to Antioch at Contra Loma Regional Park – 73 miles
From Discovery Park in Sacramento, the ADT crosses the American River and follows a levee trail along the Sacramento River to Old Town Sacramento. Old Town has many historic buildings and a Railroad Museum. Leaving Old Town and following city streets, the ADT passes by the magnificent historic state capital building and the Sacramento City Cemetery, which is the resting place for many of California’s early pioneers including John Sutter Jr., the founder of the city of Sacramento and son of Captain John Sutter of California’s gold discovery fame. Farther on, the ADT passes through South Land Park in the heart of one of Sacramento’s most beaufiful residential areas.
After leaving Sacramento, the ADT passes for over 50 miles through a flat agricultural delta area formed by the confluence of several rivers, the largest of which are the Sacramento and San Joaquin. For most of the way through the delta, the ADT uses levee roads and passes through the small towns of Freeport, Clarksburg, Locke (a Chinese village dating to 1850), Walnut Grove, and Isleton.
After crossing the 1.8-mile-long bridge over the San Joaquin River from the delta area into Antioch, the ADT uses city streets for several miles to reach the trailhead for the Delta DeAnza Regional Trail on the Deer Valley Road. Following this trail for a couple of miles, the ADT reaches the Antioch Community Park. From here the ADT enters the adjacent Contra Loma Regional Park on a trail.
Antioch to Walnut Creek at Heather Farms Park – 35 miles
A series of trails (Stewartville, Ridge, Nortonville, Black Diamond, Cumberland, Bruce Lee, Corral Road, Mitchell Canyon, Meridian Ridge, Deer Flat Creek, Prospectors Gap, North Peak, and Summit) take the ADT through the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, through the city of Clayton, and up the north slope of Mt. Diablo to the 3,849 foot high summit. From here on a clear day the central valley of California and hundreds of miles of the Sierra Nevada Mountains beyond the valley can be seen. Five small coal mining towns thrived in the Black Diamond area from the 1860s through the turn of the century.
The ADT leaves the Mt. Diablo Summit on the Summit Trail, then follows the Wall Point Trail and the Briones-Mt. Diablo Trail to Heather Farms Park in the city of Walnut Creek.
Walnut Creek to Golden Gate Bridge – 47 miles
From Walnut Creek the ADT follows a series of trails which begin along the Contra Costa Canal, ascend to Lafayette Ridge, descend from the ridge into Homestead Valley, skirt the shorelines of the Briones and San Pablo Reservoirs and ascend to Inspiration Point. From Inspiration Point the ADT follows trails in the east bay hills through Tilden Regional Park and descends down Strawberry Canyon to the University of California campus in Berkeley and then on through the city streets of Berkeley and Oakland to Jack London Square on the waterfront. Here a ferry is boarded for a ride across San Francisco Bay to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The ADT follows the Embarcadero, other bayside streets, the Golden Gate Promenade, and a pedestrian trail to reach the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge while passing through Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, and the Presidio (a former elite U. S. Army base.)
The northern end of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail is at the Presidio. Fort Point National Historic Site is located at the foot of the bridge on its south side. The fort was built by the U. S. Army in 1861. It is usually windy on the bridge, so tie everything tightly onto your pack as you cross to the north side of the bridge.
Golden Gate Bridge to Limantour Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore – 43 miles
The ADT follows the Coastal, SCA, Bobcat, Marinello, Miwok, and Redwood Creek trails through Marin County into Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods preserves one of the last remnants of the giant redwood trees that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere 140 million years ago. The mature redwoods here are between 500 and 1000 years old and reach up to 250 feet in height.
The ADT leaves Muir Woods on the Stapleveldt Trail which goes upgrade to the Pantoll Ranger Station in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. From here the ADT follows the Matt David and the Coastal trails toward the northwest. On these trails at an elevation of 1500+ feet can be seen splendid views of Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon on the Pacific Ocean shoreline. After continuing on the Bolinas Ridge Trail for several miles, the ADT descends from the ridge on the Randall Trail to near sea level, crosses Highway 1 and the San Andreas earthquake fault zone, and enters Point Reyes National Seashore. The ADT follows the Olema Valley, Stewart, Glenn, Bear Valley, and Coast trails through the national seashore to Limantour Beach, the western terminus of the American Discovery Trail. Congratulations! You made it!
- Tahoe Rim Trail
- Western States Trail
- Pacific Crest Trail
- Foresthill Divide Loop Trail
- Confluence Trail
- Pioneer Express Trail
- American River Bike Trail
- Jedediah Smith National Recreation Trail
- Delta de Anza Regional Trail
- Stewartville Trail
- Ridge Trail
- Black Diamond Trail
- Cumberland Trail
- Black Diamond to Mt. Diablo Trail
- Bruce Lee Trail
- Mitchell Canyon Trail
- Deer Flat Creek Trail
- Prospectors Gap Trail
- North Peak Trail
- Summit Trail
- Wall Point Trail
- Briones-Mount Diablo Trail
- Lafayette Ridge Trail
- Homestead Valley Trail
- Oursan Trail
- Bear Creek Trail
- Inspiration Trail
- Bay Area Ridge Trail
- Sea View Trail
- Vollmer Peak Trail
- Grizzly Peak Trail
- San Francisco Bay Trail
- SCA Trail
- Bobcat Trail
- Miwok Trail
- Redwood Creek Trail
- Deer Creek Park Fire Trail
- Hillside Trail
- Ben Johnson Trail
- Stapleveldt Trail
- Matt Davis Trail
- Coastal Trail
- Bolinas Ridge Trail
- Randall Trail
- Olema Valley Trail
- Stewart Trail
- Glen Trail
- Bear Valley Trail
- Coast Trail
- Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail
- Granite Chief Wilderness
- Auburn State Recreation Area
- Folsom Lake Recreation Area
- American River Parkway
- Discovery Park in Sacramento
- William Land Park in Sacramento
- Contra Loma Regional Park
- Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve
- Mt. Diablo State Park
- Shell Ridge Recreation Area
- Heather Farms Park in Walnut Creek
- Acalanes Ridge Recreation Area
- Briones Regional Park
- Wildcat Canyon Regional Park
- Charles Tilden Regional Park
- Presidio of San Francisco
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- Muir Woods National Monument
- Mt. Tamalpais State Park
- Point Reyes National Seashore
Points of Interest
- Truckee River Rafting
- Palisades Tahoe
- Watson Monument
- Sierra Nevada Mountains
- Duncan Peak Lookout
- Gold Mining Towns
- Last Chance
- Michigan Bluff & Leland Stanford Homestead
- Foresthill Cemetery (Gold Miners)
- Ford Bar on Middle Fork of American River
- No Hands Bridge
- Folsom Dam & Prison
- Folsom Old Town & First Power Plant
- Nimbus Fish Hatchery & Salmon Ladder
- Sacramento Old Town & Railroad Museum
- State Capitol Building
- Sacramento Cemetery (Pioneers)
- Sacramento Zoo
- Mt. Diablo Summit Building
- Strawberry Canyon
- University of California — Berkeley Campus
- Jack London Square in Oakland
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Fort Point National Historic Site
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Olema Valley
Adjoining Trail State: Nevada