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The Sweetwater trail is a short but Sweet trail near the American River Inlet to Folsom Lake. The trail is an out-and-back with three trail heads. One of the trail heads is immediately across the (new) Salmon Falls bridge from the Salmon Falls (Darrington) trail head. All of the photographs on the site are from an earlier ride I did on the 4th of July.
Often we will extend the ride by parking in the Falcon Crest area which is about about 3 miles before the bridge on Salmon Falls Road. By starting there we can ride the Falcon Crest trail, Sweetwater and cross the bridge to ride Salmon Falls as well.
To get to the Falcon Crest trail head take highway 50 East out of Sacramento and exit on the Eldorado Hills (North) exit. Follow Eldorado Hills Boulevard for about 10 miles. At some point it becomes Salmon Falls road. About 4 miles before the Salmon Falls bridge there is a small park area with a big Falcon Crest Sign. Turn left and proceed down the small road to the public parking area at the bottom. The trail head which goes to Sweetwater is on the east most portion of the parking area.
If you choose to ride the Falconcrest section you will find that it is not used by mountain bikers much, perhaps because the climbs are very steep and the creek crossing must be walked. There is a very fun steep rocky descent at the end of the Falconcrest trail which drops you down to a creek bed. Once you cross the creek you need to veer right at a three way intersection and then left at the next intersection. This will dump you onto the main Sweetwater trail.
We left for the trail head at around 10:00 AM and it was cloudy but dry when we left. By the time we reached the trail head the rain was just starting to come down in a gentle drizzle. We chose to start at the more popular Sweetwater trail head which is an unmarked parking lot on the left hand side of Salmon Falls road about 1 ½ miles past the Falcon Crest trailhead. It was raining lightly and threatening to seriously dump on us today so we planned on making it a short ride, perhaps just the Sweetwater section only.
We set out down the Sweetwater trail, there are a couple of intersections at the beginning, but as long as you stay to the right and watch the signs it's fairly straight forward. After you clear a couple of small rock gardens there is a small metal plated bridge.
For the first couple of miles the trail is relatively flat and curves in and out of trees and thick manzanita brush. Most of Sweetwater trail is a fairly easy and there are no sustained climbs so all but the most novice rider will feel fairly comfortable on this trail.
All along the ride there are excellent views of Folsom Lake, and there are several side trails which go down to the beach. As the lake gets low in the late summer and through winter you can see the old Salmon Falls bridge and during certain times of the year you can cross it to make a loop between Sweetwater and Salmon Falls. When the snow melts in the spring the bridge completely disappears under the lake.
About 2 miles into the ride there are a couple of fairly difficult rock gardens. The first one will be rideable by most intermediate riders. The second one has a couple of large embedded rocks that I haven't been able to clean yet. Kevin tried to clean the large rock today but we both wound up walking it.
After the rock gardens the trail gets into a section of fun, fast rolling hills. The trail has some steep downhill sections and many of them are loose and off camber. In some parts the trail is thin and I have ridden right off the edge of the trail. As you can see from the picture it appears that quite a few other people have ridden off the edge as well.
About ½ mile before the end of the trail there are two short but very steep climbs which will be a problem for most novice riders. We have dubbed the first one "Dead Brother Drop" due to a dramatic dismount Martin performed on the return trip which culminated in a cracked helmet. Climbing is Dead Brother Drop is difficult but not particularly dangerous. Descending is kind of tricky and can be dangerous because of the stump and several largish rocks in the middle of the preferred line.
The second of these climbs is a creek crossing which is about a quarter mile from the trail's end. The creek crossing is pretty tame but it makes the short climb afterwards difficult. Today the trail was slick from the rain so it was even more difficult than usual. The return trip is not as tough as Dead Brother Drop, but it can be a little tricky.
A short while after the creek crossing the trail ejects into a parking lot at the base of the Salmon Falls bridge. By this time the rain had stopped completely so we decided to continue across the bridge and ride Salmon Falls trail.