Typically, I only embark on hiking trails that offer scenic views of a lake, a waterfall, a river or a cool landmark like an old bridge or historic building. And, rarely do I ever find a hike that offers all of the above. So, when I discovered that the Lake Clementine Trail had all of the scenic aspects that I look for in a hike, I was like a kid on Christmas morning just counting down the hours until I could unwrap this exploration.
My journey began on an early Friday morning in mid-April. I was out of my house by 7am and at the trailhead parking area within an hour. The parking area is located on Old Foresthill Road just past the Old Foresthill Bridge on the right side of the road. This is about 5 miles northeast of the city of Auburn. At 8am on a Friday morning, I was the only car in the parking area. I always try to get out to the trailheads before anyone else arrives, so that I can hit the trails without any interruptions or unintentional ‘photo bombs’.
For the Lake Clementine Trailhead, there is a $10 fee to park there. This hike is definitely worth at least $10. And if that weren’t enough to ease the transition of $10 out of the pocket, the parking area does have bathrooms. And yes, I was laughing out loud as I typed that last sentence.
The Lake Clementine Trailhead
Once I was all geared up, I walked across the Old Foresthill Road to gate 139 where the trail officially begins. There’s a sign on the gate that lists the distances for the significant points of interest including a local watering hole, Lake Clementine and a few other trails. Looming over the trail for the first 3/4 of a mile is the New Foresthill Bridge. The trail travels underneath the bridge which is roughly 731 feet above the riverbed. The bridge spans an estimated 2,429 feet and is the 3rd highest bridge in the United States.
Check out my article on the Foresthill Bridge for more pictures and information.
Watering Hole: Clarks Hole
Continuing north, the trail runs parallel with the North Fork American River. On both sides of the trail, there are some intriguing things from flora to remnants of an old steel bridge. For the first 20 minutes or so, the hike is very pleasant. The river flows nicely, despite our recent severe drought, and the bridge is mesmerizing at times. In fact, I was so caught up with the bridge and the surrounding area that I didn’t even realize I had reached Clarks Hole.
Clarks Hole, also called Clarks Pool, is a large swimming hole where the river seems to stop flowing. It’s so peaceful and serene.
Early in the morning is the ideal time to take pictures as the water captures beautiful reflections. I have been coming to the American River ever since I was a little kid and I have never seen a more beautiful spot along the river than Clarks Hole, when the sun is still low enough to provide beautiful reflections off the river. These reflections were spectacular and left me speechless.
Check out my article on Clarks Hole for amazing photos and more interesting information
It really was hard for me to leave Clarks Hole. I spent probably 45 minutes at this location just snapping photos, looking for the perfect shot and inhaling the peaceful bliss. But, I knew that I had to get moving before the temperature rose and the trail got crowded. From the mile marker until about the two mile mark, the trail was all uphill. It was a steady climb in elevation and it does provide a good workout, especially if carrying a heavier backpack. This part of the trail is actually an old stage coach road that used to connect the town of Auburn with other gold mining camps. At about the 2 mile mark, the paved Lake Clementine Road is a welcoming site. There’s a gate here and some large cobwebs that looked like they could only be from a spider large enough to eat a human. Make a left on the paved road and follow the signs toward Lake Clementine. This part of the hike is roughly 1/2 mile.
To Lake or To Dam, That is the Question
When approaching the lake, there are a few side trails on the left that lead down to beautiful views of the water cascading over the dam. Now, most people take these trails and just go see the dam. Well, I’m not most people. In fact, on this day, I felt more like the tour guide because I was giving directions to at least a dozen more hikers on the way back from the dam. But, I am getting ahead of myself here. I decided to go to the lake first and was rewarded with the entire Lake Clementine to myself. That’s right! There wasn’t a boat or a person anywhere on the lake. I walked to the edge of the boat dock, sat there with my feet dangling off, and thanked God for the peace and serenity that I was experiencing.
In other words, I was “king of the lake.” I spent about an hour here just enjoying life, the views, taking pictures and something to eat. This truly was a memorable experience. I never imagined that I could have an entire lake (reservoir) to myself. After one of the most relaxing hours of my entire life was up, I hiked back over to the dam. This was only about 100 yards of backtracking on the trail.
Check out my article on Lake Clementine for beautiful photos and information
Taste the Rainbow
Have you ever seen both ends of a rainbow? Well, I never have. Let alone, I never thought I could reach out and touch a rainbow. But, over by the North Fork Dam, that all changed. The cascading water and subsequent mist provide a beautiful backdrop punctuated with at least one brightly colored rainbow. For a while, there were two rainbows. Not only did I get to see a complete rainbow, but I thought I actually touched it. I was waiting for leprechauns or Lucky Charms marshmallows to magically appear.
The spray from the crashing water does make the rocks slippery. So, it’s highly recommended not to climb on the wet rocks. However, there is a little trail that does head down closer to the cascading water. And let me tell you, this water had some power. The vibrations of the crashing water shook the ground and the spray swallows you whole, especially when a slight breeze picks up. I spent at least 30 to 45 minutes by myself taking pictures of the cascading water and enjoying an amazing manmade creation. This dam was built in 1939 by the Army Corps of Engineers and was created to help contain mining debris from up the river.
Check out my article on the North Fork Dam for more photos and information
Time To Go
After enjoying nearly 2 hours of Lake Clementine and the North Fork Dam, I knew it was time to embark on the near 2.5 mile hike back to my car. As I was heading back, I came across many hikers heading up to the damn. Most of them told me that this was their first time hiking on this trail and had no idea how to get to the lake or the dam. Many of them were winded after that 1 mile stretch up hill. I encouraged them with the news of how close they were and that the views were worth the physical strain. The hike back was easier due to the bulk of it going downhill. However, there were more people which made it less possible to take photos. Additionally, many were just hiking to the watering hole for a swim. It was close to noon at this point and the temperature was in the low 80’s. I also came across a few semi-professional photographers and we shared some stories about the trail and other nearby trails in the Auburn State Recreation Area.
This trail, at the right time of the day and year, is a beautiful hike. It has become one of my favorite local hikes and one that I definitely recommend. It does increase in difficulty as you progress up in elevation. It might not be suitable for young children or anyone who has physical limitations. But, if you do get a chance to hike the entire trail, it is definitely worth it. I suggest going early in the morning before the crowds and when the sun is low enough to provide some beautiful scenic pictures. Also, go in the spring when the water is flowing in the river and the flowers are in bloom. However, the cascading water over the dam is powerful year round and the lake itself is just as peaceful any time throughout the year.
Check out more of my Auburn State Recreation Area adventures.