Are you looking for a sweet weekend hike or backpacking trip near Sacramento? Look no further than the Palisade Creek Trail — it offers everything from granite, water-falls, and thick forests, to great opportunities for climbing some awesome peaks. The hike is about a total of 22 miles long — 11 miles both ways. The Palisade Creek Trail is located only an hour and a half away from Sacramento, and the trailhead is not too far off of I-80, on the way to Lake Tahoe. The trail starts at the Cascade Lakes and ends at the North Fork of the American River. The trailhead is relatively easy to get to, but keep in mind that there is a three mile dirt road you’ll have to drive on to get there. If you don’t have an SUV, sports wagon, or some other off-road worthy vehicle, don’t worry, you can still make it. I successfully reached the Palisade Creek trailhead in my Honda Fit.
Directions to the Palisade Creek Trail from Sacramento:
- Take the Soda Springs/Norden Exit
- Turn right onto Donner Pass Road
- Turn right onto Cascade Road
- Take first right on to Pahatsi Road
- Continue onto Kidd Lake Road
Notes: Once onto Kidd Lake Road, you’ll soon reach the unpaved portion of the road. Continue straight on the dirt road (without turning off for any of the other campsites or lakes). The road will dead end at the Palisade Creek trailhead and parking lot. You’ll park between the Upper and Lower Cascade Lakes, right next to the dam.
My hike on the Palisade Creek Trail:
I went on an overnight solo trip and left the trailhead at about 2:30 pm on a Saturday (October 12th, 2013). I knew I wanted to ascend Devil’s Peak (almost 8,000 feet in elevation and right off of the Palisade Creek Trail), but I decided to try and make it to the end of the the trail first and save the ascent of Devil’s Peak for the next day. Hiking at a relatively steady and fast hiking pace, I reached the bridge crossing Palisade Creek and the beginning of the descent to the North Fork American River at about 5:00pm.
It started getting dark on my way down into the valley, which made me anxious about reaching camp before dark (especially after I spotted several signs of bears along the way, including a couple of dug-up beehives). Thankfully it only took another 45 minutes to reach the end of the trail, so I had plenty of time to set up my tent, eat, and hang a bear bag before dark.
At the end of the Palisade Creek Trail, you’ll find a nicely constructed bridge that crosses over the North Fork American River. Cross over, then hike down the river a bit to discover the beautiful Heath Falls.
The water pouring over the smooth granite was gorgeous during the day, but it was even more magical and stunning under the light of the moon. I discovered that you have a lot of time in the dark on your hands when you’re backpacking by yourself, so I experimented with a little moonlight photography.
The next day I woke up at 5:30am and checked my bear bag. It was undisturbed, so I happily pulled it down and got to work brewing some coffee. OK, I’ll admit it, I didn’t brew it, so much as I added a little pack of Starbuck’s Via into hot water. At 6:30am, I set out and headed back up out of the valley with the goal of ascending Devil’s Peak. Ascending out of the valley and up Devil’s Peak on the same day was a bit more challenging than I anticipated!
I made it to the base of Devil’s Peak by about 10am. The climb up took a little longer than going down, plus I stopped a few times to take pictures. After eating an early lunch, I set my bag down and started working my way up to the top of Devil’s Peak’s razor sharp ridge.
There are several ways to ascend Devil’s Peak. I climbed up using a trail/creek bed from the northeast side of the peak. To get to this trail, simply cut across from the Palisade Creek Trial, near the north end of the peak. You’ll soon come to a small meadow/marsh at the base of the peak. Cut across the meadow, just to the left of a large dead pine tree. You’ll run into a trail that wraps around the base of the peak. Follow the trail to the right/north until you come across a small trail trail at the very north side of the peak that veers off, making it’s way up the peak. Follow the small trail until you reach a rocky gorge. There’s no trail from here, just a steep, crumply, rocky gorge.
Use extreme caution and make your way to the top of the peak through the gorge. Once you get to the top there is extreme danger of falling off of the east side down a straight drop. Avoid this danger by staying just west of the ridge. Enjoy the amazing views! It took approximately 1 hour to reach the top of Devil’s Peak from Palisade Creek Trail.
Overall, the Palisade Creek Trail offers amazingly diverse scenery and terrain in such a short distance. You’ll come across plenty of wildlife and a variety of trees, flowers, and shrubs. There are numerous lakes and streams, providing plenty of access to water, and there are a number of excellent camping spots. If you look carefully, you might even find a few petroglyphs and old California Indian acorn processing holes in granite near the American River.
Another cool thing about this trail, is that it’s free to use. There aren’t any camping or parking fees required. Just remember, leave it better than you found it! I found several plastic bottles left behind.
Happy hiking on the Palisade Creek Trail! Would love to hear about your trip!
Originally posted 2013-10-15 12:06:29.