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Folsom Lake State Recreation Area

Western States Trail

From Rattlesnake Bar to Horseshoe Bar is 3 miles round trip

Closest to a metropolitan area of all the big reservoir parks, Folsom Lake attracts four million visitors a year. Situated in the Sierra Nevada foothills, just 25 miles from Sacramento, the lake is popular with those who like to camp, water-ski, boat, swim and fish.

Especially fish. Skillful anglers hook trout, catfish, large and small mouth bass, perch and Kokanee.

Folsom Lake, formed by Folsom Dam, has 75 miles of shoreline. The dam is located near the confluence of the North and South forks of the American River; this has created two long arms extending deep into the foothills with a peninsula in between.

In a popular state recreation area like Folsom Lake, rangers have lots of law enforcement duties; they’ve even been known to hold “VFW” reunions—that’s Veterans of Folsom Wars.

Still, even the most law and order-style rangers like to point out the natural beauty of the 6,000 or so acres of land around the lake. Oak woodland and grassland sprinkled with spring wildflowers are part of the intriguing terrestrial habitat.

Hikers and horseback riders enjoy the park’s 80 miles of trail. One stretch is part of the Western States Pioneer Express Trail between Carson City, Nevada and Sacramento. This path also connects Folsom Lake with Auburn State Recreation Area.
Folsom has a number of environmental camps that are only accessible by foot, boat or bicycle.

The more isolated hiking is along the North Fork and the South Fork of the America River, those two long arms of Folsom Lake. Trails north and south from Folsom Dam also offer some good walking.

One fine stretch of Western States Trail is between Rattlesnake Bar and Horseshoe Bar. The “bars” refer to wide turns in the river where miners often found gold.

There’s enough lake traffic to remind you’re hiking in a giant recreation area, but not so much that you can’t enjoy a natural experience.

Directions to trailhead:
From Auburn-Folsom Road (which runs between its two namesake communities on the west side of the lake), turn east on Newcastle Road for 1.1 miles then keep right and continue on Rattlesnake Road and follow it into the park. The trail can be accessed from the horse assembly area or from the boat launch parking lot.

The hike: Before entering the woods, the path meanders a meadowland and offers a curious sight: palm trees. On a humid day, you can imagine you’re on a tropical isle.

The trail ascends into a woodland and crosses a wooden bridge over a creek flowing into the lake. Notice the tangles of wild grape hanging from the trees.

For the first mile and a half, the main trail (wider than a couple of confusing side paths along the way) rises and falls a few times, passing close to some private property and fence lines.

The trail reaches a somewhat level area by the water. Turn around here or continue with the lakeside trail for a few more miles.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at