Length: 4.4 miles out and back
Hiking time: 2-3 hours
Difficulty level: easy
Lake Clementine Trail features the tallest bridge in California, gold-rush-era bridge remains, exposed Jurassic-period geology, riparian zone and foothill flora, a rock-lined swimming hole, and a tree-lined lake. A gentle grade offers some along this 2.2 mile hike on a trail shared with runners and mountain bikers. For beginners to the area, the four-mile round-trip Lake Clementine Trail has it all. Easy hiking along the north fork of the river, panoramic canyon views, the tallest bridge in California, wildflowers in spring, rich Native American and mining history and the reward of a man-made waterfall at the trail's end.
The trail is located at the confluence of the middle and north forks of the American River, located on Highway 49 three miles below Auburn. Cross the bridge and park on the right. The trailhead is on the left across from the parking area at the green gate.
The trail starts beside the curved Old Foresthill Bridge built in 1955. This is a popular swimming area in summer months. The trail begins on pavement, part of an old road that linked the mining communities of Auburn and Foresthill.
After walking a quarter mile look for the concrete abutments left from the "Steel Bridge" that served traffic from 1911-1955.
Rising high above the river is the new Foresthill Bridge erected in 1973.
At 730 feet above the river and 2,248 feet in length, it is the highest bridge in California and the third highest in the United States. If the proposed Auburn Dam were built, the high water mark of the reservoir created would hit just 22 feet below the top of the bridge piers at 590 feet above the river.
The trail narrows and becomes single track for a short distance. After walking three-quarters of a mile, the river will slow and become tranquil. This is Clark's pool, a popular swimming hole for 100 years. Look for the side path down to the water where in summer a sandy beach is exposed. In the early 1900's, the city of Auburn set up a concession stand and lifeguards on the beach.
About one mile upstream, look for the stone piers of another bridge. This is the site of a covered wooden toll bridge similar to the one found at Bridgeport.
It was built in 1875. Cows cost 6 cents, horsemen 50 cents and wagons led by two horses $1 to cross the bridge. Just a short distance from here, look for the remains of three more bridge foundations dating as far back as 1852.
Another noticeable landmark rising 1,000 feet above the river is the craggy outcropping of limestone known as "Lime Rock" or "Robber's Roost." Native Americans believed a spirit lived in the rock and could be heard moaning from deep inside its many caves just before and during a storm.
A band of outlaws known as the Gasaway Gang used it as a lookout, watching for approaching wagons traveling along the stagecoach road. The bandits owned a hotel and stage stop in Clipper Gap and sometimes robbed the very people who were staying at their hotel. The rock is on private property but once a year, members of the Canyon Keepers are allowed permission to hike and explore the rock.
The trail continues through a shaded portion of the old stagecoach route. The dirt trail ends at the pavement of Lower Lake Clementine access road. Follow the road for a one-quarter mile, and then take the side trail on the left down to the river where water spills from the North Fork Dam creating three and a half mile long Lake Clementine. If you're lucky you'll get a rainbow or two with your waterfall.
Make sure you pack a lunch, swim suit, towel, sunscreen and lots of water!