- June 14, 2017
Summer in Sacramento means longer days, warmer temperatures, and kids on school vacation – all of which make for more chances to get outside and enjoy the season with family. Making the most of outdoor opportunities doesn’t necessarily mean having to take long road trips, though. Sacramento is bicycle country, both inside the city limits and in its surrounding environs. In this article we’ll take a look at ten family-friendly bicycle trails and loops in the local area that are waiting right now for you and yours to get out and explore.
Downtown bike routes
If you don’t have a lot of time. you can choose from several relatively compact bike loops inside Sacramento proper. Our favorites include:
Surrounding McKinley Park with McKinley Boulevard to the north, 33rd Street and Alhambra Boulevard to the east and west, and H Street to the south, this route covers one-and-a-half miles inside of downtown. The park has activity possibilities for everyone: a playground for small children, a climbing wall, horseshoe pit, a basketball court and fields for soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball.
Aside from what you might find inside of the park itself, additional attractions nearby include Clunie Pool with its regular and shallow play pools, shaded deck area and picnic tables and benches, the Shepard Art Center featuring exhibits both natural (gardening, conservation and floral) and more hands-on (woodcarving, metalworking, weaving and various crafts), and the East Sacramento Farmers Market where you can purchase organic fruits and vegetables as well as locally-made art and craft items (Saturdays only, 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM).
This route is a great choice for a hot day when you want to cool down in the park or by the pool, or if you want to spend time gaining an appreciation for some of the cultural and artistic exhibits and goods available in the downtown area.
The Four-Mile Loop
If you take the corner of 25th Street and Marshall Way as your starting point and travel clockwise, this circuit takes you south along East Curtis Drive until it meets with Sutterville Road, then west until you turn make your way north and east again on Freeport Boulevard, 13th Avenue, Landpark Drive, 11th Avenue, 17th Street, Bidwell Way, 19th Street and 4th Avenue until you link up with Marshall Way again.
The center of this route contains William Land Park, which includes kid-friendly places like the Sacramento Zoo, Funderland Park and Fairytale Town. Along the way you will also find places to indulge your sweet tooth: Marie’s Donuts, Freeport Bakery, Spinners Cinnamon Rolls and the Macau Café.
The Four-Mile Loop is perfect if you have more time to spend than on the shorter McKinley Park Loop, and is an especially good choice if you have young children with you.
The Midtown Loop
A three-mile circuit, the Midtown Loop stakes a middle ground between the shorter McKinley Park Loop and the Four-Mile Loop. It has long east-west straight stretches on K Street and Capitol Avenue, with 28th Street being its border on the east and 14th Street on the west. Bring along a backpack, basket or some other way to bring back purchases, because shopping possibilities await you along your way: Heart Clothing and the Ladybuggz Boutique beckon to the clothes shopper, while Urban Spirit and Time-Tested Books offer more eclectic items like craft supplies and hard-to-find books and vinyl records.
If you are more interested in things to see rather than buy, you will not be disappointed on this route. The International World Peace Rose Garden is one of eight gardens in Mexico, Italy, China and the USA dedicated to advancing world peace, cultural and religious understanding, and the California Museum’s interactive exhibits will remind you of why living in the Golden State is itself one of life’s more enriching experiences.
And if you get hungry or thirsty along the way, Pushkins Brunch (sandwiches as well as plate and vegan menus), Café Bernardo (European fare) and the Wholehearted Juice Company (organic raw juice blends as well as varieties of coffee) will satisfy the former or slake the latter.
The Midtown Loop is perhaps more rewarding for adults than children in terms of things to do and see, but like all of the routes we cover in this article you can bring the kids along for a good morning or afternoon bike ride.
Bike routes outside of downtown
This West Sacramento trail runs in a north-south straight line for a little more than three miles, with its northern boundary at Marina Greens Drive and its southern one at Gregory Avenue. It follows the track route of the old Sierra Northern Railroad. The City of Sacramento has plans to eventually lengthen this trail to nearly ten miles.
Much of this trail is a long, tree-lined route that is quiet and comparatively serene relative to the busier downtown loops. Along the way you can stop for refreshments at Lenise’s Café (European-style menu with specialty drinks) and the Hula Hawaiian BBQ.
If you are mainly interested in a short ride with more scenery than opportunities to stop and shop or engage in non-biking activities, this is a good candidate to consider.
In days past the Sacramento Northern Interurban Railway carried passenger traffic between Chico and Sacramento until it closed in more than 70 years ago. Today the tracks are long gone, but you can follow the path of the railroad via the Sacramento Northern Bikeway, a nearly 10-mile trail that will take you through some of Sacramento’s older neighborhoods as you make your way out of the city and into its surrounding area.
Starting on C Street in downtown Sacramento between 19th Street and 20th Street, this scenic outing will have you passing over old railroad bridges and through parks as you make your way out of the city limits. The trail eventually straightens into a flat, paved course through farmland and cattle pastures that will ultimately lead you to its end point at Elverta road. From there you can either turn around and pedal back, or you can hitch a shuttle ride if you’re ready to call it a day.
Cycling for miles through the countryside in the heat of summer can be a challenge, but the trail is tree-lined for much of its length and has many places where you can stop for a breather or to cool off. If you need a bite to eat along the way, try Mama Kim Cooks for some of its southern American soul food.
This route is great when you can take your time and want to get out of the city with your family to a more relaxed, rural surrounding.
Arguably two trails in one, the Sacramento River Parkway Trail has a northern section beginning at the Jibboom Street Bridge that crosses through Old Sacramento and a southern one in the vicinity of the Pocket neighborhood. Its nine-mile route packs a lot of scenery and attractions along the way. If you like historic places, visit the California State Railroad Museum (Sacramento is a major rail hub and the trail will take you past what once was the largest concentration of rail yards in the United States) or the Crocker Art Museum (the oldest public art museum west of the Mississippi River). You’ll pass by a 15-foot high, two-ton bronze statue of a Pony Express rider that memorializes a time when mail delivery was a much more arduous and risky proposition than it is today. The Latino Center of Art and Culture highlights the historical and current artistic, literary and musical contributions of Latin American and Native American peoples to the rich cultural tapestry that is one of California’s signature characteristics.
If you want to enjoy scenery as you ride along the river route, aside from Old Sacramento – which is a local and tourist attraction in its own right – this trail features multiple parks along its way and intersects with other bicycle trails that offer vistas of their own worth checking out. One of the more striking things you will see is the Tower Bridge at M Street with its distinctive 1930s architecture, which was for many years the main entry point into the city.
This trail offers an excellent combination of sightseeing, shopping, recreational and eating experiences; it has something for almost everyone, no matter what you are in the mood for. Although much of its route is off-street, between its northern and southern segments in particular you will need to ride on bike lanes adjacent to the road. If you have children with you, you will want to pay more attention to them in closer proximity to traffic.
This is a short route as far as trails outside of downtown are concerned, a little more than three-and-a-half miles between Sacramento and Webster (you can link up to the Old Highway 40 Bike Path there if you want to continue on to Davis). The course parallels Interstate Highway 80 for much of its way, making use of the same Yolo Causeway that the freeway does.
While cycling next to the Interstate may not seem at first like a good way to see nature, this trail will take you past the Yolo Wildlife Bypass Area: more than 16,000 acres of wetland set aside as a refuge for many kinds of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals. If you are a nature-watcher, you will find this sanctuary to be a “target-rich environment” that will provide you with hours of opportunities to see animals both familiar and unfamiliar. This makes it a great place to take the kids for an educational outing that as also active and fun.
Restaurants are, understandably, fewer along the way on this trail compared to some of the others we cover in this article. But if taking in a large dose of nature whets your appetite, try Eppie’s Restaurant for Chinese as well as American fare.
If you really want to get out of downtown Sacramento, but don’t want to travel too far from the city, consider the Granite Bay Trail. This is a 12-mile loop overlooking Lake Folsom in many locations, with a gradual ascent to a rest area where you can stop and take in the surrounding vistas. The trail takes a winding route throughout and has many intersecting trails that allow you to extend your route if you choose. If you want a more challenging ride, you can find a few “technical areas” and granite slabs to navigate.
The Granite Bay Trail is popular with equestrians as well as bicyclists, so be on the lookout for horses. Its length and grade make for a more physically demanding ride, but not requiring undue exertion (if you have kids with a lot of energy, this offers a good way for them to burn some of it off). If you want to encounter fewer fellow-travelers while there, try starting out in the early morning or late afternoon.
This trail is not your first choice if you are looking for a lot of other things to do than cycling and soaking in some refreshing views of Lake Folsom (we assume that escaping the bustle of downtown is a key reason for going here in the first place). You can pick up some fresh produce like peaches, plums, persimmons and other fruit at Otow Orchard, and the nearby town of Granite Bay offers additional ways to be active with its golf courses, tennis courts and multiple parks.
Further to the northwest of Sacramento than the Granite Bay Trail is the Olmsted Loop, a nine-and-a-half mile circuit close to the town of Cool. In addition to enjoying the natural scenery – splendid panoramic views of rolling hills, wild flowers (especially in springtime) and oak trees – the loop takes you close to local attractions that will bring you back to the origins of the California Gold Rush and how it influenced the lives of the people who emigrated to the state to be a part of it.
The trail itself is rated as “moderate,” meaning that it has a 700-foot elevation but nothing too strenuous for the occasional cyclist to handle (if you do like mountain biking, it has places where you can indulge yourself). It is not a dedicated bike trail: you will find hikers, trail runners, horseback riders and dog-walkers along your way.
Conditions on this trail can vary, especially in wetter weather when it has a reputation of becoming muddy with trail washouts in places. Some parts are not always clearly marked, so bring along a map.
Although not on or adjacent to the Olmsted Loop, the Gold Discovery Museum and Sutter’s Mill are nearby in Coloma. Here you can learn more about the initial discovery of gold in 1848 that prompted the largest migration of people in the history of the Western Hemisphere, including what became a large population of Chinese immigrants in Coloma that thrived for a time between the late 1850s and 1880, when fire destroyed virtually all the town’s Chinatown area. All that remains of it today are the Wah Hop and Man Lee stores, both of which are well preserved and hold many artifacts from the gold rush years.
This trail makes for a good hybrid road trip and cycling excursion day outing, where you can soak in both natural beauty and significant history close to one another.
Also known as the American River Trail, you might think of this as Sacramento’s premiere trail for everyone: bicyclists, walkers, joggers, inline skaters, equestrians, it even has wheelchair access. This two-lane, largely-shaded trail runs for 32 miles between Old Town’s Discovery Point and the southern point of Folsom Lake, with 30 miles being off-road. It has amenities galore: restrooms, telephones, drinking fountains, rest areas and a wide range of places where you can stop to sightsee, shop, and eat. It has several access points along its route, so you can customize your trip depending on how much time you have to spend.
Places to see
As you may imagine, given the length and popularity of this trail we cannot list every opportunity to experience along the way. But here are some suggestions to help you get started with exploring what it has to offer:
- The William B. Pond Clay Banks Recreation Area. Presents an assortment of natural habitats from forests to ponds, fields and streams; picnicking; and fishing for catfish, trout, bass, bluegill and more.
- The Elmanto Clay Banks. Situated in the William B. Pond Recreation Area, this combination of the flowing American River and dirt mounds protruding from it draws the playful of all ages and provides a safe place to swim.
- The Nimbus Hatchery. Here you can see where Steelhead and Chinook Salmon are raised for eventual release into the American River. Includes a visitor center with educational activities for children as well as adults.
Places to eat
You will find a multitude of choices when you get hungry on the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, particularly in its Sacramento environs. Just a sampling:
- The Virgin Sturgeon Restaurant. Seafood and more, including a full bar and outdoor seating.
- Crawdads on the River. “Classic American fare with a Cajun twist.” Brunch, lunch and dinner.
- La Bou Bakery and Café. Croissants, pastries, soups, salads and sandwiches coupled with espresso drinks.
- The Old Spaghetti Factory. Italian food with ambiance created by antique lighting and stained glass displays and even a trolley car that’s also a dining area.
- Coffee Republic. Coffee and tea combined with an assorted menu of American-style foods: gourmet sandwiches, soups, salads and other deli offerings, as well as vegetarian items. Indoor and outdoor seating.
- Italian Ice Cream Company. A good way to cool down on a summer afternoon with Italian ice, Gelato, Sorbetto or other frozen desserts.
Places to shop
- Piece of Mind Design Studio. Jewelry-making supplies, including hard-to-find and unusual pieces. Also offers classes in jewelry-making.
- Folsom Outlet Mall. More than 70 stores and restaurants to choose from.
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Dr. Jacqueline "Jax" Cheung grew up in Sacramento, California. She is a Christian Wife, Proud Mom, Major Foodie, Sacramento Native, Elk Grove Resident, Feminist, Adoption Advocate, Blogger, Freelance Writer, and Cat Lover. Jax is the owner of the award winning Jax Chronicles Blog & Adoption Ministry. She is also the Editor-In-Chief of the Elk Grove Tribune, and freelances for Sacramento4Kids, and many other publications. She was voted Sacramento Area A-List Best Local Blogger 2014, 2015, 2017 & 2018 and Best of Elk Grove Best Blogger 2016 & 2017. In 2019 Jax was recognized for Outstanding Service & Dedication to Elk Grove and also received an Award of Recognition from the California State Senate. Jax is married to Dr. Kenneth Cheung (Kenny). Jax and Kenny live in Elk Grove, California and have 2 daughters named Roxy and Carissa, and 3 cats named Mochi, Miso, and Mango. To follow her journey please like her Jax Chronicles Facebook page, follow her Instagram @jaxchronicles, follow her Twitter @jaxchronicles, or check out Jax Chronicles Blog & Adoption ministry.