Eight Great Dog Walks

Kevin Sauls
By Kevin Sauls June 15, 2014 01:11

Exercise, companionship and downright fun are all part of the simple pleasure of taking your dog for a walk in the scenic Mother Lode.

There are as many places to do so as there are streets, paths and byways. These include a number of both popular and lesser-known trails, which offer varying degrees of hiking challenge along with diverse, often breathtaking views of the Central Sierra Nevada and its foothills.

The eight great dog walks listed here take dog owners and their canine companions through scenic parts of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amador counties. The list is by no means comprehensive, but is a sampling of the myriad trails the Mother Lode offers.

Owners, no matter the season, should carry water for both themselves and their dogs, and are bound by the unwritten rules of the trail to clean up after their pooches. They should also be aware of these county leash laws:

  • In Tuolumne County, dogs off their owners’ property must be kept on a leash not more than six feet long.
  • In Calaveras County, owners must take “due care” to control their dogs when off-property, either with a leash or by keeping them “under immediate control” by voice.
  • In Amador County, dogs must be leashed or under similar “immediate control.”

Trails along ditches operated by PG&E and the Tuolumne Utilities District are not included among our eight walks. Much of the ditch system runs through private property and walking along these stretches, although many do so, is technically trespassing.

Here are some FAN favorites where walkers and dogs are welcome:

Bob and Jan Canavan with pals Archie and Sadie on Sonora’s Dragoon Gulch Trail


Dragoon Gulch, Sonora: Although next to a residential area and just minutes from downtown, the City of Sonora’s Dragoon Gulch trail system is far removed from the hustle and bustle of Washington Street. Its paths are green, quiet and afford spectacular views.

Between sunrise and sunset, two- and four-legged walkers can trek up to 2.5 miles on the connecting South Creekside, North Creekside, Vista and Ridge trails. Trailheads and parking are at Woods Creek Rotary Park and at the end of a short spur off Alpine Lane, where disabled access also is available.

Plans are afoot, according to Sonora Community Development Director Rachelle Kellogg, to expand the system in stages to 9.7 miles, with the city gradually increasing the acreage from 35 to 67 to 102 and adding a trailhead off Racetrack Road.

Grant funding is being sought for the million-dollar plan. Grants in 2005 enabled the city to buy the land for the current system.

The existing trails turn from pavement to dirt and gradually grow steeper with occasional switchbacks but are wide enough for walkers and joggers to pass. The Ridge and Vista trails lead up the hills west of Sonora, and near the top of the Ridge is an enchanting tunnel of huge manzanitas.

The payoff, about a mile farther at the end of the aptly named Vista Trail, is a panoramic view of historic downtown.

Blackberries abound along a seasonal creek, poison oak haunts the ravines, and benches for hikers needing a break dot the route. Plastic bags for dog waste and a waste disposal station are near the trail entrance.

Sonora’s official elevation is 1,825 feet. Dragoon trails begin well below and end well above that mark. Motorized vehicles are not allowed. Maps are available online at sonoraca.com.

West Side Railroad Trail, Tuolumne: The route of the old West Side Lumber Company’s historic narrow-gauge logging railroad, opened to hikers in 1992, snakes up the canyon of the North Fork of the Tuolumne River to the River Ranch Campground.

The trail has been cleared to seven miles, according to the Tuolumne Park and Recreation District, which helps to maintain it.

The trailhead is 1.1 miles past the stoplight at the Tuolumne Road entrance to Tuolumne. A left turn on Carter Street and a right on Buchanan Road lead to the parking area.

The views can be dizzying in their beauty as walkers negotiate the well-kept trail along the steep canyon wall. Signs posted by the Tuolumne County Transportation Council explain the area’s logging history and its Native American roots. Other signs remind visitors that they are in the habitat of bears, mountain lions and other wildlife, and wooden placards identify native plants such as bush lupine and elderberry.

For the first mile and a half the trail is up to 10 feet wide and smooth, with disabled access possible. After that the old rails are still in place, and the route narrows to perhaps three or four feet. Access to the east end of the trail is via a connector trail off Buchanan Road, about an eighth of a mile west of River Ranch Campground; a Forest Service marker is at the start, though a bit tricky to find.

“It’s a fine example of rails to trails,” says Jamestown resident Patrick McGinnis, walking with friend Elaine Emmons and Roxy, a Jack Russell terrier.

Ron Parker, a Tuolumne native walking with Andi, a huge Anatolian Shepherd-Great Pyrenees mix, recalls his more daring days. “This used to be a dune-buggy trail for us,” says the retired educator.

Roxy walks Elaine Emmons and Patrick McGinnis on the West Side Trail

The trailhead is at about 3,000 feet and has about a two percent grade. Find maps online at tuolumnecountytransportationcouncil.org.

Red Hills, Chinese Camp: In the springtime, unparalleled wildflower viewing lures visitors to this eight-trail, 17.3-mile system, which meanders through an “area of critical environmental concern” administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Access is off Red Hills Road, a half-mile west of its intersection with Highway 120. The trails are colorfully named – Railroad Grade, Red Hills, Verbena Loop, Overlook Loop, Butterwood, Old Stage, Soaproot Ridge and Six Bit.

Although spring may be the most spectacular season, the Red Hills trails are also pleasant in winter and fall. During the summer, walk these trails early in the morning or after sunset, as searing midday temperatures can be inhospitable for man and dog alike.

Several parking areas are available, but there is no disabled access, no dog sanitation stations and “there’s zero water out there,” says Jeff Horn, an outdoor recreation planner for the BLM.

Some of the four-foot-wide trails are well-marked and some are more impromptu, created mostly by wandering equestrians. Elevation is about 1,300 feet. Information and maps are online at blm.gov and tuolumnecountytransportationcouncil.org.

Clinton Road, Groveland: A gradual climb with welcome shade on the second half punctuates this three-mile round trip. Get to it by turning north on Ferretti Road from Highway 120 in Groveland – elevation about 3,100 feet – then driving four miles and turning right on Clinton. Parking is available along Clinton itself.

“It’s uphill, but nothing real strenuous,” says Groveland resident and avid dog-walker Peggy Andrews. “A lot of people use it. There’s a nice pond where dogs can swim – when there’s water.”

The road is paved to the end and is open to cars, but “no one goes very fast because they know people walk their dogs,” Andrews says.

Clinton is adjacent to a residential area but comes close to houses in only one spot.

“It’s a county road wide enough for two cars to pass – carefully – and I have never seen off-highway vehicles out there,” Andrews adds.

She also recommends a hike on Lumsden Road, four miles beyond Clinton off Ferretti.

“The road is on the left, where there is a gate down to the Tuolumne River. The trail is just to the right,” Andrews says. “Lumsden is a little more difficult, but still doable by all levels of walkers.”

Katie leads the way on a walk with owner Sharon Morris


Arnold Rim Trail: The best dog-walker access to this 17-mile route is at the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum in Arnold, according to Jeff Hilson, the Forest Service’s representative on the community-based Arnold Rim Trail Association Steering Committee.

The first mile is paved and gently graded for wheelchair access, and the bulk of the 5-year-old trail undulates through three creek drainages in a Stanislaus National Forest area known as the Interface. The route runs roughly from a heliport near the Calaveras Ranger District headquarters in Hathaway Pines to the logging museum.

“It’s smooth and pretty wide,” says trail and dog enthusiast Diane Nelson of Avery. “You don’t have to be an experienced hiker. I just think it’s a wonderful place, and we’re lucky to have it.”

Along the route, which is also popular with mountain bikers and horseback riders, are such points of interest as Cougar Rock, Top of the World, San Antonio Falls, Manuel Peak and Falls Outlook. Elevations range from about 3,300 feet in Hathaway Pines to around 4,000 in Arnold. Grant money is funding an ongoing effort to improve trail markers.

Steve Lauterbach, chairman of the steering committee, says 12 to 13 more miles of trail are planned for the Stanislaus River watershed on the opposite (east) side of Highway 4, “with the possibility at some point in the future of including Calaveras Big Trees State Park.”

Access – all in public areas – is off Highway 4 via Blagen and Dunbar roads for the logging museum, and from Valley View Road (via Lakemont Drive) and Avery Sheep Ranch Road at lower elevations. Walkers must bring their own doggie clean-up bags.

Download free maps online at arnoldrimtrail.org. Printed maps (suggested donation $1) are available at the U.S. Forest Service Office in Hathaway Pines and at Ebbetts Pass Visitors Center in Arnold.

Karen Mayers (left), Sharon Morris and Roberta Corso stroll with their dogs at New Hogan Reservoir

New Hogan Reservoir: The Cameron Trail, a gravel track, meanders away from the headquarters of New Hogan Lake Park – elevation roughly 700 feet – to Wrinkle Cove. Another trail takes walkers and their dogs from Wrinkle to Fiddleneck for a one-way hike of about three miles.

Dan Benedetti, manager of the park for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says Cameron is the most developed of the trails and often is used by families with strollers. He said a “less tame” route is the five-mile Coyote Point Bike Trail, also a favorite of dog walkers.

Another dog-friendly walk is the River of Skulls Interpretive Trail, and Hogan also offers an equestrian and walking trail of three miles to Whiskey Creek and back.

Access to the park is off Highway 12 about seven miles west of San Andreas, with Lime Creek Road leading to South Petersburg Road, and Petersburg taking drivers to the New Hogan Parkway. From Valley Springs, go south on Highway 26 and then turn left on Hogan Dam Road.


Lake Amador: An old fire road across the dam from the Lake Amador Resort clubhouse offers a pleasant out-and-back walk of about a mile, at an elevation of just 325 feet.

“People love walking their dogs out there,” says resort co-owner Sandy Lockhart. “I do it myself all the time.”

The road begins down by the spillway and leads to the back side of Mountain Spring. Owners must bring their own doggie clean-up bags.

The resort is about 11 miles west of Jackson off Jackson Valley Road, which cuts south from Highway 88.

Minkalo Trail: Dogtrekker.com recommends this six-mile round trip, which begins near the high-country Silver Lake spillway and offers side trips to Granite Lake and Hidden Lake on the El Dorado National Forest.

Though beginning at an elevation of 7,300 feet, the trail is “a moderately easy hike with less than 1,000 feet elevation gain,” according to dogtrekker.

Minkalo Trail is about 50 miles northeast of Jackson. Parking is available at the trailhead, 1.4 miles off Highway 88 at the north end of Silver Lake.

For a collection of other trails favored by dog-walkers, read More Great Dog Walks.

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Kevin Sauls
By Kevin Sauls June 15, 2014 01:11
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