The Sacramento Rail Trail: Prepared to be Awed!

Nothing clears my mind like a bike ride on the Sacramento Rail Trail. My husband lifts the bikes off the rack, I slip on my helmet, secure my speedometer and away we go!

Following the blue water of the Keswick Reservoir is soothing to my heart and soul. If the wind isn’t blowing, the mirror image of the hills, pine trees and clouds double the view.

There is something for everyone on the Sacramento River Rail Trail. You may choose Iron Mountain Road (Rock Creek Road junction) trailhead or just 2 miles ahead you’ll find Keswick Boat Ramp trailhead. There are rest room facilities at the boat ramp parking. Parking is free at all trail heads.

The Iron Mountain /Rock Creek Road trail head is level for those who have challenges hiking uphill, therefore this trail is easy for young children, whether on foot or on wheels.

It is the perfect place for a family outing, including the family dog. Yes, dogs are allowed on the trail; however, they need to be on a leash.

If you are a bird lover like I am, biking while birding can be a bit tricky, but it is possible! I do it all the time.

Recently, we went for a ride and in the first quarter mile, not only did I see two adult bald eagles soaring on the thermals, but a juvenile bald eagle joined them. What a majestic sight! Riding along the trail, you can hear the calls and songs of nuthatches, finches, robins, blue jays and more.

In the water, you will see an abundance of water fowl such as coots, golden eye and ring-necked ducks, canvasback ducks. Yes, it is a birder’s paradise.

Of course, there is wildlife of the four-legged kind, as well. I know there are bears, judging by the scat on the trail, which can be identified by the seeds and size.

The coyote scat is identifiable by the hair woven within. Equestrians are welcome on the trail, so occasionally we see a horse, or signs of a horse. Ground squirrels and chipmunks dart out in front of you, so keep your eyes on the trail – unless of course, you are watching the eagles!

If birds and animals aren’t your thing, perhaps the amazing variety of trees and plants will awe you. The Burea of Land Management put descriptive name labels at some of the trees and bushes.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Redding without the staple Manzanita bushes, of which there are plenty, and oleanders, as well. There are ponderosa pines, gray pines, blue oaks, red bud trees, toyon bushes, California coffee berry and tree of heaven, to name a few varieties. All of these plants and trees also attract butterflies galore in the spring.

One of the most noticeable historical points on the Rail Trail is the tunnel. It was initially excavated in the 1800s, and in 1923 it was reinforced with concrete. It is 500 feet long and curves just enough that you can’t see the other end, but there’s still enough light to see. If you don’t like tunnels, there is a small dirt trail that goes around on the east side.

Bring a bottle of water and some snacks. There’s a nice park bench with a view of the spectacular blue-green water. You can take a break, eat your snacks, and, if you are lucky, watch the eagles!

From Iron Mountain Road trailhead, it is 9 miles to the OHV staging area. There are restrooms and a magnificent view of Shasta Dam. This is an easy, fun-for-the-family half-day outing any season of the year. But the best time to go is spring, when the flowers are in bloom and the heat temps aren’t so high. If you go in the summer, an early morning start is best so you avoid heat related problems.

If you want to continue on up to Shasta Dam, you have about 2 more miles of climbing. Yes, climbing. Go ahead, you can do it! The view will AWE you! By the time you get back to your car, you will have gone 18 miles – and probably loved every minute of it! 

Photos by Renae Tolbert. 

Renae Tolbert lives in Redding where she enjoys outdoor photography, writing short stories, biking and hiking. She considers herself a photographer first, writer second. Her passion is to bring joy and beauty into people’s lives by sharing what she sees through her camera lens. Her photography is available at Enjoy the Store where she sells prints and greeting cards. Her short stories can be read in the bi-monthly Joyful Living magazine.

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