Date: Monday, July 13 2015
Type: Out & Back
Start/Finish: Dead end of Cold Stream Road behind Donner Memorial State Park (click here for map)
Distance: 3 miles (options to go further)
Elevation: 571 ft
This unexpectedly beautiful trail begins and ends on the paved portion of Cold Stream Road, just behind Donner Memorial State Park. Before I get carried away, a couple of things to keep in mind – especially if you’re running with four-legged friends. First, this is a somewhat popular trail for mountain bikers. Make sure you can hear what’s going on around you and be prepared for some speeding trail companions. Second, there really isn’t any water on this trail once you’re past the first quarter of a mile and unless you continue on to the valley floor (more on this option later).
A dirt fire road begins where the parking lot ends and leads into Cold Stream Canyon. After about a tenth of a mile on the dirt fire road, which is mostly flat, we had the option to continue up the fire road or veer to our left and hop on to a single track trail which parallels the fire road. We chose the latter, but didn’t have much of a choice – the fire road here is currently under construction for about a quarter mile and riddled with heavy equipment. Roughly a third of a mile in to the run, the single track crossed the fire road and started back up again on the other side. This is where (I think) JPs Trail technically starts.
From this junction, the trail largely parallels the fire road but climbs higher up to the ridge-line whereas the fire road is fairly flat and stays closer to the valley floor. After about a half a mile from the intersection with the fire road or .8 miles from the start, we reached our first switchback and a lovely hand-painted sign letting us know that we were indeed on JPs trail. As you can tell from the pictures, the trail is fairly “buffy” but it is somewhat technical with rocks on the lower sections.
Another 8ish switchbacks, or about 1.2 miles in to the run, and we reached another crossroads with yet another fire road, marked by another sign indicating “MOTOR VEHICLES EXCLUDED”. It’s painted with a nice little JP in the upper left-hand corner. As you approach this sign on the uphill, you’ll see the back, but it is a nice directional for the return trip.
Up until this point, the views are largely filtered through pines and really nothing to write home about, but once you reach this point, WOW! There are incredible views of the valley, and beyond, to both the west and the east. The picture at the top of this post is a view looking east from roughly this same distance. There were scattered wildflowers of all colors, but no blankets of color like we’ve seen on runs in recent weeks. I imagine that the valley floor likely has more of those blankets than the ridge line though.
It’s very easy to miss since the vegetation is so lush right now, but at about 1.4 miles into this run, we crossed over a tunnel and the rail road tracks passing beneath. If you hit the timing right and get to see a train come through this point, be prepared for an exhilarating and somewhat terrifying experience. There’s nothing like hearing and feeling the power of a train this close. Beware though, if you’re running with a dog, they likely won’t enjoy the experience and may run for the hills.
Just beyond the tracks, we could see the large ponds along the valley floor. From this vantage point, they looked more like a long, lazy river. Another tenth of a mile at a slight downgrade and we reached the midway & turnaround point for this run. Here, there is a fork in the trail – to the left you can continue on fire road which will eventually lead to a crossing with the rail road tracks and further on to the valley floor. The single track path to the right is the continuation of JPs trail and continues along the ridge for a bit.
Up until the turnaround point, we climbed about 500 feet, so the return trip was sure to be quick. We descended right back down the way we came up and ended the run with this stunning view to the west as we reached the dirt road leading back to our cars. Even though the start & finish of this course is surrounded by old mining pools and occasional backhoe, the scenery above is still remarkable. If you have time, there’s always the option to continue running through Donner Memorial State Park and take a dip in the lake. You can find the optional add on route to the lake here from our first Trail Teaser of the summer.