The Ponderosa Bridge is at the bottom of Ponderosa Way at the American River. It’s here you will find the parking area and trailhead. You can get there with a high-profile vehicle from Foresthill Road at Ponderosa Way. The longer but slightly easier road my low-profile Subaru can traverse is off Interstate 80. Take the West Paoli exit and stay to the right to Ponderosa Way. Take a right on Ponderosa Way. Follow the winding dirt road three miles all the way down to the bridge. With winter rain, erosion of the road continues. Be cautious. This road can washout.
You will see signs as you enter the Auburn State Recreation Area. At the bridge, you find two chemical toilets. The trailhead is directly behind them. The trail follows the river most of the way. There is a rock outcropping you will need to navigate in the beginning, but it’s not too tough.
Areas of the trail are narrow and eroding. Wear sturdy shoes and pay attention. A nice new picnic table has been placed, probably by Eric Peach, in a wide spot about halfway. The table provides a nicely shaded respite from the trail in summer.
You hear the falls long before you see them. Once you arrive, your ears and eyes draw you up to the top of the falls. Taking in the cascading water, your eyes will slowly draw you the length of the first fall. Don’t stop here. Notice the series of falls below.
The pools of runoff are trimmed in lush vegetation. There is a boulder halfway down the falls, perfectly placed for a picnic. On my most recent visit, I sat quietly and listened to the running water, the falling rain, the birds calling and the sound of my own breathing; glorious.
Mary West is author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guide I, II and III (2nd edition available on Amazon). The books are a collection of the Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond. West was the recipient of the 2017 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Column and the 2020 Craft Award for her second book in the series – Day Hiker Gold Country Trail Guide – by the Outdoor Writers of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram.
CLICK HERE to see the complete article and photos in Gold Country Media.
The drive down to the Ponderosa Bridge at the American River is one of the more chilling parts of the Codfish Falls adventure. Credit: Photo courtesy Mary West