I return to Cronan Ranch in Pilot Hill every year in the springtime. It’s a great trail system any time of year but the panoramic view of green hillsides in spring is a favorite. Each year I check to see what is left of the Hallmark movie “Loves Comes Softly” movie set. Katherine Heigle starred. On my last visit I noted the rough-cut ladder featured in the movie that used to lean against the tree is now gone. The barn is on the ground. The homestead is still standing but who knows for how long.
So much more than the movie set makes this area worth visiting. Access to the American River is one. Wide open green space is another. I enjoy watching the hang gliders soar from one of the hilltops near the trailhead. The grass grows lush beneath the majestic live oaks that dot the area. Wildflowers and rattlesnakes can also be found here. The area is open to equestrians but there is ample parking for all. Parking fees are not collected here.
This is another trail friends tell me not to write about. With the Auburn State Recreation Area becoming so popular as is the Hidden Falls regional park, Cronan Ranch is a low stress destination for local hikers.
To get to Cronan Ranch from Auburn, take the Elm Ave Exit (119c) off Interstate 80. Turn right on Elm Avenue up to Highway 49/El Dorado Street/High Street. Turn left on Highway 49/El Dorado Street. Take it into the canyon. Turn right over the American River at the Confluence. Follow Highway 49 out to Pedro Hill Road into the parking area.
(Equestrians can continue 2 miles further to the Magnolia Ranch Trailhead with a larger parking area.)
Mary West is a retired radio personality and news reporter with a longtime love of the outdoors, sharing her favorite day hikes in Placer, Nevada, El Dorado and Yuba counties. West won Best Outdoor Newspaper Column for this column, Day Hiker, from the Outdoor Writers Association of California 2017 Craft Awards. Learn more about local trails by following Mary on Facebook and Instagram.