Take a hike

The city’s urban trails have much to offer

Steve Evans on the river.

Steve Evans on the river.

SN&R Photo By Sena Christian

Steve Evans grows restless if he doesn’t get outdoors on a daily basis. He often bikes the long way home from his job in Midtown to his house in Land Park so he’ll have more time outside. He spends weekends hiking, kayaking or walking with his girlfriend and their dogs and spends weekdays serving as conservation director for Friends of the River, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

When Wilderness Press came knocking on Evans’ door looking for a Sacramento-based nature enthusiast to write a guidebook on regional trails, he didn’t need much convincing.

Three years later, after walking and rewalking trails and painstakingly taking note of every little observation that might later come in handy, Evans completed Top Trails Sacramento, a book detailing 43 trails throughout the Coast Range to the west, Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills to the east and Central Valley. The book includes directions to trailheads, historic landmarks and tips for tackling trails that range from 1-mile to 10-miles long and sea level to 9,000 feet.

When Evans began the project, Sacramento was the only major city in California without a trail book of its own, but half of a small-print run of 3,200 Top Trails Sacramento copies have already sold, he says, speaking to the interest of residents to find nearby recreational opportunities in an age of global warming and high gas prices. The book’s popularity speaks to another interest: that of locals to refute, as Evans writes, “the long-running joke about Sacramento being ‘that place’ conveniently located between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.”

To prove the city’s offerings, Evans recently set out on the 3-mile Sacramento Waterfront Walk, which begins near Crocker Art Museum on O Street and crosses the Interstate 5 overpass to the Sacramento River Promenade. As an urban walk, it deviates from the rest of the book, which highlights such natural beauties as wild canyons, hidden lakes and lucrative bird-watching spots. But it’s one Evans enjoys, if only because the walk shows how much wildlife and flora exist where you’d least expect it: in cities. His favorite trail, though, is the Cosumnes River Preserve.

“I think it gives the best example of what this valley looked like before we started building cities and growing crops,” he says.

Over the past several decades, concerted efforts have been made to preserve California marshlands and protect waterfowl habitat through land acquisitions and environmental easements, which is primarily how the preserve came to be.

“Ten years ago, private land started being opened up to the public,” Evans explains. “That’s pretty important.”

Evans crosses the historic vertical lift Tower Bridge, built in 1935, over to West Sacramento, where past the paved walkway adjacent to the Ziggurat Building, a gravel path and mess of chain-link fences show where the money for the walkway project ran out. Across the river are views of Gold Rush landmarks and a sprouting skyline.

Evans wants his book to encourage readers to explore the region’s natural treasures, something he never needed encouragement doing. Raised in the desert landscape of San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, he played outside incessantly, usually wandering around with his four siblings trying to catch lizards.

“I came of age during the ’60s and ’70s, when the outdoors was a cool and groovy thing set to the tune of John Denver music,” Evans says.

During his first year at CSU Chico, he attended a slide show about backpacking areas in national forests threatened by logging. He co-founded the North State Wilderness Committee, which became part of the Butte Environmental Council, where he worked before accepting a job with Friends of the River and moving to Sacramento in 1988.

Walking through Old Sacramento, he points to a spot in the brownish river where, undetectable, the remains of a ship lay, operated by the city as a floating jail until it sank during a bad storm in 1859. He passes the city’s architecturally divine water-intake structure while heading to the Discovery Park bike trail and confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.

The path continues all the way to the American River Parkway. The city led the nation in river-based preservation when it established the parkway 50 years ago, and it’s a place Evans considers worthy of its own 300-page guidebook.