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Top 4 waterfall wonders: Auburn area boasts a host of springtime cascades

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Spring is bursting with surprises. And one of the biggest for many is the plethora of newly sprung waterfalls bouncing off shiny boulders in the Auburn State Recreation Area. At the American River confluence Friday, mountain biker James Pettett of Marysville returned after a 13-mile ride on the Clementine Trail impressed with not only the natural beauty. He was also able to drink in the view of Lake Clementine waters spilling over the North Fork Dry Dam into the North Fork of the American River and smaller, rain-charged waterfalls along the route. “I was enjoying the beauty,” Pettett said. “It’s a really nice feeling as you watch the water. And it means plenty of fresh water this year.” But not everyone who visits the 20,000-acre recreation area knows about the many waterfalls that cascade down in the spring or go from a rush during the rainy months to a trickle during hotter times of the year. John Cosgrove, a Benicia resident who previously lived in Auburn, was packing up his bike after a trail ride. He said he knows the trails fairly well and is familiar with the Clementine falls. “It’s spectacular at this time of year,” Cosgrove said. But Cosgrove admitted he wasn’t aware of any other waterfalls. For some canyon visitors, the many waterfalls are a mystery but for those who know the canyon well, they’re a pleasant surprise to spring on newcomers. Gordy Ainsleigh, a veteran canyon runner, said his favorite would be along the Waterfall Trail. For runners, it’s an hour run or so to get to along the Quarry Trail on the El Dorado County side of the Middle Fork American River. Ainsleigh estimates it’s a 5.5-mile run up the trail and then a right turn before a left takes runners or hikers to a series of falls. “You will only see the waterfalls when you’re traveling in the upstream direction along the canyon,” Ainsleigh said. “It’s actually worth stopping and walking.” Ainsleigh also likes the waterfall commonly called the Black Hole or Black Hole of Calcutta, for reasons lost in time, that flows through the Western States Trail in the stretch between Mountain Quarries Railroad-No Hands Bridge and Robie point. “It’s a very fine waterfall in the last ravine along the railroad grade before you get to the single-track,” Ainsleigh said. Eric Peach, a long-time environmental advocate and enthusiastic canyon kayaker, points to Codfish Falls as a favorite waterfall. The trailhead is on Ponderosa Way, 6 miles south of Weimar, at the Ponderosa Bridge. From there, signs take visitors for a relatively easy 3-mile trip to the falls, Peach said. “It works for families and has all the elements people like in destination hikes, including wildflowers and, of course, the falls,” Peach said. The dirt road to the bridge can be steep and not the best for low-slung cars but the trip is well worth it, Peach said. Spring, particularly after a good rain, is the best time to take a walk and check out a natural wonder or two in the canyon that doesn’t take an hour’s drive to get to – or, in recent months, gallons of costly gas, Peach added. Best Waterfalls: Auburn State Recreation Area* 1. Codfish Falls 2. The Black Hole 3. Waterfall Trail 4. Clementine Dam *In no particular order