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As the people of the 1849 gold rush in California spread out, their exploration brought them to explore the canyon of the North Fork of the American River. Iowa Hill was discovered on the east side of the North Fork and hydraulic mining was used extensively. While there was a road leading to Iowa Hill already it was long, steep and dangerous. A rancher by the name of Stevens recruited the Chinese, who were already here working on the Transcontinental Railroad to help him build a toll road which would be a more direct route to Iowa Hill from Colfax, Ca. This route was all but forgotten in the late 1800's but rediscovered in the 1930's by miners who discovered that much of the gold from Iowa Hill's mine tailings had washed into the North Fork of the American River and gold panning was very profitable. This holds true today as this is a very popular area where the public can pan for gold free.
The trail which is mainly downhill all the way to the river becomes a shelf that was constructed by the Chinese who had much experience building a shelf for the Transcontinental Railroad high above the foot trail as it goes around Cape Horn. Not for the timid, the shelf trail has vertical exposure as much as 600 feet to the North Fork of the American River. A deep horizontal mine shaft and the remains of the old suspension bridge crossing the river are additional highlights. Save some energy for the long climb back to the trailhead. Think twice about doing this midday in the summer as the lower part of the trail has little cover and takes the brunt of the summer sun creating a convection effect.
The free trailhead is equipped with a restroom and room for a dozen cars. There is overflow parking on the north side of the frontage road. With the traffic from I-80 visible, the trail dives into lush forest. It descends quickly leaving any sign of civilization behind. Little if any sun can penetrate the forest for the first mile. There are four creek crossings, the last of which has a plank which is sometimes necessary before coming out to an old jeep road. Turn right on the old jeep road as it goes up a hill. At the saddle there is a junction. An unmarked road goes off to the right. Take the road you were on straight and just past the saddle take the single track trail to the left. In a half mile another trail junction appears. The one to the right is for bicycles. Take the one to the left. They both meet up again. In the section coming up listen for trail whistles. You can hear them from miles away so either on your way down or up listen for them and you can position yourself to see the train pass high above on a shelf built around Cape Horn. You will come to another junction. To the right is a short path leading to a scenic overlook. At the junction look behind you and high on the mountain to see a concrete abutment holding the train tracks up on the mountain. This is your best viewing spot from the trail. Take the trail left from the junction and you will see a beautiful but hard to photograph waterfall. This creek falls more than a thousand feet in steps from top to bottom. The trail crosses the creek with falls above and below. This narrow crossing thru the rocks is known as Robbers Ravine. The trail comes out of the forest now and you get the first views of the river. Soon you will arrive at a mine shaft on your left. This is the Ginsu Mine. It was discovered and worked by the Chinese who were expert miners. This was a secret as it was against the law in this era for the Chinese to own a gold mine. Explore as you will, it goes in several hundred feet. (did you think to bring a flashlight). The trail now becomes perched on a shelf as it continues downward toward the river. There is little shade and a vertical drop off. Rock walls from several feet to over thirty feet tall were constructed to keep this trail on a moderate grade down to the river. There are several places to admire the skill that went into its construction. The views of the endless forest and sounds of the river rapids below is inspiring. There are a couple more creek crossings and then there are a few paths that take off to the right now and then. These steep paths go down to the river. The trail stays left ever so moderately descending to the river. Soon you are about ten feet above the river. In a large open space look on the right for the old rusted cables of the suspension bridge which once crossed the river at this point. A more serious creek crossing with a plank alerts you that you have arrived at Secret Ravine. You can explore this area and find evidence of mining activity in the area. This is a beautiful campsite, first come, first served. You can reasonably continue about another quarter mile along the river front here before you are blocked by rock walls. The huge rock boulders lining the river make it a great place to sunbathe, fish, picnic, gold pan or just hang out. Be cautious of swift currents in these waters during spring-summer snow melt. When you have had your fill return the way you came.
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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