Exploring the “old pioneer trail”, from Old Sacramento to Folsom

Find adventure and history along the “old pioneer trail”, from Old Sacramento to Folsom

Let’s explore the old trail along the American River, from Old Sacramento to Folsom. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans traveled trails up and over the Sierra (one of those early trails would become the Immigrant Trail) to trade and share tribal lore. Eastern and Mid-western settlers, crossing the Sierra, would bring news from home, the short-lived Pony Express accelerated mail delivery and the Transcontinental Telegraph and the Transcontinental Railroad further speeded mail and timely communications; thus insuring that California would become a vital partner in the growing nation.

Find history and family fun in a one-day jaunt from Old Sacramento and east 25 miles to Folsom (start your tour on either end). Your adventure can be done via automobile, or, take the light rail trains running seven days a week by Sacramento Regional Transit. If you’re into biking, bring your bikes, which can be transported on light rail. And, for serious cyclists, our outlined tour parallels the American River Parkway and Jedidiah Smith Bike Trail, connecting Old Sacramento to Folsom and beyond. Make a note for a future long-distance bike tour!

Waterfowl make the American River their home near Rancho Cordova.

Let’s begin in Old Sacramento, with so much to see and experience. Old Sacramento preserves well over 50 historic buildings; it’s the perfect place to explore the heart of the state’s Native American and Gold Rush history while browsing unique shops and sampling delicious eateries and drinking establishments. It’s both a walker’s and bicyclist’s paradise, with low traffic and plenty of shady places to take a break.

When gold was discovered in January, 1848 in Coloma (just 47 miles away), Sacramento was in the perfect position to become a boom town. Serving as one of two inland ports to the Sierra mines (Stockton being the other), it soon became the western end of the Pony Express, the first Transcontinental Telegraph and the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. By 1860 Sacramento would become the second largest town in the west, behind only San Francisco.

Front Street is the heart of Old Sacramento. Here, cyclists tour the old town.

A good place to start your tour is the Sacramento History Museum, 101 L St., sharing insights into the Native American peoples who prospered in the area, years before Spanish, European and American settlers arrived. A variety of galleries, with docents dressed in period-correct costumes, offer insight into what daily life was like, 165-some years ago.

Just steps away is the California State Railroad Museum, 111 L St., one of North America’s finest and most complete rail museums. Admire the famed “golden spike” that connected the two segments of the transcontinental rail system, be amazed by a 1,000,000 pound cab-forward steam locomotive, salivate in a beautiful dining car with elaborate China settings and delight in a swaying Pullman sleeping car.

Western Pacific Locomotive 913 takes on passengers as it prepares to depart from the California Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

A block south of the museum on Front Street, find the statue honoring the Pony Express. The hallowed service operated only from April, 1860 to October, 1861, before the transcontinental telegraph made it redundant. If you are tracing the Pony Express route, you’ll find historic markers near the south end of the Guy West Bridge on the Cal State Sacramento campus, on Sutter Street in old Folsom and in Placerville.

In addition to the Pony Express, both the transcontinental telegraph and the transcontinental railroad made their western terminus in Old Sacramento. Nearby, check out the Delta King steamboat, built in Stockton, which once connected San Francisco and Sacramento for mail and passenger service.

The Delta King steamboat, built in Stockton in 1926, is a floating hotel, restaurant and museum on Old Sacramento’s waterfront.

Folsom dates to the 1840s, founded as Granite City by Joseph Libbey Folsom, who connected a railroad to the city from Sacramento. The town became a jumping off point to the mines in the Sierra, just east. When Folsom died in 1855, the city was renamed in his honor.

The city also boasts the old railroad station, now a museum, with an old locomotive and rail cars. Bordering the Sutter Street Historic District, the Rail Museum celebrates the Sacramento Valley Railroad, with both displays and a huge recreated round table.

Diners and visitors enjoy the walkway along Sutter Street in old Folsom.

The Sutter Street Historic District anchors the old city’s downtown, with a six block-long stretch of historic buildings, shops and boutiques and a wealth of restaurants. From gourmet food to family style, you’ll find it on Sutter Street. Check out the Sutter Street Grill for American favorites, the Hop Sing Palace next-door for Chinese dishes, Snooks Chocolate Factory for killer chocolate concoctions and Pizzeria Classico for family dining. You will find the historic plaque for the Pony Express Station near the west end of Sutter Street.

If time, visit the Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, on the eastern edge of downtown. The powerhouse opened in 1895 and was the first power plant west of the Mississippi. It used water from the American River to power turbines and send electrical power 22 miles into Sacramento – a distance unheard of at that time.

The old Folsom Powerhouse pioneered early electricity production and its delivery to Sacramento, 20 miles away.

For fun diversions the Sacramento State University Aquatic Center is just west of Folsom, offering picnic areas and beach, rentals of kayaks, sailboats and standup paddleboards; the Sacramento Children’s Museum is just 10 blocks off the light rail line in Rancho Cordova.

How to get to Old Sacramento: From Stockton, go north on I-5 to Sacramento and watch for signs into Old Sacramento, it’s 45 miles and about 45 minutes. How to get to Folsom: From Stockton, go north on I-5 to Sacramento, then east on Hwy. 50 to Folsom; it’s about 70 miles and 1.25 hours.

Swimmers and kayakers enjoy Lake Natoma from the Cal State University Aquatic Center.

For more information: Old Sacramento State Historic Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=497; Visit Folsom, visitfolsom.com, (916) 985-2698; Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, parks.ca.gov, (916) 985-4843.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

This entry was posted in Central California, Northern California, Sacramento/Capitol region, Sierra Nevada and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives