Naturalist John Muir could have had the Arnold Rim Trail in mind when he wrote, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
Connecting the natural wonders along the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway section of Highway 4, the primarily dirt trail, designed for hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners and equestrians, is the backbone of a much larger trail network found within an 8,000-acre piece of public land known as the Interface. The Arnold Rim Trail offers panoramic views, rocky promontory lookouts and tranquil woodland scenery along its varied paths.
Bordered by lush blankets of vegetation and trees both towering and tiny, the trail is reached via three easy access points: the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum in White Pines, Valley View Road in Arnold and Avery Sheep Ranch Road in Avery.
“It’s a real treat to walk out my front door and have access to one of Arnold’s hidden gems,” said Ellie McCracken, who grew up in Dorrington and recently purchased a home in Arnold. “The trail is only about a quarter mile from my house, and we enjoy it year round.”
At White Pines, the first mile of the trail is a gently graded, paved road with wheelchair accessibility. For hikers wishing to visit local landmarks such as Cougar Rock and Top of the World, Valley View Road provides the shortest access. The trail’s length and location foster peaceful journeys, yet its grandeur, ease of access and varying degree of difficulty make it a popular destination.
“It is not uncommon to see scores of people on the trail on weekend days,” said Steve Lauterbach, chairman of the Arnold Rim Trail Association. “I can’t say what parts of the trail are more popular than others, but I do know that folks report they enjoy the San Antonio Overlook, Top of the World and Cougar Rock. Also, though much less used, the entire San Domingo Canyon is stunningly beautiful and remote.”
And while remoteness has its rewards, those less familiar with the area should pay attention to the signage posted along the route identifying each trail and its level of difficulty. Acquiring a map of the 17-mile route is simple and also wise; visitors may pick one up at the Calaveras County Visitors Bureau in Angels Camp, the Calaveras Ranger District Office in Hathaway Pines and Sierra Nevada Adventure Co., Calaveras Big Trees State Park or the Ebbetts Pass Visitor Center in Arnold. Maps are also available for download from the association website.
The sense of community behind the building of the trails also adds to its appeal. What is now known as the Arnold Rim Trail is partially made up of a series of older, pre-existing tracks and unused logging roads that now lead to one long trail.
The trail is a work in progress. Association members hope to expand it to 35 miles. The association volunteers are working in cooperation with the county, the California State Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Already, they have collaborated to successfully create an inviting system of trails that serve human needs as well as the needs of the natural environment.
“The Arnold Rim Trail allows recreational freedom for all people. It was much needed infrastructure in a high population area that allows access to the public lands in a beautiful part of our county. Without proper infrastructure public lands can be hard for many people to enjoy,” said Angels Camp resident Walter Tryon, a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service and an avid outdoorsman and hiker. “It is really great to see so many people and local organizations working to allow everyone access to see how great our forests are.”
For locals such as Tryon, as well as neophytes and out-of-town visitors on the route, the Arnold Rim Trail’s resplendent beauty is truly magnificent. Those who appreciate it aim to maintain it by honoring its simple use guidelines: Respect private property of adjacent homes; no campfires or smoking; share the trail; monitor your pet with a leash or voice command; take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.
“There is always something new to explore and long miles of trails that go in every direction. There’s the river, tall pines, cedars and ponderosas and a great balance of steep climbs and flat trails. It’s quiet and never overly crowded. I love that it is close, but it feels like you’re far away from town.” veteran hiker Chelsea Flores said on a recent Tuesday afternoon journey along the Avery Sheep Ranch loop. “It has everything I love about being on a hike!”
For information on trail building days, or to keep abreast of guided hikes and other Arnold Rim Trail Association activities, visit arnoldrimtrail.org and sign up to receive email notices.