Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Arnold Rim Trail

View from Cougar Rock

Introduction: The Arnold Rim Trail is a non-motorized, multi-use trail near the communities along Highway 4 in the Stanislaus National Forest. It's planned length is 17 miles, with the last 7 still currently under construction. For more information, see arnoldrimtrail.org.

Trail: Singletrack

Distance: Up to 21 miles out-and-back. (Up to 34 once construction of the trail is complete.)

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Trailhead: There are currently three trailheads used for access to the ART. I used two of them, so I'll describe those here.

  • Sierra Nevada Logging Museum: From westbound Hwy 4, turn right on Blagen Rd. and follow it for about one mile. Turn left on Dunbar Rd, past the elementary school, and turn right at the giant pencil. (Yes, seriously.) There are several signs along the way directing you to the trailhead, so it's very easy to find.
  • Valley View Dr.: From westbound Hwy 4, turn right on Lakemont Dr. Veer left at the first junction onto Valley View Dr. Follow this for about a mile through the residential. Please drive at a respectful speed! When the road turns to dirt, follow it for about another half mile. (The road is in decent shape, so moderate clearance vehicles should be fine.) The parking area will be on your right. There was no trailhead sign, but you can identify it by the two picnic tables present, and the P9 access trail located in the southwest corner of the lot.

Big Pencil at the SNLM trailhead!

Season: Year round, although some sections may be affected by snow at times during winter. You can call the Calaveras Ranger Station for current conditions at (209) 795-1381.

Water: I didn't find water available at either of the trailheads I used. The trail passes near creeks at both the western and eastern ends, but most miles are dry.

Trail description: You can print out a nice map with additional information here. I began my run the first day from the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum at the westernmost end of the trail.

The first mile is on a paved trail near San Antonio Creek. After that, it's nothing but beautiful singletrack. The trail was smooth and in great condition. Not very technical, and with graded, rolling climbs, it made for fast running.

Beautiful, fast, shady running.

The trail is shaded by a mixed conifer forest of pine, fir, cedar, and oak trees. Lovely! I cruised along for about 4 miles until I reached the Falls Overlook Trail.

This was an easy spur trail that led me to a rocky outcropping above San Antonio Creek. It was the first real view on the trail, but I have to confess, it was very difficult to spot the falls. After a little rock scrambling, I sighted it through the trees in the distance, but I couldn't help wondering if there was a better viewpoint somewhere that I'd just missed.

Back on the main trail, I climbed up to the rim section. This stretch, from below Manuel Peak to Cougar Rock, offers the best and most consistent views of the trail. 

In spite of it being midwinter, the sunshine on this more exposed section of trail kept me warm and smiling. Views from Top of the World and Cougar Rock looked west toward the central valley and east to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

I turned around and retraced my steps for about a 17 mile run. I was thrilled with my day on this newly discovered trail!

It should be noted that from the Valley View Dr. trailhead, there are a number of connecting trails and dirt roads that can be used to make various loops. I spent one morning hiking with family through this area, and we managed to navigate well with the aid of the map. The trails are generally well marked, even though their placement on the map may not be 100% perfect.

Also, I approached this trail as a runner, of course, but it did not pass without notice that this is also a very friendly mountain bike trail. I only saw a few bikers both days, but the trail was well-graded and not highly technical, making it a great choice for beginner to intermediate mountain bikers.

View from Cougar Rock with a storm rolling in.