Hikes Near Colfax Provide Insights on History Along with Scenic River Views

If you are looking for a great day-trip destination or just a few new hikes, Colfax has a mix of mild and challenging trails within a stone’s throw of Interstate 80. Many of the trails include glimpses into history... Stevens Trail, Windy Point and the Pennyweight Trail to name a few.

One of the things that differentiates Colfax from many outdoor destinations is the deep history of both the First Transcontinental Railroad and mining claims scattered all along the streams and creeks leading to the North Fork of the American River.

Colfax itself is named for Schuyler Colfax. The town of Colfax was an instrumental supply depot during the early construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1865.  Schuyler Colfax was the Speaker of the House of Representatives when California Governor Leland Stanford named the town in his honor.

See more history on Placer County historic places here.

Photo Gallery: Colfax provides some hikes that are off the beaten trail along with historic sites, such as Cape Horn, the old Iowa Hill Bridge and Mineral Bar. Windy Point Trail, Stevens Trail view, and old Iowa Hill Bridge photos: Pamela Biery. Bear River photo courtesy of Placer County.

Stevens Trail

Just outside of Colfax is one of the most popular trails in Placer County—the Stevens Trail is very accessible just off Interstate 80, beginning conveniently at a parking area on N. Canyon Way just north of Colfax, it is simultaneously easy to access, remote and inhabited by many kinds of wildlife as well as plenty of poison oak mixed among the woodland oaks, Manzanita and laurel.

This trail is downhill all the way out, which yes, means it is a moderate uphill climb all the way back. Stevens is a varied trail with oak woodlands, shale, a historic mine shaft and even a view of Cape Horn, an early and critical section of the Transcontinental Railroad largely built by Chinese laborers. This trail provides history pay dirt with many seasonal variations. The Stevens Trail is a wonderful hike during mild winters or in wildflower season in April and May. Not suggested for small children or dogs as the hike back can be demanding. At the bottom of the trail hikers are rewarded with stunning emerald pools of the North Fork of the American River and a cool dip in the summer. Visit Placer describes this trail as 3.2 miles out, with time doubling for the 3.2 mile return. Stevens Trail is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pennyweight Trail and Mineral Bar

Pennyweight is a short, family-friendly out-and-back hike of around 1.7 miles in the Auburn State Recreation Area with a day-use fee of $10 located in the greater Colfax area.

This trail runs concurrent with mining remnants and offers a chance to pan for gold, with “hands and pans” or take a dip in the summer. In the winter, pay attention to the cold and swift current and enjoy the quiet and sounds of the river. This trail is near water and in a shady ravine, with good access year round.

From Hwy 80 in Colfax exit at Canyon Way, head north on Canyon Way, then turn right onto Iowa Hill Rd. It is 3 miles of narrow, paved road to campsites and river. You will see the sign on the left for the trailhead about 2 miles out. Proceed to Mineral Bar Campground for a day-use parking permit and trail access before returning to the trailhead. Take time to admire the historic Iowa Hill Bridge built in 1928 before your hike. Limited roadside parking near trailhead.

Windy Point Trail

Windy Point is well named as you head down into a steep, windy ravine. There are many wonderful views of the deep canyon below, but as you descend into the canyon, take a moment to gauge the effort of the return. On a recent hike, it was clear that there was far more trail left than daylight or force in my quads.

The road beyond the Iowa Hill Bridge is very steep, has no guardrails and in some places barely fits two compact cars. While spectacular, this trail is not for the faint of heart and should be treated with serious hiking boots and even better, the addition of hiking poles.

Whether you take the ‘deep dive’ into the canyon all the way to the North Fork of the American River, or simply enjoy the views and return when you are ready, it offers a rare glimpse into a place beyond the tamer, well-travelled and easy hikes. During wildflower season it is one of the few North Fork trails where Harlequin Lupine can be seen.

Windy Point Trailhead is on Iowa Hill Road. Travel on I-80 east to Colfax. Exit at the Colfax, Grass Valley, Hwy 174 Exit. Go right at the exit; at the stop sign, turn right onto Canyon Way. In approx. 0.3 miles, turn left on Iowa Hill Road. Drive approx. 3.1 miles down Iowa Hill Road and across the North Fork American River.

After crossing the bridge, pass the Mineral Bar Campground and continue up the road towards Iowa Hill. Several large boulders and a very small sign that simply says “trailhead” mark the trail. There is limited parking on the right shoulder just before and at the trailhead as the road bends to the left and away from the river. Please use caution: Iowa Hill is a very narrow paved road. Drive slowly and watch for approaching vehicles—extremely limited passing room. Visit Placer County lists this trail as 1.5 miles each direction. Hiker’s note: Allow more then twice the time to return as it takes to descend this very steep trail with loose boulders and roots.

Bear River Campground

The Bear River Campground offers 5 miles of multiple-use trail for horses, bicycles and hikers just 3 miles from downtown Colfax. Enjoy wildlife and scenery at this nearby riverbed. <>

Bear River Campground

The Bear River Campground offers 5 miles of multiple-use trail for horses, bicycles and hikers just 3 miles from downtown Colfax. Enjoy wildlife and scenery at this nearby riverbed.

Take Some Time to Walk Colfax

Whether it is to head to the Historic Downtown District or the Railroad Museum, take some time to revisit history while enjoying the great outdoors. Downtown Colfax has several dozen historic markers within an easy stroll.

The Colfax Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor Center is at 99 South Railroad Street, , Colfax, CA, online at,  or call 530-346-8888.

Note: References used in preparing this article include, Mary West’s "Day Hiker: The Gold Country Trail Guide" and Hank Meals “Yuba Trails 2”.