As a wild and crazy teenager I spent long afternoons soaking up sun on the North Fork of the American River, eating Pringles, sipping Dr. Pepper, and working up the nerve to jump from the Ponderosa Bridge. (Yep, it’s illegal and often painful. Don’t try it, folks!) So imagine my surprise recently when my friend Ellen McBride suggested we head down to the Ponderosa Bridge and let our three little adventurers run amok along the trail to Codfish Falls. All those years I spent on the riverbank I guess I was too busy ogling the sunbaked boys to notice the trailhead and easy stroll through the wildflowers to a 40-foot waterfall. I almost didn’t believe it could be the same spot, but once our tires left the paved road and we started down the steep, dusty, bumpy, switchbacks I knew we were headed for my old haunt.
It turns out the hike is not only kid-friendly, it’s beautiful, and a portion of it is protected by Placer Land Trust.
We started out early on a May morning, as we’d heard that the heat can be brutal at times. Although the trail is a gentle slope, it is along a steep drop off, but our kids– ages six, seven, and eight– managed it easily. The hike to the falls is about a mile and half, and we saw all kinds of flying and scurrying critters and bright wildflowers. Along the way, the kids collected fallen twigs and mystery rocks for their pockets, and took turns playing bridge troll to the adults.
As it’s been a dry year, there was only a trickle of water coming down the mountain, but we were not disappointed because that trickle created the perfect environment for hundreds of resting butterflies with black wings and orange spots. Ellen, a wildlife biologist, identified the welcome visitors as California Sisters. Later I learned that it’s the males who enjoy mud-puddling around streams, so maybe they should be called California Brothers.
While the adults admired the native pollinators, the kids took off their shoes, chased frogs through the pools, made forts, and played bandits. After a while we all found a flat-topped boulder where we could relax and munch on the lunches we’d packed. Soon, though, it was time to head back out, but the kids were reluctant to leave the imaginary game they’d created among the pools and trees, so we had to lure them home with the promises froyo upon our return to civilization.
As we were herding our children back into the car we watched from afar as a gaggle of teenagers were ticketed and/or lectured for jumping from Ponderosa Bridge, and we took the opportunity to give the kids stern warnings about the dangers of making such risky choices. Oh, the irony! All in all, it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday with friends.
If you go:
- It seems there’s more than one way to get to the Codfish Falls trailhead. This is the guide I recommend.
- Some folks find the dirt road down to the trailhead a bit treacherous. It’s definitely not for low-riders. Remember to take it slow, and don’t bother washing your car before heading down there.
- It costs $10 to park at the trailhead, so be sure to bring cash. I can tell you from experience that it’s not possible to stuff $10 worth of coins in the skinny slot of the collection box.
- There’s plenty of poison oak to be found along the trail. By some miracle we managed to get out of there itch-free, but it can be challenging with adventuresome children.
- Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and most importantly, friends. Friends make every adventure a little bit sweeter.
Do you have a favorite family-friendly hike? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.