About Grouse Falls
Grouse Falls was a waterfall that we were willing to drive a bit out of the way for. In fact, it seemed like not many people make it out here given that we were the only people pursuing this waterfall during our first time coming here on a Friday in the middle of May in 2016. Of course the truth was that we did encounter another couple here when we finished our hike so it’s not likely to find total isolation, but when it comes to the serenity of being far from crowds and civilization in beautiful scenery, this excursion certainly fit the bill for us. Even that other couple we encountered implored us not to tell anyone else about this place and keep it a secret! By the way, the waterfall itself was definitely no slouch either (as you can see from the photo at the top of this page) as it was said to fall over 500ft or so. If this place wasn’t so out of the way, I’m sure it would have drawn a big crowd while also having a dedicated park in its name.
Speaking of the trail, we began from a pretty remote trailhead (see directions below), which was well-signed. We took the lone trail from this trailhead, which promptly descended between a series of tall pine trees and fir trees as well as the odd sequoia tree. The moderately downhill hike would persist for the next half-mile, which also meant that we’d have to get back this elevation loss on the return. Nevertheless, my mother and I arrived at the wooden overlook platform after roughly 15 minutes away from the car, and the platform was in an open part of the forest where we not only we were able to get a distant view of Grouse Falls, but we were also able to get partial looks at the deep canyons further downstream along the North Fork of the Middle Fork American River where Grouse Creek would feed into.
Given how distant the view was to Grouse Falls, we were left wanting more from the experience, but the terrain seemed steep and off-train scrambling didn’t seem like a wise thing to do. So we were content with our view while trying to savor every minute of our time here before heading back uphill. Since our visit happened to be during a day when it was threatening to rain or even snow, we couldn’t be lingering out here for too long. In fact, on our hike back, we kept getting hail. Since the trail was said to start at over 5,000ft, I’m sure snow can be a problem, especially given the remoteness of this place. It turned out that we were lucky during our visit that the snow hadn’t really hit this area, but just a couple of hours later, it did hit the I-80 on the way to Truckee and Reno not far north of here. It’s definitely one thing to keep in mind since getting stuck in the snow or the potential of losing traction on the winding and narrow roads could make for a dangerous situation.
Finally, even though Grouse Falls had impressive size, it did seem like its snowmelt-dependent flow suggested that it’s a waterfall you’d still have to time your visit for. In other words, being here while the snow would be melting (typically Spring up to early Summer) would be the season to get the maximum effect of seeing this falls make its dramatic cliff tumble. Any later in the summer and the water may blend in too much with the cliffs for much of a visual effect. Anyways, we managed to finish our hike about 20-25 minutes after starting our return hike. One thing we wished we could have done to complement this excursion was to visit the Placer County Grove of Sierra Redwoods, which was said to be the northernmost grove of Sequoia trees in California. The US Forest Service site wasn’t very helpful when I chanced upon it on their website concerning its directions, and the couple we spoke to at the end of our hike mentioned this place as well. But we couldn’t find it on our maps (admittedly, we weren’t that prepared in our trip planning for this extra excursion), and we couldn’t chance trying to aimlessly drive to find this place given the incoming bad weather. So we’ll have to make the time to do it next time…
Grouse Falls was one excursion where it seemed like our car got more of a workout than our bodies. That said, since it felt like we were pretty far from civilization (well, we did drive some 25 miles from the community of Foresthill, which was the nearest town of any significance), we did have to plan out our driving route before heading out to make sure that the GPS wouldn’t lead us astray. The following was how we did the drive, and we’ll start from the city of Sacramento since the state capital would be a pretty good frame of reference when pursuing this falls. The nearest city of any significance where we’d leave the I-80 for the mountain roads was Auburn.
So from downtown Sacramento, we left the I-5 and followed the I-80 east towards Reno. We’d stay on the I-80 for roughly 36 miles from the I-5/I-80 interchange, and we’d exit the interstate at the Foresthill Road off-ramp. It was a good idea for us to fill up on gas shortly after we exited the interstate since there wouldn’t be much gas available where we were headed. Once that was done, we then headed east on Foresthill Road for about 16 miles (roughly 20 minutes) on fairly high-speed two-lane highways with plenty of passing lanes. The road itself offered some impressive views of the Middle Fork American River early in the drive, and it would ultimately lead into the community of Foresthill, where we’d then turn right onto the narrower (but paved) Mosquito Ridge Road.
Next, we’d follow the twisty Mosquito Ridge Road for the next 19 miles or so (taking us nearly 40 minutes) until we turned left onto Peavine Road. In our experience, Peavine Road was not signposted with its name, but we did see a sign on Mosquito Ridge Road telling us to turn left onto that road for Grouse Falls. Peavine Road was fairly smooth gravel road, and we’d follow this road for just under the next 5 miles (taking us around 15 minutes). Another sign told us to turn left for Grouse Falls, and at this point, we’d drive the remaining half-mile on dirt road that seemed doable by passenger cars to the trailhead for the falls.
Overall, this drive took us around 2 hours (more like 90 minutes from Auburn) in each direction. So if you’re planning to make the drive out here, make sure you’ve allocated enough time.
Now one thing we wished we would have known before making our visit to Grouse Falls was the Placer County Grove of Sierra Redwoods, which turned out to be not far from the waterfall. Once I finally spotted it on our map, I realized that its turnoff was only about 5 miles east of the Peavine Road turnoff along Mosquito Ridge Road. So it was definitely possible to combine a visit to see the state’s northernmost sequoia trees with the impressive Grouse Falls!
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