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Fordyce Creek Trail

Posted in Features on May 1, 2006
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Fordyce Creek Trail is the lesser-known Northern California trail that often gets overlooked and overshadowed by the more famous Rubicon Trail, which draws in so many crowds. Fordyce is a more difficult and technical trail than the Rubicon, and it is filled with six water crossings that'll flood anything sporting less than 35-inch tires (and that's at the water's lowest time of year-when the river's high, 44s won't get you across). There are multiple obstacles throughout the trail, and nice campgrounds on either side that'll accommodate you and some buddies.

Trevor Huiskens from WFO Concepts invited us on a group trip up to Fordyce, about 30-something miles outside of Truckee, California, but none of us had expected the white stuff so early in the year.

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It was 6:30 in the morning, and we grabbed a few guys that were ready to go, and headed for a little rock section near camp just to play around for a few minutes before the rest were ready to hit the trail....

Twenty minutes later we had three broken rigs, one of them this month's feature truck, all within 25 feet of each other. And we hadn't even started the trail yet. We knew this first snow run of the year was going to be a good one.

The Fordyce Creek Trail is 10 miles long. It starts at Eagle Lakes Road, just off highway 80, on the west slope of the Sierra Nevadas. The exit is about 10 miles west of Donner Summit and about 1 1/2 hours from Sacramento. The trail winds up the canyon carved by the Fordyce Creek and crosses the creek numerous times. Just before the base of the Fordyce Lake dam, the trail splits and you can cross the creek (the worst crossing) and end up at Fordyce Lake. From there, it is 6 miles of dirt road to get back to Cisco Grove, and highway 80. If you keep following the trail, it ends at Meadow Lake. From Meadow Lake, it is about 40 miles to Truckee.

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Even though the trail has five "winch hills," the hardest obstacle is the deep water. It's normal to see a guy sitting in his Jeep, chest deep in water, motor dead, sleeping bag wet, and so on. The Fordyce Creek is not like most creeks. It doesn't get smaller as the summer progresses. The water flow comes directly from the Fordyce Dam which is regulated by PG&E. Therefore, the hotter and dryer it gets in the Sacramento Valley, the more water they let out. Due to the late summer rush, many whitewater kayakers frequent the river, and the flow of the water during the summer is tracked on It's a good idea to check the water flow before you hit the trail. On the weekend we went, the flow was at 375 cubic feet per second. Anything over 175 is pretty tough to cross.

Once every year, the California 4 Wheel Drive Association puts on the "Sierra Trek." This trip follows the trail from start to finish in one day. They start at 6 a.m. and get to Meadow Lake at 6 p.m. During this weekend, they are able to have the Fordyce dam turned down to around 50 CFS. This makes the rivers easy to cross, and focuses the drivers on getting up the five winch hills.

This is a 35-inch-or-bigger tire trail. Unlike Rubicon, there are not many bypasses. It is tough to get anything through that doesn't have front and rear lockers.-Trevor Huiskens

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