The Caples Creek trail is a great place to see a variety of spring wildflowers and enjoy a robust mountain creek in the Eldorado National Forest. It’s a moderately difficult out-and-back trail that takes you to a series of flower-filled mountain meadows.
Note: Click on any photograph to see a larger image.
I’ll admit that my definition of “moderate” changes as I get older. The trail is well maintained and not too steep, but you do clamber over the rocks in some places. Since this is an out-and-back hike you can go as far as you want. The starting elevation was about 5700 feet, we hit about 6300 at our highest point. As shown below, our round trip was 6.86 miles, but you can see lots of wildflowers with a 4.5 mile round trip.
Move your mouse along the elevation graph to show the location on the map. Refresh the page to re-center the map. Please note that there may be gaps in the track because my GPS sometimes can’t connect. Also, the distance is approximate, as I often take little side trips to find flowers!
You start off paralleling the Silver Fork of the American River, and then along Caples Creek. The trail is set back from the water, and sometimes wanders away from it, but you can always hear it.
Roughly two miles in you will come to Jake Schneider Meadow, which is actually a series of small meadows. When we visited the meadow was dry enough to walk across easily, and there weren’t a lot of mosquitoes. Earlier in the year this can be muddy, and you’ll want to bring your insect repellent. Each of the meadows had a different collection of flowers. Masses of white Western Bistort in one, yellow Buttercups in the next, a collection of different flowers in the next.
We continued on past the meadow, heading towards Government Meadow further up the trail. The section between Jake Schneider and Government meadows is rougher and climbs faster. We were running out of daylight, so in the trek I’ve posted here we turned around before reaching the meadow.
Here’s a snapshot of the forest service map at the trailhead, showing that there are lots of loop options if you want to go farther. The loop has several creek crossings, without bridges, and you do cross over a ridge. I have my doubts about the accuracy of the mileage as marked on this map, my GPS shows that the sections are longer.
Timing is Everything
We couldn’t have picked a better time to visit! This was mid June 2016, there was no snow on the ground, the meadows were wet enough for the flowers but not too muddy, hardly any mosquitoes, lots of water in the creek and river, and gorgeous wildflowers. We hit a cold spell so the temperatures were a bit chilly, but normally this time of year I would expect midday temperatures in the upper 70’s to low 80’s.
Take Interstate 50 east from Sacramento, towards South Lake Tahoe. When you come to Kyburz look for the turnoff for Silver Fork Road. Follow the main paved road south approximately 9 miles until you come to the Fitch Rantz Bridge. Just before that bridge there is a sign for the trailhead, which takes you to a parking lot. The trailhead, with bulletin board, is at the far end of the parking lot.
This is a popular equestrian trail. On our weekday visit we only saw a few people.
Pit toilets are available at the trailhead.
Caples Creek Trail Wildflowers
Please feel free to help me with the identification of any “unidentified” flowers listed here, as well as correcting any errors I may make. Click on any photograph to see a larger image. I’ll start with a few favorites, and then the “gallery”.
It was a windy, cool, overcast day, so the quality of some of the pictures suffers a bit.
Snow Plant is an odd flower, entirely parasitic on the plants nearby. Usually we find just one or two on a spring hike. On this trail, in one section near the creek, we found hundreds! Really amazing.
Harlequin Lupine is my favorite lupine, and not just because it is easy to identify. We found these on the drive over to the trailhead.
This small Alpine Lewisia is easy to miss, it’s the first time I’ve come across it on a hike.
I always get excited when I find orchids in the wild. This is a closeup of the flower of the Spotted Coralroot. You have to pay attention to the shadows along the trail to see these (we found only one this time).
To view the picture gallery, click on the larger photo below, then you can page through the gallery just by continuing to click on the images. If you recognize any that are marked “unknown” then please leave a comment (or, if I have misidentified any, let me know). Thanks!