Located in the Auburn State Recreation Area, a California State Park, the hike to Hawver Cave follows The Quarry Trail and the route of the gold rush era Grand Flume, a 13 mile long wood and canvas flume that was built annually by private mining companies to extract gold from the river during the late 1850s.
The Mountain Quarries Railroad also used the first 1 1/4 miles of the trail in the early 1900’s to transport limestone from the quarry up to Auburn. Remnants of a large limestone-loading platform for the rail cars can still be seen on the trail.
Hiking The Quarry Trail
As you walk down the wide, flat Quarry Trail, following the old Mountain Quarries Railroad bed, you’ll see the sparkling waters of the Middle Fork of the American River, wildflowers, mining remnants, and maybe even some wildlife. It’s an easy hike for families and hikers of all ages — we even saw one woman pushing a stroller on the trail.
A little over a mile into the hike, the trail splits, with the main trail heading uphill to the right (toward the climbing area) and a tiny spur trail heading left to a picnic area.
- We first visited the picnic area, with port-a-potties, picnic tables, and displays with information about the quarry and local flora and fauna, as well as beautiful views of wildflowers and the rushing river below.
- Next we went back to the fork and followed the trail uphill where it splits again.
- Going left takes you right to the huge concrete structures above the rest area, between the two trails. They are the original foundations for the limestone ore processing structures used to load the limestone into railcars.
- Going right leads uphill to another split in the trail.
- Turning right at the top of the hill above the limestone platform remains, will have you following a separate unmarked trail called the PG&E Road Trail. This trail leads to the abandoned quarry.
- Continuing straight will take you past concrete mining remains of a limestone kiln to Hawver Cave. Out in front of the cave are the remains of an above ground concrete tunnel to the cave entrance, and if that isn’t cool enough, when you walk to the entrance of the cave, you feel a blast of cold air pouring out of the cave. It feels amazing, especially on a blazing summer day when you’re hot and sweaty.
The Hawver Cave entrance is blocked by giant gates, so you can’t go inside the cave, but you can see inside, and there are informational panels along the sides of the gates with photos of the Mountain Quarries Mine operations and the animals fossils that were discovered in the cave.
After checking out Hawver Cave, we continued our hike to check out more of the gorgeous Quarry Trail, full of wildflowers and butterflies — and actually ended up hiking almost all the way to the The Mammoth Bar Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area! Other than the motorcycle noise, it was a really great, peaceful hike. We only encountered a few other people and one snake that scared the daylights out of my son!
On our hike back, we definitely made sure to stop again at the Hawver Cave entrance to cool off and get a break from the intense sun!
Finding The Quarry Trail Trailhead
Coming into the Auburn State Recreation Area on Highway 49, the historic Mountain Quarries Bridge, also called No Hands Bridge, will be on your right. Just past the historic bridge is a green steel bridge crossing the American River. Turn right onto this bridge and follow the road about a quarter mile uphill to the trailhead parking area on the left. The lot is small and it costs $10 to park, or you can park out on the side of the road for free.
The Quarry Trail trailhead is beyond the parking area at a green gate.
Hawver Cave History
Hawver Cave was first discovered in the 1880s by miners looking for limestone, but the official documented discovery wasn’t until Auburn, California dentist and paleontologist, Dr. John C. Hawver found the cave in 1906. Fossilized, ice-age animal remains dating back 5.3 million years were found and documented, including skulls and bones of the dire wolf, saber-tooth cat, ground sloth, mammoth, and bison, as well as skeletal remains of four humans dating back 10,000 years.
You can view a display of fossils from the Hawver Cave, including skulls and bones of the dire wolf, saber-tooth cat, ground sloth, mammoth, and bison, at the Sierra College Natural History Museum.
Because the natural cave ran directly under the Mountain Quarries Mine limestone mining operations, Mountain Quarries Mine later co-opted the cave and dug a hole to connect it with their mines. The cave was used to move limestone ore from the quarry to the nearby by ore crusher. The processed ore was then loaded into railcars on the old quarry railroad that moved the ore to Auburn, where it was used to make cement.
When the mine was operating, it was the largest limestone mine in Northern California and one of the purest limestone deposits in the United States.
After the mine closed in 1942, most of the equipment was removed from the site, the quarry railroad tracks were removed and used for WWII scrap iron, and the entrance was blocked will fallen rock.
Over the years, people dug their way back in and rangers had to frequently deal with partiers, vandals, and injuries from trespassers. Eventually, Hawver Cave was closed to the public and the entrance to the historic Hawver Cave and Mountain Quarries Mine was covered with bat-compatible gates. Today you can visit the cave and peek inside like we did.
Know Before You Go
- The Quarry Trail is also known as the Quarry Road Trail.
- Download the Auburn State Recreation Area California State Park map and brochure.
- From the parking lot, follow signs for the Quarry Trail. The hike to Hawver Cave is 1.3 miles, but make sure you have time to explore the other concrete mining remains near by.
- The parking lot is a paid lot ($10), but you can park on the road for free.
- The trail is dirt, but it is also wide and fairly flat. It is stroller, bike, horse, and dog friendly.
- Depending on the time of day, the Quarry Trail could be a bit shady or it could be in full sun, so be sure you bring sunscreen, water, and a hat.