Not every family adventure needs to be a giant one. They don’t need to be weekend getaways or week long vacations. Sometimes a day trip, a half day trip, or in this case, a few hour trip is just perfect.
We are very fortunate to live in the gorgeous, rolling foothills of Placer County, California — just a quick drive away from rivers, waterfalls, scenic hiking trails, national parks, state parks, and more. This summer we’ve been taking advantage of every opportunity we can to get the whole family outside hiking and getting some exercise.
For this hike, we got the kids up early on a Wednesday morning and hit the trail for a loop hike before our workdays got started. We had almost the whole trail to ourselves and we reached the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls waterfall before any crowds were on the trail. Then by 10:00 am, we were back at home at our desks, and deep into design and development projects for clients. This was such a great break mid-week that I want to somehow figure out how to make this a regular thing.
Lately we’ve been digging the hiking trails at the American River Confluence in the Auburn State Recreation Area. The American River Confluence is where the North Fork and Middle Fork of the American River merge. It’s also ground zero for many of the popular trailheads like the Lake Clementine Trail and the Quarry Trail.
Canyon Creek Trail
The Canyon Creek Trail is an easy 2.2 mile, out and back hike near Auburn, California that follows a relatively flat old railroad bed to the Black Hole Of Calcutta Falls waterfall. Part of the Western States Trail, Canyon Creek Trail drops down from the city of Auburn and leads to the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge at the American River Confluence.
For our morning hike, we crossed parked near the Canyon Creek Trailhead at the Confluence:
- When you reach the confluence area, the road splits and you can either go straight toward the parking area for the Lake Clementine Trail ($10 parking), or you can turn right across the bridge and park for free along the right side of the road just past the bridge (free parking). The free parking area fills up fast, which is another reason why we like to hit the trails early in the morning.
- Once you park, walk back toward the bridge and look for a green gate labeled Gate 150 on the left just before the bridge. This is the start of many trails, including the Western States Trail and Canyon Creek Trail to the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls.
- The trail follows the North Fork of the American River (past two port-a-potties, just in case) to the famous Mountain Quarried Railroad Bridge, also known as No Hands Bridge.
- Cross the bridge and follow the trail all the way to a beautiful wooden bridge and the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls. This is a great place to relax a bit and have a snack in the shade, as almost the entire trail is in the direct sun.
- On your hike, keep an eye out for remnants of bridge trestles that can be seen at various spots along the trail.
Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge
The first bridge you reach on the Canyon Creek Trail is the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge. Part of the Mountain Quarries Railroad and Mine, it was used to transport limestone by railroad across the North Fork of the American River to Auburn for the manufacturing of cement. Construction on the bridge began in 1910 and was completed in 1912 and at 425 feet long and 150 feet high, it was the longest skewed arched concrete bridge of its time. It took 800 men to build the bridge. In 2004, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior.
The bridge is also commonly referred to as No Hands Bridge. Some say it’s called No Hands Bridge because until it was used for pedestrians and vehicles, the bridge had no handrails along the sides. Others say the bridge got it’s No Hands nickname after someone rode their horse across the bridge with no hands.
The Mountain Quarries Railroad bridge, set against the steep mountain side and reaching across the river is absolutely stunning. There is no way you can hike this trail and not stop to take photos of this bridge! We saw people down in the river below the bridge, so we knew that you could get down to the river bed, but when we hiked a little further down the trail and saw a steep, rocky, treacherous looking, narrow trail down to the river, we decided to skip it.
Luckily, further down the trail there is another much larger spur trail that makes a u-turn down to the water. It is much wider, not as steep, and safer. We opted to continue our hike to Calcutta Falls first so we could enjoy it before the crowds hit the trail and took the spur trail down to the river for some bridge photos on the way back to the car.
On a hot day, this area of the North Fork of The American River makes for a perfect swimming hole. The water is calm, the scenery is beautiful, and the bridge makes a great backdrop for your sunbathing and swimming photos!
Black Hole of Calcutta Falls
Calcutta Falls isn’t a huge waterfall, but it is a beautiful waterfall that runs year round. You can get some great photos from the wooden bridge that spans the creek just in front of it and there are some rocks along the left side that you can climb on to get close to the falls.
But why do people call Calcutta Falls waterfall the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls?
Is it because there is a small, dark pool of water at the base of the waterfall that looks like a black hole? I really wanted to know the answer to this question. We were speculating on the reason all through our hike and I even did some research when we got home, but I found nothing. Nothing that is, until I found a link to an old Auburn Journal Article.
According to the article, the 34-foot wooden bridge that crosses Canyon Creek at the base of Calcutta Falls is only a couple of years old. Before the bridge was built, Canyon Creek Trail used to dip into the creek, forcing hikers and runners to follow the trail through the creek water. The watery trail crossing became known as the “Black Hole”, and over time, Calcutta Falls became known as the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls.