Gristmill Recreation Area

The Gristmill Recreation Area is a small park behind a residential area in Sacramento that provides access to the American River. The spot is supposed to be an excellent one for fly fishing, but I go there for the birding and other natural features.

  • Easy to Locate? Yes
  • Pet Friendly? Yes. Dogs MUST be on a leash.
  • Easy to Walk? Yes. The trail is narrow but well maintained.
  • Is there a Fee? Yes. You can get a day-pass at the kiosk by the front gate or get an annual pass which is good for all Sacramento County parks along the American River Parkway.
  • Are there Restrooms? Sort of. Porta-potties are usually available in the parking area.
  • Is there Accessible Parking? Yes.
  • Other Notes: This site provides you views of the American River that you can’t see from other sites.

See my FLICKR account for more albums of photos taken at this location throughout the last several years.

The entry is one of those drop-down-off-a-cliff into the gravel parking area which wasn’t very large. There is a short trail (about a ½ mile out and back) on side, some porta-potties and ready access to the rocky shore of the river, and another trail of the opposite side of the lot. Altogether it’s about a 3 mile loop.

The short trail is narrow and follows the up and down curves of the hillsides. It’s right behind a residential area, so there are a lot of non-native trees and plants mixed in with the wild native stuff. I could identify Live and Valley Oak trees, Cottonwood trees, lots of elderberry trees and some non-native almond trees. I think I also spotted a Silverleaf Oak among the trees. I wonder if it gets any kind of galls on it.  The trail ends abruptly at someone’s backyard. Do not trespass.

There are bird boxes everywhere, from small bluebird boxes, to duck boxes to larger barn owl boxes. Each box is numbered, so I assumed someone is keeping track of them.  I checked that out online and found that the Sacramento Audubon Society set most of them up and tracks what’s there.

 “…An amazing number of rarities have been found here: Eastern Wood-Pewee, Red-eyed Vireo, Tennessee Warbler, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak… Jeri Langham and his cadre of friends and students scour it, sometimes several times a day, during migration. Gristmill is big enough to attract and hold interesting birds, but small enough and open enough to allow for good coverage…”

The longer trail is more “wild” looking: lots of trees, plants, wildflowers (in the spring). It’s flatter than the short trail, and meanders close to the river at several points. You can do both trails in a day or break them up into different days.

How to Get to the Park:

  • In Sacramento, take Highway 50 East
  • Take EXIT 13 at Bradshaw Road
  • Turn LEFT onto Bradshaw
    • Continue on Bradshaw past Folsom Blvd
  • Turn LEFT onto Allegheny Drive
  • Turn RIGHT onto Stonehaven Drive
  • Turn LEFT onto Mira Del Rio Drive
  • The entrance sign for the rec area will be on your RIGHT

Travels of a Certified California Naturalist

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