History, hiking trails, and culture come together in Folsom, California, 25 miles northeast of the state capital of Sacramento. Folsom nestles into the Sierra Nevada foothills and is a gateway city for the alpine environment to its east. Numerous outdoor activities are right at the backdoor in Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. Created by the impoundment of the American River, this sprawling recreation space features two reservoirs and abundant scenic attractions.
The Gold Rush history of Folsom still glimmers in much of the city, particularly on Sutter Street and the surrounding Historic Downtown District. With storefronts reminiscent of old-time opera houses and hotels, the downtown district celebrates its rich history with several downtown events and performances at the Historic Folsom Amphitheater. Other popular attractions in Folsom include shopping opportunities, boat rentals, and animal interactions at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary.
Folsom is forever intertwined with the state prison within its borders, much in thanks to a legendary performance by Johnny Cash within the prison walls. Both legacies are easily experienced when visiting Folsom, and tourists can learn about the 140-year history of the prison at the Folsom State Prison Museum. The museum is accessible via the paved Johnny Cash Trail, which offers an art-filled pedestrian pathway that spans two scenic bridges.
Plan your visit with our list of the top things to do in Folsom.
10 Harris Center
Initially conceived as an instruction center for students at Folsom Lake College, the Harris Center has evolved into a main stage for arts and culture in the region. Attracting local, regional, and national talent, the Harris Center features three stages and a beautiful mezzanine. New shows and performances come to the stages of this regional arts center throughout the year, and patrons can find an event calendar at the official website.
Address: 10 College Parkway, Folsom, California
9 Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park
Constructed in 1895, the Folsom Powerhouse utilized the moving current of the American River to produce electricity for the growing city of Sacramento 22 miles downstream. Upon completion, the Folsom Powerhouse became one of the first hydroelectric facilities in the nation. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places, and visitors can tour much of the facility, which has been well preserved since its retirement in 1952.
Address: 9980 Greenback Lane, Folsom, California
8 Lake Natoma
Non-motorized boat rentals are offered at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center located near the Nimbus Dam. Alongside single and tandem kayak rentals, the Sac State Aquatic Center also has an inventory of bikes they rent to the public. The aquatic center is also a National Boating Instruction Safety Center and offers classes, camps, and programs to enhance boating safety and skills.
The second, smaller reservoir within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, Lake Natoma was created by the construction of the Nimbus Dam on the American River. The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail lines the eastern shore with great views of the water, and hiking trails can be found sprawling on both sides of the banks. The lake is popular with non-motorized watercraft, and the speed limit is five miles per hour.
7 Granite Bay and Beal’s Point
Part of Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, Granite Bay and Beal’s Point are great places to enjoy the water. On the western shoreline, Granite Bay offers a day-use swimming beach with lifeguards on duty during the summer.
Granite Bay also has dedicated barbecue areas and large grassy spots for an array of summertime activities. The Snack Bar at Granite Bay offers non-motorized boat rentals throughout the summer season. Granite Bay also features a public boat ramp.
The neighboring Beal’s Point offers one of two campgrounds on Folsom Lake and has over 60 sites available for tents and RVs. Both Granite Bay and Beal’s Point lend easy access to the water, as well as the paved Jedediah Smith Memorial Parkway, which stretches from Folsom Lake to Discovery Park in Sacramento.
The other campground on Folsom Lake is located on the north shore, and the Peninsula Campground can be accessed via boat or a winding paved road from Pilot Hill.
Address: Beals Point, Granite Bay, California
6 Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary
First began in 1963 by the adoption of a displaced bear cub, the Folsom Zoo, now the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary, has since cared for non-releasable animals in a safe and attentive environment. Current residents at the zoo include bears, coyotes, and tigers, as well as smaller animals like macaws, squirrel monkeys, and prairie dogs. Available classes and programs at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary include Zookeeper Camps and docent-led tours with zoo staff.
The entire zoo is within Folsom City Lions Park, where other amenities include playground sculptures, baseball fields, and a butterfly grove. Lions Park and the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary are also accessible via the Johnny Cash Trail. The Fisher’s Beastro at the zoo offers simple lunchtime fares like corn dogs and nachos.
Address: 403 Stafford Street, Folsom, California
5 Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, American River Parkway
Stretching for 32 miles between Discovery Park in Sacramento and Beal’s Point within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail runs through the American River Parkway and offers a great way to explore the river corridor. The portion that follows the shores of Lake Natoma is arguably the most scenic section of the trail. Numerous dirt hiking trails stem from the paved pathway, with other related activities including picnicking, fishing, and wildlife photography.
4 Johnny Cash Trail
The Johnny Cash Trail is a paved bike and pedestrian path that connects the downtown Folsom Historic District and Folsom Lake. The trail spans 2.5 miles and traverses two incredibly scenic bridges, and plans include larger-than-life public art installations along the route.
Bordering the Folsom State Prison property, the trail also lends access to Folsom Prison Museum. From either end of the trail, users can access the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, which connects Folsom Lake to Sacramento.
3 Sutter Street, Folsom Historic District
Regarded as the “Heart of Folsom,” Sutter Street and the surrounding historic downtown district offer numerous things to do throughout the year. Lined with historic storefronts and buildings reminiscent of its 1850s origins, when gold prospectors and Pony Express riders roamed the streets, Sutter Street is now filled with many modern businesses, including restaurants, theaters, and shops. Alongside interpretive information on street corners, the Folsom History Museum on Sutter Street provides further insight into the history of the downtown area.
Visitors from Sacramento can experience Sutter Street by hopping on the Historic Folsom Light Rail, which departs from the capital city. Special events like craft fairs, car shows, and a Saturday farmers market occur on Sutter Street throughout the year. The downtown Historic Folsom Amphitheater also puts on numerous shows, including performances by the Folsom Lake Symphony, a summer Twilight Thursday Concert Series, and Movie Nights at the Amphitheater.
2 Folsom Prison Museum
On the grounds of the active Folsom State Prison, the Folsom Prison Museum highlights the history encountered by correction officers who have worked at the prison since the 1880s. Exhibits at the Folsom Prison Museum include photographs, artifacts, and a macabre collection of contraband items and fatal accident accounts. Newspaper articles detailing various escape attempts also hang on the walls. An intricate Ferris wheel made from toothpicks by an inmate is one of the most popular exhibits at the museum.
Also known as the Big House Prison Museum, this non-profit institution contains four rooms packed with things to see, as well as outdoor exhibits and artifacts on the museum’s grounds. Museum admission is two dollars per visitor, and it’s easy to spend a couple of hours wandering between exhibits. Sharing a parking lot with visitors to Folsom State Prison adds to the overall experience of visiting the Folsom Prison Museum.
Address: 312 3rd Street, Represa, California
1 Folsom Lake State Recreation Area
Folsom Lake is nestled into the Sierra Nevada foothills right outside Folsom’s backdoor. Encompassing two reservoirs, Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma, both created by dams on the American River, the combined recreation area encompasses over 19,000 acres and numerous outdoor activities.
Popular things to do at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area include boating, fishing, hiking, and bicycling on the 32-mile Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail that connects to Sacramento.
On the western shores of Folsom Lake, Granite Bay and Beal’s Point provide a popular day-use area with a swimming beach, as well as a campground with over 60 sites available.
Numerous entrances to the recreation area surround all sides of Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma, as well as visitor experiences like the Sacramento State Aquatic Center and the American River Water Education Center. Nearly 100 miles of multi-use trails span the park, including a portion of the historic Western States Trail.
Address: 7755 Folsom-Auburn Road, Folsom, California