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Western States Trail: Michigan Bluff to Last Chance

 4.0 (2)

A section of the historic Western States Trail through Tahoe National Forest.

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4,617' 1,407 m


1,791' 546 m


6,406' 1,953 m


5,266' 1,605 m



Avg Grade (10°)


Max Grade (58°)

Dogs Leashed

Features River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers

Need to Know

This trail is part of the annual Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run typically held on the last weekend in June as well as the Western States Trail Ride (also called The Tevis Cup) usually held late July or early August. Avoid these weekends for hikes.

Runner Notes

This section of the Western States Trail is very popular with runners. The significant elevation change should not be underestimated.


This section of the Western States Trail is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1850 and later became one of only a few toll trails during the California Gold Rush. The trail connects the mining sites of Deadwood and Last Chance with Michigan Bluff. Local freight companies used the trail to supply these sites with food, clothing, and tools. Over 500 miners hauled several tons of gold back the other way.

The trail starts next to a small stone monument and an interpretive sign at the end of the main road through Michigan Bluff. Parking is scarce but available opposite of the sign or curbside. Follow the narrow gravel lane and bypass a gate on the left with the "WS" marker. The road turns left after 200 yards, but the trail continues straight ahead at a large sign listing the distance to Last Chance as 13 miles.

The next roughly 3 miles are moderately downhill with only a few views across the canyon carved by the North Fork of Middle Fork American River. You cross El Dorado Creek over a small wooden bridge and continue up the Deadwood Ridge on the other side. The ascent is equally moderate, but views are sparse. At about 6.2 miles, you reach the southern end of the Deadwood Ridge Road. This site was once home to hundreds of miners, but all that remains today is Deadwood Cemetery to your left and a few well hidden remnants of mines and houses.

Continue on the dirt road for little over a mile where the Western States Trail veers off to the right. You cross a small stream and a bike trail and reach the edge of Devils Thumb at about 8 miles. The forest ends abruptly giving way to a steep slope that was burnt a few years ago and is now teeming with wildflowers. Plenty of charred trunks are still standing giving you a bizarre view of the canyon ahead carved by the North Fork of Middle Fork American River.

The trail loses 1,600 feet in just 1.7 miles when you reach a narrow swinging bridge across the river. Flat areas just south of the bridge on the eastern shore make perfect camp sites. Beyond the bridge, the trail ascends an equally arduous 1,800 feet through numerous zigzags. Reach another dirt road at 11.5 miles. The last stretch of the trail offer few views. You reach the site of Last Chance at 13 miles. Large enough to even have a post office in 1852, little remains today except a cemetery.


Shared By:

Tilman Giese

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  4.0 from 2 votes


  4.0 from 2 votes
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in California


10 Views Last Month
749 Since Jun 15, 2020



Mosquito Ridge from just east of Michigan Bluff.
Jun 17, 2020 near Foresthill, CA
View from Deadwood Ridge.
Jun 17, 2020 near Foresthill, CA
Most of the eastern flank of Deadwood Ridge was burnt a few years ago.
Jun 17, 2020 near Foresthill, CA
The ascent to Last Chance is steep but offers a few great views of the canyon you just passed.
Jun 17, 2020 near Foresthill, CA
Just south of the bridge across the North Fork of Middle Fork American River are a few boulders that invite you to dip your toes into the water
Jun 17, 2020 near Foresthill, CA
Downstream view from the bridge across the North Fork of Middle Fork American River.
Jun 17, 2020 near Foresthill, CA



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May 29, 2021
Justin Johnsen
My first visit to the Michigan Bluff trailhead, nice scenic and friendly! 4.5mi — 1h 16m