The American River is divided into the North, Middle, and South forks that contain recreational havens for well over one million visitors per year in El Dorado County, Placer County, and Sacramento County in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of northern California. The river originates in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests. From the confluence at Auburn, the combined North and Middle Forks river flows at an elevation of 600 feet in a forested canyon 800 feet deep and is called the North Fork. It meanders through additional wilderness recreational canyons past the site of the abandoned Auburn Dam, and back into wilderness, onward to where it meets the South Fork at Folsom Lake. All three forks are known for their verdant canyons, forested ridges, massive rock formations, trails, backcountry winter adventuring among snowy peaks, fishing and white water rafting.
Below Folsom Lake, the river passes through an urbanized area but is buffered by a riparian park, the American River Parkway. Containing fishing and family-oriented rafting, and paved bicycling and multi-use trails, it runs 30.6 miles from Folsom Lake to the river's confluence with the Sacramento River. The American River Parkway incorporates Historic Leidesdorff Ranch, a 35,000-acre cattle and wheat agribusiness owned by the "African Founding Father of California." Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, a meandering, uninterrupted 32-mile cycle path, hugs the river bank from Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake.