Palisade Creek Trail is a 18.2 mile out and back trail located near Norden, California that features a waterfall and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, and backpacking and is best used from June until October.
Directions from Truckee: Travel west on Hwy. #80 and take the Soda Springs/Norden exit. Follow the Old Highway #40 east for 0.8 miles to Soda Springs Road. Turn south and follow the road for another 0.8 miles to Pahatsi Road, which will be on your right. Pahatsi Road will be paved for about 0.2 miles. When it turns into a dirt road the name will change to Kidd Lakes Road. Follow the dirt road for about 1.5 miles to where it forks. Do not take the road to Palisade Lake/Camp Winther, but continue straight ahead for 2.5 miles (you will pass Kidd Lake on you left.) The trailhead for the Palisade Creek Trail is on the north side of Cascade Lakes.
The lakes at the beginning were beautiful and I'm bummed that I never went swimming in any of them. We often were confused about where the trail went due to the terrain and poor trails markers. About half of the trail is on bare exposed rock so it is easy to walk off trail. We didn't do the switchbacks up the hill after mile 6 and ended up camping next to the river at mile 6. I recommend going earlier in the season so that the river flow is higher and you have more opportunities to fill up water bottles (we had a few lakes at the beginning, some gross still ponds at mile 4, and a small waterfall at mile 6).
Overnight moderate difficulty hike, stick to the trial, printout a map and reference location via phone gps if you'd like; My GPS worked almost up until the river/ creek confluence & waterfall area. Big guys bring 3-6L of water (one way) and you can refill at the river w/ some Purification Pills for the trip back. I will advise to bring a bear bag for your food supply and hang it in the nearby trees as there are Black Bears in the area. We had one devour our food that was roughly 20 ft from the camp, he circled the tent a few times at several different times during the night but didn't show any aggressive signs.
Perfect down and up/ out and back.
My husband and I did this hike in late July, so the waterfalls were not at high flow. Would definitely recommend as an overnight night hike as the return trip out is exhausting (especially with heavier overnight packs). Took about 3 hours for us to get to the confluence and about 4.5 out the next day, stopping several times to take photos and re-hydrate. This trail leads through several different types of landscape…very beautiful and worth the trip. Plenty of pools to swim at the confluence of the American River and several places to set up camp. Many trails leading around the American River so you could make this a longer trip if you desired, we only chose to make this an overnight. As mention in the other post it is wise to watch for the cairns and try to help out when you can by restacking them for others. Crossing over the granite ridge can get confusing.
(Updated 6/6/2016) This trail is mainly about waterfalls. It goes by a few of them on Palisade Creek and ends at Palisade Falls on the American River.
It's a bit hard to follow, especially early in the season, and especially for the first hour across the granite section. Just remember that this section makes many random 90-degree turns and watch for the cairns (aka ducks). It would be helpful if everyone doing this trail would fix the cairns as they go, as they're always getting knocked over.
A few other things: While we have done this as a day hike, I wouldn't recommend it. It takes us at least 4 hours each way and you can't spend much time at the bottom. The actual stats are that it's about 6.5 miles one-way and 3000 feet of descent, so it's not an easy trail. I've seen a lot of people just day hiking down to Palisade Creek Falls though, which is a lot easier.
The Heath Falls trail shown on the topo maps does exist, sortof. The first tenth of a mile or so leading off of the main trail has been buried in a bunch of fallen trees on the north side of the pond there. Just go north of the pond to about 39.254922° -120.408677°, where you should be able to pick up the trail as it follows the bottom of that little valley. It heads towards Heath Springs on the western side of the valley and eventually disappears in the leaf litter, so to get to Heath Falls you will need to just bushwhack east across the valley, ideally staying away from the river until you find the trail to the falls. There are "No Trespassing" signs all over the place since the land upstream is owned by the rich a$$holes up at "The Cedars", but as far as I can tell most of them are in the wrong place, being well inside the "Wild and Scenic River" boundary and facing all different directions, so I'm not sure where exactly they consider the boundary to be. Just ignore them and go to the falls. And FYI, the Heath valley is not a good place to camp. There's really no reliable water there, as that whole section of river runs through the gnarliest gorge I've ever seen, and Heath Springs is a suspicious copper color and is also apparently the spawning ground for all the mosquitoes in the world.
The part of the main Palisade Creek trail south of the river going to Soda Springs Road, shown on the USGS maps, was destroyed in a landslide in 1996, but I've heard different things on how passable it is.
The 5-mile dirt road to the main trailhead is usually barely passable to sedans - it floods and there's lots of loose rock. Towards the end there's a steep downhill section just past the Devil's Peak Lookout warming hut. If you don't have high clearance then park at the warming hut and walk down to the trailhead.