“Going to the river” is a thing both locals and visitors to Gold Country seem to do a lot. My son, having lived here for a time, often heads straight up Highway 49 to the South Fork as soon as he gets to town, but I’ve been surprised by how many visitors, not particularly familiar with the area, do too. It appears the Yuba River has become famous.
On a trip to visit my Great Aunt Betty in the ‘80s, she suggested we go for a drive to the Bridgeport covered bridge. At that time it was a lonely place, no facilities, no signs directing people to it. You just had to know where it was and Aunt Betty knew. Since then it’s become much more well known, as one would expect of the world’s longest single span covered bridge, and now the headquarters of South Yuba State Park is there too. The good news is it’s still a quiet place, although now they expect visitors to pay. But it seems a reasonable request.
The park is a patchwork of lands along the river from Malakoff Diggins at the upper end, to Bridgeport at the bottom. The roads in the area meander back and forth and meet the river at several crossings.
A variation on the rocker/sluice box, used to separate
gold from gravel along stream beds in placer mining.
Last spring, my friend and Gumbo member Dgems, invited me to come along on a ranger-guided hike for a group of South Yuba River Park Association volunteers. The group met at the Bridgeport headquarters, then carpooled upstream to the popular Highway 49 crossing where there are 2 bridges and a small parking lot to accommodate hikers and swimmers.
We walked across the old bridge from the parking area and made an immediate right turn onto the Hoyt Trail that parallels the river on the steep and densely wooded canyon wall, with views to the water below. The 2 rangers related area history and pointed out items of interest, including a flume, along the way. It was late for wildflowers but there were still a few blooming and several of our fellow hikers spoke with fondness of their favorite spots to see them when the timing was right.
After 3/4 of a mile of single file ups and downs on the narrow path, we stopped at the sign marking Hoyt’s Crossing. A tunnel-like track through the trees to the left is what remains of the old road from Nevada City to North San Juan. It was used in Gold Rush times by wagons that supplied the miners and crossed the river on a toll bridge built by Moses Hoyt. It’s hard to imagine the effort it must have taken to make those trips, hauling goods through the canyon. Just as it’s hard to imagine crossing the country and these mountains in wagons to get there at all. It was quite a moment, to stand in what still feels like an inaccessible spot and let history wash over me.
Ahead of us, as you can see on the sign, was the nude beach, presided over, so the ranger said, by a fellow who brooks no nonsense. While I longed to see the volunteer beach police in action, I also longed to sit right there on a rock and have a snack. I chose the latter, so the nude frolicking will have to wait for another time. Or not, as the sun is not my friend, maybe a case of less is more. Less sun, not less clothes.
As we retraced our steps to return to the bridges, we met young people along the trail, some who obviously knew where they were going and some seemingly lost, but all stepped aside for us old-timers and hung on as we passed on the precipitous trail. And all of them knew they were on their way to a fun day at the river.
Gigantic granite boulders, with people in the river to indicate the hugeness of them.
Have a look at the park brochure, including maps showing all the hiking
trails in the immediate area. The particularly interesting Independence Trail
also has the advantage of being young child and wheelchair accessible.
Click here for a comprehensive list of trails in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area.
To read more of PortMoresby's Gold Country, California, click here.