Gold Country Hikes

05.12.11


Go for Gold

It’s not called the Golden State for nothing. Right now the foothills of northern Gold Country are a treasure trove of spring beauty. Cash in on it.


South Yuba River Buttermilk Bend

Yuba Dabba Doo!

Few things from Mother Nature are predictable, save for Old Faithful in Yellowstone and the spring wildflowers on the Buttermilk Bend Trail in South Yuba River State Park. This classic, easy 3-mile out-and-back canyon trail parallels the bank of the beautiful rough-and-tumble Yuba River. Starting at Bridgeport, home to the world’s longest arch/truss single-span covered bridge, the trail immediately greets with a blanket of bright purple baby stars and surrounding peppergrass. Follow the trail above the roiling turquoise waters of the Yuba as it surges over the pale gray granite boulders below. The trail winds past showcases of woodland stars, narrow-leaved lupine and tufted poppies. The surrounding foothills are covered in oak and pine trees, creating a canvas in every shade of green. Several side-trails lead down to the Yuba, offering ample flat bedrock for sunbathing, picnicking or dipping your feet in the glacier cold water (shockingly refreshing!) Cross a bridge over an animated cascade, and keep an eye out for flowering fiddlenecks and deep-purple zig-zag larkspur. At trail’s end (clearly marked), flip it and savor the return scene and scenery. Smooth as buttermilk.

TIP: Nevada City’s Outside Inn is a great base camp for your Gold Country adventure. The office has a library of hiking and biking information, and an entire wall is covered with a map of the area. 

Check southyubariverstatepark.org for directions to Bridgeport. The Buttermilk Bend Trail begins at the north parking lot and follows the north side of the river upstream. Here’s a map and brochure of the area. Dog-friendly! 

Malakoff Diggins

Hot Diggity Diggins

Not many people make it out to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, and it likes it just fine that way. This tiny former gold rush region northeast of Nevada City is surrounded by the Tahoe National Forest and not much else. But don’t let the remoteness fool you: this place holds a stash of surprises. The park is home to North Bloomfield, a preserved ghost town whispering stories of livelier times. Gold rushers here didn’t simply pan for gold, they washed away entire sides of mountains using high-pressure hydraulic mining. The result: a mile-long butterscotch-colored canyon resembling Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park. Explore it on the 3-mile (round-trip) Diggins Loop Trail. Follow the yellow painted wooden posts through the “Diggins” (aka, pit) for up-close views of this manmade erosion that, over time, has also been carved and chiseled by nature. The trail is overgrown in places, obscuring some of the yellow posts and making sections of it an adventure endured best by those who possess navigational acumen and don’t mind a little bushwhacking. The trail finishes along a boardwalk bordered by a small pond and up through a ponderosa pine forest. Dig it!

BONUS: Malakoff Diggins has three old miners’ cabins where you can spend the night. The amenities are the same as they were in back in the 1800s: no electricity, TVs, or cell phone service (though there is a wood-burning stove to help keep things toasty). Bring wood, a sleeping bag, and charcoal and food for the cooking grills. Make reservations through reserveamerica.com.

To reach Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park: Drive 11 miles north of Nevada City on Hwy. 49 and turn right on Tyler Foote Rd. Follow the signs to the park. The best access to the Diggins Loop Trail is half a mile west of the visitor center where the pavement ends. No dogs.

Feather Falls

The Thunder From Up Yonder

With a name like Feather Falls, one might imagine a trickling cascade. Oh how names can be deceiving. Lording just east of Oroville in the foothills of the northern Sierra, Feather Falls—the 6th tallest waterfall in the U.S.—packs more power than Thor. And you can’t reach this 640-foot stunner by car. The only way to see Feather Falls is via a 4.5-mile (one-way) hike or bike ride. We recommend the latter for some fast-tracked, fat-tire fun. Dart and coast downhill for the first few miles through a ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest and across fully flowing Frey Creek before coming to a clearing with dramatic and dizzying views of the deep Middle Fork Feather River Canyon. Look directly across and you might think you’re in Yosemite: Bald Rock Dome, a granite monolith rising 2,000 feet above Feather River, makes a grand impression. But this is just the tip of the payoff. The marquee spectacle is a couple miles away. It’s best to dismount your bike for the final half-mile (tuck it in the shrubbery but watch for poison oak!) and hike the rest of the way to the big wooden viewing platform jutting over the Fall River Canyon and providing a dead-on view of walloping Feather Falls. Look down and the bottom of the falls disappear—its force so strong it kicks back up water explosions. Take your photos and return the way you came. Feather in your cap!

Feather Falls is in Plumas National Forest 18 miles east of Oroville. Here’s a map to the trailhead. The trail forks after a quarter-mile, giving you two options: the longer 4.5-mile trail and the shorter 3.5-mile trail. Bikes should always go the longer way both directions (Currently the shorter way has a washed-out bridge.) The bike ride is for intermediate riders and has a lot of uphill on the return trip. If in doubt, hike the route but give yourself plenty of time: it’s 9 miles round-trip. Dog-friendly!

Griswolding the Central Coast

Pack up the station wagon and head to the Happiest Place in America. We’re not talking about a theme park. Within easy driving distance from the Bay Area, San Luis Obispo is a 75-degree Central Coast paradise that offers more thrills than a rollercoaster. Kick things off with lip-smacking BBQ and live music at the west’s best Farmers’ Market. Then wake up to a choice of adventures right outside your door. Bring bikes, strollers or both and wheel along the paved Bob Jones Trail through woods paralleling San Luis Obispo Creek. Ride into Avila, home to a serene beach, a bustling pier and the interactive Avila Sea Life Center. Just north at San Simeon, things get wild as giant elephant seals and their pups lounge and shuffle on white sandy beaches. Or take to the hills on one of San Luis Obispo’s many hiking and biking trails—some leaving right from town. Those wanting to get on the water can try a surf lesson on a mellow break or kayak to Morro Rock, a long-extinct volcano formed millions of years ago. Whatever affordable itinerary you choose, San Luis Obispo will get everyone smiling for the family photo. Say, “Griswold”!

BONUS: San Luis Obispo is celebrating its recent title as “the happiest place in America” by giving away a two-night stay. Enter to win a vacation on the house!

Visit sanluisobispovacations.com to find hotels and plan your trip.

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