Shady Serenade on the South Yuba River

I finally got around to going back to church a couple of weeks ago and was delighted to learn that St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Carmichael has a hiking club. The timing was perfect and so were conditions for a pleasant five-miler with four companions on the trail that begins at Edwards Crossing in the South Yuba Recreation Area.

“After you’re out of sight of the bridge, clothing is considered optional around here,” our fearless hike leader, Jim, noted soon after we arrived.

For a moment I wondered what kind of a group I had stumbled in to, but Jim was just alerting us to the fact that the region is known for its live-off-the-grid free spirits.

If we had to worry about anything, it wasn’t our virgin eyes. Poison oak along the trail was our constant companion.

We’ll give the trail that little flaw. In every other way, it’s a gently up and down trail about 100′ above the Yuba, following its course. It was pegged as easy, and it was. We made an out-and-back trip in something over four hours, including stops to admire the scenery and eat lunch. On this Friday morning and early afternoon, the temperatures stayed a civilized 60-70 degrees. Surprisingly, we saw no hikers or mountain bikers. By the time we were back at the trail head, however, our car had been joined by 8-10 others. From the looks of it, our fellow outdoor lovers were basking on the big flat granite rocks below the bridge.

The trail and the region is steeped in history beginning with the 1905 Edwards Crossing bridge. Jim says that the trail itself was blazed in the 1800s. Someone obviously put an awful lot of effort into reinforcing the single-lane path; in many places moss-covered boulders have been fit together so well on the steep downhill side that they continue to prevent trail erosion.

Jim, who lived in the area for 30 years, noted that it’s possible to do the trail one-way from Purdon Crossing if you park a car on both ends (or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can make this trip a 10-mile hike by going to Purdon Crossing and walking the same route back). If you’re wondering, there is a trail on the far side of the bridge headed the same direction – downstream – but it doesn’t go as far.

Mountain bikers like the trail from Round Mountain down to the South Fork Yuba River trail, so be on the lookout for speedy cyclists when you hit mile 3 or so; the Round Mountain trail comes in from the left.

On the way back, Jim took a quick side trip through Yuba City (where Jim recommends The New Moon) and then treated us by driving his favorite route back to Sacramento: Highway 174, which winds through pastoral scenery before ending at I-80 well above Auburn.

Note that the property off-trail is private and posted no trespassing and that the river is deceptive, with currents that have been known to knock waders off their feet, to their death.

Directions: Off of Interstate 80 above Auburn, exit Highway 49 and head toward Nevada City. In Nevada City, one block past the corner of Coyote Road, turn right on North Bloomfield. Proceed about 20 minutes. The last mile is a steep 15-20 degree grade with switchbacks.

Park by the john. The trailhead is on the left just prior to the bridge. You’ll be greeted with the first bunch of poison oak just to the right of the tree at the trail’s entrance.

If you fall in love with this area, note that the South Yuba River Citizen’s League is organizing the 15th annual Great Sierra Cleanup on September 21, 2013.

Trail tips:

  • Here’s Jim’s #1 tip: Pick up a bar of Fels-Naptha soap and wash off thoroughly with it after hiking. CVS carries it in the area near Nevada City with all of the banks and fast food restaurants.
  • Start and finish: We took our time and did the five miles in about 4 hours but a speedy hiker could do it in two.
  • Blister count: 0
  • Don’t miss: The historical gem of a bridge built in 1905, enjoying the many wildflowers, smelling the wild bay laurel, gorgeous views of the deep pools where a couple of large rainbow trout are visible even from the trail above, beautiful rocks and moss, lots of shade! Two creeks that cross the trail still carry a trickle of water.
  • Watch out for: LOTS of poison oak, mountain bikers, mosquitos (though still rare)
  • Whew! No rattle snakes
  • Head count: On the south side of the river, 0. We did see one topless group sunbathing across the river 😉

Joe, one of our hiking companions, also recommends hiking Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, but suggests approaching it from Highway 49 rather than the Edwards Crossing approach.

Click on photos to enlarge.

2 thoughts on “Shady Serenade on the South Yuba River

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