This is one of those off-the-beaten-path treasures that isn’t well marked or advertised. We in fact drove past the parking area twice before we found it. I was expecting a pull-in parking lot and easily visible signage. Instead, there’s a parking area right off the highway, and you have to hunt down the trail head, but that just adds to its charm.
The Independence Trail in Nevada City, California, is for the most part flat, level ground that is wheelchair accessible (it was in fact this country’s first wheelchair accessible wilderness trail). The path is literally a part of California’s history, as canals and ditches that once directed water to hydraulic mining sites have been transformed into trails. You can see remnants of the rock walls of the canal and restored wooden flumes along the path. It’s a bit of a dusty ride in the summer months, but the creeks and streams make fantastic watering holes.
The Independence Trail is split into East and West from the parking area. Go East, and you travel two miles along the canal, under a giant rock archway, until you reach paths that take you down to the south fork of the Yuba River (crystal clear pools and granite boulders). Go West, and you’ll find picnic areas, wooden flumes and a really structurally breathtaking switchback to a little waterfall and bathtub-sized pools of water ideal for soaking on a hot day. On the West trail, you also cross under the overpass for Hwy. 49. I know I have an active imagination, but this screamed “troll bridge” to me.
We started on the West trail, explored the old flumes and went down to the creek (about 1 mile). Please note, the switchbacks are currently closed. The wooden bridge is in fine repair, as are the switchbacks themselves, but there is a roughly three foot long section where the wood has collapsed. If you’re feeling particularly intrepid, you can step to the right onto the dirt, grab onto the tree and reconnect with the switchback path. There are currently two planks connecting the path, but they seem quite rickety and unstable – I don’t recommend trusting them. I felt safe grabbing the tree and continuing onto the switchbacks, but this is something you have to decide for yourselves, my fellow gypsies. BE SAFE! If it doesn’t look trustworthy to you, don’t take it!
Here’s the board cutting off the switchback from the bridge. Someone has scrawled “You Will Die” over the board, across which someone has written in gold “Manifest Destiny”. You can see the switchback trail start about three feet past these boards.
I frolicked in the creek and stared at this bridge for a good hour. Such a pretty spot! These switchbacks took quite some work to install, especially with the wood needing to be carted at least a mile from the parking area. They’re showing their age a bit, but are still solid.
These are the bathtub-sized little soaking spots under the bridge. I bet they’re very full in the spring. In the summer, they’re tranquil. We saw a few families along the trail, and no one at the creek. It was a little slice of heaven right here in Northern California.
Directions: Nevada City is about one hour northeast of Sacramento, California. From Sacramento, take I-80 to Hwy. 49 (heading towards Grass Valley). From Redding, California, it’s about two and a half hours drive time. Take Hwy. 99 to Hwy. 70 to Hwy. 20 (towards Grass Valley). Once you’re in Nevada City, take Hwy. 49 towards Downieville. You’ll see a little sign on the left about 6.25 miles from your turn towards Downieville. The “parking lot” is on the right. There is room for 6-8 cars depending on how cozy the parking job. We arrived at 10 am on a Saturday and were the second car in the parking area. Parking for access to the Yuba River is about a half mile down the road, and parking there was an absolute madhouse. The sign for this trail and its little soaking holes is pretty inconspicuous, and I think people get sidetracked by the river access. The river is gorgeous here, don’t get me wrong, but the Independence Trail also makes a lovely day trip.
This is the “parking lot” for Independence Trail. Highway 49 is on the left. If you head up (towards where I was when I took this picture) you’ll find the trail head, a bathroom (pit toilets) and signs for the East and West branches.
East Trail map with the rock arch. Note at the end of the trail, there are paths to the river. If the river is your goal, you’re better off finding parking along the highway, unless you want to add in a nice 2.5-mile hike each way.
West Trail map. Flume 28 towards the bottom of the picture holds the switchback wooden path and the little soaking areas. Pure bliss in the sweltering summer.
And of course, if you’re already in Nevada City, might I suggest a root beer float? Nevada City streets boggle my mind and make me a pretty anxious driver, but I brave them for Treats, a cute little ice cream shop on Main Street. You have to navigate through twisting, crooked, narrow one-way streets, but if you make it to 210 Main St., you’ll have your pick of the goodness. They make some flavors there for local favorites. You can choose from honey vanilla, basil and strawberry nutella (Ry’s absolute favorite), raspberry or rhubarb sorbet or gelato. I had the root beer float. I haven’t had one of those in years. I’m a sucker for tacos and carbs, and yet I feel like I should behave myself around ice cream. I couldn’t help myself when we went into this cute little shop to get a treat for the kids. Crazy good.