Buttermilk Bend Trail: Penn Valley

LENGTH: Under 2 miles, out and back. A couple other loops optional.

DIFFICULTY: Very easy, gentle winding trail along the Yuba. If you want to get your cardio in though, there are a few offshoot trails that are steeper along the way. A couple miles in there’s a straight up path, switchback style, that leads back up to the Hwy, right past a gate. Beautiful sweeping view from the top if you go the extra distance.

DIST FROM SACRAMENTO: 1 hour & 15 minutes, via 70N and 20E.

DIST FROM GRASS VALLEY: About 20 minutes, follow 20W towards Marysville/Penn Valley.

LOCATION: South Yuba River State Park at Bridgeport (Visitor’s Center where paid parking is for the trail): 17660 Pleasant Valley Road Penn Valley, CA 95946.

The highlight (minus the Yuba’s glory) is definitely the wildflowers during peak-bloom time. Which, this year, happens to have begun in mid-February – wild. There are dozens of flower markers along the trail. If you want a proper tour, there are docent-lead walks on weekends.

You can read about the most common wildflowers found along the trail here. Or, if you’re a total plant nerd (as I’m becoming) you can find the whole Nevada County wildflower list on Calflora Plant Search – almost 2000 annual/perennial flowers listed just for this county! The wild hyacinth (below, purple), pretty face (below, yellow – the sweetest flower name ever?) were everywhere.

Dichelostemma capitatumTriteleia ixioides

Once you hit the end of the trail (the last portion had a closed sign blocking it when I walked there last, so finished by winding down to the water) you can easily scramble over the boulders to get to a beach. Leave a cairn behind 🙂

THUMBS UP: Flat trail, easy way to access the Yuba (swimming holes galore), wildflower heaven, great picnic spots, amazing river views.

THUMBS DOWN: Can get crowded on the weekends, especially when there are groups stopping at each flower marker. Need to pay to park in the lot (but not much).

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Stevens Trail: Colfax

LENGTH: 4.5 miles each way, out and back (with, of course, some extra time necessary for playing around in the water), can camp out on the beach too if you want a whole river weekend.

DIFFICULTY: Drops 1000 feet in elevation down the canyon. Some boulder scrambling required, a few steep stretches – nothing too technical, but not ideal for running, horses or…if you have a fear of heights. Mostly flat, a little rocky – breathtaking.

DIST FROM SACRAMENTO: About 1 hour, via I-80 E

DIST FROM GRASS VALLEY: Under 30 minutes, following CA 174E to Colfax

LOCATION: 24960 N Canyon Way, Colfax, CA 95713 (Google Maps has got this one down, luckily). The one-lane dirt road I took there from my house made it seem a much more secluded spot than it actually is…since it’s BLM managed the trailhead is well marked.

Hike Fun Fact: Though it’s an old road, apparently this trail was unused in recently history until the 1960’s, when a Boy Scout re-discovered it. Good they’ve got keeping in shape in their motto, huh?Plus…it’s on the National Register of Historic Places – no idea that was possible for a hike!

I’m going to call this hike our N. California version of the Grand Canyon rim trail. Granted, I’ve only seen the Grand Canyon from pictures but this felt extremely grand. Winding around corners where you don’t know what Mediterranean-blue part of the American River you’ll see spilling in big folds towards you next…it’s pure poetry, absolutely.

The trail’s well marked, only a few portions that requires a “go this way” sign. It’s not a hike for when you want some quiet time – the parking lot seems to be regularly filled to capacity judging by the rows of cars parked along the sides of the road up to the trailhead. Still, even with the probably hundreds of people you may pass, that roar of the river below you cancels out the times you’re stuck behind an older couple with their walking sticks plodding along.

Stevens Trail

Keep your zen going, it’s worth heading all the way down to the final stretch of the river. The trail ends 4.5 miles in at a rocky beach on the river, where a make-shift camping/fly-fishing/swimming/grilling site was in full swing. Of course once the trail ends, it’s time to get wet!

On a hot summer day (or, a March like this one jeez) I’d recommend a big water bottle and another waiting for you in the car too, you’ll be glad you brought it. SO MANY GOOD PICNIC SPOTS. It’ll be hard to choose.

THUMBS UP: Views, views at every turn, with a couple 180 degree stretches where you can see both up/downstream for miles. There’s a waterfall a few miles in, too. Pretty gentle elevation. Well marked.

THUMBS DOWN: Busy, plan to park down the road if you get there after noon on a weekend. Not a lot of shade once you’re on the rim portion. There really isn’t much to knock off about this one!

Stevens Trail (1)