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South Yuba River State Park

Independence Trail

2 miles round trip; longer walks possible

Wheelchair access to the forest primeval has fortunately become more common over the years, but longer, truly challenging trails for the physically disabled, remain in short supply. South Yuba Independence Trail offers delightful passage through California’s Gold Country for adventurers of all abilities.

Today’s Independence Trail had its origins as the Excelsior Canal, built in 1859 to carry water from the South Yuba to hydraulic gold mining operations in Smartsville, 25 miles away. While the five-foot wide aqueduct crossed very steep country, it followed the contours of hillsides and thus was almost completely level.

This relative flatness of the trail, combined with some ingenious bridgework, adds up to what was an admirable engineering feat for its time, as well as a terrific trail today. Particularly impressive are the wooden flumes that bridge steep ravines.

Volunteer efforts, spearheaded by activist John Olmsted and the nonprofit group Sequoya Challenge, rebuilt crumbling wooden flumes and transformed the long-abandoned water ditch into a scenic, wheelchair-accessible trail. The California Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as volunteer groups, have ambitious plans to complete a full ten miles of whole access trail along the South Yuba River.

Independence Trail is a major, but by no means the only highlight of a state park-in-the-making called the South Yuba River Project. Other highlights include the world’s largest single-span covered bridge, and miles of dramatic canyon of the South Yuba River.

The project is an exciting—and large—undertaking for the state park system. When completed, the park will extend some 20 miles from Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park to the confluence of the South and main forks of the Yuba River.

A trail extends along parts of the twenty mile stretch of river.One length of trail begins at the park visitor center and famed covered bridge, reached by driving eight miles north on Pleasant Valley Road from Highway 20.

Directions to trailhead: The main entrance to the Independence Trail is just off Highway 49, seven miles north of Nevada City, and one mile past the Yuba River crossing.

The hike: From the signed trailhead, the path uses an underpass to dip under Highway 49, then begins contouring along the south bluff of the river. You can walk in the old water ditch or on a parallel path above it.

The pleasant path crosses ravines by way of several wooden flumes. A bit more than a mile of woodsy walking brings you to Flume 28 over Rush Creek. Here you’ll find a vista point, fishing platform, picnic deck and an outhouse.

Independence Trail continues another 0.5 mile (as a wheelchair accessible route) to Jones Ravine. From the ravine, a hiking trail continues westward.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at