Independence Trail, South Yuba State Park

I had the ideal summer vacation in my head.  My family and a place to swim, boat, run, hike, jump, splash, climb and explore.  I needed a lake or a river.  Maybe I needed both.  Then I saw an old issue of Sunset Magazine with this photo.  It looked perfect!

Sunset MagazineThe article was all about the South Yuba River, a lesser-known cousin to the American River just 30 miles to the East.  What caught my eye was the article’s reference to numerous hidden swimming holes.  This was exactly what I wanted for my boys.

A week later I had rented a cabin on a small lake — complete with 6 canoes, 2 kayaks, and a dog-friendly policy — and just 3 miles from South Yuba.   We were all set.

Our lakeside cabin, 3 miles from South Yuba
Our lakeside cabin, 3 miles from South Yuba

I’d love to tell you about all the running I have been doing in this natural wonder.  Well, I haven’t run a lick.  The best laid plans… My husband could only come for the weekend, so lacking any other adults, I have a great excuse to sleep in, bake, and spend my days swimming, boating, and hiking with my kids.

But today the boys and I hiked a trail that made me think of all my running friends.  We choose the South Yuba Independence Trail, because it is rated very easy.  When you have three elementary school boys, you want to play it safe.  It’s fab for kids and is in fact the country’s first wheelchair-accessible trail.  It took our crew, including the still-hobbling but soooo much better Wishbone, three-and-a-half wonderful hours to go 5 miles, including two stops for swimming.

Nice, wide trails make this very easy for kids, those in wheelchairs, or first-time trail runners
Nice, wide trails make this very easy for kids, those in wheelchairs, or first-time trail runners

The trail, an out and back,  is just about 2.5-miles in either direction.  Slightly longer if you take the Jones Bar Road turn off.  You could make this anywhere from a short trail run to 14+ miles.

Even though you are at the gateway to the Sierra Mountains, your elevation stays level, hovering around 1200′.

One awesome Flume switchback
One awesome Flume-switchback

Two super-cool findings include the wooden bridges — called flumes — and the swimming hole at mile two along the Western path.  There are geckos everywhere, plentiful vegetation, waterfalls, creeks, and many places to sit and enjoy.

Unexpected swimming hole, 2-miles into the West trail
Unexpected swimming hole, 2-miles into the West trail

The area was originally developed in 1854 by a group of miners who needed water.  They built a 27-mile waterway that connected the Yuba River to Smartville.  The system was discovered in 1969 by a museum docent, John Olmstead.  His friend was a wheelchair bound man who dreamt of a trail system that would allow him to ride in his chair and still touch the wildflowers.  The Independence Trail is his dream come true.

Even Wishbone, who has been recovering nicely from his broken back, enjoyed today's trail
Even Wishbone, who has been recovering nicely from his broken back, enjoyed today's trail

Directions: the Independence Trail is on State Highway 49, about six miles north of Nevada City, just after you enter South Yuba State Park.  Park on either the right or left side of the highway.

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