South Yuba River State Park
Photo © David Anderson
The South Yuba River State Park is a twenty-mile string of properties along the South Yuba River Gorge including four historic bridges, miles of hiking trails, and the nation’s only wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail, the Independence Trail. The river’s beauty and solitude has long inspired the dedication and stewardship of those who know it best. The Park also includes the historic Bridgeport District at the West end of the string, easily accessible from Pleasant Valley Road off of Highway 20.
It contains the spectacular longest single span wooden covered bridge of its type in the United States, the Bridgeport Bridge, built by David I. Wood in 1862 as an element of the famed Virginia Turnpike. There is also a large, Dutch style barn with a large collection of horse- and mule-drawn freight wagons, farm wagons and a road maintenance dump wagon used during and following the heyday of the Turnpike and the California gold and Nevada silver rushes. Other buildings and remnants of the ranch that were a part of the Bridgeport District are also available to view and explore. The Kneebone family, who owned and operated the ranch for many years, is represented by their cemetery within walking distance from the barn. It contains graves of people key to the history of the area.
The South Yuba River was also a focus of the gold rush period where miners lined the river and surrounding areas with placer gold claims. It is estimated that 80% of the available gold still remains and gold panning is allowed and very popular along the river in the park.
There are spectacular views throughout the Park and especially from the four river crossings and the many trails available to the public. The river is sparklingly clear and fast moving through most of the year and provides wonderful rapids and many pleasant swimming areas surrounded by beautiful rock formations along the river. The surrounding forests and the rugged terrain are also spectacular and provide wonderful photographic opportunities.
NATIVE PLANTS. Legend has it that gray pines would sway and dance at night, but then freeze in position when the sun came up, resulting in their bent and wavy silhouettes. Other trees and shrubs in the river canyon include several varieties of oak trees, buckeye, ceanothus, redbud, spicebush, manzanita, and madrone. The California Department of Parks and Recreation takes an active role in protecting native plants from invasive species.
WILDFLOWERS. Each spring the canyon walls erupt in a colorful display of wildflowers. On spring weekends docents lead wildflower walks on the Buttermilk Bend trail at Bridgeport, where you can learn not only the names of the flowers, but interesting natural history and traditional uses of the plants.
BIRDS. The South Yuba River is home to a large number of bird species, and a stopover point for many more migrating birds. You may see the small but mighty American Dipper swimming underwater in the rapids, a Bald Eagle soaring overhead, a Hermit Thrush calling within a shrub, a Belted Kingfisher diving for a meal, and many more. Guided bird walks are offered in the Spring and Fall.
MAMMALS. The South Yuba River Canyon provides excellent wildlife viewing for those who are patient. Commonly seen mammals include mule deer, raccoons, skunks, opossum, and coyote. More elusive are the gray fox, bobcat, ringtail, mountain lion, and black bear.
REPTILES and AMPHIBIANS. On sunny days you will likely see western fence lizards performing push-ups on top of rocks. If you are lucky you might spot a snake - western rattlesnake, gopher snake, king snake or garter snake - sunning itself. Winter is a good time to look for California newts in calm streams, and in the spring the river is noisy with the calls of frogs.
The Park is busy year round with visitors taking advantage of the trails, the scenery, wildflower walks, swimming, picnicking, kayaking, gold panning, self guided tours, and soaking in the history of the area. The park is staffed by California State Park Rangers and supported by California State Park Volunteers who operate the Visitor Center Museum and Park Store as well as providing docents to conduct wildflower walks, bird walks, school tours, gold panning, as well as greeting and providing information to visitors.
There are many activities that can be enjoyed throughout the year, including walking the trails, exploring the museums and enjoying the history and scenery of the park. Spring is special for bird watching and hiking wildflower trails. Summer and Fall are very popular for the wonderful water recreational opportunities. Activities range from a simple stroll through the historic area to hiking and kayaking through the rapids.
Specific activities are as follows.
SUMMER (Memorial Day - Labor Day). Gold Panning Demonstrations - Every Summer Sat, Sun & holiday, 11am - 2pm at Bridgeport. Docents will demonstrate how to pan for gold in our troughs, which are very likely to yield a bit of gold for most everyone. Practice in the troughs, then try your hand in the river. Remember, only pans and hands allowed in the park.
Bridgeport History Station - Every Sat and Sun, 11am - 2pm. You will find a history station staffed by friendly docents who will explain the history of the bridge, barn, wagons, and the pioneers who lived here.
SPRING AND FALL Bird Walks - Check our website www.southyubariverstatepark.org for dates and times. Meet at main parking lot or north parking lot. Our docent and resident bird expert will lead an easy 2 hour stroll around Bridgeport. Bring binoculars and a field guide if you have one. You might spot the Canyon Wren, American Dipper, Acorn Woodpecker, Golden Crowned Kinglet, Bald Eagle and more.
Pine Needle Basket Weaving Class - Offered twice yearly in Spring and Fall Pre-registration is required. $20. Bridgeport Visitor Center. This class is taught by docent Judy Nichols, who has been teaching pine needle basketry since 1991. Several of Judy's baskets are on display at the Gene Speck Silver State Art Gallery in Reno, Nevada. All participants can expect to complete one small basket in class. Contact Judy at 530-274-3608 to register.
Wildflower Walks - Mid-March through Mid-May Saturdays and Sundays, 11am (suggested donation $3). Meet at the Bridgeport north parking lot. The Buttermilk Bend trail is well known among locals for its spectacular explosion of wildflowers most springs. The display changes every week, so come more than once! Docents will identify the flowers and explain some of their natural history and traditional uses. Plan on 1.5 hours and 2 miles. No dogs.
Independence Trail Nature Walks - Check our website www.southyubariverstatepark.org for dates and times. Three walks feature three specific areas as follows: Wildflowers and Plants, featuring Native American uses, Bird Identification and Nature Walk and a Nature Walk. Celebrate Springtime on the Independence Trail! Join our knowledgeable docents to learn more about the flora and fauna of the Independence Trail and South Yuba River. Tours are wheelchair-accessible and last about 2 hours.
Two special events occur each year in the Spring and in the Fall. During the Spring Festival, Docents in period costume demonstrate blacksmithing, basket weaving and tell tales of days past. Local artisans display their nature-themed art for sale. Live music, wagon rides and snacks. For the Fall Festival, live music, living history, games, crafts, wagon rides, pumpkin painting, food and ice cream await you.
The Park is open year round. Park hours at Bridgeport are sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is open 11-4 daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and 11-4 Thurs - Sun the rest of the year.
Fees: Access to the park is free, donations are welcome and help to support the park and interpretive materials, trail guides, and brochures.
The Bridgeport District is handicapped accessible, including rest rooms. The Independence Trail is the nation’s first wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail and follows the path of gold-rush era flumes. From the trailhead you can travel approximately 1.5 miles either east or west. Both directions are level and shady, and offer sweeping views from high above the river. From the west trail you can visit Rush Creek waterfall, or take the steep 0.4 mile spur to access the river at Jones Bar. The construction of the Independence Trail was spearheaded by Sequoya Challenge, which maintains the trail and offers interpretive programs.
Dogs on leash are welcome in the park, including trails and Kneebone beach. The family beach next to the visitor center is the only area where dogs are not allowed.