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.