Yuba River Scenic Byway

The Yuba River Scenic Byway is a 160-mile-long loop along some of Northern California's prettiest and most historic routes. See Gold Rush towns, two high country passes across the rugged Sierra Nevada, as well as the Truckee-Lake Tahoe region. This route takes in the Yuba-Bear and American River watersheds.

The Yuba River Scenic Byway was dedicated by the U.S. Forest Service, Tahoe National Forest, on May 15, 1993.

Motorists will discover charming and historic Northern Sierra towns, four state parks: Empire Mine State Historic Park, South Yuba River State Park, Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park and Donner Memorial State Park, plus the three forks of the Yuba River, the Sierra Buttes Lakes Basin Recreation Area and the resort areas of Truckee, Donner Lake and Donner Summit.

This is an all-weather route suitable for all vehicles. Winter storms can bring snowy conditions, watch for chain controls and road closures at the higher elevations. Motor homes and motorcycles are frequently seen in the warmer months. Cyclists can comfortably ride some sections of the scenic byway.

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Latitude: 39.2567148 Longitude: -121.0233307 Elevation: 2576 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Dave Carter

Length of Byway or Route

160 miles

Driving Directions

From the start in Nevada City, drive north on State Route 49, California's "Golden Chain Highway". As you cross the south and middle forks of the Yuba River, you will pass through the historic towns of North San Juan and Camptonville. Stop and stroll the wooden sidewalks of Downieville, which is the county seat of Sierra County. Follow the North Yuba River northward to Sierra City, pass the towering Sierra Buttes and cross Yuba Pass into the beautiful and expansive meadows and pastures of Sierra Valley. Head south on Highway 89 into the town of Truckee and then west along the shores of Donner Lake on Old U.S. 40, "The Lincoln Highway," to Interstate 80. Return to Nevada City via State Scenic Route 20.

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

Enjoy the fun and amenities of historic Sierra Gold Rush towns as you pass though Nevada City, North San Juan, Camptonville, Downieville, Sierra City, the Bassetts Station, Sierraville and Truckee. The entire route is rich with Sierra scenery: thick green forests and historic homesteads, sparkling rivers and streams, scenic lakes and viewing vistas along the highway. There are numerous places to stop and eat and rest by the roadside for hours or overnight.


Having driven this route repeatedly over the last 20 years, I have never seen a more beautiful area. The locals are very friendly and happy to share the history of the area with anyone interested. They will tell you of places to visit just off the highway that the average motorist never sees, but are worth the detour for their beauty. I strongly recommend this trip. You will do it over and over and each time you will find new places to visit just off the highway, and you’ll make new friends each time.

Dan Bierwirth, 3/20/2012

I am traveling to San Francisco early March 2014 from South Africa. I have about 10 days to spend. How accessible is the Sierra in winter time with an compact rental car? Especially this really interesting route.

Philip, 11/14/2013

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