Penn Valley, CA 95946 United States
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State Park headquarters at Bridgeport includes the Ranger Station, Visitor Center, beaches, trails, and the historic covered bridge, barn, wagons, and family cemetery.
The Bridgeport covered bridge is the longest single-span covered bridge in the world (currently closed for restoration).
The State Park is comprised of several separate pieces of land, located mainly at and around the bridge crossings of the South Yuba River. These include: Bridgeport Jones Bar Highway 49 Crossing Purdon Crossing Edwards Crossing
The patchwork park boundaries form a “string of pearls” for 20 miles along the river, from Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park to Bridgeport and includes four historic bridges, miles of hiking trails, and the nation´s only wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail, the Independence Trail.
South Yuba River State Park offers many scenic vistas. Visitors can view swift moving water carving the granitic canyon that is peppered with seasonal native blooms in springtime, and experience refreshing swimming holes that dot the 20 mile length of the Yuba River in late summer.
Brochure & Maps
Download the Park Brochure for maps, trails, and detailed information.
State Park headquarters at Bridgeport includes the Ranger Station, Visitor Center, beaches, trails, and the historic covered bridge, barn, wagons, and family cemetery.
South Yuba River State Park Map
The State Park is comprised of several separate pieces of land, located mainly at and around the bridge crossings of the river. These include Bridgeport, Jones Bar, Highway 49 Crossing, Purdon Crossing, and Edwards Crossing
River Crossings Interactive Map
This interactive Google map has photos and information for each of the river crossings.
Safety & Regulations
Important! The South Yuba River is beautiful, but with potentially hazardous conditions.
The following regulations have been put in place with your safety in mind
- All alcohol and glass are prohibited everywhere in the park. Violations will result in a citation.
- Dogs are allowed on leash only.
- No camping or fires are allowed.
- For gold panning, the only tool allowed is a metal pan.
- Take only photos / Leave no trace.
Be smart about water safety
- Know the water temperature, current, and depth BEFORE you enter the water.
- Do not exceed your swimming abilities! – Life vests are highly recommended, especially for children.
- Jumping from rocks is discouraged
- Diving is prohibited.
- Even though it looks beautiful, it may not be safe to swim. (especially in spring and early summer)
Plan Your Visit
Winter and Spring weather conditions can cause the trail to become muddy and impassable for wheelchairs. Call the park for trail condition information before you go.
Information is also available at http://access.parks.ca.gov.
What should you bring?
- Drinking water
- Inspect repellant
What should you wear?
Layered clothing is always a good idea
Check the weather forecast for Penn Valley, CA or Nevada City, CA before arrival. Our weather is warm to hot in the springtime and summer; cool in the autumn; and often cold in the winter – snow is infrequent at this elevation. Our rainy season usually lasts from November through May.
Comfortable shoes are important
Some of our trails are rocky and may be fairly steep. You may encounter poison oak, long sleeves and other protective clothing are highly recommended. It’s also wise to have sunscreen and insect/tick repellent on hand.
Learn more about other impressive California State Parks at www.parks.ca.gov.
Bridgeport Visitor Center
A friendly welcome awaits you at the Visitor Center
Nature publications and maps can be purchased and free brochures obtained.
The South Yuba River State Park ranger station is in the same building as the visitor center.
Facilities and Activities at the Park
Become familiar with the park’s most important features and how they got there.
Fully-plumbed restrooms are out back.
Features of the Park
Hikers may choose from short, level trails to longer more rugged trials, and everything in between. The Independence Trail, near Highway 49 Crossing, is the nation’s first wheelchair accessible wilderness trail. Leashed dogs are allowed everywhere except at Family Beach at Bridgeport.
Buttermilk Bend Trail
The Buttermilk Bend Trail begins at the north parking lot and follows the north side of the river upstream for a gentle and level 1.2 miles. Scenic river views abound. Don’t miss the springtime wildflower display.
The trail follows the route of the old 1877 Caleb Cooley water ditch, so is mildly sloped and has been made wide enough for wheelchair accessibility.
An upper trail from the parking lot with no severe climbs has been added recently by constructing two new bridges across river tributaries.
Point Defiance Loop
Point Defiance Loop begins at the north end of the covered bridge and continues downstream 1 mile where the river flows into Lake Englebright at Point Defiance. The trail continues uphill with peaceful lake views, then descends through oak woodland back to the bridge, for a total of 2.8 miles.
Cemetery Loop of graves in the Kneebone Cemetery. Located about 1/4 mile from the visitor center, the Loop goes past historic Turnpike rock walls to the Kneebone family cemetery, then along Kentucky Creek to the river and past Family Beach. Good bird watching opportunities are nearby.
Highway 49 Crossing Trails
Bridge Over Route 49
The stretch where the South Yuba River is crossed by Route 49 is a popular area for hikers and advanced river activities.
The river is more treacherous here than in other areas of the park and must be treated with great respect, especially during spring runoff.
For expert kayakers,the stretch from here to Bridgeport could be one of the most awesome streches of river to experience.
The Independence Trail is the nation´s first wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail and follows the path of gold-rush era flumes. From the trail head 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, who maintains the trail and offers interpretive programs.
Hoyt´s Trail begins at the north end of the old Highway 49 bridge. It travels upstream about 1.2 miles to a beach and former river crossing called Hoyt´s. Numerous down trails lead off the main trail to small beaches, smooth, water-sculpted granite perches, and pristine swimming holes.
Purdon Crossing to Edwards Crossing Trails
South Yuba Trail
This 5 mile stretch of the South Yuba Trail runs along the shadier south side of the river between Purdon Crossing in the west and Edwards Crossing in the east. If you begin at Edwards Crossing, the trail slopes slightly downhill. You will travel through several microclimates – mossy, ferny streams; sunny rock outcroppings; and forested areas – and through State Park, Bureau of Land Management and private properties. The species of springtime wildflowers are those that favor cooler, shadier climates, different from those of the Buttermilk Bend trail. This trail is open to mountain bikes, with some technical sections.
Spring Creek Trail
At Edwards Crossing, the Spring Creek Trail begins at the north end of the bridge. It continues downstream about 1 mile, crossing Spring Creek along the way. At Spring Creek you might be lucky enough to see swarms of lady beetles covering rocks and tree roots in a red carpet. There are several points to access the river along this trail.
The South Yuba River is famous for its pristine swimming holes surrounded by smooth granite rocks. In the summer months, more advanced swimmers travel up the trails from Bridgeport, 49 Crossing, Purdon Crossing, and Edwards Crossing for sunning and swimming.
Family Beach and Kneebone Beach at Bridgeport are ideal for families with children and picnicking. Remember, the river current is extremely dangerous and cold much of the year when the river is high!
Even in summer the current remains strong in certain locations. Always evaluate the river conditions before entering the water. Never jump into water if you do not know what is underneath, and never dive. Life vests are highly recommended. Never swim alone.
Swimming at Bridgeport
Several swimming holes are at short hiking distances upriver from the Pleasant Valley Road bridge. These are most popular with teenagers and young adults, because there are large rocks to climb, deep pools to swim in, sunning beaches, and a sense of isolation from the center of activity near the covered bridge.
The closest upriver beach is Kneebone Beach, best reached by hiking up river left (the left side as you face down river, opposite Buttermilk Bend Trail). Kneebone Beaches are the sandy areas in the distance, viewed from the initial part of Buttermilk Bend Trail on the left.
Family Beach is just down river from the covered bridge. It is a popular summer spot for swimming and lunch on the sandy shore, but remember, as for the rest of the park, no alcoholic beverages are allowed.
- Swimming among the rocks upriver from the above beaches.
- The larger rocks make great spots to take in some sun.
- The river current is slow and the water reasonably warm in mid to late summer.
Please keep in mind that this is a river and it can be very dangerous. Pick your spots carefully and avoid anyplace with even a modest current. Current combined with cold water temperatures can lead to disaster. Swift currents and cold temperatures are most severe in the spring.
Bicycles are allowed on the 5 mile stretch of the South Yuba River trail between Edwards Crossing and Purdon Crossing which traverses State Park property, Bureau of Land Management property and private easements. Parts of this trail are wide and flat, while other parts are technical and challenging.
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park allows bikes on certain trails.
Gold was discovered on the South Yuba River in June of 1848 at Rose’s Bar, and some gold panners are still getting lucky today. All are welcome to try their luck at gold panning along the river with pans and hands only.
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 Fall and Spring.
Downstream of Highway 49 Crossing is open to fishing year round. Fishing season upstream of 49 Crossing runs late April through mid-November. (Check local fishing regulations for exact dates). The Sacramento pikeminnow is prevalent year round, while colder water temperatures may yield a small mouth bass or brown trout. Fishing licenses are required for ages 16 and up.
Steep, rugged canyons hide a richness of historic sites and a turquoise green river that knows few bounds
—South Yuba River State Park is as exciting as the gold that still glimmers along its riverbanks.
The Northern Maidu people—also known as Nisenan—may have migrated to the northern Sierra about 2,500 years ago.
As with other hunter-gatherer groups, the Nisenan people’s lives revolved around the changing seasons. Their lands provided them with free-running water, plentiful game and plant foods, and the basic materials needed to create homes, tools, and finely crafted baskets.
European contact brought a halt to the well-established Maidu way of life. With the discovery of gold in 1848 came devastating diseases and loss of the people’s traditional resources. Settlers seeking land for grazing and lumber for construction simply took over the available resources. In the process they polluted the river with mining debris and cut down many trees, including the oaks that provided food and shelter materials for the Maidu.
Today, Nisenan descendants work with other Maidu groups to obtain federal tribal status, to increase youth educational opportunities, and to develop forest management programs to reestablish the forest’s natural diversity.
Gold along the South Fork
In June 1848 gold was discovered near Rose’s Bar, just downstream from Bridgeport. Merchant John Rose, the first European settler to build a permanent structure in Nevada County, sold placer mining supplies; by 1850 Rose’s Bar swarmed with more than 2,000 miners. Two or three miles from Rose’s Bar, Parks’ Bar —by far the richest of all the Yuba River gravel bars —was named for David Parks, who brought his family to the gold fields
The Kneebone Family
Hard work, generosity, and enterprise brought prominence to the pioneer Kneebone family.
Andrew Reed Kneebone came to the U.S. in 1871 from Cornwall, England. On his family’s 400-acre farm in the Spenceville area, Andrew learned to handle large teams of horses and mules. Andrew’s future wife, Victoria Marie Cole, grew up on a farm near Bridgeport. The Cole family occupied a large farmhouse, where Andrew Kneebone and family, ca. 1903 they collected tolls for use of the covered bridge.
Andrew and Victoria’s son Alfred and his wife Lucy took over the ranch and made many changes at Bridgeport.By 1926 Alfred and Lucy had developed the extremely popular Bridgeport Swim Resort —several cottages and a dance pavilion —about ¼-mile upriver from the covered bridge near the swimming hole. At about the same time they built a small grocery store and a gas station.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Kneebone family shared their good fortune. The large numbers of people who had begun to arrive in the area hoping to make a living panning for gold needed shelter, so Alfred and Lucy rented out the resort’s vacation cottages. However, when hydraulic placer mining was resumed upriver at about the same time, fouling the river with debris, the Kneebone resort went out of business.
Victoria Kneebone died in 1930, and Andrew died in 1934. They and other relatives are interred in the Kneebone Family Cemetery, which is cared for by their descendants.
The River Crossings
With activity on both sides of the river, safe crossings were vital.
Ferries came first, made by either overturning wagons and connecting them to form barges, or by refitting wagons to travel across water. The Point Defiance Ferry was located near today’s Bridgeport, the Jones Bar Ferry was near today’s Highway 49 Bridge, and the ferry at Edwards Crossing was near Illinois Bar.
Early bridge crossings include the 1895 Purdon Crossing Bridge and the 1905 Edwards Crossing Bridge, both in use today, and…
the 1921 Highway 49 Bridge, a graceful concrete arch that is perfect for watching the river.
At Jones Bar, four bridges have spanned the location, though none have survived the ravages of time and the river.
Bridgeport Covered Bridge
By far the best-known bridge in the area is the Bridgeport Covered Bridge.
In 1850 Virginian David I. Wood settled his family near the South Fork of the Yuba River, establishing a sawmill at Forest City and Bridgeport Covered Bridge a store at French Corral. Six years later, he and some associates formed the Virginia Turnpike Company to facilitate travel and commerce between Marysville and Virginia City, Nevada, and to collect tolls for use of the roads.
Flooding during the winter of 1861-62 had destroyed five bridges across the river. In 1862 Wood oversaw the construction of the Bridgeport Covered Bridge, built with Douglas-fir trusses and wrought-iron rods and covered in sugar pine shakes. Originally 251 feet long, the bridge became 229 feet long after removal of the weather wings at each end. Marking the route favored by gold miners crossing the river, today the graceful curve of its wooden arch is visible from both the interior and exterior, making it a highly favored subject for photographers.
This beautiful bridge is the longest single-span wooden covered bridge in existence.
The area now bounded by South Yuba River State Park was an important gold-bearing locality during the California Gold Rush in the 1850´s and again in the 1930´s during the Great Depression.
The ore deposits are much younger than the Smartville Complex. They formed during the Cretaceous Period (120 to 100 million years ago) at the margins of granitic plutons during the emplacement of the Sierra Nevada Batholith, when gold bearing fluids filled rock fractures and cooled to form gold-rich veins. Weathering freed gold from the veins, and erosion then transported the gold eventually to creeks, streams and the Yuba River.
In the South Yuba River State Park area, the river emerged from the steep gorge upstream, and, as it slowed, it dropped much of its suspended load (including relatively heavy gold particles), forming so-called auriferous gravels.
Starting from the parking lot just north of the South Fork bridge and hiking East along the Buttermilk Bend trail, rocks belonging to the Smartville Complex can be examined.
All of the bedrock at South Yuba River State Park is considered by geologists to belong to the Smartville Complex, an assemblage of genetically related rocks formed late in the Jurassic period, about 160 million years ago (Day and Bickford, 2004).
The oldest rocks of the Smartville Complex are volcanic, although remnants of actual volcanoes are not preserved. The Smartville Complex is part of a group of complexes that are now located west of what was the western North American continental margin during the Jurassic period.
South Yuba River State Park supports an intricate web of plant and animal life, from the plants that line the shore, to the wildflowers that cover the hillsides, to the insects, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals that call this place their home.
Designated as “Wild and Scenic”, the South Yuba River has been saved from several proposed dams, preserving both the riparian ecosystem and its scenic beauty.
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.
When spring arrives in the Nevada County foothills, there is no better way to welcome its arrival than with a walk among the lovely wildflowers at South Yuba River State Park. The canyon walls erupt in a colorful display of wildflowers. The Buttermilk Bend Trail is famous for the many species that bloom on its hills and slopes. On spring weekends docents lead wildflower walks each Saturday at 10:00 AM and Sunday at 11:00 AM starting at the North Parking Lot.
A wide variety of insects emerge throughout the seasons on the South Yuba River, from the native bees and butterflies in spring to the rain beetles in winter. Each insect plays a vital role in the food web as a plant pollinator or an important source of food for fish, reptiles, amphibians, or birds. Take time to discover the shapes, colors, and sounds of these fascinating little creatures.
The South Yuba River historically hosted one of the greatest and most fantastic fisheries in the world. It included 12-foot sturgeon, lamprey eels, steelhead trout, and giant salmon so dense one could almost walk on their backs from bank to bank. Today, there are many species of fish in the park. Some, such as bullhead, bass, carp and sunfish are introduced from distant locales, but a few native species remain.
The South Yuba River canyon provides excellent wildlife viewing for those who are patient. Commonly seen mammals include Ground and Western Grey Squirrels, Mule Deer, Raccoons, Skunks, and perhaps, for a lucky visitor, an elusive sighting of a Bobcat, Grey Fox, or even a Mountain Lion.
The South Yuba River is home to a large number of bird species and is also a stopover point for many more migrating birds. As you walk through the park, stop, look, and listen. You may be treated to the sights and sounds of some of the park´s most elusive residents–birds.
Stand quietly along the riverbank and you may hear the clattering call of a Song Sparrow. Pause as you walk along the rock wall and a Hermit Thrush may pop out from its hiding place. Look up!
On most days you will see Turkey Vultures circling high overhead or possibly a Red-tailed Hawk soaring above the treetops. Binoculars and a field guide will help you identify Bridgeport´s birds, but keep in mind that you do not need to name the birds to enjoy their beauty.
Reptiles & Amphibians
In the winter, the Sierra Newt can often be found swimming in the shallow side waters of the river while looking for a prospective mate. In early spring, the Pacific Tree Frog can be heard in repeated, noisy choruses of “wreck-eck”. Reptiles are amply represented in and around Bridgeport. The friendly Sierra Fence Lizard can be spotted along the top of the rock walls performing push ups while displaying his distinctive blue belly. And, with a bit of effort, it is always possible to spot a Mountain Garter snake or even a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake quietly sunning itself on top of a rock.