In search of dirt | Nevada City hiking, mountain biking

The Yuba River as seen from the Independence Trail. | Joyce Chambers

This has been one heck of a winter. It seems like it rained or snowed just about every day since the year began. The snow just kept piling up foot on foot, as we battled ferociously with our worn-out shovels to keep it from totally burying us. Eventually, even those of us who love the snow and skiing began to plead, “Enough already!”

Independence Trail’s wooden flume. | Joyce Chambers

We longed for a glimpse of green grass and the chance to let our feet feel brown dirt. Fortunately, just a bit more than an hour from Truckee, I found firm ground, the greenest of grasses and ferns ripe with enthusiasm. There were even a few wildflowers.

Explore local wineries in Nevada City and Grass Valley

Driving to Nevada City, I was getting concerned that the city itself would be awash in snow based on how deep the layers of white were all along State Route 20. But the last few miles of descent into downtown Nevada City offered green grass, blossoming trees and water aplenty. In town, rushing Deer Creek was not only full of water, but also carried pieces of fencing and other detritus that had floated downstream from recent flooding. In fact, one popular restaurant, Lefty’s, had to be removed from my list of potential dining choices, because it was closed due to the flooding (but has since reopened). I was happy to be doing my part to support the town’s economy given what it is has been through this winter.

I found firm ground, the greenest of grasses and ferns ripe with enthusiasm. There were even a few wildflowers.

While getting feet on dirt was my top priority, just wandering around Nevada City’s downtown was a fun way to spend a few hours. There are a number of interesting shops, including several bookstores, The Earth Store and plenty of places to taste good food and, more importantly, chocolate.

During my 36-hour visit, I took two awesome short hikes: one in town and the other a short drive away. There is also a wealth of mountain-biking opportunities that I’ve sampled in the past, but since they are at a bit higher elevation, some snow melting will need to happen before they will be open this spring.

The Deer Creek Tribute Trail begins in downtown Nevada City. | Joyce Chambers

The Hikes

Deer Creek Tribute & Deer Creek Environs trails
This set of hiking trails leads from downtown Nevada City through a lovely forest, crosses Deer Creek and, after a few miles of fairly easy walking, loops back into downtown. The route takes you on single track along the bustling creek and along country roads past a number of charming residences, some tucked into quiet succulent hollows, others perched precariously above the water.

Once you are on dirt, the trail wanders through a lush green landscape of ferns and trees, leading to a new suspension bridge spanning Deer Creek. On each side of the bridge you will find impressive rockwork. On the north side is a fascinating drainage pipe that has been designed to look like a huge hollow tree. Before beginning your hike, stop by the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce to pick up a map of the trail because the route can be confusing.


Independence Trail
This is six miles from Nevada City, toward Downieville on State Route 49, just a half mile before reaching the mighty Yuba River. There is both an East and a West trail leading out from the trailhead. The West Trail follows the route of an old gold-mining ditch. It is nearly level and is considered the first handicapped accessible hiking trail in the nation. In about a mile, you reach a waterfall and lush fern canyon below a long section of wooden flume. This makes a good turn around point or you can continue for another mile and a half before turning around.

The Rides

Pioneer Trail
The Pioneer Trail starts at the Harmony Ridge Market, a small deli and store on State Route 20 about five miles east of Nevada City. Single track follows State Route 20 uphill to the east. The first 5 miles is fun for every level of rider. There is smooth, gentle rolling, with plenty of twists and turns to keep it interesting. Once you cross the road, the route heads further away from the road and become more challenging because it gets steeper and more technically difficult. Many folks turn around at the crossing and return to the trailhead.

Ferns and fauna along the Deer Creek Tribute Trail. | Joyce Chambers

Eventually in about another 7 miles, with quite a bit more climbing, the Pioneer Trail crosses State Route 20 again near the Omega Rest Stop, which has an excellent view of the mining tailings across the canyon to the north.

Scotts Flat Trail
Scotts Flat also begins at the Harmony Ridge Market. It starts out winding along the flats near the highway before steadily descending to the road above Scotts Flat Reservoir. For those with good riding skills, it is a twisting, turning, flowing ride with hairpin turns on a smooth, narrow surface. It’s mostly downhill from the market, so you will either need to ride back up the trail, ride up the paved road back to State Route 20 or leave a car at both ends.