Ponderosa Way to above the American River – April 1999
PONDEROSA WAY TO ABOVE NORTH FORK OF THE AMERICAN RIVER
Difficulty level: Strenuous
Length: 8 miles round trip
Map: California State Automobile Association’s “Bay and Mountain Regions”
It was another big-time snow year in the Sierra, so we’ll be restricted to lower-elevation hikes for a long time. My favorite spring trails are in the Yuba and American river canyons. This soon-to-be flowery hike near Weimar is multiple-use; expect horses and ATVs to join you.
Take bucolic Highway 174 to Colfax and get on the Highway 80-east exit. Go a few miles miles to the Weimar Cross Road exit, cross back over the freeway, and head right on Canyon Way. Go 2.3 miles to Ponderosa Way and cross the railroad tracks (look for the Ponderosa Ranch Store with its inexplicable airplane decoration). The road is marked: “Not a through road. No public access to the river.”
After winding a half mile and just past Hidden Ridge Way, you’ll see a yellow vehicle barrier on the left with a sign that dirt bikes are allowed on the trail. Park here.
You will come to an immediate fork; take the lower left one. You will begin to see toyon, manzanita, kitkitdizze, ceanothus, buttercups – and lotsa, lotsa poison oak.The trail is fairly flat for the first mile while you enjoy canyon views off to the left.
Look for Indian pinks and yellow cat’s ears lilies. Listen for the aria of a male black-headed grosbeak.
When the road forks to the right, go straight, up the hill. Ignore the many ATV-caused spurs as the trail veers left. After a total of maybe 1 1/4 miles, proceed under the powerlines to see your first views of the north fork of the American and its bends on the right. Here a carpet of magenta monkeyflower, California poppies, blue dicks and yerba santa opens up.
A gentle downslope reveals iron posts filled with cement. Turn right just before them in the obvious route down to the river. You’ll soon see the river’s Big Bend and Sore Finger Point, so named because it sticks out like a … well, you get the gist. Lupine, fairy lanterns and grass pinks grow here under fire-damaged trees.
The trail narrows and becomes a series of switchbacks, sometimes in a tunnel of live oaks, cedars, manzanita and ghost pines. Look for horse chestnut-like buckeyes beginning to sprout.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a rattler. Once, hiking up nearby Yankee Jim’s Road at dusk, a rattler fell off the cliff beside me and was trapped on an eye-level ledge. It was an excellent opportunity to study him – just outside of striking range.
After 3/4 mile or so of descent, the trail drops onto an obvious road and heads right, under a powerline flagged with fluorescent orange balls. The hillside sparkles with goldfields, meadowfoam, popcorn flowers and “DWCs,” darned white composites. After 100 feet, the road forks left to a footpath toward the river and more double-back switchbacks. Shortly, there is a little rise studded with poppies and ookows that makes a dandy picnic spot as the rapids roar loudly below you.
Note: From here, you will be trespassing on private property if you continue to the river. An enterprising scofflaw can easily find a route – but remember that you do so at your own risk.
This article was originally published on 10/13/1999.
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