Skillman Camp |

Skillman Camp

Looking for a fall hike that is close to town, offers history, plenty of trails and a diversity of interesting plants? Skillman Camp, a popular equestrian staging area and destination for mountain bikers, has numerous trails suitable for hiking in a forest setting.

“We dedicated it as a group camp for horses but it doesn’t mean other people can’t use it,” said Tahoe National Forest District Archaeologist Bill Slater.

Skillman was designated a horse camp in the early ’90s and since then the Gold Country Trails Council, bicyclist and hiking groups have built and maintained an extensive network of trails. The 25-mile Pioneer Trail, also a trails council project, is accessible from Skillman and offers connections to the Grouse Ridge Area and the Pacific Crest Trail.

From Skillman, non-motorized users can explore hundreds of miles of trails without crowds found in the high country.

“You can ride as long as you want,” said Ginny Dix, a trails council member who has been riding in the Skillman area for 30 years. She said during mid-week it’s possible to ride all day without running into anyone. “You’ve got views that go forever,” said Dix of the vistas from atop Burlington Ridge and Chalk Bluffs.

But that seclusion comes with a price and Dix says the future of the trails depends on regular use of them. “I don’t think it’s getting used as much as it should.”

Skillman Flat is rich in history. Forest service archaeologist made several digs of the area during the ’80s and found arrowheads and spearheads from 5,000 years ago. This was a summer camp of the pre-Nisennan or Southern Maidu, who came here to escape the heat of the valley under the shade of the mixed conifer forest. Food included Black Oak acorns, gooseberries, currants and manzanita.

More recent history tells a story of emigration. The discovery of gold brought in floods of wagons on the emigrant trail seeking their fortunes. The name “White Cloud,” now a nearby campground, came from the constant dust plumes from emigrant wagons. Sections of this miner emigrant trail are still visible around Skillman.

One of Nevada County’s earliest sawmills, “Skillman’s Sawmill,” burned down in 1858 – leaving no trace of the wooden building. White fir, Douglas fir and the world’s tallest pine, Sugar Pine were all logged extensively. The giant coned Sugar Pines were once the dominant tree of the Skillman forests. Railroad logging operations were conducted in the vicinity during the 1890’s followed by another round of logging in the 1930’s and 1960’s. The trees that tower above visitors today are second and third growth.

A portion of the South Yuba Canal, a major mining ditch that delivered water to the hydraulic mines of Alpha, Omega, Gold Hill and Blue Tent skirts the northern perimeter of the site. The California Conservation Corps (CCC) built a two bedroom house, barn and woodshed during the 1930’s for administrative use. The buildings are gone, but the site has continued to be used as a campground since that time.

Be sure to bring a plant ID book. This time of year means fall color: Look for dogwood, snowberry, Sierra currant and hazelnut. If you’re lucky you might sight a rare Western Yew. In late November and early December chanterelles come in season.

Hiking is a mix of easy to moderate at an elevation of 3,500 to 5,000. The trails are well maintained, but can be dusty.


To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail or call 477-4230.

How to get there

Take Highway 20 from Nevada City about 15 minutes. Look for the Skillman Flat Exit on the right after Washington. There are 16 campsites and 12 corrals. Campsites run $15 per night.

To learn more

Gold Country Trails Council Web site: http://www.goldcountry

Maps are available online or can be sent through the mail.

The South Yuba River Recreation Guide shows Skillman area trails and is available for $6 at the Nevada City Ranger District, 631 Coyote St., Nevada City.

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