Summer swimming holes They’re plentiful along the Yuba River if you know where to look
When it comes to swim holes on the Yuba, everyone guards their favorite like a family secret. And who can blame them?
A private pool to plunge into is hard to beat in the heat of summer. Nothing relieves stress like a day spent soaking up sun on a smooth chunk of granite surrounded by shimmering water.
This is a guide to some of the main crossings on the South Yuba River that have been in existence since the Gold Rush days. If seclusion is the goal, explore the river up or downstream to discover an uninhabited spot away from the crowds.
Clear water, deep pools, massive granite boulders, warm temperatures and forested canyons make the South Yuba River a sanctuary for many. “It’s probably one of the nicest swimming rivers in the state,” said Mike Smittle, park ranger for the South Yuba River State Park.
The state park is located in several sections spanning 21 miles from Malakoff Diggins Historic State Park to Bridgeport. In 1999, California declared a 39-mile stretch of the South Yuba as “Wild and Scenic.” The Yuba’s rugged beauty is left intact partly because there are no roads running along most of its length.
Other than early mining and dam building, there has been very little development along its banks. Numerous trails make accessibility possible for the half a million or so people who come to enjoy the river each year.
The two main beaches of Bridgeport are by far the most popular for swimmers in the park. It’s a good starting place for people who are new to the area and want to learn about the river. A staffed information center is loaded with brochures, maps, park schedules and books by local authors.
Restrooms, bottled water, a soda machine and a phone are available. There is ample parking, and people of all ages can make the easy walk to the family beach below the covered bridge or to Kneebone beach on the other side of Pleasant Valley Road. It’s not uncommon to see people carting ice chests, chairs, floaties and umbrellas with them. Such an armload isn’t practical at many of the Yuba’s more remote swimming areas.
Bridgeport is rich with history, with its focal point being, of course, the covered bridge. Built in 1862, it is believed to be the longest single-span covered bridge in existence. The site where the bridge is located began as a mining camp, then prospered as a stage stop, and later became a working ranch.
Kneebone beach belonged to the Kneebone family, which charged people 50 cents to park their cars on the property and use the swim hole. There was even a dance floor, live music and cement blockhouse that stored ice cream. The beach beneath the covered bridge is best for families with smaller children because of shallow, calm waters. Kneebone is a larger beach with deeper pools and granite boulders. Look for the remnants of an old diving board perched on a rock in the middle of the river.
For a swimming hole off the beaten path, try Jones Bar, but only in a high suspension vehicle. Although better than most, the old wagon road is rough. An alternate route is a section of Independence Trail, but expect a steep hike. Bring plenty of water. Three jade pools await visitors after a dusty journey to find them. This is a primitive, undeveloped section of the park, so everything packed in must be packed out. Respect private property signs. As with all areas of the park, glass bottles and alcohol are prohibited.
The toppled rusty remains of an old bridge can be seen across the river. A cable used for ferrying heavy mining equipment is still suspended across the water. Take a trail over to Rush Creek and walk across the wooden suspension bridge. The air is mint-scented and lush beneath the shade-draped hollow where the creek meets the river.
Old Highway 49 Bridge
Another well-known place where people like to stop and swim is at the old Highway 49 Bridge just outside Nevada City. Take a minute to gaze at the river from the rare historic cement arched bridge built in 1921. Look for the trailhead at the northern end of the bridge that leads to Hoyt’s Crossing. Follow the trail about a mile to the crossing that is also accessible via Independence Trail. Along the way, there are numerous spur trails that lead down to large sculpted granite boulder and the river. At Hoyt Crossing, there is a good-sized swimming hole and expansive sandy beach. Look for the Miners Tunnel, where a hole was blasted in granite to divert the river and expose the riverbed for gold mining.
Purdon Crossing Bridge
Another old bridge still in use today is the Purdon Crossing Bridge located on Lake Vera Road. As with anywhere along the river in summer, it’s best to get there early and, if possible, try to avoid the weekend parking mayhem. There is a parking lot located just right of the bridge before crossing. Two trails begin at the parking area. Local swimmers tend to take the gated trail on the left to swimming holes upstream.
Mother’s Beach and Oak Tree
Mother’s Beach is a safe, sandy and gentle flowing section of the river equipped with natural slides made of stone for adventurous youngsters. Look for the steps leading down to the beach across from the spring-fed water station. Further along the trail is a pool called Oak Tree, named after the oaks growing out of rock outcroppings, and China Dam, once a mining diversion dam. Swimsuits quickly become a rarity when traveling upstream. A five-mile hike or bike ride to Edward’s Crossing along the South Yuba Trail begins from the parking area, also. Follow the sign.
For a quick dip, head back to the bridge and follow one of the trails that take off from the road down to the water. While relaxing on the shore, look for wildlife such as water snakes, water ouzels and river otters. Squawfish are not shy and come to nibble on swimmers’ legs. The sky is a buzz of dragonflies. Purdon Crossing Bridge was built in 1895 and is a unique half-through truss support system, the only one of its kind known to exist in California.
Edward’s Crossing can also be accessed along a paved but very steep road. Take it slow to avoid smoking brakes. This is a popular spot for locals who want to enjoy the river but avoid the crowds. A narrow trail on the northern side of the bridge overlooks the Yuba, with many little side trails leading down to the river. As with all the river trails, be cautious of poison oak and the occasional rattlesnake. Downstream, Spring Creek flows into the river. Look for clumps of mating ladybugs covering the rocks and trees. Follow the trail to a wide spot in the river with a deep pool. Here the creek cascades over an embankment making a nice shower for swimmers known as Spring Creek Falls.
So whether it’s a family day or a solitary one, the Yuba is the therapy everyone needs at least once this summer.
How to get there
Bridgeport: Ten miles west of Grass Valley along Highway 20, turn right at stoplight onto Pleasant Valley Road. Proceed for eight miles to Bridgeport South Yuba River State Park and Visitor center.
There are several swimming areas at Bridgeport:
Cemetery/ Virginia Turnpike Loop Trail: A half hour gentle stroll with a great swim hole at the end. Follow signs from Visitor Center parking area.
Kneebone Beach Trail: From Visitor Center parking lot, follow trail upriver under concrete bridge.
Point Defiance Trail and Loop: From parking area cross covered bridge and turn immediately left (west) downriver. Follows river downstream to where the river flows into Englebright Lake.
Stop by the visitor center for a trail guide or to get other basic information about the park. A number of nature walks are held in the off-season and this time of year free gold panning demonstrations are held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. The visitor center is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Contact rangers at 432-2546.
Jones Bar: Old dirt road is recommended only for Four Wheel Drive vehicles. Take New Town Road off Bitney Springs. Turn onto Jones Bar and follow until the road branches. Follow the dirt road just past the post office boxes that leads downhill. It might be best to take the trail in. Six miles north of Nevada City along Highway 49 park at Independence Trail parking. Hike west on trail for .2 miles then follow the small foot path (Jones Bar trail) as it drops to the right. This route is very steep.
Highway 49 Bridge: Travel seven miles north of Nevada City on Highway 49. Park on south side of river at designated parking area adjacent to the old cement arched bridge.
Purdon Crossing: Follow North Bloomfield Road north after turning off Highway 49 at stoplight. Travel .5 miles then turn left on Purdon-Lake Vera Road and continue along even after road turns gravel and begins to drop steeply into canyon.
Edwards Crossing: Take the same route as Purdon but continue on North Bloomfield rather then taking Lake Vera Road. Follow the paved but steep road down to the river. Parking is limited.
Laura Brown is a mother of two and lives in Nevada County.
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