Take a hike
In summer, when the weather is warm and the sun is shining, the only difficulty in finding a great day-hiking destination in western Nevada County is narrowing down a long list of enticing choices.
But what to do from December through March, when low-country skies are drizzly and a thick blanket of snow covers the higher elevations?
If you’re looking for a way to get a little exercise and soak up some beautiful views on a gray (or even rainy) winter afternoon, give the South Yuba Trail at Edwards Crossing a try. It makes for a beautiful and invigorating hike at any time of year, in any kind of weather.
The drive from Nevada City is one of the most enjoyable parts of the Edwards Crossing experience. To get to the trailhead, take Highway 20/49 north from Grass Valley or Nevada City, then turn left onto Highway 49 where it splits off toward Downieville.
Pass Coyote Street on your right (you may want to consider turning here to pick up a copy of the invaluable Tahoe National Forest map at the TNF office just up the hill), then turn right at the traffic light onto North Bloomfield Road.
Drive half a mile uphill to the “T” at Lake Vera-Purdon and North Bloomfield roads and take another right, staying on North Bloomfield. The road winds about six miles through lovely and mostly-level country, then narrows to one lane before plunging down a shady one-mile series of hairpin turns to the South Yuba River.
This is the route of the old stagecoach road to the town of North Bloomfield. (Be sure to go slow and use a low gear on this section of road to spare your brakes, as the incline is steep and unrelenting all the way to the bottom of the canyon.)
Park on the near side of the bridge and look for the trail marker off to the left on the river’s south side. One of the many advantages of hiking in inclement weather is having your pick of prime parking spots – a far cry from the dusty jostling match that takes place here among overheated motorists on busy summer weekends.
Edwards Crossing has always been my favorite local winter hiking spot. I go there on stormy days not to escape the weather, but to revel in it and experience it fully – the roar of the wind in the treetops, the rain filtering through cedar branches, the sound of the river crashing over boulders in the canyon below.
When famed naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir instructed us to “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings…the winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves,” he could have been writing about hiking along the South Yuba during a winter storm.
For most of its four-and-a-half-mile length to Purdon Crossing, the trail hugs the mountainside closely as it winds along above beside the river, with mild gains and losses in elevation.
Immediately after leaving Edwards Crossing, the trail enters an intensely green and leafy area that’s reminiscent of the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest – bright green mosses and fiddleneck ferns carpet the hillside, and mossy tree branches meet overhead, creating a tunnel-like effect.
Even on summer afternoons, this section of trail feels cooler and damper than the surrounding countryside; on wet winter days, it’s positively Tolkienesque. Don’t miss the view of Spring Creek Falls on the opposite bank about half a mile from the trailhead.
Soon after the point where Spring Creek joins the Yuba, the trail emerges into more open country and heads steadily downhill for another quarter mile or so until it reaches the elevation of the river. It then heads back uphill for another gentle climb, rising above the river as the landscape becomes drier, rockier, and more cliffy.
The trail follows this basic uphill/downhill, cool-and-shady/dry-and-rocky pattern all the way to Purdon Crossing, with topography, flora, and elevation constantly changing.
Approximately two miles in from the trailhead, the Rock Creek/Round Mountain Trail intersects the main trail and heads up a series of punishing switchbacks to a parking area one-and-a-half miles up the hill. Stick to the main trail here unless you’re in the mood for a truly grueling workout.
Walking at a moderate pace, the four-and-a-half-mile hike to Purdon Crossing takes about two and a half hours. You may want to hike with a friend, leaving a car at each trailhead and shuttling back to your starting point at the end of your walk.
You’ll pass through state, private, BLM, and Forest Service land along the way, so watch for posted signs and resist the temptation to leave the trail where it crosses private property.
Sylvia Jordan is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grass Valley. Contact her at
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