The river canyon is the area where Highway 49 parallels the North Yuba River from the bridge just west of Indian Valley, past Goodyears Bar and into Downieville. The canyon walls and forested hillsides provides a dramatic backdrop to the river and its many seasonal waterfalls.
As the river and road wind through the canyon, this proximity gives recreationists easy access to sight-seeing, swimming, fishing, camping.
Due to the elevation, Sierra County provides one of the longest seasons for wildflower viewing in California. In spring, dogwood blooms profusely along the banks of rivers and massive patches of monkey flowers invade the wet seeps of canyon walls. Scotch broom adds brilliant patches of yellow. Summer provides a abundance of flowers and in the fall the dogwood puts on a second display of fiery orange and deep pink. Winter in the River Canyon is mild with light snow cover during December through March.
At dusk, bridges in Downieville are likely to produce bats and swallows foraging for food. Kingfishers and osprey also feed in the vicinity. If you’re lucky you can spot river otter by the Downie or North Yuba rivers as they flow through Downieville. The Empire Creek Trail near Downieville passes through large areas of older forests inhabited by pileated woodpeckers, northern goshawks, pine marten, and California spotted owl. In the spring, the Downieville deer herd moves to the higher elevations to fawn. Black bears, foxes, and raccoons are also present but not so visible.
The Maidu and Washoe Indians are the first known residents of the Sierra Nevada. In the summers, they came into the mountains to hunt and fish. During the fall and winter, they returned to the foothills and valley below. When gold was discovered, emigration from around the world brought a new cultural era to the region. Mining camps and towns sprang up in Sierra County with each gold discovery. Some towns are memories, but many still exist today. Downieville, and Goodyears Bar remain as windows to our past.
The Downieville Museum building dates back to 1852 when it was built as a store by Chinese emigrants. Today it contains informative collections that depict life here from gold rush days to the present. It features a detailed model of turn-of-the-century Downieville as well as logging and mining exhibits. The museum is open weekends mid-May a through mid-October (depending upon weather) 11am – 4pm; daily 11 – 4 from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day.
The Yuba Theatre was built in 1940 as a movie theater. Since 1996, it has been the home of the Sierra County Arts Council. It currently has fixed seats for 184 and has been transformed into a professional performing arts venue. Year-round events include presentations of live music, community theatre, dance, school drama productions, book-signings, slide shows and film. The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is presented each April; sierracountyartscouncil.org
Main Street in Downieville is narrow, full of character and lined with trees, wooden boardwalks and historic buildings. Downieville is considered the least changed of all the gold rush towns in California. The Gallows in Downieville was only used once but it remains today as a reminder of justice in the gold rush era. There is a self-guided walking tour brochure available for Downieville that detail the town’s history and sites.
The Goodyears Bar Schoolhouse was built around 1872 and is still used as a community gathering place. It recently became a museum, featuring four different exhibits.
There is a self-guided walking tour brochure available for Downieville that detail the town’s history and sites. Inquire at local businesses for your own copy.
On the TrailHiking and backpacking:
Easy to extreme level hiking trails abound in this region of Sierra County. A fully accessible trail passes gently through 500 feet of terrain from the Fiddle Creek Campground to the North Yuba River just off Hwy 49. The Saddleback Trail climbs up mountainous terrain to the Saddleback Lookout where spectacular views can be seen and photographed. The Canyon Creek trail provides level ground and a scenic path alongside the North Yuba as it makes it way towards Bullards Bar. You’ll pass through an old miners camp at Shenanigan Flat.
Ride the sublime trails that seem endless, climbing from rivers to peaks, and snaking invisibly through trees. Ride for hours in places that are truly “quiet” and “empty”. This is a rare fortune, possibly worth more than any gold taken from these hills. Lavezzola Road provides access to moderate to very technical mountain bike trails. This nationally recognized trail system has been featured in mountain biking magazines as having some of the best and most scenic trails in the world. Ride the North Yuba Trail with Halls Ranch and Fiddle Creek Ridge, the Downie River Trail and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Divide trails. The world-famous Downieville Classic
is an annual bike race event weekend not to be missed, if you can find a place to stay...
Chimney Rock, Fir Top and Poker Flat are three great OHV, 4-wheel drive and dirt bike routes. Chimney Rock goes by the Saddleback Lookout and is exceptional for bikes, as is the Poker Flat trail. With a trail-rated SUV and some experience driving difficult back-country, you can visit the ghost-towns of Poker Flat and Howland Flat, crossing Canyon Creek on the way to Lost Sierra’s La Porte.
Summer FunFishing and swimming:
The North Yuba provides many excellent fishing spots and swimming holes along Hwy 49. The swimming hole by the Rocky Rest Campground bridge is one of the best, but it’s a well known secret so you probably won’t have it to yourself. But there are plenty of other ones to discover. Pull over where it’s safe and explore the river. Where the Downie meets the North Yuba, in the heart of Downieville there is also great swimming and fishing to be had.
Whitewater rafting and kayaking:
During the spring snow melt, the river provides great Class 4 and 5 whitewater rafting. Kayaking can be done all summer long depending on the level of the rivers. There are several outfitters that provide guided rafting, including Tributary Whitewater Tours.
The Fiddle Creek Campground near the North Yuba River bridge is easily accessed from Hwy 49 and has excellent river access. Rocky Rest Campground is less developed but also offers access to the river for swimming and fishing. Many additional campsites are available throughout the area in a variety of settings and levels of access.
Gold panning is open to the public in Downieville just behind the Two Rivers Cafe. Gold panning lessons and guided tours can be found in Sierra City
, at Big Mountain Mining Supply.