Nevada City (map)
Nevada City is the county seat of Nevada County. It is a wonderful tourist attraction with its Gold Rush history, beautiful setting, and Victorian architecture. Since the early 1970’s when the historic preservation began, it has evolved from a quaint tumble-down town to a beautiful little city.
Grass Valley (map)
Grass Valley grew originally because of the large mining operations of the Empire & Northstar mines among others. Following the lead of Nevada City, preservation and improvement efforts have turned it into as much of an attraction as Nevada City, in the downtown area. This is reinforced by the nearby Empire Mine State Historic Park and the Northstar Mining Museum, which are major attractions. Grass Valley remains somewhat more of a functional, business-oriented city vs. Nevada City’s more tourist-based economy. Recent annexation of the Brunswick Basin and development along Idaho-Maryland Road has made parts of Grass Valley much more utilitarian and less attractive, in the last 10 years.
Truckee is located along Interstate 80 on the shores of Donner Lake, in the high Sierra. Because of very cold winters, it remained fairly small and acted mainly as a base for logging and railroad maintenance. The rise of the area as a skiing destination, particularly after the Winter Olympics were held in nearby Squaw Valley, gave Truckee the beginning of a new economy, and historic restoration, mountain sports, and improvements in dealing with winter hardships, caused a recent explosion of growth. Old Truckee’s downtown is now a major tourist attraction, and surrounding developments have made it much more of a permanent year-round place to live. It is somewhat less expensive than nearby Tahoe, with all the location benefits.
Penn Valley (map)
Penn Valley lies along Highway 20 between Grass Valley and Marysville. Rolling hills studded with oaks, provides pleasant scenery, but it is rapidly filling in with development and the scenery is disappearing fast. Lake Wildwood is included in Penn Valley and contributes a large population (see “Lake Wildwood” below). Nearby is the South Yuba River State Park at Bridgeport, and close by to the west, Lake Englebright, together providing great recreation and scenery.
Smartville was approaching ghost town status, until the last few years when it’s low real estate prices, scenery and proximity to Beale AFB has begun a bit of a revival of new housing.
Rough & Ready (map)
Between Grass Valley and Penn Valley, on the old highway, is the quaint and historic little town of Rough & Ready. The history of this town is amusing and telling of the early culture of California. We’ll cover that, here, soon.
North San Juan (map)
The anchor of the San Juan Ridge area is North San Juan. A few crumbling brick buildings belie a thriving community spread through the hills nearby. This whole area was mined extensively and the surrounding hills show the erosion of the “hydraulic mining” techniques. Nearby, the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park is a great destination to learn more about this era. (See “North Bloomfield”) below.
North Bloomfield (map)
North Bloomfield is in the heart of the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park. It has a small population, but it seems bigger because many of the historic buildings were either preserved or rebuilt after the park was established in the early 1970’s. It provides a perfect snapshot of life in the mines in the late 1800’s, and its museum and streets feature many important historic artifacts of the Gold Rush that populated California.
Chicago Park (map)
A small store, and a post office are a convenient center for a population spread out among the trees nearby. The Bear River is just down the hill to the southeast and Rollins Reservoir is just to the east. This was once a real estate development primarily marketed in the Chicago, Illinois, area which provided the name. This effort failed and mostly the area supports small ranches and orchards.
Cedar Ridge (map)
Now almost an extension of Grass Valley, Cedar Ridge lies along Highway 174 with a few businesses and streets extending into a forest canopy.
Among the most remote communities in Nevada County, Washington is found down a winding road which leads from Highway 20 east of Nevada City down to the Yuba River. This was an important access point for miners working the Yuba River as well as a crossing providing access to Malakoff Diggins, North Bloomfield and Graniteville. Now it is a destination for summer recreation and a few prospectors who want to work the river where it isn’t protected by the South Yuba River State Park
Soda Springs, Kingvale, Norden area (map)
Serving both traffic and maintenance of Interstate 80 and before that, the railroads established these areas, but the high elevation and accompanying difficult weather kept them small. An increasing year-round presence has gradually developed due to the nearby Royal Gorge, Sugar Bowl, Donner Ski Ranch, Boreal, and Soda Springs ski areas.
Communities & Developments
Lake of the Pines (map)
A gated community and Nevada County’s most southern population center, Lake of the Pines is possibly the best location for those who commute to Placer and Sacramento County for work. Increasing populations around Combie and Wolf Road has resulted in small “town center” to develop in the last decade at Highway 49.
Lake Wildwood (map)
This large gated community was created in the 1970’s and supports a large retired population. A great golf course and lake, tight building standards and greenbelts make it quiet & scenic while still providing an abundance of recreation, inside and outside the gates. Part of Penn Valley (above) it nevertheless maintains its own identity and sense of community.
Alta Sierra (map)
Also a golf community, but without gates, Alta Sierra is both a great retirement and commuter residential area. It has its own small airport, and many lots feature views to the valley.
Cascade Shores (map)
East of Nevada City on the shore of Scott’s Flat Reservoir, Cascade Shores is a small development with access to a large lake, nearby hydraulic mine areas that are fun to explore, and a definite mountain feeling.