If you want a nice place to visit and a relatively short drive from Nevada City and Grass Valley then take a journey to Downieville. About forty five miles from Nevada City along scenic Highway 49, it’s a great drive, with a large portion of the trip along the North Fork of the Yuba River. Beautiful views of the river and forest, unsullied by human habitation! A group of us went up there last weekend to get away from it all. And we did!
We stayed at the Downieville River Inn a very nice Bed and Breakfast inn which is run by James & Diane Barnhard. Do not confuse this inn with the one right on Highway 49. I think this one is much quieter, definitely has more grounds and things to do (sauna, swimming pool, BBQ and lawn areas). Diane is a great cook if you come to the morning breakfast. You can even rent houses of various sizes for families who want to cook (or the whole place – there are 12 “units” but the place sleeps 40 people comfortably) for a group gathering or family vacation. Even many or the rooms have a small kitchenette, or refrigerator unit.
After arriving at the inn, we took a one mile hike through town to the twin falls clear on the other side of the town. There are many other hiking trails, and the next day we took another mile hike along the river. Any time you are walking along and come across neighbors or people in the street, you can stop and talk to them. A visit to a restaurant is a time to start meeting the people next to you, where they are from, hobbies, and plans for the day. It is the friendliest town I have been to a long time.
Things to do while you are there includes, fishing, hiking, bicycle riding, there is museum and a couple of nice restaurants. There are numerous bike trails and many sponsored bike rides in the summer. Of course, there is also the natural beauty of the Sierras, with a confluence of the Downie River and the North Yuba River right in the heart of Downieville. When exploring the town, there is no need to drive your car, and the river is easily reachable to sit and just contemplate, or splash your feet.
It’s a great little place to visit and it hasn’t changed much from the time I was County Engineer and County Surveyor for Sierra County. When I was up there in the 70’s the population of Sierra County was a little over 3,500 people and now, it’s still a little over 3,500 people! The town has a great gold mining history, stores sell the local gold and jewelry made from it. The town also has a unique history, when in July 1851, lynched a woman, Junita, from the bridge across the North Yuba River for killing a miner. It remains the only lynching of a female in California history.
There is also an original gallows, built in the town and used only, and still there for visitors to see. The gallows, called Sheriff’s Gallows, was constructed in 1885 for the specific execution of nineteen year old James O’Neill, a native of Ireland, who shot and killed his former employer, John Woodward, at Webber Lake, on the afternoon of August 7th.
The northern mines area was populated by a number of gold rush camps with colorful names, places like Brandy City, Whiskey Diggins, Poverty Hill, and Poker Flat. While many of these camps entirely disappeared after the gold rush, Downieville survived due both to its geographical location and status as the seat of Sierra County government
For information on camping, visit Downieville Ranger Station’s Campground Web Site. Also their telephone number is (530) 288-3231