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Happy Wanderings - Bear Valley Area

For those that have not discovered the Bear Valley area east of Nevada City, it is well worth some time.  Normally during the winter, the valley would be covered in white and would be suitable for an enjoyable snowshoe or cross country ski trip.  But without any snow, it still makes for a nice outing.  In addition to some National Forest System land, the majority of the valley is owned by PG&E and a variety of other private land owners.  Please be respectful of private land.view across meadow with conifers at edges, forested slopes in background

Pioneer Trail Descends Into Bear Valley from Lowell Hill Road –   From the intersection of the Lowell Hill Road and Highway 20, east of Nevada City, one can catch the Pioneer Trail.   The trail follows the highway and then switchbacks down the south-facing hillside into Bear Valley.   This nearly 3 mile segment is well designed and offers an easily hike-able downhill (or uphill) grade.  Although I hiked this portion last fall, recent reports from other hikers cautioned of several downed trees across the trail – one being fairly large and requiring hikers or bike riders to shinny over a chest-high log.  After reaching the valley, the trail crosses under the flume and follows Zeibright Mine Road east to Hwy 20.

view looking up a rocky, forested slope at a wood and metal flume

Pioneer Trail Crosses Hwy 20 and Bear Valley -   From the Highway 20 crossing, this 1-mile trail segment follows an old, partially paved road east until it crosses the Bear River and winds up at Bowman Road.   A new bridge was installed and dedicated over 10 years ago calling attention to the important partnerships and volunteers that built the trail.

 small river with rocky banks in forest, wooden footbridge above

A very nice plaque was installed and is dedicated to the early pioneers, the volunteers who built the trail as well as all trail users. Trailside view of rock monument with plaque inset next to wooden footbridge

PG&E's Sierra Discovery Trail – A pretty .8 mile nature trail introduces walkers to the historic, ecological, and geological history of the area.  This is a very gentle trail with access to the river, meadow, pond, and forest ecosystems.  

A sturdy built boardwalk allows for walking over the meadow all seasons of the year.  

boardwalk trail through a meadow surrounded by mixed conifer and hardwood forest

Even in winter, when most of the flowers are dormant, the trail makes a nice retreat from the every day hustle and bustle.   A small waterfall and nearby ponds add the peaceful presence of mountain water with the quiet bird sounds and patches of sunlight to make a delightful morning stroll. 

pond with grasses growing in it surrounded by mixed conifer forest

Interpretive signs along the trail include those describing local geology, many aspects of forest management, early pioneer and Native American history, hydraulic energy production, the Drum Spaulding Hydrologic project, and the always captivating wildlife. 

an interpretive sign depicting forest management practices

Restroom facilities as well as interpretive kiosks are present. A paved side trail takes visitors to a set of picnic tables adjacent to a scenic part of the river under a canopy of trees.  
Wildlife in the Area – Many different species of birds and other critters can be seen across the valley.  Red-tailed hawks circled the north rim and deer prints gave evidence of their presence.  Douglas squirrels or chickarees, the feisty small brown squirrel, scolded us as we hiked by while nuthatches and mountain chickadees joined the chorus.  My favorite, the dipper, was spotted under the bridge on the Bear River.  These amazing birds actually swim under water and walk on the bottom of the mountain stream bed, turning over rocks, looking for food.  They nest under a bridge or rocky ledge.
rippled water surface with conifer trees reflected in it
ACCESS - Pioneer Trail from Lowell Hill Road:  From Nevada City, take Highway 20 east about 20 miles to the Lowell Hill Road. Follow the Lowell Hill Road for about 100 yards.  The trail is marked where it crosses the road.  
ACCESS - Pioneer Trail across Bear Valley: As Highway 20 reaches the valley, turn right onto the Zeibright Mine Road and park in the wide space.  Walk across Highway 20 – carefully! – and look for the trail signs directly opposite Zeibright Mine Rd.   
ACCESS - Sierra Discovery Trail: Continue driving along Hwy 20 across Bear Valley, turning north onto the Bowman Lake Road. The trailhead and parking is on the left about a half mile from the intersection of the Bowman Lake Road and Hwy 20.      
Cautions:  There have been reports of several downed trees across the Pioneer Trail as one descends from Lowell Hill.  Some trees can be hiked around; however, one larger tree has to be climbed over.  
Watch for traffic as you walk across Highway 20.  
Signs warn trail users of rattlesnakes in Bear Valley.  Keep your eyes and ears open when the days get warmer.
PG&E has warning signs for a possible increased flow along the river.  Be prepared to quickly leave if horn is sounded.
PGE's general website that identifies some recreation opportunities: http://www.pge.com/about/environment/pge/recreation/
This article is part of a series written by Ann Westling. To find the full series, please visit www.YubaNet.com and search for The Happy Wanderer.