The Independence Trailhead is a few hundred yards south of the bridge where highway 49 crosses the Yuba River in rural Nevada County, California between Nevada City and North San Juan. Unlike most trail heads, this one is in the middle of the trail, so you can go east or west. Both directions are out-and-back runs.
As you can see, there are restrooms, one of which is wheelchair accessible. In fact, the Independence Trail itself is wheelchair accessible! That’s what makes it really special. For one and a half miles in each direction, it is designed for folks with disabilities or limited mobility.
Local visionary John Olmstead launched the Independence Trail project in cooperation with the Sequoia Challenge and California Parks and Recreation. He re-discovered an old mining operation that was custom- made for this specialized type of trail. It had an upper walk-way where miners walked and a lower parallel bed where shuttles moved along tracks. Most of it was perfectly flat and already graded, suitable for wheelchairs without heavy blasting and earth moving.
For today’s run we’re going to start out the east branch. The photo above is typical of the first part of the trail. Very soon, the trail opens up for the one and only good look at the south fork of the Yuba River down below Highway 49.
Tilt your head up and you can get a look at the ridges and hills above.
Just over a half mile along the run we come to Tunnel Rock.
Just for a lark, today I decide to lie on my back under Tunnel Rock and shoot a photo overhead.
Gives you the “willies” doesn’t it? At various points along the east branch, we cross flumes of different lengths. Most of them have benches where you can rest. Rest? We don’t need no stinkin’ rest! We just got started!
There are also a couple of picnic tables at shady clearings.
At this clearing you will also find a tiny spring-fed grotto where pooch can get a drink and cool off.
The trail officially ends just over two miles at Augustini Road.
“Road” is a bit of an exaggeration. I usually turn right and head uphill. You should be used to that by now. I really like testing myself on hills. Are you good with that? OK! Let’s go!
Yep. Up, without a break, relentless. But today, we’re just going up one more mile and turn around. Why just a mile? Because we still have to run three miles back to the trail head and then take on the west branch!
OK, we’re back at the trail head with 6 miles under our feet. Go West, Young Runner? To get started, we scoot under Highway 49 through this rather creepy tunnel.
The west branch is better maintained for wheelchairs than the east branch.
There are several nice places to catch your breath and some shade.
Feeling adventurous? Less than a half mile into the west branch, we can turn right and take the Jones Bar loop.
The sign says .4 miles. It’s a bit longer. On a scale of difficulty from 1 to 10, the first part of this spur trail is an “8.” And that’s all down hill! It is steep and slippery. Coming back up, it’s a “10.” How do I define a “10” difficulty rating? If I can’t make it, running all the way, it’s a “10.” This little trail busts my ass, and bet it will bust yours too. Give it a try and let me know. But today, we’re not coming back up. What? No. We’ll take the long way around and turn the west branch of the Independence trail into a loop. (Whew!) At the bottom of the spur, we come to promontory overlooking Jones Bar itself. This is a primo swimming hole!
We’ll cross a pretty little bridge.
Look close. On the right you can spot . . . wait. Are you paying attention? Don’t space out on me. Look to the right and see if you can find the path down to Dharma Pond.
It’s not really named Dharma Pond. But it is a pond. And my dog is named Dharma. So . . . . what the heck. This is the first opportunity to get pooch really wet and cool. We’ve been running seven miles already, so don’t pass up this opportunity. After the pooch break, be sure to look around as you work back up to the main trail.
You don’t want to miss this view. For the next mile and a half, it’s all uphill on a quiet dirt road. No whining. We have to make up that precipitous Jones Bar downhill spur, don’t we? Ok. Here’s the dicey part. After a mile and a half, you have to cut back left off the dirt road to intersect Independence Trail. The little connector path is unmarked. You have to know where it is. If you keep on climbing the dirt road, there is a second opportunity to catch it at the point where Independence Trail merges with the road. It’s also easy to miss. Better you should come with me the first time. Be mindful of this stuff.
But since we’re together today, we find that little connector just fine, avoid the poison oak, and head back eastward along Independence. It’s very quiet and peaceful along this section of the trail. Technically, the wheelchair improvements have not come out this far, but an athletic chair jockey could make it all the way to the dirt road. Oorah! We are happy to see the welcoming entrance to the main flume.
The flume is quit impressive. At the midpoint, there is a ramp system that will take you down, first to a tiny waterfall . . .
. . . and then to a refreshing pool where you can cool your feet while letting Pooch have some fun.
We’re on the home stretch now. Climb back up the ramp and get on the flume.
Zip on back to the truck, maybe a mile and a bit more, shady and flat all the way. Running both branches of the Independence trail today with the Augustini Road add-on to the east branch and the Jones Bar loop on the west branch, we’ve covered about 11 excellent miles. Don’t you agree?
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