Dive into a swimming hole on the South Yuba River

Kate Washington

Travel planner:where to stay and eat

I'm paddling about in the South Yuba when two fellow riverdevotees shoot past. Feet first, they slide between a pair ofancient granite boulders and land below me in a deep pool. Thewater continues rushing over the rock waterslide, slipping betweenthese Sierra versions of Scylla and Charybdis with ease.

I could do that, I think. And I take the plunge. The water poursme through the chute, and I feel as cool and liquid as it is.

Sure, you could raft down the South Yuba River, but isn'tgetting as close as possible to the primordial element the bestexperience of summer? Sometimes you need to jump in where there'sno chlorine and no lap-lane marker in the water. South Yuba RiverState Park ― essentially a chain of swimming holes and trailsalong this gorgeous stream's scenic canyon ― is the mostperfect place I can imagine for it.

The park, a series of unconnected parcels along the water, hasseveral access points offering trails of varying distances anddifficulty levels. After a hot, dusty hike (on a warm July day,this takes only a few hundred yards), you can scramble down to thewater via side trails and chill out. And yes, I mean chill: Untillate summer, the river is head-clearingly refreshing. For puredrama, my favorite spot is the State 49 crossing, where theaquamarine pools look like a modern necklace set in chunky, silverygranite. It's deservedly popular. To get away from crowds, venturea bit upstream from the pedestrian bridge.

For a quieter experience, try Edwards Crossing, which has fewerpeople and plenty of swimming holes and boulders. Here, you canhave that ultimate close-to-the-water experience. Indeed, someswimmers really get as close to the water as possible; several areasare tacitly left to skinny dippers. You might also spot old-timers(or wannabe ones) panning for gold ― a fun way to splash inthe shallows.

But, as I found out, the real joy comes in plunging in just alittle over your head.

GETTING THERE

South Yuba River StatePark meanders along a 20-mile stretch of the river. In theBridgeport area, you'll find the visitor center, a historic coveredbridge, and river access; from State 20, take Pleasant Valley Rd.north about 9 miles. To reach the popular State 49 crossing fromNevada City, proceed north 6 miles on State 49 to the parkentrance. To reach Edwards Crossing from State 49, take NorthBloomfield Rd. 7½ miles to the bridge; park at pullouts, crossthe river on foot, and access via the hiking trail headingdownstream. For more information, call 530/432-2546.

The nearby towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City are ideal basesfor lodging, dining, and shopping.

WHERE TO STAY

Holbrooke Hotel A historic inn with brick walls and GoldRush ambience. INFO: From $100; 212 W. Main St., Grass Valley;530/273-1353.

The National Hotel Elegantly updated rooms in a historicbuilding. INFO: From $76; 211 Broad St., Nevada City;530/265-4551.

Outside Inn Aptly named, the updated motor lodgeemphasizes recreation: The lobby is papered with topo maps, andclerks give advice on hikes, rafting, and more. INFO: From $75; 575E. Broad St., Nevada City; 530/265-2233.

WHERE TO EAT

Citronée Bistro and Wine Bar Pick up a picnic lunch forthe trail at the market, or visit later for dinner for thesoignée "grazing" menu and wine tasting. INFO: Restaurant $$$$,closed Tue; wine and cheese shop closed Mon-Tue; 320 Broad St.,Nevada City; 530/265-5697.

Ike's Quarter Cafe Wake up with chicory coffee andfrittatas. INFO: $$;closed Tue; 401 Commercial St., Nevada City; 530/265-6138.

New Moon Cafe Fresh fare from a changing menu. INFO: $$$$;closed Mon; 203 York St., Nevada City; 530/265-6399.

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