Malakoff Diggins Loop

EFFORT Minimal
LENGTH1.0 mile
LOCATIONMalakoff Diggins State Historic Park
TRAILHEAD COORDINATES Cemetery: 39.22.071N, 120.54.244W

Description: The site of the world’s largest hydraulic gold mine, Malakoff Diggins is a pit more than a mile long, a half-mile wide, and nearly 600 feet deep. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company operated the mine between 1866 and 1884, and yielded millions of dollars worth of gold, as well as the gravel byproduct. At the park museum, you can learn about the environmentally devastating practice of hydraulic mining. From this operation alone, 50 million tons of tailings were washed down the Yuba River.

Photo courtesy of California Dept. of Conservation

Hydraulic mining is accomplished by blasting away hillsides with huge water monitors and routing the debris through sluice boxes. During full operation, eight of these devices were employed around the clock. A couple of the monitors are on display on Main Street. The debris and the enormous amount of water used to sluice the gold rushed downhill, causing flooding in Marysville and Yuba City. In 1884, in one of the first environmental rulings ever passed, a judge ruled that the mining company must stop flushing sediment downstream. At its height, North Bloomfield had 800 residents, including a Chinese quarter, but after hydraulic mining was banned, the town was all but abandoned.

Before setting out on the trail, you might want to sign up for the North Bloomfield town tour. Several old buildings are still intact and others have been reconstructed, including the drugstore, saloon, and barbershop. If you don’t take a ranger-led tour, you can walk around on your own and look in windows.

For the quickest access to Diggins Loop, we suggest starting at the cemetery. Drive a short distance southwest on North Bloomfield Road. A sign for the cemetery will show you where to turn in on the right. A Catholic church stands here at the road’s edge. Also located here is the old schoolhouse, which is worth a look. Platforms have been set up to allow you to peer in the windows of the two classrooms with their rows of antique desks. There are also two outhouses flanking the school, each with a four-holer plank inside. The outhouses are not original, but the planks look to be the real thing.

After a detour through the fence-enclosed cemetery, walk along its left side on Slaughterhouse Trail. Just past the cemetery you will come to a trail junction. Turn left towards The Diggins. Now you are on the Diggins Loop. Enclosed in a pine woodland, you will begin to descend steeply for a stretch, entering an area dominated by manzanita. Notice that the ground is covered with boulders. In other places along the trail you will encounter piles of gravel. These are the remnants of the mining operation.

When the trail levels out again, it will cross over a dirt road and then come to a T-junction. A trail sign points you to either the "South Side" or the "North Side" Diggins Loop Trail. For quick access to the bottom of the giant pit, go right. The trail becomes the bottom of a gulley and is filled with loose gravel as it takes you downhill through the bleached cliffs of the mining pit. The unnaturally-exposed white and reddish sediments create an attractive setting not unlike badlands topography.

Once you bottom out, the trail disappears and you are walking on a sandy, marshy plain with a small rivulet of cool water running through it. Willows grow near the water and an abundance of songbirds occupy this spot. We saw deer tracks near the stream as well. When you are ready, go back up the trail to the junction with South Side. To continue on the loop, go straight. If you want a short hike of about a mile, you can turn left here and return to the cemetery and trailhead.

The Diggins Trail continues around the giant pit. Another trail option is the Rim Trail, which traces the pit’s rim. It is 3 miles long and offers a different perspective. Despite the devastation that took place here in the nineteenth century, this is now an attractive and enjoyable trail, especially if you are not here at the height of summer. Up at the high points, you get a good view across the pit to the sharply eroded, sparkling white spires of the cliff face. The trail rolls up and down among manzanita bushes and pine trees along the edge of the pit.

You will come to an intersection with the Hiller Trail, which goes left past the Hiller Tunnel on its way to North Bloomfield Road. Turn around and return to the trailhead whenever you are ready or complete the loop.

Driving Directions: From Nevada City on Highway 49, proceed north to North Bloomfield Road and turn right onto it. It is 16 miles to the park. Although the road starts out smooth and civilized, it becomes a very different sort of route further on. This is a quite scenic, but rough route. If you are prepared for it, the way is passable by most vehicles in good weather. The road becomes dirt and drops down into the South Fork of the Yuba River canyon at Edwards Crossing, and then crosses a wooden plank bridge over the river, climbing back up a steep winding dirt, pitted road on the other side. Enter the park and take advantage of the viewpoints to stop and get an overview of the mining pit. There is also a stop at Hiller Tunnel, an engineering marvel. You can walk 100 yards from the pullout along a creek to a drainage tunnel dug out of the rock. If you brought your flashlight, you can explore inside the tunnel a bit. Shortly after this stop, the road becomes pavement and takes you into the main area of the park.

An alternate route is a good, paved road with expansive views, also about 16 miles from Nevada City. From Nevada City at the spot where Highway 49 and Highway 20 diverge, proceed north on Highway 49 for 10 miles. Turn right on Tyler-Foote Crossing Road and drive about 8.5 miles to North Columbia where the road becomes Curzon Grade Road. Continue on this road for about 4 more miles, and you will then be on BackBone Road. Turn right on Derbec Road and then bear right onto North Bloomfield Road. Proceed into town. There is a day-use fee, payable at the museum.

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