This past weekend, I was assigned with the daunting task of trying to find somewhere to explore. We live in an opportune spot here in California, allowing us to hit San Fran within 30 minutes or the northern coast in under 2 hours so, you can understand how hard it is to pick one place! I was inbetween seeing the cityscape in San Fran, the northern coastline or climbing some mountains. After tons of indecisiveness and going back and forth, I stumbled upon something that I thought would blow our minds: a Natural Bridge Cavern.
After a little over 2 hours, we arrive to the western part of the Sonora Mountain range in Calaveras County, south of Lake Tahoe and west of the Stanislaus National Forest. We mosey our way up highway 4, just past Angels Camp, and find a turnout on the side of the road to park.
Finding the Path
Starting off down a dusty, gravel road, some steps lead down to the entrance of the trail.
Since moving to California, we’ve only had the chance to explore the western portion where the mountains have previously been destroyed by fires. The scenery there is more ashy and crisp, with hardly any trees to shade the trails. This hike though, was adorned with the most luscious greenery I have seen in months!
I have a thing for trees and my hubs always makes fun of me for taking pictures of them but come on, they’re beautiful! The trees on this hike are no exception to that; the moss completely dominating them while they zig-zag in all different directions.
The first portion of the trail is almost completely covered in shade, creating a swampy-misty atmosphere. I couldn’t believe how fresh the air was down here, like it has never been tainted by the busy world that surrounds it.
A Winding Path
After walking through the trees for a while, it opens up to a small grassy area with the trail heading right. Taking a look through the tree opening on the left side, the path can be seen winding around the side of this cliff.
Cue the photo ops!
A climb up on these rocks is necessary to catch some stunning views.
At this point, I hear water flowing below me but I can’t quite see it yet. Climbing down the rocks, I start to make my way towards the sound.
A set of stairs was my only inclination that we were in the right spot.
On the right side of the river bed, the natural spring water flows heavily. The left side, though, was pretty dried up, allowing me to play around on the marbled boulders.
Turning around in the opposite direction, the part of the trail that we really came for finally comes into sight! Do you see it?
The Natural Bridge Cavern
The natural bridge cavern has to be one of the coolest places I’ve stumbled upon. The formation of this natural masterpiece is contributed to the mineral deposits of the Coyote Creek that flows through it.
With all of the tree debris, getting to the entrance of the cavern is pretty difficult and, let me be the first to tell you, it’s definitely not easy getting inside of it either! We’ve had quite a bit of rain lately so the water completely surrounds the islet inside of the cave. We laughed so hard at each other as both of us took turns climbing across a ‘log’–more like a teeny limb. At one point, with my camera around my neck and my phone in hand, I about lose my footing and go in! As we’re giggling the entire time, my hands are clammier than they’ve ever been and I’m shaking like a leaf. That was a close one!
The water steadily drips off the top of the bridge and the jugged roof of the natural bridge cavern. The relaxing, light-streamed waterfall ends up soaking my clothes but I definitely couldn’t complain!
I would love to come back and visit the cavern in the summertime. If you bring an innertube with you, you can flow through it and come out on the other side.
It’s Not Over Yet!
When I was researching this trail online, I saw a comment by somebody claiming that the second cave is much better.
A second cave? But, where?
We walk on top of this cavern towards the north, still following that sweet sound of flowing water, wet clothes and all.
A steep decline of marble that meets the creek at the bottom greets us. After looking around for a way to get down, we realize that if we want to see this cave we have to slide down this rock bed to get there.
I like to consider myself a hell of an adventurer but I don’t necessarily like going down to a place I’m not sure I can return from. But, what if I can’t get back up to the top?
My hubs on the other hand is an all-out voyager at heart and throws his backpack down, slings my camera around his neck and starts his descent.
Don’t worry, he makes it, and I sit at the top while he explores down below.
As he’s standing down at the bottom and I’m patiently waiting on my rock above, he’s yelling over the flowing water of the creek, “Come down!” I’m yelling back, reiterating that I won’t be able to ascend back up. He must’ve took that as a challenge as he starts climbing up to show me it can work. Ugh, fine.
So here I go, sliding down this rock bed, with absolutely nothing but thorny bushes to hang on to. I made it without breaking my ankles thankfully and holy hell, am I glad I did.
This place is absolutely incredible!
Returning Back to the Top
I’ll say, my hubs definitely made it look easier to get back up those rocks than what it really was. I had a heck of a time, slipping and sliding, being pushed from behind by him. At the top he says, “That was easy, right?” (As he’s panting.) Moral of the story, no it wasn’t easy! I can’t believe I actually did it but that natural bridge cavern was the best rock-climbing reward I’ve ever received.
We head back the same way we came on the trail. I didn’t realize how badly I needed this; to do some exploring and discover a new place. The outdoors is my favorite place and a day spent in it makes me a happy gal. I was energetically skipping the entire 2 miles back to the car.
‘Til next time, my dears!