I have a habit of keeping my eyes peeled on drives on the off chance I’ll find somewhere new to explore. On the way through the Lake Tahoe while embarking on our I-80 Roadtrip, I saw something off in the distance that I instantly knew would be worth our time to return to.
Here’s Tahoe National Forest’s Best Kept Secret: The Emerald Pools
If you’re coming off of Interstate 80, take exit 161 to CA-20. Travel about 4.5 miles west to Bowman Lake Road (Forest Rte 18), taking a right. Head down this road for about 1.5 miles until you cross the small bridge over the South Fork Yuba River. There’s a pullout on the east side of the road, with the trailhead next to the parking spots.
Beginning the Hike
I was initially under the impression that the trail we were looking for was across the road in the opposite direction. We took off on foot, making it almost 2 miles in until we realized that we must be going the wrong way because the river bed was gradually drying up. With only our instincts and backpacks, we turned around, hoping that we’d eventually stumble upon our purpose for being there.
We haven’t had rain in this area for about 6 months now so the river was pretty dry, making it easy to climb around on the enormous rocks that would normally decorate the bottom. After only walking for a few minutes, the temperatures had risen to around 95 degrees so I hopped in what little water there was for a quick cool-down.
Finding the Emerald Pools
From experiences I had read about online, the Emerald Pools sounded a lot more difficult to get to but it was actually quite easy once we got ourselves in the right direction. Simply follow the half-mile gravel trail that leads through the trees from the parking area until you come upon a rocky bank. This is when you know you’ve made it!
The crystal-clear teal waters are breathtaking and incredibly inviting in the summer heat. Feel free to take a quick dip but beware, since the water of the river solely derives from the mountainous snow run-off, it’s quite cold.
Don’t get too comfortable yet! This area tends to fill up with people so read on to find a more serene place to enjoy this scenery.
After a quick dip, we noticed another trail across the river to the east. Here at the base of the Emerald Pools, there’s a massively large rock on the right that extends out with about a 2 foot gap of water in between. Cross the river at this point to climb up on the rocks or take the dirt trail through the trees until you find yourself above the flow of the water.
Are you all ready for the most epic part of this whole experience?! The Emerald Pools are at the base of where the Yuba River flows down and, because of that, it creeps through this little creek. The harsh flow of the water over time has created the most stunning mini-gorge.
Crossing the Gorge
If you’re like us and thrive on privacy and quietness then you’ll have to cross the gorge to get to the most serene spot. In the opposite direction of the Emerald Pools, flowing uphill, there’s a small waterfall with a large boulder in the water. Cross here!
A Smaller Emerald Pool
We hiked up the river about a ¼ mile further and found a smaller, more secluded Emerald Pool. After planting our belongings down on one of the boulders, we waded through and swam around this area. I did see some people attempting to hike up the gorge like we did but they ultimately turned around to go back to the main pool.
We spent hours here with only ourselves and nature. Butterflies and dragonflies flew around us, the rays beat down and the only sound was our laughs and the heavy flow of the river. Absolute perfection!
Quick-Info for Hiking to the Emerald Pools:
Location: Forest Rte 18, Nevada City, CA
Type of Trail: Out & Back. Predominantly Foot Trail; Bikes have access but large rocks on the trail make it difficult
Distance: 0.5 miles
Elevation: 4501 feet
Features: South Yuba River, Dry Creek Bed, Emerald Pools, Gorge
More Info: If visiting in the springtime, beware of high waters: The Emerald Pools may not be accessible during this time. The best time to visit for the full experience is late summer or early fall when the river has had time to dry up.
What to Bring:
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