Built with grants totaling nearly $1 million, Deer Creek Tribute Trail is a major new amenity of the area. It memorializes the early contributions of native Nisenan and Chinese people to the history of this place. New developments include an improved trail along Little Deer Creek in town, a historic route through downtown Nevada City, connecting links along the canyon of Deer Creek west of town, and a fine new trail to a beautiful plaza at Stocking Flat on Deer Creek with its new Chinese Bridge across Deer Creek to a forested loop trail. All of this is linked to a popular footpath along 1.8 miles of the historic Newtown Canal west of town. It all adds up to a great new trail system with lots of interesting and beautiful options to explore.
Look for these markers along the trail.
Place: In and west of Nevada City, CA
Season: Year around
Land: Mixed municipal, private, BLM and Nevada Irrigation District
Trail signs: Good direction signs for eastern half; sparse signage in far western portion
Length: Longest continuous distance is 3.6 miles one way; branches vary (see below)
Altitude change: Nearly level for long stretches; some places with moderate grade (see below)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on length and part of trail hiked or ridden
Trail surface: Paved, dirt or graveled roads, dirt trails; dirt path along Newtown Canal
Environment: Pine woods, city streets, rural residential, and rural mixed conifer and hardwoods
Rules: No motor vehicles; stay on trails; no smoking on rural trails; no camping
Pioneer Park: The official beginning of the Tribute Trail is next to Pioneer Park in Nevada City. To reach this trailhead, go to the foot of Broad St in Nevada City, continue uphill on Boulder Street less than 0.2 mile, turn right on Park Avenue, then right on Nimrod St. The trailhead is about 80 yards up Nimrod St on your right, opposite the Pioneer Park tennis courts. (N39.26092 W121.01287)
Miners Foundry: If you would like to go west from town into the rural sections of this trail, start at the intersection of Bridge St and Factory St on the west side of the Miners Foundry building. (N39.26205 W121.02079) To get there from Robinson Plaza, walk up Commercial Street, turn left on York Street, cross Broad Street, then go uphill toward the Bonanza Market and the historic Nevada Theater. Turn left into the parking lot between those two buildings and walk down the lot to Spring Street where you will be in front of the Miners Foundry. Now go down the road on the right side of the Foundry (this is Bridge Street) to Factory Street on the right. There is a small Tribute Trail marker at this intersection (look on the telephone pole just right of the “Not A Through Street” sign on your left as you enter Factory Street.)
Trail tips: There are many ways to walk or ride the Deer Creek Tribute Trail, depending on your time and interest. Joggers may want to run the entire 3.6 mile length from one end to the other and back, with a 0.4 mile side trip down to Stocking Flat and a 0.6 mile loop off the south end of the Chinese Bridge (total 8.6 miles.) History buffs will enjoy the route through Nevada City’s early Chinese Quarter to the Chinese Memorial. Locals and visitors looking for a local walk or jog will enjoy the neighborhood feel of the route west from Miners Foundry and along the quiet road called Old Downieville Highway. Beyond the Champion Rd trailhead (see above) there is the rural beauty of a more extended excursion down the valley of Deer Creek to Stocking Flat and a loop trail on the far side of the Chinese Bridge. And back in town, many will appreciate the Tribute Trail’s woodsy shortcut along Little Deer Creek to Pioneer Park from downtown and back.
The following are a few suggested ways to enjoy this great new trail system:
Downtown Discovery Walk:
Using Robinson Plaza as your base, pay a visit to the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce (right there on the plaza) and pick up a copy of the “Chinese Quarter Walking Guide.” Using the guide, walk up Commercial Street, especially noting the concentration of historic Chinese Quarter buildings around the intersection of York Street, then pay a visit to the beautifully landscaped little Chinese Memorial just 30 yards up Commercial Street past York Street on your right at the entrance to the municipal parking lot.
Also from Robinson Plaza, you can easily get to Pioneer Park, just 1/3 mile away. Walk up Union Alley to Broad Street, turn left and cross over the freeway and continue to the large intersection just east of the freeway. Look on your right for the large parking lot next to the Stone House building at the SE corner of this intersection. Walk into that parking lot, going along the far left side of the lot until you see the Tribute Trail sign by the creek. Enter the trail and walk through woods along Little Deer Creek about 300 yards to the trailhead on Nimrod Street. Pioneer Park with its tennis courts, grassy fields, swimming pool, children’s playground, and rustic buildings are across and uphill from the trailhead. Retrace your route to return to Robinson Plaza.
Note: There is a short side trail off this route, not officially part of the Tribute Trail, which you might want to explore. This is the Miner’s Trail of the Nevada City Rotary Club and it gives you a rare chance to walk along Deer Creek right in Nevada City. As you walk back up Broad Street toward downtown, go left onto a gravel path alongside the freeway offramp immediately after you have crossed over Deer Creek. The signed trailhead is about 30 yards down this path on your left. (N39.26181 W121.01686) The trail parallels Deer Creek for about 150 yards with two small stone benches along the way where you can sit and view the creek. (Curious walkers may wish to continue on the rough and sometimes littered dirt path under the freeway. It comes out on quaint little Cabin Street where you can walk out to Pine Street, turn right and return to downtown, or go left and walk across Deer Creek on the historic South Pine Bridge.)
Of course there are many other things to discover in downtown Nevada City, both on and off the Tribute Trail route. You can get all the information you need at the Chamber of Commerce office on Robinson Plaza or just walk around.
Note: There are public restrooms at Robinson Plaza and at the municipal parking lot by the Chinese Memorial. There are no restrooms, water fountains or trash cans in rural portions of the Tribute Trail. Please be prepared for these conditions and be sure to pack out all trash. Please observe the no smoking and no camping rules for this trail. Fire danger can be very high in summer and fall.
Quick Out-of-town Walk: In almost no time, you can be out of town on the Tribute Trail and walking in a quiet rural neighborhood near Deer Creek. Locals will often be found here, out for some exercise near town. Start at the Miners Foundry trailhead (see above) and go west on Factory Street. You may wonder if this is the right way but, yes, it is. The road will soon curve to the left, the pavement will end and you will be on a one lane dirt road (Wyoming Street) that parallels Deer Creek. In about 0.3 mile, the dirt road will come out onto the pavement of Old Downieville Hwy which you can follow another 0.3 mile to where Champion Rd goes down to your left. Here you have two options for extending your hike. You can take the Deer Creek Tribute Trail into increasingly rural countryside along Deer Creek, or you can follow the tradition of many local residents who use the little-traveled Old Downieville Hwy west of here as a great place to walk or ride for exercise. If you choose the latter, you can go another 1.5 miles beyond Champion Rd on Old Downieville Hwy to where it ends at busy Hwy 49, then turn around and retrace your route back into town. (Round trip from Miner’s Foundry to the end of Old Downieville Hwy and back is 4.4 miles, with little elevation change. There is one short hill with a 50′ elevation change on Old Downieville Hwy; otherwise the route is mostly level.)
If you choose to take the Deer Creek Tribute Trail farther into the countryside, see the suggested route below.
Farther Out-of-town — to Stocking Flat, Chinese Bridge and Loop Trail: From the Champion Rd trailhead (see above) follow the well-constructed dirt trail down through open forest 0.2 mile to a graveled service road alongside Deer Creek. Turn right on this road. It follows the creek for about 0.3 mile. After a nearly level stretch, you will be going gradually uphill to rejoin Champion Rd. On the way you will pass a wayside sign describing the Mountaineer Mine which extracted a large amount of gold here in the late 1800’s. A few remnants of the mine complex are visible from the trail in old cement foundations.
Past the Mountaineer Mine site, go left at the top of the grade onto Champion Rd and continue on Champion Rd for 0.4 mile. Do not take the driveway you will see on your left, but stay on the upper road. This will take you along Woods Ravine with many fine oaks and two small waterfalls on the stream below. The road will hook left and cross over the stream above the waterfalls. After this sharp bend, follow the road uphill about 100 yards watching carefully for a narrow dirt path on your left with a slatted wooden structure beyond and the dry remnants of a miner’s ditch. (N39.25940 W121.04227) Take this path. It meanders west for 0.2 mile along the route of the old miner’s ditch, crossing it three times on short wooden footbridges. There is a wide bench along the way that faces out toward the canyon of Deer Creek.
This path ends at a private driveway. Go down the driveway about 60 feet and look on your right for running water in a ditch with a wide, flat dirt path alongside it. This is the Newtown Canal, a former hydraulic mining ditch now delivering water for the Nevada Irrigation District. This path continues west for 1.8 miles along the canal to the Morning Star Trailhead (see above) but right now you will only follow it 0.2 mile to a trail sign on your left that says “DEER CREEK 0.4 MI.” (N39.25724 W121.04757) Take this trail downhill through mixed chaparral and forest. You will soon arrive at a beautifully designed plaza area beside a waterfall and deep pool on Deer Creek. This is Stocking Flat (an historic name from the gold rush days.)
At Stocking Flat there are two benches, two picnic tables, decorative beds of native plants, interpretive signs, a Chinese wooden arch, and a perfectly placed footbridge — the Chinese Bridge. This is a place to enjoy for awhile. The signs will give you information on history, ecology, project partners and habitat restoration work. There is a memorial plaque near the bridge noting the role of Chinese pioneers. There are fine views of the waterfall and pool from the plaza and bridge.
Across the bridge, there is a new 0.6 mile loop trail up through the woods on the south side of the creek. Going left (clockwise) around the trail will first take you upstream along the trace of an old miner’s ditch, then it will climb up through chaparral and into forest for the remainder of the loop. There are a few places with good views of the Deer Creek canyon and surrounding ridges. Note that, as of November 2011, the trail was newly cut but not finished. Until further improvements can be made, there will be many rough places and sometimes wet and slippery conditions along this loop.
Total distance out and back to Stocking Flat from the Miners Foundry trailhead is 4.8 miles. From the trailhead on Champion Rd the round trip to Stocking Flat is 3.4 miles. Going out to Stocking Flat from the Miners Foundry trailhead, there is a net one way elevation loss of about 365 feet. The two largest elevation changes are the drop to Deer Creek from the Champion Rd trailhead (-90′) and the drop from the Newtown Canal to Stocking Flat (-150′). The loop trail from Stocking Flat involves an elevation gain of about 100′ and an equal drop.
Still Farther Out-of-town — The Newtown Canal: The peaceful, gentle Newtown Canal trail is the most remote part of the Deer Creek Tribute Trail. To experience it, make the quick drive from Nevada City to the Morning Star Lane trailhead (see above.) The trail is easily visible on the right side of the irrigation canal past a metal gate with no trail sign. This is the old ditch tender’s footpath; now a popular place for a jog, walk or bike ride. The path follows the canal for 1.8 miles to the east end where the open canal stops and water emerges from a pipe.
Simply follow the canal east as far as you’d like, then return to the trailhead. The route curves gently from time to time as the canal keeps to a steady gradient across the terrain, usually in close proximity to lightly-traveled Champion Rd but sometimes away from it. There are various micro-climates along the trail, ranging from open chaparral and woodlands to shady forest. In the spring you will see lots of wildflowers along the way. Now and then you will encounter a place where there is a metal catwalk across the ditch or a small drop off the canal bank, but generally you will be on a nearly level trail the whole way. The total elevation drop over the full 1.8 mile length from east to west is just a little over 20 feet. (Note: The canal passes through private land for most of the way. Please stay on the trail.)
If you are going the full length of the Newtown Canal trail, you will have an option near the east end to take the trail down to Stocking Flat and the loop trail described above in the section titled “”Farther Out-of-town — to Stocking Flat, Chinese Bridge and Loop Trail.” Look for a trail sign that says “DEER CREEK 0.4 MI.” It is 1.6 miles to this sign from the west end of the Newtown Canal trail, and only 0.2 mile from the east end.