This 109 acre abandoned airport is a little-known and little-used property owned by the City of Nevada City located a short way out of town. It is not officially open or managed for public use but it is permissible for the public to visit and use the various unofficial trails that have grown up over the years. If you’d like to check it out, please read the information below, take the map along, and practice “honor system trail use” during your visit.
Place: Nevada City, CA
Season: Year around
Land: 109 acres owned by the City of Nevada City.
Trail signs: None
Length: Depends on trails taken. Longest loop is a little over a mile.
Altitude change: Maximum elevation change is about 100 feet on this nearly level site.
Trail surface: Native soil
Environment: Long-abandoned airport property on a naturally-occurring mesa. Remnant sections of two dirt runways still exist, surrounded by a patchwork of forest and small openings. The west end of the old main runway has been reforested with ponderosa pines where there is an informal scattering of “forts” used by locals playing Airsoft or Paintball games. Most of the property is natural forest with mixed conifers, hardwoods and weedy plant species. Toward the east end of the main runway there are piles of municipal rubble, primarily from road or tree work.
Cautions: Remote site with no facilities and a maze of unmarked trails in widely varying condition. Take the map from this web site. Stay clear of rubble piles. Watch for poison oak, ticks and possible rattlesnakes. Carry water in hot weather. There may be standing water and slippery places around the open runway areas in winter. In a few places, unauthorized off-road vehicles have left deep ruts. Stay clear of Airsoft and Paintball games when played.
Rules: None posted but please use care, courtesy and common sense. No smoking or fires! No camping. Respect private property and adjoining neighbors. Park clear of any roadway. Control your dog and pick up any waste. No motorized vehicles. This is “honor system trail use.” Please pass it forward.
A quick overview: From around 1934 through the 1950’s there was an active airport with two runways and hangars on a flat-topped hill or mesa just north of Nevada City. After a fire in 1961 and with the ascendancy of the larger Grass Valley Air Park, the Nevada City Airport was officially declared inactive in 1966. The airport facilities are long gone. Over the years there have been various proposals for the property but, to date, it has remained dormant and undeveloped. Neighbors and occasional visitors who are aware of it use the property as a place to hike, jog, bike, or walk the dog. Occasionally, kids and adults may show up to play Airsoft or Paintball. Most of the time, this little-known area just sits there quietly, waiting for the future to unfold.
Trailheads: There are no official trails or trailheads on this property. Please consult the map for routes that interest you, then find the closest access point from a public road. If you drive, please be sure to park only on the airport property. Do not park in any single-car pullout. These are for passing on narrow roads.
To reach the old airport, take Highway 49 to the intersection of Highway 49 and North Bloomfield Road in Nevada City. Go north 1/2 mile on North Bloomfield Road to a “T” intersection. At this “T” intersection go left on Lake Vera Purdon Road for only 200 feet, then angle left onto Airport Road. Follow Airport Road for a little over 1/2 mile to where you can see a portion of the old dirt runway on your left. About 0.2 mile past the runway you will see a pullout area on your right with a prominent historic marker commemorating the July 1896 gun battle between sheriff David Fulton Douglass and a highwayman in which both parties died. This ample pullout area is on City property and is a good place to park (N39.27764 W121.02852.) A second pullout is located 0.2 mile farther west, on your left, where Airport Rd turns north and Tower Hill Road begins. At either pullout, please be sure to position your vehicle on the perimeter, leaving room for other vehicles.
On the south side of the old runways there is a turnaround on West Airport Road that can accommodate one or two vehicles. Please leave room for other vehicles if you park there.
Trail tips: The maze of un-named, un-marked trails at the old airport makes a map essential for anyone who hopes to avoid being lost when new to the place. Our top trail tip is that you print the map from this web site and take it with you. Even then, confusion is still possible.
Just a few of the trails you see on the map are wide and generally flat-surfaced. One wide trail in relatively good condition is alongside Tower Hill Road in a very pleasant part of the old airport property. There is another fairly wide and clear trail from the far northeast end of the main runway (near the microwave tower) that runs west and parallel to the runway.
On the south side of the old airport there are three east-west trails going toward what was the west end (now reforested) of the main runway. In this area you will find several homemade “forts” of sticks, wood pallets and other materials that players use in occasional Airsoft or Paintball games. The center trail of the three just mentioned is what might be called the “main trail” on the south side. At the end of that main trail there is a clearing. If you look carefully on the near left side of that clearing, you may find a narrow trail leading west into a heavily wooded area that offers several loop opportunities.
The map implies more regularity than you will find in the condition of the trails on the ground. Surfaces are frequently uneven, and sometimes deeply rutted. Trail widths are variable. Vegetation may crowd a trail in some places while other places may be relatively open. Some trails marked on the map are little more than a single-file path through ankle-deep vegetation. Several trail junctions are difficult to find and, in a few places, the trail itself may be hard to spot. Finally, on both the south and north side of the airport there are several places where trees have been felled or piled across informal dirt roads or trails to block unauthorized vehicle use. Take care. In at least one place on the south side there was evidence of a homeless camp at the time of this writing.
As can readily be seen from the map, many trail loops are possible by picking and choosing which trails to take. The trails on the north and the west-central portions of the property are probably the best choice for loops when you are getting to know the area.
Though there are challenges, the old airport offers a quiet alternative to explore. If you go slowly, stop from time to time, watch and listen, you may see a deer browsing, note a small bird working the bushes, spot a hawk soaring overhead, or just reflect on the sound of silence.