Rush Creek Falls

Grass Valley / South Yuba River State Park, California, USA

About Rush Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 2.4 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 90 minutes

Date first visited: 2016-05-20
Date last visited: 2016-05-20

Waterfall Latitude: 39.28212
Waterfall Longitude: -121.10397

Find Nearby Accommodation



Booking.com

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg

Rush Creek Falls was one of the more unique waterfalling excursions that we’ve been on.

I say this because the trail leading down to the falls was said to be wheelchair accessible, and that it was the only such wilderness trail in the United States.

Rush_Creek_Falls_074_05202016 - Rush Creek Falls seen from the Rush Creek Ramp at Flume 28
Rush Creek Falls seen from the Rush Creek Ramp at Flume 28

The most picturesque waterfall on Rush Creek (pictured above) was probably on the order of 20ft or so.

However, the rest of the waterfall fell mostly unseen behind overgrowth beneath the former hydraulic flume at about 50ft or so.

In addition to Rush Creek Falls, we also witnessed waterfalls on the South Yuba River to further extend our time here.

The Heritage of the South Yuba Independence Trail and Wheelchair Access

In addition to scenery that reminded us a lot of the lush kind of scenery we’d typically find in Oregon, there appeared to be a lot of heritage concerning this hike.

Rush_Creek_Falls_065_05202016 - Walking on the hydraulic flumes that were repurposed for wheelchair access for the Rush Creek Falls
Walking on the hydraulic flumes that were repurposed for wheelchair access for the Rush Creek Falls

After all, throughout our venture, we saw remnants of a bygone era from the California Gold Rush.

In fact, keeping the level enough grade to enable wheelchair access would typically involve quite a bit of work and infrastructure to support.

I believe that infrastructure was already in place in the form of the work to support the transportation of water for hydraulic mining.

This ultimately facilitated the efforts of trail founder John Olmstead to make it wheelchair-accessible when he sought to repurpose the mining infrastructure for all-access outdoor recreational use.

Rush_Creek_Falls_084_05202016 - Context of the Rush Creek Ramp at Flume 28 and the main flume above crossing over Rush Creek
Context of the Rush Creek Ramp at Flume 28 and the main flume above crossing over Rush Creek

Olmstead’s work was later aided by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

We suspect that the name of this trail (the South Yuba Independence Trail) gained the name “independence” as a way to acknowledge the freedom of wheelchair users to enjoy the wilderness that would previously be difficult for them in most other places.

In addition, one of the first things that my mother and I noticed when we did the South Yuba Independence Trail was that the path was often split into two parallel paths – a lower ditch path and an upper path.

Since we happened to do the hike right after a rain storm had stopped, that lower ditch path tended to be flooded.

I wondered if that ditch was just there for heritage reasons since it might have figured into funneling the water towards the wooden flumes further downstream.

Rush_Creek_Falls_026_05202016 - An example of the parallel paths where the left ditch path tended to be flooded while the upper path was meant for wheelchair use
An example of the parallel paths where the left ditch path tended to be flooded while the upper path was meant for wheelchair use

Given all the water that was pooling in the ditch path, it seemed to bring out lots of these interesting little red lizards or salamanders or something.

Nevertheless, I’d imagine that wheelchair users would have to wait for the trail to dry before it would be possible for them to go on this excursion without getting stuck-in-the-mud so to speak.

Hiking the South Yuba Independence Trail

From the well-signed pullout parking (see directions below), we immediately had choices to make.

It turned out that the South Yuba Independence Trail went in two different directions – an Independence Trail West and an Independence Trail East.

Rush_Creek_Falls_095_05202016 - The West Trail featured a long flume section over Rush Creek
The West Trail featured a long flume section over Rush Creek

The West Trail to the right was the one that ultimately reached the desired Rush Creek Falls as well as plenty of mining relics (including a beautiful section known as Flume 28).

The East Trail featured sweeping views of the South Yuba River as well as an impressive Rock Arch.

For the purposes of this write-up, we’ll start with the detailed trail description of the Independence West Trail leading us to Rush Creek Falls and the scenic Flume 28.

It turned out that it took my mother and I over 3 hours to hike the entire loop on the West Trail (more on this later) as well as the brief out-and-back East Trail to Arch Rock.

Rush_Creek_Falls_142_05202016 - The East Trail featured a long bridge overlooking the South Yuba River and the Hwy 49
The East Trail featured a long bridge overlooking the South Yuba River and the Hwy 49

However, we suspect that the trail just to Rush Creek Falls and back could easily be done in less than 90 minutes.

This shorter out-and-back option was why we gave this trail a 2.5 in the difficulty rating (instead of a higher score) even though it wasn’t that strenuous physically given how flat the trail was.

And even if you’re not a wheelchair user, we recognized that this would also be a pretty family-friendly trail.

Indeed, you can spend as little or as much time as you’d like on this most memorable of waterfall experiences to be had.

Trail Description – the South Yuba Independence Trail to Flume 28

Rush_Creek_Falls_012_05202016 - Mom going underneath a low-clearance road bridge, where we had to really duck low to get across to the other side and start the Independence Trail West to Rush Creek
Mom going underneath a low-clearance road bridge, where we had to really duck low to get across to the other side and start the Independence Trail West to Rush Creek

So heading to the right from the sign boards at the trailhead, the Independence West Trail briefly followed the high-speed Highway 49 before reaching a pretty low underpass.

We had to bend over (not good if you have a bad back) and walk beneath the underpass before the Independence Trail West began in earnest.

After about a quarter-mile from the underpass, there was a trail junction where the descending path on the right was signposted for the Jones Bar Road.

Since we knew this was a flat trail, we kept going straight.

Rush_Creek_Falls_027_05202016 - Mom approaching some kind of old station sitting next to some gold mining relics along the South Yuba Independence Trail West en route to the Rush Creek Falls
Mom approaching some kind of old station sitting next to some gold mining relics along the South Yuba Independence Trail West en route to the Rush Creek Falls

At about 0.4 miles from the underpass, we reached a sheltered lookout for the South Yuba River Overook.

Here, we were able to get an obstructed view towards part of the South Yuba River.

Continuing beyond this mostly overgrown overlook, the trail then meandered for another 0.6 miles through more lush scenery with the odd bridge or shack.

Such structures were probably remnants from this place’s past life as a water channel for mining purposes.

Rush_Creek_Falls_041_05202016 - We encountered lots of these tiny red salamanders along the Independence Trail West en route to Rush Creek Falls given all the rain that had fallen just prior to our visit
We encountered lots of these tiny red salamanders along the Independence Trail West en route to Rush Creek Falls given all the rain that had fallen just prior to our visit

At roughly a mile beyond the underpass (though I swore it took us an hour to get here suggesting it was longer than a mile), that was when things got real interesting.

Trail Description – Flume 28 and Rush Creek Falls

The Independence Trail West then went from the split dirt trails and merged into a wooden flume section.

The flume was very extensive as it curved around and traversed the gorge carved out by Rush Creek.

There were bars placed horizontally overhead throughout the flume, which added to the heritage effect.

Rush_Creek_Falls_055_05202016 - Hiking onto the wooden flume section as we approached Rush Creek on the Independence Trail West
Hiking onto the wooden flume section as we approached Rush Creek on the Independence Trail West

It was almost as if we were in Adventure Land or Frontier Land in Disneyland or something like that.

And it was here that we were able to get views upstream towards smaller cascades on Rush Creek flanked by switchbacking wooden paths below.

At the same time, we also got views downstream towards more of Rush Creek’s cascades tumbling away from us while the scenery opened up to reveal the lush canyon further beyond.

While the cascades further downstream were numerous and would be very scenic, our views of them were limited due to the overgrowth beneath the flume and Rush Creek itself.

Rush_Creek_Falls_063_05202016 - Context of the flume over Rush Creek with hard-to-see cascades further downstream comprising the remainder of the height of Rush Creek Falls
Context of the flume over Rush Creek with hard-to-see cascades further downstream comprising the remainder of the height of Rush Creek Falls

It turned out that the best part of this Flume 28 section was on a spur wooden path continuing further upstream along Rush Creek.

Ultimately, this was where we were able to get a view of the cascade you see pictured at the top of this page.

While descending towards the banks of Rush Creek, we could look out through the taller sections of the flume and the brink of some of Rush Creek’s cascades further downstream.

The part that I’m dubbing the Rush Creek Falls was best viewed from a sheltered lookout at the dead-end near the top end of this upstream extension of Flume 28.

Rush_Creek_Falls_068_05202016 - Context of the sheltered lookout with a decent view of the uppermost visible tier of Rush Creek Falls
Context of the sheltered lookout with a decent view of the uppermost visible tier of Rush Creek Falls

This uppermost tier of Rush Creek Falls was probably on the order of 20-30ft tall with more smaller cascades both upstream and downstream from the main drop.

Once we had our fill of this spot, this would be the turnaround point of our hike, which would make the round trip distance a little over 2 miles according to our GPS logs.

Trail Description – optional extension of the South Yube Independence Trail into a loop

When Mom and I did the Independence West Trail, we made the mistake of thinking that this trail would loop all the way around to reveal more waterfalls.

Unfortunately, it turned out to not be the case.

Rush_Creek_Falls_097_05202016 - Passing by some more far-flung picnic tables and relics further away from the scenic flumes on the South Yuba Independence Trail West
Passing by some more far-flung picnic tables and relics further away from the scenic flumes on the South Yuba Independence Trail West

Instead, we wound up expanding the overall hike to nearly 4 miles.

This included a serious uphill section from the lower bridge over Rush Creek by the end of the unpaved Jones Bar Road back up to the Independence Trail West.

That extra hike turned our expected 60- to 90-minute hike into an unexpected 2.5-hour trek.

Indeed, the disappointing thing about our elongated hike was that there would be no more waterfalls to see.

Rush_Creek_Falls_108_05202016 - Hiking along the unpaved Jones Bar Road when we mistakenly completed the Independence Trail West Loop instead of just turning back from Flume 28
Hiking along the unpaved Jones Bar Road when we mistakenly completed the Independence Trail West Loop instead of just turning back from Flume 28

However, there was access to the South Yuba River, where a sign suggested that it was possible to panhandle for gold in that river.

Trail Description – the East Trail to a Rock Arch and views of the South Yuba River

Back at the trailhead, we then made a brief out-and-back hike on the Independence Trail East to check out what Arch Rock was all about.

Like the Independence Trail West, the East Trail also featured parallel sections of track.

The scenery really made a turn for the dramatic at about a half-mile from the trailhead where we traversed a cliff-hugging bridge.

Rush_Creek_Falls_140_05202016 - Mom passing through the Arch Rock along the South Yuba Independence Trail East
Mom passing through the Arch Rock along the South Yuba Independence Trail East

Along this stretch, the scenery revealed rapids and cascades on the South Yuba River down below as well as the Hwy 49 and the canyon’s contours surrounding this scene.

About 0.1-mile beyond this scenic stretch was when we finally reached the Arch Rock, whose span was big enough to allow us to walk through without ducking.

We wound up spending about 35 minutes on the East Trail before regaining the car.

Authorities

Rush Creek Falls resides in the South Yuba River State Park near Nevada City in Nevada County, California. It is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Rush_Creek_Falls_011_05202016 - Mom and I first headed on the Independence Trail West, which initially followed Hwy 49 then went underneath a low-hanging overpass
Rush_Creek_Falls_015_05202016 - Following the wheelchair-friendly Independence Trail West towards the Rush Creek Waterfall
Rush_Creek_Falls_019_05202016 - Mom hiking along the Independence Trail West where we also started to notice parallel ditch paths on the left, that tended to be flooded given the rains that we encountered when we got started on the hike
Rush_Creek_Falls_022_05202016 - The Independence Trail West frequently split up into an upper foot trail and a lower ditch trail
Rush_Creek_Falls_025_05202016 - The Independence Trail West was surrounded by very lush scenery that kind of reminded me of the kind of conditions Julie and I encountered when hiking in Oregon
Rush_Creek_Falls_034_05202016 - This shack or shed appeared to be one of the mining relics from the California Gold Rush era in the mid 19th Century
Rush_Creek_Falls_039_05202016 - Mom going past a picnic table on the South Yuba Independence Trail West en route to Rush Creek Falls
Rush_Creek_Falls_042_05202016 - With all the water on the Independence Trail West, Mom and I noticed a bunch of these red lizards (or salamanders?) slowly scrambling across the trail
Rush_Creek_Falls_043_05202016 - Context of a few more of these red salamanders along the Independence Trail West as we hiked towards Rush Creek Falls
Rush_Creek_Falls_044_05202016 - The Independence Trail West continued to vacillate between single-track sections like this and the split sections (with ditches) all surrounded by lush and green scenery
Rush_Creek_Falls_049_05202016 - Checking out another one of the red salamanders seen along the Independence Trail West on the way to Rush Creek Falls
Rush_Creek_Falls_051_05202016 - Another one of the flooded sections we had to get across (while not accidentally stepping on the red lizards) on our way to the Flume 28 section over Rush Creek Falls
Rush_Creek_Falls_053_05202016 - Approaching the 'covered' flume section of the Independence Trail West as we were getting very close to the Rush Creek Falls
Rush_Creek_Falls_057_05202016 - Mom walking on the scenic 'covered' flume section as it crossed over Rush Creek and approached the Rush Creek Ramp at Flume 28 section. It was definitely quite different from anything we've experienced before in all our waterfalling adventures
Rush_Creek_Falls_058_05202016 - Looking upstream from the flume over Rush Creek towards smaller cascades and more wooden structures adjacent to them
Rush_Creek_Falls_059_05202016 - Looking downstream from the flume over several more drops of Rush Creek's cascades, but unfortunately, there was no safe way to get a good look at these lower cascades
Rush_Creek_Falls_062_05202016 - Looking downstream towards more open scenery from around the Flume 28 section
Rush_Creek_Falls_067_05202016 - For some reason, they boarded up this access further upstream along Rush Creek, and it turned out that what was behind this board was the best part of the Flume 28 and Rush Creek Falls
Rush_Creek_Falls_070_05202016 - In addition to the upper cascade of Rush Creek Falls, there were more drops further downstream
Rush_Creek_Falls_072_05202016 - Looking across the Rush Creek Falls' uppermost tier
Rush_Creek_Falls_076_05202016 - Contextual look at just that upper drop of Rush Creek Falls
Rush_Creek_Falls_086_05202016 - Looking through the main flume's underbelly towards its far western side from the Flume 28 ramp by Rush Creek
Rush_Creek_Falls_089_05202016 - Looking across the context of the Flume 28 ramp by Rush Creek with the main flume further above
Rush_Creek_Falls_092_05202016 - Mom checking out Rush Creek Falls from the sheltered overlook part way down the Rush Creek Ramp at Flume 28
Rush_Creek_Falls_096_05202016 - Looking over the lush canyon carved out by Rush Creek from the western end of the main part of the flume
Rush_Creek_Falls_099_05202016 - After checking out the flume and Rush Creek Falls, we mistakenly kept going on the Independence Trail West, which ultimately turned out to be a long loop
Rush_Creek_Falls_100_05202016 - Mom continuing further along the Independence Trail West beyond the main flume
Rush_Creek_Falls_103_05202016 - Much of the trail beyond the Flume 28 was pretty featureless unless you're into just getting more immersed in the lush temperate forest scenery
Rush_Creek_Falls_105_05202016 - This part of the Independence Trail West seemed a bit too narrow for wheelchair access, and this definitely hinted to us that we made a mistake in extending the hike in a loop
Rush_Creek_Falls_110_05202016 - This was the bridge across the lower portions of Rush Creek, and from down here, it was clear that there were no other waterfalls on Rush Creek to be seen
Rush_Creek_Falls_112_05202016 - Looking out at Rush Creek from the lower footbridge at the bottom of the loop hike
Rush_Creek_Falls_114_05202016 - Mom continuing past the Rush Creek footbridge and about to embark on the steep uphill hike to regain the Independence Trail West
Rush_Creek_Falls_115_05202016 - This was part of the steep uphill climb we had to make in order to regain the Independence Trail West from Jones Bar Road
Rush_Creek_Falls_116_05202016 - Mom making it back to the trailhead for the South Yuba Independence Trail along Hwy 49
Rush_Creek_Falls_118_05202016 - We then took the time to pursue the Independence Trail East, which started along this railed walkway
Rush_Creek_Falls_120_05202016 - Then, the Independence Trail East started to go around this bend, which ultimately got us onto a cliff-hugging portion
Rush_Creek_Falls_121_05202016 - The most memorable part of the Independence Trail East was this flume section, where the scenery really opened up
Rush_Creek_Falls_124_05202016 - Looking down from the scenic part of Independence Trail East towards rapids and cascades rushing loudly on the South Yuba River
Rush_Creek_Falls_125_05202016 - Finally making it to the Rock Arch on the Independence Trail East
Rush_Creek_Falls_130_05202016 - Looking back at the Arch Rock from the other side. This was our turnaround point of the Independence Trail East
Rush_Creek_Falls_144_05202016 - Mom heading back to the South Yuba Independence trailhead across the scenic section again
Rush_Creek_Falls_145_05202016 - Looking down at the rushing South Yuba River from the Independence Trail East
Rush_Creek_Falls_146_05202016 - Zoomed out more contextual look at the rushing rapids and cascades on the South Yuba River way down below the Independence Trail East

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


Rush Creek Falls and the South Yuba Independence Trail was about a little over 9 miles from the town of Grass Valley and maybe just about 6 miles from the town of Nevada City.

We’ll pick up the driving directions from Grass Valley since that seemed to be the nearest hub of touristic developments in this part of Nevada County.

From Grass Valley, we continued driving in the northeast direction for just under 4 miles along Hwy 20 (more like a freeway) to its junction with Hwy 49 in Nevada City.

We then headed “north” (more like west) on the two-lane Hwy 49 for the next 6 miles or so.

There were signs that gave us the heads up for the South Yuba Independence Trail, but due to the high speed nature of this road, it was really easy to zip on by.

Rush_Creek_Falls_003_05202016 - Mom passing by handicapped parking spaces at the South Yuba Independence Trailhead
Mom passing by handicapped parking spaces at the South Yuba Independence Trailhead

We were successfully able to park in the first long pullout area (which had wheelchair accessible spots).

However, if this part was full, we noticed that there was also another overflow parking area just around the bend further north along Hwy 49.

If you make it all the way to the bridge over the South Yuba River, you’ve gone too far.

Overall, this drive was on the order of 30 minutes or less.

One last thing we should mention about this parking area.

Rush_Creek_Falls_002_05202016 - This was the blind turn along Hwy 49 at the South Yuba Independence Trailhead
This was the blind turn along Hwy 49 at the South Yuba Independence Trailhead

It’s that when we tried to leave to get back on the Hwy 49, given its high rate of speed and the adjacent blind turn, we were cognizant of the inherent danger of this situation.

So, we had to make sure that no one was zooming by before we gunned it back onto the road in the direction of Nevada City and Grass Valley.

We did what we could to ensure this by rolling down our windows, turning the car stereo down, and listening for the sound of any oncoming traffic before getting back on the highway.

For geographical context, Grass Valley was about 32 miles east of Yuba City along Hwy 20 (taking us roughly a little over 30 minutes) and about 24 miles north of Auburn along the Hwy 49 (probably taking around 30 minutes as well). Yuba City was roughly 45 minutes drive (43 miles) north of Sacramento while Auburn was on the order of 35 minutes drive (33 miles) northeast of the state capital.

Long movie examining the most scenic part of the South Yuba Independence Trail at the Rush Creek Falls


Long movie checking out the scenery at the flume section of the South Yuba Independence Trail West


Sweep showing the South Yuba River way down below in the gorge

Related Top 10 Lists

No Posts Found

Tagged with: grass valley, south yuba river, state park, nevada county, northern california, auburn, sacramento, california, waterfall, wheelchair, independence trail, arch rock



Visitor Comments:

No users have replied to the content on this page


Share your thoughts about what you've read on this page

You must be logged in to submit content. Refresh this page after you have logged in.

Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

No users have submitted a write-up/review of this waterfall


Have you been to a waterfall? Submit a write-up/review and share your experiences or impressions

Review A Waterfall

Nearest Waterfalls