The Sierra foothills cover hundreds of square miles, so your best bet for a wildflower-and-waterfalls weekend is to narrow down an itinerary. Our suggestion: take Highway 20 east out of Marysville (Sutter County) and spend a day or a weekend exploring several sites between there and Grass Valley/Nevada City, a distance of about 40 miles.
This time of year is prime time at South Yuba River State Park in Bridgeport, near the town of Penn Valley. The photo-op highlight here is a historic covered bridge (closed to pedestrians since 2011 but soon to be restored), but the highlight for dogs is a hike along the wildflower-strewn bluffs above the churning South Fork of the Yuba River. Later in the season, swimming holes will emerge, but in spring, it’s all about wildflowers and whitewater. Both the Buttermilk Bend and Point Defiance trails offer great views into the canyon. Your pup will have to stay leashed on this pair of precious few California State Parks trails that are dog-friendly.
Heading east on Highway 20, Spenceville Wildlife Area, managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, is 11,900 acres of hilly, oak-studded terrain that is flat-out gorgeous in spring. It’s a multi-use area open for upland bird hunting Sept. 1-January and again for turkey season (late March-early May).
Even then, many trails and dirt roads are reserved for hiking, biking and equestrian use. Paths trace the preserve’s hilly contours, and there are lots of creek-fishing opportunities. On some weekends, sections of the preserve are rented out for dog-centric events including pointing-dog-field trials and hound coursing competitions. Two waterfalls, Fairy Falls and Beale Falls, are worthy destinations in spring. The trails leading to them are dog-friendly and limited to hikers, so no need to worry about horses or bikes. Allow time to negotiate the bumpy roads leading into the preserve, and check online for precise hiking directions. Your dog doesn’t have to be leashed but should be under reliable voice control to avoid interference with other users.
Photo Credit: @ryno_in_california