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Explore the Second Divide Trail along Pauley Creek

by Steve Evans, Wild Rivers Program Director


Nestled in the northern Sierra Nevada, the Downie River flows south from the Yuba-Feather divide on its relatively short journey to its confluence with the North Yuba River in Downieville. The river and its major tributaries – Pauley Creek, Rattlesnake Creek, Lavezzola Creek, Empire Creek, Red Oak Canyon – offer some of the best human-powered outdoor recreational opportunities in the northern Sierra. These streams are a key component of Sierra County’s vibrant and growing tourism economy. Pauley Creek is in the ancestral and traditional homelands of the Nisenan and Washo people.


The Second Divide Trail parallels Pauley Creek and connects with the Pauley Creek, Butcher Ranch, Third Divide, and First Divide Trails. The extensive trail system is popular with hikers, backpackers, anglers, and mountain bikers. This trail system hosts competitive mountain bike events for which the small community of Downieville has become renowned. Pauley Creek also offers class IV+ whitewater for expert kayakers aspiring to run its numerous waterfalls.


Pauley Creek and much of the rest of the Downie River watershed supports one of the largest blocks of ancient mixed conifer forest remaining in the northern Sierra, providing extensive high-quality habitat for California spotted owl, pine martin, and Pacific fisher.  Other species in the area include bald eagle, golden eagle, northern goshawk, pileated woodpecker, Sierra Nevada red fox, and foothill yellow-legged frog. The diverse forest and meadow ecosystems offer seasonal wildflower displays. Pauley Creek is a state designated Wild Trout Water – its wild trout fishery is managed by the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife to provide a backcountry fishing experience for wild trout.


Pauley Creek was determined eligible in 1999 for Wild & Scenic River protection by the Forest Service in recognition of its outstanding ecological, botanical, and cultural values. Unfortunately, the agency chose to find the creek (as well as other eligible segments of the Downie River and its tributaries) unsuitable for protection. Much of the creek is in the East Yuba Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA).


The Second Divide Trailhead is located on the Lavezzola Creek Road about three miles upstream of Downieville at 3,313 feet elevation. The trail provides a pleasant “there and back” hike of about nine miles roundtrip to its junction with the Butcher Ranch, Third Divide, and (upper) Pauley Creek Trails at about 4,640 feet. Elevation gain is a reasonable 1,748 feet. The trail winds its way through heavy forest, with occasional views of and side trails down to the creek.


CalWild is closely monitoring the Forest Service’s North Yuba Landscape Resilience Project, which proposes to treat fuels in the East Yuba IRA and along Pauley Creek. The fuels treatment would include removal of trees up to 24 inches in diameter and sometimes larger. Nearly 50% of the trees in some stands could be removed. Under the federal Roadless Area Conservation Rule, logging in IRAs is limited to “small diameter trees.” CalWild’s recommendation to limit treatments in the East Yuba IRA to trees 16 inches in diameter or less was rejected by the Forest Service. We chose not to challenge this project due to the fire threat to the nearby community of Downieville. But we are monitoring implementation of the project to document potential impacts on the scenery, recreation, and ecological values of Pauley Creek and the East Yuba IRA.


How To Get There: From the Interstate 80/Highway 49 junction in Auburn, California, drive north and east on Hwy 49 70 miles to the small community of Downieville. Just before the highway crosses the Downie River, turn north on Main Street. Look for the Lavezzola Creek Road veering off to the right and crossing the Downie River. Continue carefully on the narrow dirt/gravel road to the Second Divide Trailhead, which is marked with a rustic sign. Due to very limited parking at the trailhead, its best to visit off-season or on weekdays. Also, hikers should look out for large numbers of mountain bikers on weekends and holidays. For road and trail conditions, as well as additional recreation information, contact the Forest Service’s North Yuba Ranger Station at (530) 288-3231.