Coming home to California is always a good time but it is especially wonderful this spring. Rainfall has been heavy in the Sierra Foothills and the trails at South Yuba State Park are just beginning to bloom! One of my favorite trails is the wildflower hike at Buttermilk Bend Trail.

Lace Bod, Buttermilk BendStarting in early March, flowers like Wild Hyacinths, California Poppies, and Lacepod make their appearance. Flowers are often marked along the trail with small informational signs telling you their common and latin names. Often, these small signs help you to see a flower you might otherwise miss, like the well camouflaged Pipe Vine flower. Locals often hike the trail once a week or so in between March and May to see as many varieties of flowers as possible. The State Park offers guided hikes at 11am on Saturdays and Sundays.

The trail starts with some up hill but is fairly flat after the that. The trail follows a branch of the South Yuba River and is cut into the hillside a hundred feet or above the river. Views up and down the river valley can be spectacular, especially in early morning and late evening light. In full sun, the water often looks turquoise, especially in slow moving bends where sandy bottoms reflect lots of light. Heavy snow melt makes for a dramatic flow of water over the large granite rocks.

South Yuba River, Buttermilk Bend

Gold Panning - Buttermilk BendA few side trails will take you to the water’s edge… think twice before dipping your toes in. The water will be ice cold and the current is rapid, even in places that may appear placid. However, you might see more than a few people along the water’s edge. They will likely be holding shallow round pans with ridged sides. They are panning for gold. The heavy spring floods have caused many of the hillsides to collapse into the river. Along with the rocks and dirt come nuggets of gold. Those nuggets and sometimes gold flakes find their way into the nooks and crannies of the rocky river bank.

Pipe Vine Swallowtail - Buttermilk BendThe trail is not a loop but the views of the river are so different in both directions that hiking back along the same trail is not a problem. In fact, since we hiked out in the early morning, our return trip was on sunnier slopes. New flowers had opened in the mere hour or two we had spent walking in. And the butterflies came out with the sun! We patiently waited for the large, majestic Pipe Vine Swallowtail butterfly to sip nectar from several species of native wildflowers. We had less luck getting photos of a smaller white butterfly with orange dots on its wings and a pale blue butterfly that loved flitting among the hillside of Bird’s Eye Gilia, a dainty purple flower.

In total, plan on hiking about 2.3 miles round trip. We spent a good three to four hours taking photos and chasing butterflies. Fast hikers could take much less time.

Make sure to bring water, a sun hat, and to wear sunscreen. And this year, it’s a good idea to check the weather before heading out. Raingear and a warm hat and gloves might be needed if a late winter storm is moving through the Sierra.

If you decide not to pack a breakfast or lunch, there is a small town center in Penn Valley with a colorful local cafe, the Day Break Cafe, and a few other restaurants.

For more information on the South Yuba State Park, please visit their website.

To download high-quality photos of wildflowers in bloom or of the Pipe Vine Swallowtail Butterfly, please visit my Buttermilk Bend Gallery on Shootproof.

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