Cascade Trail a wealth of history, beauty and nature

Five waterfalls cascade down Spanish Creek on March 5. During really high water, the rapids become Class 5 plus, according to Rick Stock, Outdoor Recreation Leadership program director at Feather River College. The rushing water provides inspiration for the Cascade Trail located six miles north of Quincy off Old Highway. Photos by Laura Beaton
Laura Beaton

  If you’re looking for an easy hiking trail not far from Quincy that meanders along Spanish Creek and offers swimming, fishing, picnicking and some nice views, the Cascade Trail is just the ticket.

  The Cascades are a small but impressive set of five waterfalls. During high water flows, a roaring stretch of white water, standing waves, swirling eddies and sheer rock faces and boulders gives the Cascades a wild, dangerous appearance. Kayakers can occasionally run those Class 5 plus rapids, said Outdoor Recreation Leadership instructor and program coordinator Rick Stock. But normally kayakers put in at Oakland Camp, portage around the Cascades, and ride class 3 and 4 rapids downstream.

  According to Scott Lawson in his book “Trails of the Feather River and Yuba River Region,” the trail was originally built in 1876 as the Maxwell Mining Co. Ditch. It was used to carry water about 10 miles down the Feather River Canyon to a hydraulic mine.

  Lawson wrote that 10 years later the ditch was converted to a supply road for building the Western Pacific Railroad.

  The railroad tracks are built high up the bank across the creek and run parallel to the trail and creek for about 2-1/2 miles.

  A railroad tunnel bored through the hillside is visible from the Cascade Trail. Remnants of old camps established by railroad workers and gold miners — modern equivalents of which still work the stream — are strewn along the banks of the river.

  In 2010, two trail bridges were constructed across crevices that drop precipitously down to the rushing river. The bridges were built using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in 2010 by a Yuba City contractor who had to use a helicopter to bring in supplies.

Steep rocky escarpments attract moss, lichens and moisture-loving ferns in many places along the trail.

  The bridges replaced single planks that spanned the crevices; one had a cable “railing” imbedded in the rock face as a handhold.

  Parts of the trail are narrow, slippery, washed out and potentially hazardous, so caution should be taken. The area is also prone to poison oak.

  After hiking the mostly flat trail along Spanish Creek, an abrupt switchback heads up the steep mountainside and a strenuous climb takes the hiker to the top of a ridge affording a panoramic view of the surrounding area, including Spanish Peak.

  There are numerous dirt roads going in many directions, but an eight-mile loop trail is navigable and a good description of it may be found at, posted by Quincy trail runner Joni May.

Getting there

  To get to the trailhead, drive about six miles north of Quincy on Highway 70. Take the second Old Highway turnoff on the right. (If you get to Butterfly Valley Road a short distance beyond the turnoff, you have gone too far.)

  Drive about a mile on the paved road, then turn left on a rough dirt road and continue another half-mile to the trailhead, which is unmarked but clearly visible.

  There are primitive unofficial campsites along the way. Forest Service Assistant Planner Gretchen Jehle explained that dispersed camping is allowed on Forest Service land as long as appropriate guidelines are met.

  A previously approved trail development project in the area has been cancelled, Jehle said. Trailhead improvements would have included installation of a vault toilet restroom, development of a parking area, accessible parking and improvement of the access road.

  Instead of the Cascade Trailhead project, a more broadly scoped project, better suited to meet the needs of more recreational users, is currently in process for approval.

Mount Hough-South Park Trail

  Go to Plumas National Forest’s home page,, and click on Quick Links in the upper right corner to view the proposal and map of the new project.

  The plan calls for a day use area near the Cascade Trailhead, as well as 16.6 miles of non-motorized and 35 miles of motorized trails, located “on both sides of the river.”

  Mount Hough District Ranger Mike Donald said, “We have received many positive comments about the proposed Mount Hough-South Park trail system. There have also been comments of concern regarding potential conflicts among trail user groups.

  “The proposed trail system is intended to enhance the recreational experience and improve the local economy, which is sorely needed in Plumas County. The Forest Service will post educational trail etiquette signs and provide on-site monitoring forms for public comment.

  “I believe if trail users strive for a cooperative tone in sharing the trail, it will be a fruitful endeavor and improve the quality of life in Plumas County,” Donald concluded.

  The user groups involved in the planning process include hikers, bikers, equestrians, off-road motorcyclists and quad riders, the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, Sierra Access Coalition and the Forest Service.

  Results of the project’s environmental assessment will be released in May. If the decision is positive and no appeals are filed, trail work could begin this June, Donald said.

  “What we’re trying to do with this project is bring people together,” Donald said. He explained that many folks are concerned with their own user experience — they are afraid other users will interfere with their enjoyment of public lands.

  Donald contends that if we all get along and understand each other, if all user groups are educated on national forest multiple use policies, there will be less restriction and more access for all user groups.

  Meanwhile, the Cascade Trail awaits exploration. Springtime brings beautiful blooming dogwood trees and a plethora of bright and fragrant wildflowers to delight the senses.

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