Nevada County Lakes and Rivers

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Nevada County has a very fortunate water situation. The upper part of the county holds part of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, while the remainder of the county enjoys being in the downstream watershed. Seasonal rain from the Pacific and summer snowmelt make for excellent water quality in abundance. All we have to add is proper stewardship and wise use and we meet all our water needs, from agriculture to recreation, with a healthy flow continuing on down the Yuba River for our fellow Californians in the Sacramento Valley. Wild rivers and clean, high-mountain water are key components of enjoying life in Nevada County. Here are a few spots where you might want to enjoy the water:

Larger Lakes and Rivers

These are the larger, open-water lakes in the county, where you will find all of the delightful boating, swimming, fishing and camping that your heart desires. Amenities vary by location.

New Bullards Bar Reservoir

New Bullards Bar Reservoir: We’re giving this one “Honorary Nevada County Status,” as it is so nearby. This large reservoir is excellent for power boating. The public boat ramp is paved and designed to accommodate the seasonal drawdown. The privately operated marina is on the west shore above the dam. Houseboats are available for rent. Fishing can be exceptional. The south shore of the large, scenic, lake offers some of the best off-season mountain biking and hiking opportunities available. Summers can get warm but the cool, clear lake waters are only moments away. The formal name of the lake is New Bullards Bar Reservoir as this lake was greatly enlarged above the old reservoir. From Nevada City follow Highway 49 west for 24 miles and turn left (west) onto Marysville Road. The North Yuba Ranger Station sits on the north side of the intersection. The dam lies six miles west on Marysville Road.

New Bullards Bar Reservoir in Nevada County
Collins Lake in Nevada County

Collins Lake

Collins Lake opens at sunrise all year for lakefront RV hookup and tent camping, fishing, boating, picnics or just enjoying the beach. This is a 1600 acre lake and recreation area with 12 miles of shoreline, nestled in the beautiful California gold country foothills just over an hour North East of Sacramento between Marysville and Grass Valley. Facilities include RV hookups, boat launch, marina and boat rentals, a big sand swimming beach, children's playground, beach volleyball, shady picnic area, general store, laundry and hot showers. More than 50,000 trout are planted every spring, which means Collins Lake has the largest private planting program North of Sacramento. Thousands of these trout are trophy sized, planted at 3 to 8 pounds and growing even larger. Built habitat areas for bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish keep them plentiful and keep Collins Lake among the best fishing lakes in the Northstate.

Rollins Lake

This is the lake for people who want to enjoy themselves in the great outdoors without missing some of the comforts of town- like a restaurant, store and arcade. The full range of boating is happening here: power boats and water skiing, jet skis, windsurfing, sailing and row boats, with a full service marina and launch ramps. 900 acres of lake with 26 miles of shoreline for fishing and swimming, plus 4 campgrounds are available. Rollins Lake is off Highway 174, which runs between Colfax and Grass Valley- directions vary depending on which campground you want.

Rollins Lake in Nevada County
Scotts Flat Lake in Nevada County

Scotts Flat Lake

This lake is full-service for fun and offers camping, picnicking, swimming, fishing and bait and tackle. Boaters are completely taken care of with rentals, gas dock, dry storage and mooring. There is also a store with everything you need, plus hot showers and a playground. Off Highway 20 east of Nevada City, turn onto Scotts Flat Road and follow it to the lake. At 3000 feet, Scotts Flat gets warmer sooner and stays warmer longer than the high elevation lakes in the county.

Scotts Flat Lake

Donner Lake

This is a gorgeous, high mountain lake formed by a natural moraine dam at nearly 6000 feet in elevation, with 980 acres of surface area. Donner Lake is just off Interstate 80 and Donner Memorial State Park wraps around the East and part of the South shore of the Lake. Donner offers not only scenic vistas but also fantastic fishing and boating and a famously historic setting in which to ponder the meaning of life and the attributes of flotation. Fair-weather activities include, camping, picnicking, boating, fishing, water-skiing, wind-surfing hiking and mountain biking. Winter activities include cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Every amenity is here for you to enjoy all four seasons and the lively nearby town of Truckee. Also nearby is a little spot called Lake Tahoe.

Donner Lake near Lake Tahoe
Lake Spaulding off of Hwy 20 in Nevada County

Lake Spaulding

This lake is manmade, generates hydroelectric power and is owned and operated by PG&E. We hope that sounds uninviting enough to keep droves of people away because it is also a lake of clear blue water spectacularly set in a granite bowl and one of our favorite lakes to visit. We begrudgingly admit there are first-rate camping (vault toilet alert), boating, fishing and relaxing to be had here. You could hike, you could swim. It’s even easy to get to: take Highway 20, turn on Lake Spaulding Road and go a half mile. Tell only your closest friends.

Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake: Bowman Lake lies in a rugged, rocky basin and is impounded by Bowman Dam on Canyon Creek. It is used for irrigation purposes so at full level it has a surface area of 1.3 square miles but it gets drawn down in late summer. Motor boats are limited to 10 MPH, so this lake is primarily used by fishermen and paddlers. The unpaved roads are rough and there are small but nice campgrounds. You can hike to an 80' high waterfall of cascades just up Canyon Creek. From Highway 20, take Bowman Road north. Drive about 16 miles to the lake. All but the last 4 miles are paved.

Bowman Lake
Englebright Lake is a manmade reservoir of 815 acres

Englebright Lake

This is a manmade reservoir of 815 acres, formed by damming the lower Yuba River near the town of Smartsville. All campsites here are boat-in sites and house boating is also very popular. Boats of all types are allowed and many are available to rent. It’s a great place to fish, swim, relax and enjoy yourself. The lake is easy to find- from Highway 20 turn onto Mooney Flat Road (Driftwood Inn is the landmark) and follow signs to the boat ramps or Marina Store.

Lake Wildwood

Lake Wildwood is a gated community of about 3,000 homes, located between Penn Valley and the Yuba River at Bridgeport. The lovely lake at the center of the community offers boating, fishing and waterskiing with beautiful beaches and parks. There is also a golf course, clubhouse, community center and restaurant, so there is no shortage of amenities

Lake Wildwood is located between Penn Valley and the Yuba River at Bridgeport
Lake of the Pines is a Gated Community in Nevada County

Lake of the Pines

Lake of the Pines is a gated community in western Nevada County which actually has several lakes and ponds that offer a variety of recreational and aesthetic uses to members. The largest are the main lake (232-acres), Hazel Lake (four-acres) and Huck Finn Pond (three-acres). There are seven parks with five-beaches, a boat launch ramp, and a marina with 132-boat slips. Recreational uses include; swimming, fishing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking / canoeing, sailing, sailboarding and pontoon boating.

The Larger Rivers

For larger rivers, the Yuba River attracts most of the attention, with its North, Middle and South Forks coursing through and draining the largest part of the county. Mostly running wild, it is known for superb swimming holes and hiking trails. The Yuba River Basin contains 1300 square miles of diverse lands, waters, habitats and human activities.

Visit South Yuba River Park Association for information.

The Truckee River is also delightful and the Bear River is a less widely-known pleasure.

Yuba River

From the joining of the North and Middle forks, the Yuba flows southwards, then southwest, through the Sierra Nevada foothills, forming the Yuba-Nevada County border. The river widens into the main arm of Englebright Lake near French Bar, and is joined by the South Yuba within the reservoir. The Yuba leaves the dam near Lake Wildwood and is then joined by Deer Creek, the stream flowing from that lake, on the left. The Yuba slows down as it flows from the mountains out into the Sacramento Valley to join the Feather River between the cities of Marysville, Yuba City and Linda.

Yuba River at Bridgeport in Nevada County
Yuba River looking down from Bridgeport Bridge

Yuba River (Middle Fork)

Originating in a bowl-shaped valley in Moscove Meadow, the 55.4-mile-long Middle Yuba River flows north into Jackson Meadows Reservoir, then turns west, descending steeply into a gorge, defining over almost its entire length the boundary of Nevada County in the north and Yuba County in the south. The river bends to the southwest, then west again, receiving Kanaka Creek from the right and Grizzly Creek from the left. It intersects Highway 49 about 2 miles northwest of the community of North San Juan, then a few miles after joins with the North Yuba River.

Yuba River (North Fork)

The 65-mile-long South Yuba River originates at Donner Pass at the crest of the Sierra Nevada, near the town of Soda Springs. Gathering numerous tributaries, it runs west through a marshy, lake-filled valley, shadowed by Interstate 80. The river then flows into Lake Spaulding, which is formed by Spaulding Dam. After escaping the dam, the river plunges northward into a steep-sided valley. Canyon Creek enters from the right, then Poorman Creek also from the right near the town of Washington. The river continues west into the foothills, crossing under State Route 49. Its mouth is on the eastern shore of Englebright Lake, formed by a dam across the Yuba River.

Serene River Flows Through Nevada County
Truckee River in the High Sierras

Truckee River

This lovely high Sierra river is heavily used for recreation, including rafting and fly fishing. The Truckee River's source is the outlet of Lake Tahoe, at the dam on the northwest side of the lake near Tahoe City. It flows generally northwest through the mountains to the town of Truckee, then turns sharply to the east and flows into Nevada, through Reno, and ultimately it empties into the southern end of Pyramid Lake, A common rafting run is the River Ranch Run. Starting from the outlet gates at Lake Tahoe stretching about 3 miles, the run ends at the River Ranch Restaurant. These rapids are almost all class 1 and class 2. In downtown Reno the river has been sculpted into a half-mile Class 2/3 whitewater park, and is used mainly for kayaking.

Bear River

Once you’ve done the Yuba River, it’s time to try the Bear! At the crossing of Bear River and Hwy 174 there is a nice old bridge and a good hiking trail for a relatively easy, approximately two mile hike downstream. There are several smaller trails branching off to the river for swimming, fishing, or just relaxing. The Bear River is ultimately a tributary of the Feather River as it winds through four counties: Yuba, Sutter, Placer and Nevada. The river originates in Tahoe National Forest, south of the South Fork of the Yuba River and north of the North Fork of the American River. It begins south and west of Lake Spaulding. The river travels southwest and is impounded at Rollins Reservoir, Lake Combie, and Camp Far West Reservoir before joining the Feather River south of Yuba City/Marysville.

Bear River Winds Through Four Counties: Yuba, Sutter, Placer and Nevada County




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