Northern California March 02, 2017
The Small Town In Northern California You’ve Never Heard Of But Will Fall In Love With
Nestled in the mountains of Sierra County and at the intersection of two beautiful rivers is a small community full of history and opportunities for recreation. Downieville, which has a population of just over 300, was formed in the mid 1800s and is now a thriving, but relatively unheard of, tourist destination. There are plenty of ways to explore the history and the landscape of this small community.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
Downieville is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. It's part of the Motherlode and is located on Highway 49, the scenic route that runs north-south through Gold Country.
It's an incredibly scenic town that was named after Major William Downie, the town's founder. He was a Scotsman who had an expedition of nine miners, seven of whom were African Americans, up the North Fork of the Yuba River in the Autumn of 1849.
Many people, however, have never heard of this Northern California gem. It's a small and sleepy place located at almost 3,000 feet above sea level.
In recent years, the area was discovered by mountain bikers, who call this spot one of the best in the area for their sport.
They come from far and wide to ride the scenic trails located in these hills. The sport has revitalized this community and put it back on the map.
The mountain bikers are a fun and lively addition to the town's natural beauty. Be sure to keep an eye out for them as they breeze through town... they definitely have the right of way here! There are shuttles that take mountain bikers from the center of town to the nearby trail head of the popular "Downieville Downhill."
Downieville's culture is heavily influenced by these folks as well, who like to come to town and have a good time with each other.
There are plenty of other opportunities for recreation in addition to the world class biking.
The town is located at the confluence of the Downie and Yuba Rivers, two sparkling and scenic bodies of water that are just beautiful year round.
Although we don't suggest taking a dip in the winter. It get's cold here!
In the summer, drive or hike through the Northern Sierra mountains. This spot is close to the Sierra Buttes and other famous places to climb and play.
The snow makes it a truly lovely winter vacation destination, however.
The peaceful rivers are definitely a draw to the area, and a huge reason why the town was founded here in the first place.
Downieville was founded in late 1849 during the California Gold Rush, in the Northern Mines area. It was first known as "The Forks" for its geographical location.
The rivers that run through here were once rich with gold, and while you can still pan here and try your luck, most people stick to fishing if they want to take anything home with them at the end of the day.
Major Downie's was also a the first mayor and his travels are documented in his 1893 autobiography, "Hunting for Gold." The community's history is well preserved and is typical of most Gold Rush Towns along Highway 49.
Most of the other communities in this area have grown since the Gold Rush, however, and Downieville has significantly declined. It already had 15 hotels, 4 bakeries, 4 butcher shops, and numerous saloons by the year 1850.
Downieville had reached a peak population of over 5,000 people in 1851, but by 1865 a fraction of that many people lived there. Today, there are only 282 residents.
In 1853 Downieville was vying to become the new state capital of California, along with fifteen other California communities to replace Vallejo. However, the capital was moved to Benicia for a year, and then in 1854 to Sacramento, its location ever since.
Today, it's small but still a place steeped in fascinating history, like the story of Josefa Segovia, who in 1851 became the only pregnant woman to be hung for her alleged crimes in the state of California. Pictured here are the historic Sierra County Sheriff's Gallows in Downieville.
Several plaques throughout the town, as well as the Downieville Museum, tell stories of the wild west that took place in this spot.
It's a captivating and incredible place with a compelling mixture of new and old, recreation and history. If you have an interest in either category, you will find your trip to this remote little town well worth it.
Have you visited Downieville? Let us know what you love about this small town in the Facebook comments!