Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

Diggins Loop Trail

3 mile loop down into giant mining pit with 600-foot elevation loss

Bordered by colorful cliffs, the Malakoff mine pit is more than a mile long, a half mile wide and nearly 600 feet deep. In the right light, it resembles a Bryce Canyon in miniature.

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park is the site of what was once the world’s largest hydraulic gold mine. As the story goes, an Irish prospector thought he discovered gold by the Yuba River; despite his best efforts at subterfuge, he was unable to keep his secret from his fellow miners in the nearby town of Nevada City, 16 miles away. The miners tried their luck, found nothing, and declared the site a “humbug,” a name that stuck to the adjacent hamlet and creek.

Several years later, when gold was really discovered, residents of Humbug deemed the name inappropriate and unrespectable so they changed it to Bloomfield. Alas, Bloomfield already existed farther south in California so the town’s name changed again—this time to North Bloomfield. (Historians have yet to figure why the miners chose the name Bloomfield.)

The change in the town’s name, accompanied by a change in technology—hydraulic mining—led to a dramatic
change in fortune. Spraying vast amounts of water under high pressure onto the gold-laden gravels of the Malakoff area, the miners created quite a pit—and profit—for the mine owners. During its operation, between 1866 and 1884, some 41 million cubic yards of earth was excavated, yielding several million dollars worth of gold.

The amount of erosion and subsequent environmental damage caused by hydraulic mining was astonishing. Debris dumped into the Yuba River was carried all the way to the Central Valley; silt clogged up the river and caused floods, leading to loss of life and property. Silt was flushed all the way to San Francisco Bay. Navigation of the Sacramento River was imperiled.

In one of the great landmark cases in early conservation history, Woodruff (a Central Valley property owner) vs. the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company, Judge Lorenzo Sawyer issued a permanent injunction in 1884 against dumping tailings into the Yuba River. Other injunctions soon followed, all but ending hydraulic mining.

Learn more about hydraulic mining and the life of a miner at the state park’s excellent museum. On summer weekends, rangers lead tours of the park’s historic sites and the restored buildings—drug store, general store, Skidmore House, livery stable and more—of North Bloomfield.

You can also tour the small mining town on your own with the aid of the pamphlet “A Walking Tour of North Bloomfield.” Pick up a copy at the park office. The park’s Humbug Trail descends 2.5 miles along Humbug Creek to the Yuba River where there are some U.S. Bureau of Land Management campsites.

Choose from a variety of pathways. Rim Trail is a fairly level 3.5 mile jaunt overlooking the great mining pit. The path offers close-up views of the spectacular erosion, both human and natural, that shaped this land. You’ll pass grassy flats bedecked with lupine, buttercups and other wildflowers, thickets of manzanita, as well as slopes forested with sugar and ponderosa pine. Highlighting the trail are panoramas of the pit and its surrounding colorful cliffs.

Directions to trailhead: Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park is located 16 miles northeast of Nevada City on North Bloomfield Road.

The hike: From the park’s picnic area, join signed Church Trail to the cemetery. Pick up the signed trail to the Diggins below the cemetery and descend rapidly through mixed forest to a trail junction. Diggins Loop Trail splits; the south (left) loop descends through a diverse environment of brush and conifers. A side trail leads a short distance to California Historical Landmark #852, which commemorates the North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company.

Another side trail leads to the dark and dank Hiller Tunnel, a quarter mile spur (you need a flashlight to explore this). The tunnel is a segment of a much larger drainage tunnel that sent lots of muck and sediment down Humbug Creek and then on down to the South Yuba River.

Diggins Loop Trail circles Diggins Pond which, at first, looks lifeless, but it’s not. Watch for sandpipers at water’s edge. Cattails crowd the shoreline in places, while just above the lakeshore slopes grow alder and willows.

Diggins Trail, somewhat overgrown with brush, continues its loop around the north side of the pond then reaches a junction with the Church Trail, which you’ll join and return to the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.