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Exploring Our Backyard: Emerald Pools is a hidden gem gaining popularity

Emerald Pools

During a taping of this week’s NSN Daily I was inspired to visit one of my favorite swimming holes in the region: Emerald Pools.

During this week’s Murray’s Mailbag, Chris was asked to rank his top-five day trips from Reno. I have very little to squabble about when it comes to his list, a big improvement from the recent bagel debacle from a few weeks ago. When thinking of adding my own ideas to that list, Emerald Pools was the first place that came to mind.

Located about 75 minutes from Reno (less in some areas of town), Emerald Pools is another Sierra Nevada gem that many people don’t know about. Or at least that’s what I thought until I went for a visit this week. When I arrived, I was floored to see the dozens of cars parked on the side of the road with big groups of people crowded in the area. It’s obvious this place is no longer a hidden gem. Located halfway between Reno and Sacramento, it’s easy to see why so many people choose to come here on any given day.

From Reno heading west on I-80, you’ll take exit 161 for CA-20 and signs for Nevada County. Just a short drive down California State Highway 20 takes you to Bowman Lake Road. Take a right and head into a thick forested road that is lined in vibrant green trees. After a few miles, you’ll come up to a bridge that crosses the South Fork of the Yuba River. You have arrived at the trailhead for Emerald Pools. If you are lucky, you can park in a pretty obvious area for vehicles, which I was still able to do on this crowded day. From there, you have some options. You can hike downriver to some unmarked areas and find a little slice of paradise to spend the day. Some even include amazing waterfalls.

The easiest thing to do is head north from the parking lot and walk about 100 yards to the main attraction: a small but stunning swimming pool filled with crystal-clear emerald green and blue water. There are several spots to post up around the entire pool.

In addition to the incredible pooling water from the Yuba River, two features immediate stand out about this place. The first thing is from the north side of the pool there are many easy areas to climb up and jump into the pool with plenty of depth underneath you.

The second thing is what appears to be a section of incredible petrified wood and rocks. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t tell you exactly what this is, but it appears to me that over the years there have been some massive downed trees in this area that have been molded into the granite and have formed this petrified-looking surface. I haven’t seen anything quite like it.

And it goes for a very long time. From the top of the pool you can hike north along this petrified surface, with the crystal clear river water cascading through rock outcroppings, forming little waterfalls and smaller pools.

Despite the main pool being as crowded as I’ve ever seen, just a short walk upstream there were plenty of places to post up and enjoy the sights and sounds of the flowing water. It’s about as soothing as it gets.

One thing you’ll notice about this area is that it appears to be an incredible place to spend the night. There are actually a few primitive campsites on the walk between the parking lot and the main pool with plenty of space to pitch some tents as well as some fire pits that people have made out of stones.

Every time I leave this area, I say I need to come back and camp overnight at some point during the summer. I’m writing it down now, vowing that I will finally do that this year, especially with the crowds growing at this place, maybe the only time to have it all to yourself will be at sunrise.

Sign me up for that.

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Nevada Sports Net's executive producer Alex Margulies will feature a local recreation activity every Thursday in his Exploring Our Backyard feature. Exploring Our Backyard will return with new TV episodes this summer. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @marguliespxp.

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