Yuba River | Submerge | Ellen Baker Photos by Ellen Baker & Nicholas Wray

Four months ago I was in the desert, surrounded by a chilling frost at 32 degrees and the only thing my mind could focus on was the coming summer heat; basking on warm rocks on the river, snorkeling in nothing but a bikini and soaking in the hot Sacramento rays that never disappoint.

Sacramento snorkeling—did you know this even exists? I’m not talking about snorkeling in freezing cold, murky water that hinders your vision 3 feet in front of you. I’m talking a bout clear, warm waters with majestic fish dancing next to you as the sun ricochets off gleaming algae. Yeah, Sacramento has this.

Yuba River | Submerge | Ellen Baker

Katherine and I bearing the first dip

Just north of Nevada City, off Highway 49, the Yuba River winds through a canyon alongside giant boulders cresting the shores. With an array of swimming holes, cliff jumping and waterfalls, it’s easy to spend more than a day exploring less than a mile of the river.

If heading up north to the Yuba River, a snorkel is a must. A few years back, some friends and I discovered that you can hike upstream, strap your snorkel on and float all the way down the river back to your car, swimming through underwater caves, through waterfalls, in the company of fish … need I say more?

Yuba River | Submerge | Ellen Baker

Katherine getting ready to take the plunge

The current of the Yuba in this sweet section flows at just the right speed, making paddling unnecessary and the worry of being taken away by a vicious current nonexistent. It’s like taking a float down the “Lazy River” at a water park, minus the people, the concrete, the chlorine, the floaters (you know what I mean) and the noise, with the added beauty of nature. So really, it’s nothing like floating down the “Lazy River.”

Following Highway 49 all the way to the Yuba River will land you right in the vicinity of good snorkeling, rock-hopping and cliff jumping. There are multiple bridges near where Highway 49 crosses the river and there should be adequate parking near the bridges as well.

Yuba River | Submerge | Ellen Baker

Ditch everything at the car besides your snorkel. Start walking upstream. I have attempted to hike in the water as well as on the shore, but the shore seems to be easier terrain—less slippery and just as straightforward. If you’re extra lazy, persuade someone to drive you up-river and drop you off. Once you feel like you have gone far enough, dive in and float on down back to your car.

This is one of my favorite summer day trips. Upper-100 degree days are on the way and this is a spectacular way to see Northern California’s river beds up close and personal. If your summer is completely booked up or you don’t like being in a bathing suit or in the sun—or if you are just a badass—bring a wetsuit and go for it in December. I would love to hear that story.

Once you get back to the bridge where you parked your car, grab your beer, kombucha, gatorade, whatever it is, chill out and enjoy the sunset. If you’re headed back to Sacramento, I suggest stopping in downtown Auburn for some grub. There are a few hidden gems in that town that I’ll let you discover on your own.

Yuba River | Submerge | Ellen Baker

Finally back to the starting point

    Ellen Baker

    View Articles

    Rock scrambling, exploring and taking photos along the way.