23579 North Bloomfield Road
Nevada City, CA 95959
Download the Park Brochure
Daily Park Hours & Fees
Sunrise to Sunset. Visitor Center and Museum is open Thursday from 12-4pm and Friday-Sunday from 10am-4pm. Please use the self-pay system when the Visitor Center is closed.
Parking fees: $5 per vehicle (September 1, 2019-May 24, 2020). Discounts are available for seniors and veterans. Help support California’s state parks by purchasing an annual day use pass online at www.parks.ca.gov or purchase your pass at the park when the visitors center is open.
The campground is closed for the season as of October 31, 2019.
Cabins: Reservations for rustic mining cabins can be made through Reserve California either online or by phone.
Reservations for cabins and camping are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from www.ReserveCalifornia.com up to 6 months in advance or by calling (800) 444-PARK (7275). Call center hours: Daily, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST (except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). The best times to call are midday and midweek, when the phone lines are less busy.
Art, Biking, Camping, Day Use, Fishing, Gold Panning, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Nature Study, Picnicking, Swimming
Town tours are conducted at 1:30 pm and guided gold panning is offered every Saturday at 3 pm.
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park is 26 miles northeast of Nevada City in the scenic foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The park was created in 1965 by concerned citizens to preserve the exciting and controversial story of our country’s largest hydraulic gold mining operation that devastated the area from the mid-1800s. Malakoff Diggins is the site of our country’s first environmental law issued by the federal government against the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company (Sawyer Decision) to curtail the release of the mud, gravel, and debris that clogged streams and major rivers from the foothills down to San Francisco Bay.
Visitors can see huge cliffs carved by mighty streams of water, results of the mining technique of washing away entire mountains of gravel to wash out the gold. In the heart of the park is the well-preserved ghost town of North Bloomfield. About a block of buildings, some dating to the 1850s, are restored or re-created in a Gold Rush style, including white picket fences.
The park comprises approximately 3,200 acres of majestic pines, cedars and oaks between 2,500’ and 4,000’ elevation in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills region. Approximately 20 miles of scenic trails range from very easy to strenuous and connect with the popular South Yuba River Trail.
Overnight visitors can choose between a shady, restful campsite in Chute Hill campground or a rustic “Miners Cabin.” The group campsite accommodates up to 60 people.
The story of Malakoff Diggins SHP encompasses the experiences and voices of a variety of cultures from its first Native American inhabitants to its development and current use as a California State Historic Park. Although the park is primarily associated with its gold-mining past, it also has a rich prehistory, European contact history, and effects of gold mining on Native populations.
Following the Gold Rush of 1849, gold miners pored over the streams and river banks, searching for gold, but most hopeful placer miners moved on as the supply of easy gold was soon exhausted.
A few miners stayed in the area and developed a mining camp, and eventually discovered gold-bearing gravel deposits in ancient riverbeds. Numerous engineering innovations were created in the quest for gold. Technological advances and successful extractions drew more miners and support businesses catering to the needs of the miners.
In addition to the town of North Bloomfield, three smaller towns (all located in what is now the park) flourished by the late 1850’s–Lake City, Derbec, and Malakoff.
Recent study has found that the influence of French-speaking pioneers at Malakoff Diggins was widespread. Entrepreneurs designed massive water systems and hydraulic ventures, opened hotels and businesses and planted gardens. They dominated the local scene at the Park for 15 years, laying the groundwork for the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company, which was called the French Company for many years. Click here to see (or download) the full report.
Miners working their way up from Grass Valley and Nevada City in 1851 discovered gold in a creek located just south of town. Soon over 100 miners settled in the area and worked the nearby river and creeks. The miners called that original creek “Humbug” after all the top loose, placer gold was “played out” then they moved on to richer claims. Before the miners left they knew that there was plenty of gold in the hills surrounding Humbug if only they had a means to get at it. Thus, with a little ingenuity, three miners working in nearby Nevada City figured it out and……
In 1853, hydraulic mining was invented just outside Nevada City. This new invention boosted North Bloomfield’s (formerly Humbug) population to approximately 1,200-1,500 people during its heyday in the 1870s. Independent mining claims were purchased and consolidated in 1866 by the newly formed North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company. Over 3.5 million dollars in gold was taken from the mountain during the company’s 44 year operation.
Hydraulic Monitors (Water Cannons)
During the time the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company operated, as many as eight monitors were in use at the same time. Fashioned after Civil War cannons, the large monitors could weigh as much as 1 1/2 tons. The large monitors in the Diggins were capable of using 25 million gallons of water in a 24 hour period or over one million gallons an hour. The wooden box toward the rear of the monitor was loaded with rock to raise the barrel of the monitor and act as a counter balance created by the bucking water pressure leaving the nozzle.
The blasting power of a monitor or water cannon came from elevation drop alone. No mechanical devices were used. The water that came from a nearby reservoir exited in large pipes then graduated down in size until they reached the monitor and through a 10-inch nozzle. A large monitor would blast water at approximately 5,000 pounds per square inch, enough pressure to move a boulder the size of a small car. Different sizes of monitors had various functions. Large monitors were used to bring down the mountain, while small monitors were used to keep the debris moving down the sluice or long toms used to collect the gold and then on to the final exit point.
The miner who operated the monitor was known as the “piper.” He was paid the most since he had to know how to operate that big monster properly. If he didn’t, cave-ins occurred catching men unprepared thus causing injury and even death.
Legend has it that a miner with a dirty shovel set his tool into the stream of the water exiting from the cannon and the force of the water against the shovel moved the monitor’s aim with the greatest of ease and thus led to the invention of the ball and socket design we know today.
Monitors were made at the Joshua Hendy and the Parke and Lacy Company in San Francisco. Also, monitors and hydraulic equipment were made locally in the Nevada City Foundry.
In 1851, three gold prospectors discovered a rich gravel deposit in a nearby stream. In need of supplies, one of the miners was sent to town with instructions not to divulge their location. After imbibing at a local saloon, he boasted of a great find and upon returning from Nevada City, was secretly followed by nearly 100 prospectors. Despite their efforts, they did not find their fortunes and left the area calling the creek a “Humbug.” A few miners stayed and called the new mining camp “Humbug City.”
Other miners came into the area in 1852 and 1853: This second wave of miners employed newly created hydraulic methods and found gold in sufficient quantities to justify settling and expanding the camp into a full-fledged townsite.
By 1855, Humbug City resembled a small town with its first hotel, the Hotel de France. With over 400 residents, the town became known as North Bloomfield, California in 1857 when the post office was established. Humbug was a name given to “played-out” creeks and mining claims everywhere during the gold rush. The name was so common during this period that the post office required that the name be changed!
In 1856 North Bloomfield, formerly Humbug, also became the center of the 80 square mile township which included the nearby mining towns of Relief Hill, Lake City, Derbec, and North Columbia. By 1860, A.L. Smith was operating a daily pony express, and the U.S. census showed 784 inhabitants of North Bloomfield.
By the early 1860’s the top placer gold was “played out” and gold discoveries in Canada and Nevada created a mass exodus of miners, leaving North Bloomfield and surrounding towns nearly depopulated. A drought during the mid-1860’s caused further declines. Enterprising businessmen from urban centers saw an opportunity to purchase and consolidate mining claims, leading to the eventual creation of large companies such as the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company.
North Bloomfield experienced its heyday from the late 1860’s to 1884, with nearly 1,500 inhabitants and more than 200 buildings serving as a supply base for the township. These buildings included 5 hotels, 8 saloons, 2 livery stables, 2 dry goods stores, 2 breweries, 3 boot makers, 3 fraternal organizations, a school, a barbershop, a drug store, a butcher, a baker, a dairy, and 2 churches.
In 1884, the Sawyer Decision was handed down to curtail the wanton disposal of hydraulic mining debris into waterways. Hydraulic mining continued for many years but at only a fraction of the scale. Companies had invested millions of dollars into the hydraulic gold mining effort in California. These companies slowly folded and the miners and their families moved away to seek work elsewhere. North Bloomfield and the many towns born of hydraulic gold mining in the California gold fields slowly died.
North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company
Gold was discovered in 1851 in a creek located just south of town. In the early 1860s there was a period of dormancy in hydraulic mining due to the lack of water from drought years. Many miners left to work mines in Canada and Nevada. During this period a miner, Julius Poquillion went to San Francisco to acquire investors to start a large scale hydraulic mining operation. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company (NBGMC) was formed in August of 1866 and over 1,500 acres were purchased in the Humbug Canyon area of North Bloomfield.
Realizing the need for a larger and continuous water supply to work their diggings, the NBGMC purchased the English Reservoir, the largest reservoir in the state at that time. They also purchased Bowman’s Ranch on Big Canyon Creek as a site for another reservoir and a created a ditch system to bring more water to the diggings.
The water held for disbursement came from eleven principle reservoirs totaling 11,600 acres with a capacity of over 2,195,000,000 cubic feet. Total daily water consumption for the Company was more than 100 million gallons.
The need for more water also created the need of disposing the large volume of water and debris. The Hiller Tunnel, previously used to drain the debris from the diggins, became obsolete and to handle the needs of more gravel tailings and water the company built the North Bloomfield Tunnel. (See Drain Tunnel pages.)
In 1876 NBGMC began full operation of the mine, 12 hour shifts, 6 to 6.
The company employed over 800 Chinese and 300 whites in 1868. The Malakoff Mine became the premier hydraulic mining operation on the San Juan Ridge and is considered by many, in the nation. Research indicates that the name Malakoff came from the large population of French miners who came to this area, who commemorated the French victorious battle taking the Malakoff Tower in the port of Sebastopol, and ending the Crimean War.
In 1878 The Anti-Debris Commission was formed and petitions submitted to the Legislature regulating laws to control mining operations. These laws were ineffective and in 1882 litigation was brought against the NBGMC by a farmer in Marysville to stop hydraulic mining. (See Sawyer Decision page.)
In 1886 the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company was found in contempt of the Sawyer Decision as they had been operating their monitors at night and they were fined heavily. Also in this year the company installed an elevator system that would pull debris from the tailings and retain it in holding ponds. This extra step in the process greatly hindered the production capabilities and reduced the profit margin. However, this did satisfy the Sawyer Decision, in that the debris was retained, and not discharged to waters of the state.
In 1890 the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company was the only hydraulic mine in operation in the South Yuba River area.
In 1893 Congress passed the “Caminetti Law.” All hydraulic mines must be licensed. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. at this time was in accordance with Sawyer so they disregarded this new law and did not file for a license. However, in 1896 the U.S. District Court declares that mining without this permit was illegal. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. was found in contempt and again fined heavily. Litigation expenses became immensely expensive to the company and depleted a large amount of the company’s assets.
In nearly 40 years of operation the NBGMC, which was commonly called the French Company, invested approximately $3,500,000.00 with expenses equaling the same amount. But this was expected. The company planned to work for many, many more years. What wasn’t expected was the restrictions placed on hydraulicking and the price of gold regulated by the government. With expenses outweighing the profits, the company shut down its operation around 1900 leaving a pit that was 6,900 feet long, 3,800 feet wide and 600 feet deep. The company excavated 41 million cubic yards of dirt and gravel from the diggings.
It is estimated that 80% of the gold is still present in the Malakoff hills. The state mineralogist calculated that 300,000,000 cubic yards of auriferous gravel still remain.
Hydraulic gold mining at Malakoff was abandoned in 1910 with occasional “outlaw operations” which continued sporadically for a few more years where rich gravel deposits had been found.
The tunnel was built between 1851 and 1856. It was financed by Dr. Hillerscheidt and D. Albert. This original mining debris drainage tunnel was later purchased by North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company and can still be seen today.
North Bloomfield Tunnel
To handle the needs of more gravel tailings and water volume, the miners needed to build a longer and deeper tunnel. In 1872 W. Hamilton Smith designed and began construction on the 7,878 foot North Bloomfield Tunnel.
This drainage tunnel, built 200’ below the Hiller Tunnel, was constructed to drain away the huge volume of rock, gravel and mud washing out of the mining pit. It took the miners only a year and a half to complete the tunnel. It was considered an engineering marvel, utilizing two crews in each shaft. Once miners reached the bottom of the shaft the men would separate and work in opposite directions to connect with the crews working from the next shaft. There are 8 shafts leading to the bedrock below.
The tunnel has long since filled in with water and debris. It is no longer navigable, but you will see the tops of some of the air shafts as you walk down Humbug Trail.
1st Long Distance Telephone Line
Built in 1878, the San Juan Ridge (located between the Middle and South forks of the Yuba River) was the site of the first successful long distance telephone line in the world. It is designated as California Historical Landmark #247 with a plaque at French Corral.
The Milton Co. and the North Bloomfield Co. were joined with the Eureka Lake and Yuba Canal Co. (a water delivery service) who controlled over 200 miles of ditches. Together they formed the Ridge Telephone Company. They contracted with California Electrical of San Francisco to build and start up a 60 mile-long telephone line that ran from French Corral up the San Juan Ridge to Milton Reservoir, high in the Sierra.
The company spent 6 months stringing wire across canyons and up almost perpendicular mountain faces along the San Juan Ridge, with over 3,000 feet in elevation climb. There were 30 Edison phones installed; 20 phones were installed in toll offices located in the post office in towns traversed by the system and 10 more were installed on mining company property. The cost was around $6,000.00. It cost .25¢ to send a 20-word message or “dispatch.” The message was given to a toll station operator who would then send the message by voice to another station operator where it would be received and transcribed. The line continued to work with a minimum of service until replaced with a heavier duty system 30 years later in 1903.
AT&T claims that the first long distance line was built in 1880 (two years after San Juan Ridge had theirs) and stretched 45 miles between Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island. That line, however, was unsuccessful and was taken down almost immediately.
The Sawyer Decision
All that debris had to go somewhere and almost immediately, with the invention of hydraulic mining, came the effects of the removal of many layers of ancient gravel beds laid down millions of years ago. People down below the diggins, in the valleys and all the way to San Francisco Bay, felt the impact of the mountain’s destruction.
Eventually, outraged citizens of Marysville met and formed the Anti-Debris Association and gathered information to be used in lawsuits against hydraulic mining companies. The legislature debated the mining debris question and finally passed legislation authorizing the creation of a State Engineering Office with authority to examine the water problem, particularly as it related to matters of irrigation and debris. They attributed negligence on the part of the hydraulic miners. The group presented factual evidence to support its claims and the miners threatened to boycott valley businesses.
In the fall of 1882, Edward Woodruff of Marysville filed suit in the United States Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco seeking a perpetual injunction against the North Bloomfield and other mines on the Yuba River. On the morning of June 18, 1883, at 5:00 a.m. disaster struck when the English Dam gave way. This was a wood and stone structure built in 1859 on the Middle Yuba River and was more than 130’ high. Capacity was 650,000,000 cubic feet and full at the time the dam broke. Water poured down the channel of the Middle Yuba River and swept away everything in its path. It took an hour and a half for the dam to drain dry. By 3:00 p.m. levees broke near Marysville, causing flooding. The flood deposited thousands of tons of sediment in the Feather River. The dam was inspected just days before and no problems were detected. It has been theorized that sabotage was the cause of the break.
On January 7, 1884, after two years of litigation in the case of Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company and over 2,000 witnesses with 20,000 pages of written testimony taken during the trial, Judge Lorenzo Sawyer’s decision was handed down. This decision did not stop miners from using the big water cannons but it did prohibit the discharge of debris in the Sierra Nevada regions. It imposed strict laws regarding any debris sent downstream and it did close all loop-holes. In essence, the ruling stated that “all tailings must stop.” The Sawyer Decision was 225 pages long. This decision, however, did not affect the Klamath-Trinity Mountains, where hydraulic mining continued until the 1950s.
The legal action of Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company became known as the first environmental law in our country!
Malakoff Diggins SHP commemorates the site of the nation’s largest hydraulic mine. The park also contains significant cultural, and natural resources that offer invaluable lessons in history, geology, nature, and the environmental impacts of human activity. The devastation caused by decades of hydraulic mining at Malakoff Diggins is evidenced by the dramatic landscape that exists today. The exposed walls of the hydraulic mine reveal the Sierra Nevada foothills’ underpinnings and serve as a window to the region’s geologic history.
Although the hydrology of the park has been largely shaped by human intervention and manipulation during the active mining period, the Humbug Creek watershed remains one of the park’s most valuable natural resources, providing permanent riparian habitat and fresh water for the ecosystem. The Humbug Creek watershed drains to the South Yuba River, a state-listed Wild and Scenic River.
The forested hillsides of Malakoff Diggins SHP are dominated by Ponderosa pines, with incense cedar, white fir, black oak, Douglas-fir, big leaf maple, sugar pines, and Fremont’s cottonwood adding to the diverse forests. Whiteleaf manzanita, deerbrush, buckbrush, and huckleberry are common in the forest understory, and native flowering plants adorn the landscape in the spring and late into the summer months.
The park is home to abundant wildlife including mountain lions, black bear, black tail and mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and many smaller mammals. The bird life makes its presence known with song and flashes of brilliant colors through the forest, especially in the early morning and evening hours.
As you look out into the surrounding hills of Malakoff Diggins, you will see a heavily eroded landscape that was once representative of a mountain range developed from sedimentary and volcanic rocks of the Paleozoic age. This mountain range eroded rapidly when the bedding plane tilted westward when granite plutons* lying to the east were tilted upward during the late Pliocene and continued through the Quaternary period. This uplifting occurred between one million and five million years ago. During this period, the drainage system of rivers that had previously flattened the landscape cut deep perpendicular gorges, bringing the present configuration of rolling hills on flattened ridges dissected by steep-walled canyons 300 – 1,000 feet deep.
*A pluton is an intrusive igneous rock body, typically kilometers in dimension, that crystallized from magma slowly cooling below the Earth’s surface. The most common rock types in plutons are granite, granodiorite, tonalite, and quartz diorite.
Malakoff Diggins is representative of the “auriferous gravels” deposited by the wide ancestral Yuba River that ran through the area prior to the uplifting of the Sierra Nevada. When the Sierra Nevada Mountains were formed and tilted, the ancient river channel which held the gold-bearing gravel became dry. After millions of years of erosion, the gravel beds became buried.
Hydraulic mining exposed the different layers of the ancient gravel beds. What you see today in the cliff walls along the Diggins Loop Trail are the many layers of sedimentary rocks and gravels. The red color on the walls is from iron oxide. When the mineral iron is exposed to air it turns red.
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park has been recognized by State Parks and the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Mines and Geology as one of California’s GeoGems. To read more about Malakoff’s geological significance, click here. To read more about all of the State Park GeoGems, visit: the State Parks website.
Malakoff Diggins is representative of needle-leaf “Sierra Yellow Pine” and “Sierra Montane” forests. The area consists of dense conifers, including ponderosa pine, white fir, sugar pine, and incense cedar as well as black oak, live oak, and big leaf maple. The shrubs consist of manzanita and buck brush (ceanothus.) Ground cover is dominated by annual grasses and bear clover (mountain misery.)
Black tail and mule deer populate the region. The largest carnivore is the american black bear. The grizzly bear has been extinct in California since the late 1920’s. Smaller mammals consist of mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, and grey fox. Ring tail cats are occasionally seen. The last recorded porcupine sighting in the park was in 1996. Grey and ground squirrels, douglas squirrels (chickaree), cottontail and jackrabbits are common. Both mountain and valley quail are present, as are the non-native turkey.