If you are visiting the California Gold Country along Hwy 49 near Angels Camp and would like to enjoy a great hiking experience, then try out this hike down to a very unique geological formation. This unique formation is called Natural Bridge.
Inside Calaveras County, this site is within a 20 mile radius of the towns of Angels Camp, Vallecito, Sonora, Murphys with its dozens of wineries, historical Columbia and the railroad town of Jamestown. It is real close to New Melones Lake.
The Natural Bridge hike takes you into a forest of Oak Trees where a small creek has dug a tunnel for itself through solid rock. Known to geologists as a “karst”, the rushing waters of Coyote Creek eroded through a layer of soluble bedrock and created a unique cave or cavern. Most people refer to it as a tunnel as this cave has two ends. The river enters the cave from the north end and exits out of the south end. The tunnel’s distance is about a quarter of a mile. The inside of the tunnel is very similar to a cavern with its oddly shaped formations hanging from its roof.
The trail head is right off of Parrots Ferry Road (County Route E18). Coming from the north, it is located about 3.7 miles from the junction of Parrots Ferry Road and Hwy 4. Coming from the south, it is located about 6.2 miles from the junction of Parrots Ferry Road and State Street in downtown Columbia. The trail head is marked with a brown sign that reads “Natural Bridge”. Turn off Parrots Ferry Road on to the small road and you will see some restrooms. The trail begins past the restrooms.
Below are some pictures of what you will see along the way.
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When you first drive into the parking area, you’ll see the trailhead descend to the left. However, we took another route. The route we’ll describe visits the Natural Bridge area using a loop trail. After parking our car, we continued walking down (north) on the old road. The road ended and turned into a hiking trail. From there, the trail made a left turn and the descent into the canyon began.
We found a lot of poison oak in this area. If you are not familiar with what poison oak looks like, be sure to watch our virtual video tour to show you what the leaves look like. It will be easy to brush your skin against these dreaded leaves if you’re not careful.
Once you are down into the canyon where you can hear the rushing water of Coyote Creek, continue following a trail that bears right, although it will seem a main trail heads to the left and downstream. On the trail to the right, in a short distance, you’ll be surprised to find yourself on the other side of the creek – that’s because you crossed over it and didn’t even know it!
If you want to see the entrance to Natural Bridge, which is where the river enters the natural tunnel, you’ll have to scramble down a rocky cliff-face. When you first see the creek, this is where you’ll need to scramble down. The entrance is just to the right.
Continue your hike by taking that main trail that headed left downstream. On this section of the trail, you’ll actually be walking over the creek. You’ll pass by a small picnic area with a historical marker that mentions Natural Bridge.
Find another trail that bears right that leads down to the creek. Another trail bears left that begins climbing – this will be the way you’ll take back to the parking area. Following the trail to the creek, you’ll discover where Coyote Creek exits the Natural Bridge formation. It is quite a sight to see! It even a more bizarre sight to see when you look inside the tunnel. There are all kinds of weird formations with moss and water dripping everywhere. Natural Bridge is definitely one of Mother Nature’s more unique creations.
Return to the parking area by climbing back to the main trail and then turn right. This trail will end at the parking like as described earlier.
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