Beckwourth Pass

Beckwourth Pass is the lowest mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada mountain range at an elevation of 5,221 feet (1,591 m).[1]

Beckwourth Pass
Beckwourth Pass as seen from the Feather River Route in the Sierra Valley looking east
Elevation5,221 ft (1,591 m)
Traversed by SR 70
Feather River Route
LocationPlumas County
RangeSierra Nevada (U.S.)
Coordinates39°47′30″N 120°6′28″W
Reference no.336

Beckwourth Pass is located at the eastern edge of Sierra Valley at Chilcoot-Vinton, California in Plumas County, 20 miles (32 km) east of Portola, California and 25 miles (40 km) northwest of Reno, Nevada.

California State Route 70 crosses over Beckwourth Pass and the Feather River Route of the former Western Pacific, now Union Pacific Railroad beneath it via the Chilcoot Tunnel. Route 70 and the railroad line provide an alternate route between Sacramento, California and Reno, Nevada when Interstate 80 and the Overland Route, which cross the Sierra Nevada near Donner Pass, are impassable due to winter storms.


The first European to discover the pass was James Beckwourth. In 1850, he developed his Beckwourth Trail from Truckee Meadows (what is now known as Sparks, Nevada) through the pass into California and on to Marysville.[2]

In late summer of 1851, James Beckwourth led the first wagon train of settlers along the Beckwourth Trail into Marysville.[3] Between 1851 and 1854, 1,200 emigrants used the trail.[4]

The Beckwourth Trail was used during the California Gold Rush of 1848 - 1855 and continued to be used until the first transcontinental railroad supplanted the wagon train as the preferred method of traveling to California

Between 1895 and 1916, the pass was used by the Sierra Valley & Mohawk Railway narrow gauge.[5] The abandoned right-of-way is still visible on the south, and eastern slope of the pass.

In 1906, the Chilcoot Tunnel was constructed beneath Beckwourth Pass by the Western Pacific Railroad as part of its Feather River Route.[6] This line is now owned and operated by the Union Pacific Railroad.

In 1937, a bronze plaque was erected at Beckwourth Pass by the Native Daughters of the Golden West to commemorate the discoverer and the pioneers who passed along the trail.[7]

On August 8, 1939, Beckwourth Pass was designated as California Historical Landmark Number 336.

See also


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