Be sure to bring your bathing suit when you visit Bidwell Park, a surprising find in the inviting college town of Chico in the northeastern part of the state. At an impressive 3,670 acres, Bidwell is one of the largest city parks in the United States (you can view a map here). Much of Upper Bidwell (west of Manzanita Avenue), home to Bidwell Park Golf Course, is hilly and rugged, while Lower Bidwell (east of Manzanita), tends to be flatter. Stop in for an overview of the park and a visit to the Chico Creek Nature Center, where you can learn about native plants and wildlife and also check out the Janeece Webb Living Animal Museum, which is located inside.
Now that you’re oriented, rent some wheels at Campus Bicycles and head for the Annie Bidwell Trail, a moderate 4.7-mile loop that hugs the southern bank of Big Chico Creek in a quiet section of Upper Bidwell. Nearby is Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, where you can take a first-come, first-served tour of the 19th-century, 26-room Italian Villa-style home. As the residence of city founders Annie and John Bidwell, the ornate structure saw visits from such guests as President Rutherford B. Hayes, General William T. Sherman, Susan B. Anthony, and John Muir.
After your ride—if the weather is warm enough—go for a swim in one of the six inviting “urban swimming holes” the park offers. The undisputed jewel—and most easily accessible—of the bunch is Sycamore Pool, a gargantuan, concrete-lined 3-acre pool that was formed out of Big Chico Creek in the 1930s. Located right in the center of town, the pool is shaded by its namesake sycamores and has five lifeguard stations and a roped-off section for kids. For an experience that more closely resembles an actual swimming hole found in nature, Bear Hole & Diversion Dam fits the bill, with deep, emerald pools connected by chutes of whitewater, all amidst massive boulders. The most remote, Brown’s Hole, is relatively serene in comparison, and requires a 2- to 3-mile hike to reach. Its setting is close to wilderness.
Admission to the park is free; tee-time reservations at the golf course start at $16.