When it comes to outdoor recreation, Butte County is one of California’s best-kept secrets. Ranging from the floor of the Central Valley into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and home to such major destinations as Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, as well as the birding at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, the county is a haven for hiking, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting.
You don’t have to go far from the county’s major cities to reach stunning natural scenery. Just outside Oroville, Table Mountain at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve is a must for its spring wildflowers and to see a waterfall that plunges down the mesa’s face. Table Mountain also makes a great cycling destination along the Table Mountain Loop, a road route that you can follow from either Oroville or Chico.
While the lower reaches of Chico’s 3,670-acre Bidwell Park feel like a traditional city park, its upper section extends all the way into the foothills. Known as Upper Bidwell, this is where Big Chico Creek flows through a rugged canyon and a 70-mile trail network is open to hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and perhaps most notably, swimmers. The entire park has six “urban swimming holes,” each one requiring more of a hike than the previous one, from the easily accessible—and massive—Sycamore Pool (right next to parking), to Brown’s Hole, a 2- to 3-mile hike away. For even higher elevation adventures, hike a portion of the famous Pacific Crest Trail to 7,087-foot Humboldt Peak near Butte Meadows. From the summit, the spectacular views take in Lassen Peak and a glimpse of Mount Shasta.
Both the North Fork and the Middle Fork of the Feather River offer outstanding whitewater paddling for kayaking and rafting, especially on the federally designated wild and scenic Middle Fork’s 32 miles of Class V rapids. And a hike along the Feather Falls Scenic Trail in Plumas National Forest leads to overlooks of dramatic, 640-foot Feather Falls on the Fall River, one of the Middle Fork’s tributaries.
Near Oroville, the lower section of the Feather River lures fishermen with one of California’s largest steelhead runs and a sizable population of striped bass, while its upper reaches are a prime destination for rainbow and brown trout. Along the valley floor about six miles west of Chico, Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park is another top fishing spot, with steelhead, salmon, and enormous sturgeon. You can also hike through the park’s riparian forest—and nothing beats a lazy canoe paddle or float trip on a summer day.