Doubling back for adventure

Life ain’t so bad when you’re lost on remote roads and soaking up the sun at a secluded lake

Philbrook Reservoir, tucked away in the northeast corner of Butte County, is a relaxing place to unwind from city life.

Philbrook Reservoir, tucked away in the northeast corner of Butte County, is a relaxing place to unwind from city life.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

It'd been some time since I headed out solo on the open road, only adventure in my sights. My goals for this sunny, steamy Friday were twofold: to explore the ghost town of Inskip, described online as being home to an 1860s-era inn, and to sit out on the beach and enjoy the waters of Philbrook Reservoir, in the northeastern corner of Butte County.

Inskip was easy enough to find, right along the Skyway north of Stirling City. And it would have been just as easy to miss if I hadn’t been looking for it, as it consists only of the old hotel, a few other buildings and what appears to be a storage yard for farming equipment.

It’s funny just how little information one can find online about such remote towns. I’d come across Inskip while scouring a map, Googled it and found it listed on, which describes Inskip as a once-prosperous stage stop and mining town. The inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so it’s a shame it appears to have been abandoned.

And so my adventure began. As I resumed my drive north, I was rudely reminded of my reliance on technology, aka the GPS on my phone, which lost service somewhere just north of Magalia. While I’d examined a map online, I had failed to print one out. No matter. I decided to trust my instincts and keep driving. Surely there’d be a sign, or somewhere to stop and get directions. Driving along these mountain roads, however, with their switchbacks and canyon views, I saw not a soul from the time I left Stirling City until I arrived—not at my destination—in Butte Meadows.

The Inskip Inn is the only building remaining of Gold Rush-era Inskip. Sadly, it appears to have been abandoned.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

I stopped at the first store I saw and asked if they sold maps. They do not. But the helpful woman behind the counter offered to power up her laptop and show me where to go. I’d missed my turn, but I was confident I’d find it on my way back. I grabbed a snack, thanked the clerk, and continued on my way.

Fortunately, I wasn’t on a tight schedule, because about 25 minutes later I found myself back in Inskip and had to turn back around. (D’oh!) But this time I saw the turnoff for Humbug Summit Road—super easy to miss, especially if you’re driving south on the Skyway.

From there, the ride got rough. It was gravel for about 2 miles. Eventually, I came upon a green sign with an arrow pointing to Philbrook Reservoir. The road smoothed out for a while, but returned to gravel for the last mile. I had a little scare for a minute when I looked toward where I thought there should be lake and imagined it dry. Then the water peeked out from behind the pines. By the time I reached a parking lot with bathrooms, I was ready to jump for joy. I’d finally made it.

After changing into my swimsuit and setting up a little camp with a chair, towel, book and cooler with snacks and a few beers, I soaked up the sun and relaxed for a while, enjoying the coolness compared with Chico. It’s then I realized a map wasn’t the only thing I’d forgotten; I didn’t have sunscreen. But I didn’t care too much—this was my first sunning of the summer, and it felt fantastic.

I read a few chapters of my book while a couple nearby enjoyed a picnic on a blanket in the shade and a family took turns on kayaks and paddle boats. To my right, a man threw out his fishing line while his sons tried to catch crawdads. Other than us, I couldn’t see anyone else on the lake, though I knew there were campgrounds nearby. I was good and hot and sweaty before jumping into the water, which was refreshingly cool.

By the time I got back into my car to return to Chico, I felt that—despite the unintended detour—I’d had a satisfying little adventure. I’d gotten out of the city and into nature, where life can be simpler. It was a welcome reminder to slow down every once in a while and just enjoy the world around me.