Four places in Bidwell Park that no one is talking about
You really want to know Bidwell Park? Maybe your friends have told you to dip a toe in Sycamore Pool and Bear Hole, check out Chico Creek Nature Center, climb Monkey Face, hike the creekside Yahi Trail and throw discs at Peregrine Point. But there's more to the park than those (totally worthwhile) hotspots. The park is huge—3,670 acres, nearly 11 miles long—and some of its lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path features offer more secluded experiences. Below are four places in Bidwell Park where people generally are not.
Psst. Hey—up here, in these caves you totally don't know about yet. They're just past the trailhead off Centennial Avenue that leads to Annie Bidwell and South Rim trails. Walk along Big Chico Creek and the short cement wall on your left until you see a trail up a steep hill on the right. The caves are just below the edge of the canyon.
The view of Bidwell Golf Course and North Rim on the other side of the canyon is admirable. If you let your imagination run amok, you can picture the small caves as they were long ago, before the area was settled. But based on the candy wrappers and empty bottles of cheap vodka one often finds here, it's easier to imagine high school kids up to no good.
Big Chico Creek Canyon is well-known for the lovejoy basalt formations that characterize areas like Bear Hole and Salmon Hole. If you're hiking or biking on Upper Park Road, stop at Parking Lot Q and check out an even more distinct rock outcropping known as the Devil's Kitchen. The basalt cliffs and spires are popular with rock climbers, but totally accessible to non-extreme folks as well. If you squeeze through a tight passage between the rocks, you're rewarded with access to an ultra-secluded sandy beach along Big Chico Creek. But beware: Nudists have been known to frequent this area—naked.
Ever heard of the Iron Canyon Fish Ladder? It's kind of like the series of steps near the bridge at Sycamore Pool in Lower Park, except way bigger, more rugged, and located in Upper Park.
Thing is, the ladder sits on a remote section of Big Chico Creek between Salmon Hole and Brown's Hole, and it's kind of a pain to get there. You can see the concrete structure from the Yahi Trail if you know where to peer over the edge of the canyon, but there's no access unless you own rock-climbing gear or you are a mountain goat. Assuming you aren't equipped with ropes or nimble hooves, your best bet is starting at Salmon Hole (Parking Lot N on Upper Park Road) and slogging upstream over slippery rocks, or fighting your way through bankside bushes and getting slapped in the face with twigs and leaves for 10 or 15 minutes. Either way, resign yourself to getting scraped and bruised.
It's pretty cool once you get there, though. The quarter-mile-long ladder, made up of a series of staggered concrete pools, or “weirs,” has deteriorated substantially since its construction in 1958, making it a difficult passage for fish, but it's still a worthwhile destination for people. In fact, it's one of the most picturesque parts of Upper Park.
There's an easily accessible gem hardly anybody seems to stop and appreciate just off Peterson Memorial Way, the main paved road that runs through Lower Bidwell Park (on the north side of the creek): a grove of a dozen-or-so redwood trees planted by Chico pioneer John Bidwell. If you're on a run or a bike ride, this cathedral of giants is a good place to stop for a water break and stretch. While you're there, take in the sunlight slanting through the branches and the fallen needles underfoot. It's also worth reflecting on the fact that you don't need to drive to Humboldt to bask in the presence of coastal redwoods, because there's a handful of them in our collective backyard.