Trail of power. About 10 miles into Butte Creek Canyon, not far past the one-payphone town of Centerville, the only road around passes over a flume—a miniature man-made river. Though many were installed to divert water for hydraulic mining, this one was created to generate electricity for the canyon. It still does so at the nearby PG&E Powerhouse.
A trail runs parallel, and at times atop, the entire length of the flume. The eight and one-half mile long waterway follows the southern wall of Butte Creek Canyon from De Sabla down to Centerville.
The flume trail provides access to views of the canyon that few have seen. The road and houses disappear a short ways “upstream” of the flume trailhead and hikers find themselves in a pocket of solitude.
This close excursion from Chico makes for a quick, easy and breathtaking day hike. The trail zigzags along with the flume, poking into secluded folds of the canyon and popping out into 180-degree views of the narrow valley with Butte Creek running below.
A tapestry of red, orange and yellow blankets the canyon walls. Evergreens like the Ghost Pine and Live Oak stand alone as the last patches of green. But what really ties the scene together is the “golden hour”—the time of day straddling the sunset when the light coming from the horizon casts an amber glow across the landscape. As the rains continue, a series of cascading waterfalls come in alongside the flume.
Taking into account the relaxing pace of the hike and the abundant outcroppings of mistletoe, the flume hike also makes for great date material.
The trailhead is a leisurely 20-minute drive from downtown Chico. To get there, head south on Highway 99 and exit onto the Skyway, heading east toward Paradise. Pass by the stoplights and hang a left onto Honey Run Road as you leave Chico. After passing the Covered Bridge, veer left onto Centerville Road and stay on this all the way to the town of Centerville. The schoolhouse and museum will be on your right shortly after passing over Butte Creek. The flume trailhead is about a mile farther up the road. Park immediately after crossing over the flume.
The Colman Centerville Museum, located behind the payphone in the heart of Centerville, is open weekends from 1 to 4 p.m. and offers a ton of information about the history of Butte Creek Canyon. They also have maps of the canyon with historical sites that make for numerous possible side hikes off the flume.
For more information call (530) 893-9667 or visit them online at www.colmanmuseum.com.
On a side note, Utah Phillips, noted environmental speaker and hippie icon, is coming to the Congregational Church of Chico Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. For more information call 898-9078.