Things to do in and around Butte County
So, thinking about a local vacation this summer? There’s more to “staycationing” than checking into a hotel or inn. Here are some ideas for excursions and activities, courtesy of the CN&R editorial staff.Feather Falls
It takes an eight-mile round-trip hike to get to Feather Falls, but it’s worth it to witness fresh mountain runoff barreling through a granite chute and crashing more than 400 feet to the Middle Fork of the Feather River. Plus, you’ll get the added bonus of bragging about getting up close to one of the most breathtaking sights in Butte County.
The hike through the Plumas National Forest is pretty wondrous, too. Keep an eye out for salamanders and other cool critters. You can do it! Just take plenty of water, some snacks (maybe a picnic lunch) and sign in (and out) at the trail head.
From Highway 70 in Oroville, take Highway 162 east (Olive Highway) for 6.7 miles. Turn right on Forbestown Road for 6.3 miles and left on Lumpkin Road for 11.4 miles to the marked entrance.Forebay Aquatic Center
Anyone who’s ever wanted to learn how to windsurf (or kayak, canoe, row, wakeboard, etc.) can take lessons at the Forebay Aquatic Center at Thermalito North Forebay State Park in Oroville. The facility is open into the second week of October, operated by Chico State’s Associated Students and the California departments of Parks and Recreation, Water Resources, and Boating & Waterways.
Promoting water-based activities is the aim of the center—sailing is even an option! In addition to lessons, youth summer camps and special events (think birthday parties and leadership training) are available. Visitors can also rent equipment and head out on their own. Students get a discount. For more info, visit www.aschico.com.Ishi Wilderness Area
Ishi is the closest wilderness area to Chico, but few people take advantage of its proximity. Named after the famous Indian who was the last of the Yahi tribe, it encompasses 41,000 acres of his ancestral lands along Mill and Deer creeks. It’s rugged country and not easily reached, but rewarding to the intrepid explorer.
You can visit Black Rock, perhaps the most familiar landmark, by driving to Paynes Creek on Highway 36 and taking Ponderosa Way about 20 miles south. Or you can drive up Cohasset Road into Deer Creek Canyon and pick up the Deer Creek Trail there. Either way, drive a sturdy vehicle, take a topo map, and remember that the more southerly regions of the Ishi are hot in summer, so stay close to the creek. Check out www.summitpost.org.
One nice thing about Paradise in the summer is it’s cooler than the valley—sometimes 10 degrees or more in the densely forested areas. In a tree-rich neighborhood sits Bille Park, right at the rim of Butte Creek Canyon, along Bille Road.
One end of the park features shaded picnic tables, a playground and a huge grass oval. Walk a little ways and you’ll see a newer playground, a small pavilion, a large gazebo and a walkway with two small bridges. There you’ll see the path to the Grotto. Take it—the view is worth the short, mostly shady hike.Paradise Flumes
Plenty of crystal clear water is found in this secluded—yet popular—spot near the West Branch of the Feather River. Hike the trail along the flumes to many lagoon-like swimming holes, and jump in the irrigation ditch’s cool water on the way back down.
To get there from the Skyway, take a right on Pentz Road and a left on Dean Road. Keep going after the road turns to dirt and slowly wind your way down to the trail-head.
Beloved by anglers, this waterway is a great place for other recreational outings, including wildlife observation. The banks and trees are the perfect environs for migrating seabirds, such as American pelicans, as well as native species: bald eagles, osprey, otters and beavers.
Several state park sites just west of Chico (and across the river in nearby Glenn County) provide access to walking and hiking trails, bank fishing, as well as swimming holes and launches for boats and small vessels, such as kayaks.
Ever gone tubing? It’s cheap, fun and is practically a rite of passage for Chicoans. Buy or rent a tube from a local liquor store, take plenty of drinking water, slather on some sunscreen, and hop in the chilly water at the Irvine Finch River Access.Centerville
Ride up into Butte Creek Canyon, turn left at the Honey Run Covered Bridge, and continue on about five miles to Centerville. There you’ll find the historic Centerville School and the Colman Museum. Both are open Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4, and offer an intriguing glimpse into pioneer and Gold Rush life. The museum, which is chockablock with historic artifacts, is named after the late Lois Colman, a lifelong canyon resident and co-author of a history of the area.
A little farther up Centerville Road is the historic—and beautiful—Centerville cemetery, which has grave sites dating back to the middle of the 19th century. To top off the afternoon, mosey up the road to where it crosses the Centerville flume. Park and walk along the flume, which supplies water to the historic Centerville power plant. It’s easy hiking, and the canyon views are spectacular.
The covered bridge itself is a worthwhile stop. It’s the only remaining three-level covered bridge in the country. And it’s surrounded by beautiful scenery, including the creek. So, for nature lovers—and those with pups who like to swim—this is a great place to cool off and relax.Stirling City
Past Paradise and Magalia, along the Skyway, is the mountain village of Stirling City. It’s a former mill town founded in 1903 by the same company that owned the Diamond Match plant in Chico—indeed, to supply timber to that plant.
Harry Merlo, who grew up there, went on to become president of Louisiana-Pacific, once one of the world’s largest timber companies. In 1987, he built a park there to honor his mother, Chlotilde, a war widow who came to the town from Italy in 1920 with one small son. She married a widower, Joseph Merlo, with two children, and together they had three more sons, including Harry.
With its ponds and flowers set among the pines, Chlotilde Merlo Park may be the prettiest little spot in Butte County. It’s open May through the first week in October from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., but call 873-1658 on weekends to make sure it isn’t closed for a wedding.
While you’re in town, stop by the historic hotel and say hi to Charlotte Hilgeman, its owner and the unofficial mayor of the village. She’s a hoot.