A guide to where you can pitch a tent within an hour’s drive of Chico
I know, I know, you can pitch a tent anywhere. This guide tells you where you can do it legally as well as conveniently. And unless you’re the type who likes to trek up Mt. Everest at the risk of losing your toes and fingertips to frostbite, this guide should fit your needs.
We’re talking car camping here. And you don’t even need one of those big, obnoxious four-wheel-drive, squirrel-smashing SUVs. A Volkswagen Bug with a tent rolled up and stuffed into the trunk area or even a mattress tossed into the back of a pickup truck will serve just fine as your home under the stars.
Remember, as my goofy brother once pointed out, “You can live in your car, but you can’t drive your house.”
With those wise words in mind, here’s your guide to nearby summer camping. We’ve considered only those campgrounds that offer tent sites as well as recreational-vehicle sites. To learn who in the area offers RV camping only, we suggest you consult Tom Steinstra’s California Camping, published by Avalon Press. I know we did.
Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area
The closest campground to Chico that offers tent sites, Woodson Bridge sits along the Sacramento River and is a good spot for campers who plan to fish. It offers 37 sites for tents or RVs. The camp offers picnic tables, barbecue grills, drinking water, showers, flush toilets and a host, and pets on leashes are welcome. Cost is $10 per night, and there is a group campsite for $30. It is open year-round. Woodson Bridge is located about 20 miles north of Chico off Highway 99. Look for the sign, which directs you toward Corning. Call the park at 839-2112 or the Bidwell Mansion Visitor Information center at 895-6144 to learn more.
Lake Red Bluff
If you blow by the sign directing you to Woodson Bridge, don’t fret. Keep heading up 99 toward Red Bluff for another 20 miles or so until you hit Lake Red Bluff. The lake is actually the result of a diversion dam and is a popular swimming spot for locals and it only stands in the summer. In the winter the Bureau of Reclamation opens the dam to accommodate the salmon that are headed upstream, and the lake disappears. There are 30 sites for tents or RVs, a group camp offering six cabins, showers, drinking water, flush and outhouse-type toilets, barbecues and an amphitheater. Cost is $10 per night for single sites and $100 to $200 for the group camp, depending on the number of guests. From Red Bluff take Highway 36 east to Sales Lane and turn south. For reservations call 824-5196.
Of course, with the largest earthen dam in the world just 20 miles south of Chico and the (partially filled) promise from the state of a plethora of recreation opportunities possible there, you might do well to head to Lake Oroville to find a spot to pitch your tent. Bidwell Canyon is on the shores of the mighty lake and offers good access for fishing and water skiing and swimming. The lake’s big enough to accommodate all three activities safely. There are 75 sites for tents or RVs, picnic tables and barbecue grills, showers and flush toilets, drinking water and even a nearby grocery store. Pets on leashes. Cost is $16 per night. To get there take Highway 70 through Oroville, head east on 162, north on Kelly Ridge and take a right on Arroyo Drive. For more info call 538-2200.
A bit farther south and still on the lake is Loafer Creek, which is actually three campgrounds that sort of hook together. Combined the camps offer 137 tent and RV sites and another 15 sites that will accommodate up to two horses each. Picnic tables and barbecues, drinking water, showers and flush toilets available. There’s even a shower for the horses. Cost is $10 per night, $16 for the horse-friendly sites. To get there, take 162 as if going to Bidwell Canyon but ignore the Kelly Ridge turnoff and keep going until you see the Loafer Creek entrance on the left. For more information call 538-2200.
Also on the shores of Lake Oroville, Lime Saddle is the newest of the campgrounds promised by the state more than 40 years ago when the dam was built, effectively eliminating many of the recreational possibilities offered by the Feather River as it runs through Oroville. Now, because the water in the river comes from the bottom of the lake as it is fed around the dam, the temperature is much too cold for many water activities. The campgrounds like this newest one, then, are the state’s way of making up for what it did to the River. Lime Saddle offers 51 sites for tents and RVs at $10 each. Flush toilets, showers, drinking water, picnic tables and two group sites for up to 24 guests each ($20). To get there head east on Highway 70 and turn left on Pentz and watch for the signs. For info call 538-2200.
If you’re into camping by the lake but don’t want to go to Oroville, head west, young person, to Black Butte Lake, another man-made body created by a dammed river. Again, fishing opportunities abound, along with boating—both motorized and wind powered—windsurfing and hiking. There are 92 sites for tents or RVs, picnic tables and barbecue grills, drinking water, flush toilets, showers and a playground—plus a nearby grocery store. Leashed pets permitted. Cost is $14 per night. To get there head west on Highway 32 to Orland, then jump on Interstate 5 south and take the Black Butte Lake exit and drive 12 miles west to Newville Road, then turn left on Buckhorn Road, which will take you to the camp on the north shore. For more information call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 865-4781.
No room at Buckhorn? Try Orland Buttes, also on the shores of Black Butte Lake. Only four tents-only sites, 35 tent or RV sites, picnic tables and barbecue grills, drinking water, restrooms, showers and leashed pets accepted. Cost is $14 per day. To get there, head to Buckhorn on Newville Road but look for the Orland Buttes sign about four miles before you get to Buckhorn. For more information call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 865-4781.
Flying high in birdland