The prettiest paths

Four beautiful bicycle paths that are off the beaten track

Anytime is a good time for riding a bicycle, but in Chico spring is best. The weather is lovely, wildflowers are blooming madly, and the creeks are running full.

Just about anywhere outside town is good for riding, and of course Bidwell Park is always beautiful this time of year. Long-distance riders may want to cruise into Butte Creek Canyon, head up to Forest Ranch, take a leisurely ride out to the Sacramento River or roll down to the Durham area on the bike path that parallels the Midway.

Closer in, Chico has a number of really pretty bike paths that are well worth exploring, especially if you’ve never visited them before. We’ve come up with four we can recommend highly, not only because they are easy to reach, but also because they offer a quick and rich connection with nature.

Of the four, three are on the very edge of Chico’s urban boundary, and the fourth, though it starts in town, leads to open space farther out. Two of them are largely unknown to most people, and one serves mainly as a way for riders to get to Butte Creek Canyon without having to ride The Skyway.

All of these bike paths are easily located using the widely available Chico Bike Map.

Pretty Path No. 1

Sycamore Creek

Hancock Park isn’t a park, it’s a subdivision on the northeast side of town that juts out into open fields like a peninsula of houses. You reach it by going north on Marigold Avenue as far as it goes.

There’s a smooth, well-kept bike path, about a half-mile long, that runs along the west and north sides of the subdivision and then tees into Sycamore Creek.

The path is very pleasant this time of year, mostly because of the many flowering vernal pools in the field beside it and the views of the Sierra foothills in the distance. But Sycamore Creek is the real draw.

It’s like a desert creek, in that it’s carved into flat land and isn’t visible until you’re right on it. Then you discover a mini-canyon that the stream has created by working through a layer of lava slurry down to the sandstone below it. In some places that sandstone has been formed into extravagant sculptural shares that make Sycamore Creek unlike any other streambed in the area.

There’s a dirt road bordering the creek in both directions, but I like to park my bike and walk along the creek, heading northwest, in the direction of the airport.

It’s not a long walk—perhaps three-eighths of a mile—but it’s a good one. That section of the creek is stunning and—if you’ve never seen it before—surprising in its beauty. You’ll find yourself saying, “Wow, I didn’t know this was here!”

Pretty Pretty Path No. 2

Eaton to Lassen

This is another short path on the edge of a northern subdivision, this one located just east of the corner of Cohasset and Eaton roads. The entrance to the path is easily missed—it’s right next to a Cal Water station on the north side of Eaton. The path traverses about a half-mile and comes out at the corner of Lassen and Floral avenues.

It runs below a row of houses that look out over the fields toward the Sierra foothills and the airport. There’s a pretty little creek that parallels the path on its north side that’s well worth exploring on foot, especially when your get to the more easterly part of the path.

The residents’ back yards are interesting in their variety. One contains a cactus garden, another a row of agave plants. There’s a gorgeous wisteria now in bloom. It’s a nice place to live—these days, the birdsong is dazzling.

Pretty Path No. 3

Little Chico Creek

This path runs from Chapmantown, where Humboldt Avenue meets the freeway, all the way to Bruce Road. It’s a real transportation route, especially close in. But it’s also one of the prettiest paths in town.

It starts by going under the freeway and coming out behind the KFM studios on Humboldt. It then heads west, paralleling Little Chico Creek on its north side through the well-manicured greenway across from the police station.

After a short while, it crosses a bridge and continues westward on the south side of the creek, past a residential neighborhood on the right. Beyond Forest Avenue there’s a well-groomed apartment complex on the right. When I rode by recently, I passed two women sitting on a balcony, talking and listing to the burbling of the creek below.

Farther out, the scenery opens up. You pass Marsh Junior High on the left and Little Chico Creek Elementary on the right. Then come open fields and, these days, zillions of poppies along the banks of the high-running creek.

It’s a sweet ride.

Pretty Path No. 4

Steve Harrison Memorial Bike Path

This path, which connects East 20th Street and Potter Road, on the far southeastern edge of Chico, is named after the late Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. executive—and avid bicyclist—Steve Harrison, who died in 2007.

It was designed as a way to allow cyclists to get to Honey Run Road without having to brave The Skyway, and it works well for that. But at this time of year it’s also a really pretty ride, thanks to many brilliant vernal-pool wildflower displays, its swales now running with water, and the rolling oak woodlands beyond, to the east. This was once a working cattle ranch, so there are also some well-preserved rock walls and some not-so-well-preserved relics of the ranching operation, including what’s left of an old cattle-loading chute.

The land is the so-called “Schuster property,” after developer Steve Schuster, who along with others wants eventually to put houses in there. It’s beautiful land, so let’s hope they do as they’ve promised and respect its qualities.