For some of the best of Northern California lakes and rivers—as well as creeks, swimming holes, and small bays—Butte County is a must-visit location. Chico boasts the best urban swimming holes in the state (we might even go so far to say the nation), while Oroville is home to one of the best lakes for boating, fishing, and house-boating recreation. Elsewhere in the county, you’ll discover wild and scenic rivers, hidden reservoirs, and small picture-perfect lakes. If you’re not sure where to start, our list of the top 15 water recreation spots in Butte County, as voted on by Facebook and Instagram fans during our 2020 “March Madness,” will keep you busy.
Bear Hole and Diversion Dam
Once you’re there, you’ll understand why Bear Hole and Diversion Dam were voted the county’s favorite water recreation spot. At Bear Hole, you’ll find deep, sparkling pools connected by rushing chutes of water that are surrounded by a natural rocky playground and smooth basalt drenched in full sun, great for catching some rays. Just upstream, the old diversion dam offers even more pools to enjoy. This is the definitive warm-weather favorite!
Further into Upper Bidwell Park, Salmon Hole offers one of the most scenic swimming experiences in the area--you’ll have to work harder to get there compared to other swimming holes in the park. But those who make the trek will be rewarded with one of the largest natural pools on Big Chico Creek and many enjoyable side-pools.
The Feather River is a key water feature in Butte County, especially in the southern half of the region. Its waters feed Lake Oroville, the popular recreation site and valuable reservoir. Beyond that, though, the North, South, and Middle Forks of the river are popular recreation spots in their own right, with the Middle Fork following the Wild and Scenic Highway 70. Fishers, kayakers, and white water rafters will find their own piece of wild land along these forks throughout the year.
Perhaps the most well-known recreation spot by those not living in the area, Lake Oroville is the go-to for boating, jet and water skiing, and general water enthusiasts when the weather warms. It’s also a nationally renowned bass fishing location and offers unique-to-Lake Oroville water camping as well as house boating and boat-in camping opportunities.
If you’re interested in checking out Chico’s swimming holes but are looking for a more secluded experience, you’ll want to head to Brown’s Hole. The last officially known swimming hole in Upper Bidwell Park, it’s still easily accessible despite its relative seclusion. Once there, you’ll find an almost wilderness setting, complete with two long and slender pools surrounded by thick stands of oak trees and riparian plants.
Five Mile Recreation Area
Those with younger family members will find a perfect spot at Five Mile Recreation Area, a wider, shallower, and calmer Bidwell Park swimming hole than those found further upstream Big Chico Creek. With a picturesque pedestrian bridge, plenty of shade, and close proximity to restrooms and picnic areas, it’s a great blend of the urban atmosphere of Lower Park and the more rugged Upper Park.
Butte County’s share of the Sacramento River, the largest river in the state, showcases some of the best river recreation in the state! Get on the water for lazy tubing adventures, bring your rod and reel for boat and bank fishing, or just splash around with your friends at Wash-Out Beach. Those wanting dryer adventures can even enjoy walking paths and day-use areas scattered along the river.
Even though the first designated swimming hole in Upper Park is pretty tame, Alligator Hole is still a pleasant stop along the Yahi Trail. More than anything, it is a nice spot to cool off one last time after a long hike and another great spot for young hikers.
Technically located in Magalia, Paradise Lake could have easily been named for its picture-perfect location among the pines rather than the nearby town. Tucked away on Paradise Ridge, the lake’s glassy water is perfect for a relaxing paddle or fishing trip, while the 4.5-mile trail along the shore makes for easy hiking and nature viewing—including an occasional bald eagle or bear.
Forebay Aquatic Center
Situated on the shore of the Thermalito Forebay, the Forebay Aquatic Center is a one-stop shop for kayaking, rowing, or stand-up paddle boarding. With classes and rentals on calm waters, it’s a perfect place for all ages to get out on the water. Try a new family-friendly activity and enjoy a sun-soaked afternoon (make sure to wear your sunscreen!).
Sly Creek Reservoir
Surrounded by conifer-lined shores under bright blue skies, the higher-elevation 562-acre Sly Creek Reservoir is notable for its emerald hued water. An inviting scene, flatwater boaters, anglers, and other water enthusiasts will enjoy a serene and almost solitudinous experience as well as a reprieve from the valley heat.
Hidden in the convergence of the Sierra and Cascade foothills, Lake Concow is a beautiful spot for simply visiting, fishing, camping (though the campgrounds are currently closed due to damage from 2018’s Camp Fire). Tall trees provide plenty of shade for shoreline activities, while the more than 80 acres of wilderness offer plenty of space for exploring native plants, stargazing, and more.
Bidwell Canyon Marina
Consider the Bidwell Canyon Marina your full-service gateway to Lake Oroville fun. Bring your own boat to launch or rent small boats for a day or two. You’ll find a variety of apparel, gear, and food for the crew at the marina store. the Anchor Management Bar and Grill for tethered meals off the boat, and anything else you might need for your time on the water.
Just one mile upstream from Downtown Chico, Sycamore Pool at One Mile Recreation Area is the most accessible swimming spot along Big Chico Creek--and perhaps one of its most unique. It’s an expansive living pool where the creek flows through a 1920s-era concrete basin and is surrounded by an idyllic tree canopy and grassy fields. No matter how hot it gets in Chico, the water in Sycamore Pool will always cool you down.
Named after one of PG&E’s founders, Lake DeSabla is a quaint, picturesque spot located just off the Skyway in Magalia. Another higher-elevation reservoir, the lake is the perfect spot for a break from summer heat of the valley below, quiet fishing, and peaceful contemplations.