While the hiking season in Butte County is a year-round activity, fall and winter are particularly wonderful seasons for hiking. It’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy hiking in Northern California: the valley here has mild temperatures, leaves begin to change around late September through the middle of October, and the large amounts of snow that end hiking season in the High Country have yet to arrive. Here are our suggestions for the best seasonal hikes in and around Chico.
Upper Bidwell Park
A magical place to venture at any time of year, during the winter, the foliage and scenery change through our beloved Upper Bidwell Park makes it an even more special place.
Yahi Trail - Bidwell Park
This easy 6.7-mile “shuttle’ hike requires two vehicles since the start and end points of the hikes are not at the same location. The hike is along the most sustainable built trails in Upper Park, crosses Big Chico Creek, and offers tremendous views of the canyon, including Iron Canyon Waterfall.
T-Ford Loop (formerly Big Chico Creek)
This is an excellent hike year-round but best when the creek is at lower levels. It’s a moderate 10.5-mile day hike, which crosses the creek and displays just how magnificent Upper Park is.
An easy 5.1-mile hike in Upper Park, it offers beautiful views of Big Chico Creek canyon at any time as well as Lovejoy Falls after significant rains. It also has a newly renovated picnic table where the Simmon’s cabin once stood, conveniently located to have a rest before heading up the steep hill.
Lower Bidwell Park features a combination of beautiful native foliage and historical ornamental plantings that absolutely shines in the fall season! There are miles of paved and unpaved trails in Lower Bidwell Park that can be home to your autumn walk or bike ride.
Oroville, Paradise, Durham, and Beyond
Phantom Falls - Table Mountain
The break-taking hike to Phantom Falls is an easy 6.6 mile loop offering views of five waterfalls, which begin to flow just after the first big rain falls around mid-November due to thin soil on top of the Lovejoy Basalt. Because this hike has some cross-country routes, it’s highly recommended to use a reliable map and bring water.
The Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve protects hundreds of plants and many of them put on quite a fall show! Parking is available for day hikes on 14-Mile House Road off of Highway 32 - just 11 miles north of Highway 99 in Chico.
Many Waterfalls - Table Mountain
For those interested in a more challenging hike, the Many Waterfalls loop offers a challenging day hike. At 11.3 miles, the hike features at least 9 waterfalls and up to 14 if you go a few days after a major rainfall. You’ll also be treated to a view of Beatson Hollow, a spot where Bald Eagles have been spotted.
This 8.2-mile moderate day hike features a 415-foot waterfall and beautiful fall color in November. There is the upper trail which is longer, but wider and smoother; the lower trail is shorter but steeper. [Update October 2020: Currently closed due to fire damage and recovery efforts]
This easy 2.4 mile stroll offers splashes of color as well as migratory birds and mammals. This area becomes heavily populated with birds as early as mid-October and ends with the Northern migration that happens around early spring. When the birds begin to migrate, the nice leisurely stroll around Gray Lodge becomes a place where you can admire over 300 species of migratory animals, such as snow geese, pelicans, ducks, and cranes.
There are several colorful hiking options in the Bureau of Land Management’s Forks of Butte Creek Recreation Area. Park at the Doe Mill Bridge and you can either hike upstream (easy) or downstream (easy for the first half-mile, then moderate). Either way, you’ll see lush patches of big-leaf maple and Indian rhubarb during the fall season. The Indian Springs trail (moderate) brings you deep into Butte Creek canyon, but not before treating you to a dense canopy of colorful foliage.
The walk along Paradise Lake is easy and relaxing. You’ll be sure to notice the yellow and caramel leaves of the black oak trees as you stroll along.
Frog Mountain is an easy 5.7 mile hike offers the pinnacle of Butte County, and the southernmost peak in the Cascade Range. The Saucer Lake hike shares the same trail head as Frog Mountain, although most of the hike is in neighboring Plumas county. The hike is rated as a moderate day hike 8.5 miles. For fall color, nowhere else within the county compares to these locations.
A short 3.8 mile hike, Jonesville Canyon features the headwaters of Butte Creek and a small Aspen grove. It’s the lowest in elevation of our High Country hikes and often is inaccessible after significant snowfall in late October.