If you’re a lover of the outdoors looking to get on the road to adventure, let me do the hard work for you and take you on a road trip to #HikeButteCA that will give you everything you need, including the best places to hike and great stops along the way. We’ll start at Gray Lodge and go on a 3-day counterclockwise trip through Lake Oroville, Paradise Ridge, Bidwell Park, and more. Be sure to download the #HikeButteCA Pass before you leave to earn some prizes while you hike!
If you’re looking for the best places to stay as you make your way around the county, check out our hotel list for the perfect mix of convenient location and your desired level of luxury.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, you don’t need me to tell you why it’s a perfect start to this trip. Located midway between highways 45 and 99 on Rutherford Road in Gridley, this California Department of Fish and Wildlife area is not only a must-visit, but a perfect spot to start any adventure. While there’s never a bad time to visit, the November through January season is a particularly good time to head out along its wetland loop, which offers a great on-foot experience and also the option to tour by car. This is the height of the migratory bird season and will showcase stunning numbers of snow geese as they take their mid-travel rest. Birds are always present in some number, and the wetlands are always scenic, but bringing binoculars into one of the indoor observation blinds during these migrations is guaranteed to show you sights you won’t forget for a long time to come. Even if you can’t manage to go during the season, however, there’s no bad time to walk around Gray Lodge’s picturesque loop of 2 miles, which also has a paved side path to a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform.
Afterward, head to lunch at the nearby Railhouse Pub and Grill for a selection of salads, sandwiches, and even grilled paninis. You’d be hard-pressed to find better food in the area, so be sure not to miss their Blue Caboose burger or their unbeatable selection of pub sandwiches, in addition to a range of local Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. beers on tap.
From Gridley, there are a number of excellent hiking options at the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, including the Bidwell Canyon Trail, the Dan Beebe Trail, Lime Saddle Memorial Park Trail, and the Loafer Creek Loop Trail. None of these trailheads are far from each other, so you could even do more than one if you felt particularly ambitious, but if you have to pick one from the group, my personal favorite is taking the Bidwell Canyon Trail from the Saddle Dam Day Use Area through Kelly Ridge Point (which offers breathtaking lakeside vistas) and to the Lake Oroville Visitor Center. It’s about 9 miles out and back, though you could make things easier by starting at the Visitor Center and hiking to Kelly Ridge Point instead. Either way, you’ll be treated to some stunning views, including the Bidwell Bar Suspension Bridge, the back of Oroville Dam, and of course the lake itself. Part of the hike can be a bit strenuous, with some mild, extended inclines and declines, but the trails are well-maintained and offer a good amount of shade, especially for the area.
Some other easy options not far from the lake include the Feather River Trail, the Rattlesnake Hill Trail by the forebay, or the Thermalito Diversion Pool Trail, all of which provide scenic views without being overly taxing.
Once you’ve finished your day’s hiking, head into downtown Oroville for some fantastic dining options. Probably my favorite restaurant in town is the Pho Noodle House, which has a huge menu of Thai dishes, Asian favorites, vegetarian options, and the hands-down best Thai iced tea in Butte County. If you’re looking for more upscale dining, The Patio or Vibe Grill & Pub at Purple Line Urban Winery are also great choices—Vibe’s brie pillow (pastry-wrapped brie with apples, caramelized onions, and a creamy drizzle over the top) is not to be missed. There are any number of options for after dinner as well, including live music at The Union, a show or a few slots at Gold Country Casino, or some fantastic craft brews at Feather Falls Casino. Though my personal recommendation, assuming you can plan for it—which can be difficult due to yearly schedule changes—is Moonlight Kayaking at the Forebay Aquatic Center (assuming you’ve still got the energy after a full day of hiking).
To begin your second day, I’d recommend enjoying one of two local favorite spots. If you’re starting out in Oroville, then Meg’s Good Earth Coffee and Tea House will have you covered with a variety of excellent organic and fair trade coffees, teas, and other beverages, including a host of vegan-friendly almond milk smoothies, plus a menu of café-style items (try their veggie wraps or chorizo breakfast burrito). In Paradise, Lynn’s Coffee and Crepes is great for a light, tasty breakfast with good coffee and beverages that compliment a robust menu of savory and sweet crepes—try the excellent Cali if you’re going savory, or the Strawberry Shortcake if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Best of all, each of these establishments is equipped with drive-thru windows, so you can even enjoy your bites and pick-me-ups even en route to a hike!
Wherever you start your morning, the second day’s hikes will be in Paradise. If you’re a history buff, the perfect walk starts at the famous Joy Lyn’s Candies (which is absolutely a required stop any time you go through town) and heads along Yellowstone Kelly Heritage Trail, where placards detail much of Paradise’s colorful history and the families who made it what it is today. If you’d prefer a leisurely stroll along a small, out-of-the-way lake, Paradise Lake has 9 miles of family-friendly walking with plenty of shade—just remember that the lake feeds the local water supply, so you can’t go swimming!
For lunch, look no further than Nic’s, a relatively new Paradise staple. This neighborhood eatery is full of friendly faces, and offers hot and cold sandwiches, soups, salads, and a variety of items from its deli case, and the staff can potentially work with you to make some vegan and vegetarian options as well. This is also true at Maria’s Kitchen, for those interested in some of the best Mexican cuisine in the area, with favorites like a killer tamale plate and decadent chile rellenos.
After you’ve eaten, my recommendation is to head deep into the high country to do the most rigorous hiking you’ll likely do in your three days. There are several excellent options, from the 3.8 mile out-and-back Jonesville Canyon Trail by the headwaters of Butte Creek, to the 6.8 mile (shuttle required) Humboldt Peak to Cold Springs hike, which offers gorgeous views from the highest ridge in the county. There are also longer loops (7.3 to 9.6 miles) available at Colby Mountain Lookout and Colby Meadows. Just be sure to check the conditions before you head into the high country, as during the colder months they can be inaccessible due to snow.
After you’ve finished your physical activity for the day, head into Chico for dinner and an evening’s entertainment. Chico has no shortage of fantastic dining, which means there’s something for everyone. Several excellent sushi places will tempt you, but my personal favorite has to be one of Downtown Chico’s definitive restaurants: Aonami. Serving top-quality sushi and a variety of Japanese-inspired dishes (including vegan sushi and entrees, like the exquisite Jeannie Bowl, with perfect rice, deep-fried crispy tofu, and one of my all-time favorite sauces), no one will go unsatisfied. If you’re into local beer, Mulberry Station Brewing Co.is another excellent choice, offering craft brews, pizza, and organic salad, while those with a discerning palate will find Red Tavern’s steak, seafood, and pasta entrees (especially with a glass of wine) most pleasing. Tres Hombres is also a great way to cap off your evening, whether you choose to enjoy their downtown patio dining and classic Mexican cuisine, or just go after dinner for the cocktails they’re best known for.
With dinner done, there’s still plenty more to enjoy. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Thursday, don’t miss the Thursday Night Market before you head back to your hotel. With local food, fun, and color right in the heart of downtown, it’s a regular fixture for locals and college students (including myself when I was in school). If you’re not there on a Thursday night, or if you’re a bonafide film buff, you’ll want to check and see what’s playing at the Meriam Park Drive-in, which is a nostalgic treat for adults and a unique experience for kids. If none of that appeals, you’ve still got live entertainment at the El Rey Theatre or at California State University, Chico’s iconic Laxson Auditorium.
Day three begins in Chico with one of my favorite things: a hearty breakfast. There are plenty of places you might go, but if you’re only in town for a day or two, these three should be at the top of your list. Sin of Cortez is a staple of both locals and visitors, with breakfast and lunch options just on the other side of decadent—try the banana blackberry pancakes for a unique flavor combination, or the blueberry cornmeal pancakes for something totally different. Café Coda sits nearer downtown, with a wide array of refreshing options, including one of the best breakfast burritos money can buy, and some generous vegan and vegetarian options to boot. But if you just need to get as down-home as possible, downtown favorite Mom’s is open through lunch, with enough comfort food options (including alcohol-infused milkshakes!) to make for a perfect morning or afternoon.
Once you’ve fueled up for adventure, you’ll find that if Chico has plenty of places to eat, it’s got even more places to hike. The options are too numerous to list for our purposes here, but any trip should include a hike in Upper and Lower Bidwell Park. Lower Bidwell Park makes for especially lovely walks in the morning, with long paved stretches that move through trees, wildflowers in spring, and an abundance of beautiful green overgrowth. Outside of Lower Park but not too far away, the Chico Seed Orchard (a 1-mile loop) and Chico State University Campus Arboretum (about 1.2 miles out and back) also offer beautiful spaces year round, with the Seed Orchard being particularly vibrant in the fall when the trees show their full range of colors. Requiring a little bit of a drive to the outskirts of Chico, the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (2-3 miles out and back, but do mind the hunt dates) and Pine Creek Loop (a 1-2 mile loop) also offer more relaxed, easygoing walks for your morning pleasure, and the Ecological Reserve in particular can be a beautiful, calming place to explore. But if you’re looking for a more rigorous trek, head to Upper Bidwell Park, where a huge array of options await you, from shorter runs to Monkey Face (around a mile, with steep ascents) or Bear Hole (about 2 miles), to longer treks along South Rim and Yahi Trail (from 3.5 to 8 miles), which showcase some of the most incredible vistas in Upper Park. If you have the time, Yahi Trail either as an out-and-back experience or with a creek crossing to return along Guardian Trail and the Annie Bidwell Trail is one of the best ways to see Upper Park.
For lunch, try some lighter fare at Tea Bar, which specializes in healthy proteins, veggies, and tantalizing sauces, or you could dig into either Italian sandwiches or pasta (among a host of other things) at Italian Cottage. If you need sheer variety, or want something joyful to please a varied group, try the pizza, calzones, sandwiches, and desserts at Broadway Heights in the heart of downtown. Don’t miss their sinful Focaccia Ring appetizer to share, or a reuben sandwich with house-made pastrami that might just be the best in the state.
After lunch, you should still have enough time to grab a drink to go and take a leisurely drive back home (or squeeze in another hike if you’ve got the time!) while enjoying the memories you made in Butte County, which by this point should include great dining, entertainment, and plenty of outdoor adventure. As a local, I can recommend all of these experiences without reservation, but if your tastes don’t match my own, with so many options at your disposal, there’s no end to the different ways you might tailor a trip to your own travel group. In either case, Butte County’s trails (and roads!) are waiting for you.