The 61 Best Outdoor Spots in Butte County
Create your ultimate Butte County outdoor adventure bucket list with this list of the 62 best outdoor spots in the county, as voted on by Facebook and Instagram fans during “March Madness” 2020.
#1 (and #3): Feather Falls Scenic Trail and Feather Falls
It’s no surprise that these two finished the top of their brackets at #1 and #3 overall: the scenic trail to Feather Falls is a beautiful and challenging 7-9 mile hike, while Feather Falls has been called the “most beautiful waterfall in California outside of Yosemite” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Looks like it really is about the journey in this case (though the destination is close behind).
Update October 2020: Due to extensive damage from the North Complex Fire, Feather Falls, the trail, and its surrounding areas ARE CLOSED THROUGH MARCH 2024 to hiking, hunting, camping, and fishing due to ongoing recovery efforts. The trail to Feather Falls was badly damaged and is extremely dangerous - anyone who tries to visit/hike the area will be cited.
#2: Bear Hole and Diversion Dam
Easy access, cool waters, and plenty of space for sunbathing make Bear Hole and Diversion Dam the favorite Butte County spot for water recreation (and the favorite of all of Bidwell Park’s urban swimming holes.)
#4: Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park
The Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park claimed the top spot in “Parks and More” for good reason: Water, sunshine, lazy days tubing down the river with your best buds...need we say more?
#5: North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve
For wildflowers and waterfalls, there’s no better place than Table Mountain. During the rainy season, dozens of waterfalls flow, and springtime covers the ecological reserve with wildflowers as far as the eye can see.
#6: Salmon Hole
Another one of Chico’s urban swimming holes, Salmon Hole is one of the prettiest, with one of the largest natural pools on Big Chico Creek and many enjoyable side-pools. It’s harder to get to than many other swimming holes, but well worth the trek.
#7: Bille Park
With towering trees for shade yet lots of sunny spots, plus parks for the kiddos and a view overlooking the canyon, Bille Park is a local favorite for good reason.
#9: Phantom Falls
So named for its ephemeral nature, Phantom Falls only flows during the rainy season, when you can watch it flow 166 feet off the edge of Coal Canyon. It’s beautiful and fleeting, which makes it all the more striking to see it in person.
#10: Wild & Scenic Highway 70
There’s no prettier road trip through Butte County than on the Wild and Scenic Highway 70 Feather River Byway. Running along the middle fork of the Feather River, one of the original wild and scenic rivers in the country, Highway 70 is a drive worth enjoying.
#11: Many Waterfalls Cross-Country Loop
With at least nine, and up to 14, waterfalls after a rainfall, the challenging Many Waterfalls Cross-Country Loop lives up to its name. Just make sure to go right after it rains (and be prepared to get a little muddy).
#12: Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve
Containing nearly 4,000 acres of diverse canyon and ridge habitats and home to a variety of species of plants and animals, the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve makes for a beautiful location for nature viewing.
#13: Clotilde Merlo Park
At just 20 acres, Clotilde Merlo Park in Stirling City is definitely not the biggest park in Butte County, but it may just be one of the most beautiful. Open May through October, it’s a must-visit if you’re exploring Paradise Ridge.
#14: Oroville Wildlife Area
A popular spot for fishing, wildlife viewing, and hunting, the 11,000 acre Oroville Wildlife Area offers an abundance of riparian viewing along the Feather River and grasslands around the Thermalito Afterbay. Visit during the week for a quieter experience.
#15: Feather River
The Feather River is a key water feature in Butte County. Its waters feed and create Lake Oroville, and the North, South, and Middle Forks are wild rivers perfect for fishing, kayaking, and white water rafting.
#16: Lake Oroville
The second-largest reservoir in the state, Lake Oroville is the go-to spot for boating, jet and water skiing, and general water enthusiasts when the weather warms. The lake is also a nationally renowned bass fishing location.
#17: Brown's Hole
As the last officially known swimming hole in Upper Bidwell Park, Brown’s Hole is more secluded and yet still easily accessible; those that find their way here will enjoy more solitude and an almost wilderness setting.
#18: Five Mile Recreation Area
At Five Mile Recreation Area, you’ll find a kid friendly swimming hole that is wider, shallower, and calmer than swimming areas upstream. With easy restroom and picnic area access, it’s easy to see why this is a family favorite.
#19: North Rim Trail
Despite being one of the longest trails in Upper Bidwell Park, the North Rim Trail is a pretty easy hike since the grade is gradual and well-established. With sweeping views of the park and rocky look-out point, it’s a great trail for most hikers and bikers.
#20: Feather River Fish Hatchery
The Feather River Fish Hatchery plays an important role in sustaining the population of salmon and trout in the river, but it’s also just a fun place for a visit! Go nose-to-nose through an underwater viewing window and take a (guided or unguided) tour.
#21: Curtain Falls
About 45 minutes northeast of Oroville, along the Middle Fork of the Feather River, those able to endure a difficult hike will discover Curtain Falls. With smooth, natural granite water slides and clear emerald water, it’s a challenging trip with a high reward.
Update October 2020: The portions of the Plumas National Forest affected by North Complex Fire, in which Curtain Falls is located, ARE CLOSED THROUGH MARCH 2023 to hiking, hunting, camping, and fishing through 2023 due to ongoing recovery efforts
#22: Peregrine Point Disc Golf
With arguably some of the best views in Upper Bidwell Park, the Peregrine Point Disc Golf offers 18 holes traversing a varied terrain overlooking the Sacramento Valley and Chico Creek Canyon.
#23: Hooker Oak Park
Those with children will find Hooker Oak Park a pleasant spot to spend a few hours. The park features play equipment for 2-5 year olds, handicap accessible play equipment for those 5-12, a basketball court, picnic areas, and more.
#24: Bald Rock
A granite batholith just like Yosemite’s famed Half Dome, Bald Rock is a prominent fixture along the skyline of certain parts of Lake Oroville and is particularly visible from Feather Falls. It’s a perfect spot for hiking and backpacking.
#25: Lower Bidwell Park
Flat and level with a thick canopy of trees, Lower Bidwell Park is perfect for easy, leisurely strolls and bike rides that everyone in the family can enjoy. You can also get creekside, take a dip in Sycamore Pool, and have a picnic in a variety of locations.
#26: Caper Acres
The iconic Lower Bidwell park for children under 13, Caper Acres is a magical location, featuring a crooked house, a pirate ship with a sea monster, swiss cheese climbing structure, and so much more.
#27: Ravine Falls
One of the few other waterfalls you’ll see on the way to Phantom Falls, Ravine Falls (AKA, Fern Falls) is a 71-foot waterfall with a beautiful flow during the rainy season.
#28: Sacramento River
Butte County’s share of the Sacramento River has some of the best river recreation in the state! Enjoy tubing, boating, and fishing adventures as well as hundreds of acres of protected riparian habitat.
#29: Butte Creek Watershed Overlook
The Butte Creek Watershed is home to high green meadows, pools and riffles, and a miniature "Grand Canyon" of Butte Creek. From the Overlook off Skyway, you can take in this spectacular vista along the Paradise Ridge.
#30: Butte Creek Ecological Preserve
Located along the middle section of Butte Creek, the Butte Creek Ecological Preserve is a 93-acre site home to many species of special status, which the public could view during hikes through the area. However, currently the preserve is closed due to damage from the 2018 Camp Fire.
#31: Alligator Hole
The first designated swimming hole in Upper Bidwell Park, Alligator Hole is a tame stop along Yahi Trail, perfect for young hikers or for cooling off one last time after a long hike.
#32: Guardian Trail
Expert cyclists will enjoy the exposed singletrack that is the Guardian Trail, which is all downhill with some extreme drop-offs along the trail edges. Riders will be rewarded with views of the Chico Creek Canyon below and valley to the west.
#33: Paradise Lake
Tucked amidst the pines, Paradise Lake is a postcard-perfect picture location for relaxed walking, hiking, or boating along the 4.5 mile trail on its western shore. With gorgeous conifer woodland surrounding the shoreline, you might even spot a bald eagle or a bear
#34: DeGarmo Park
With youth softball fields, turf fields, a playground, a dog park, and picnic areas, DeGarmo Park is always a happening place. Introduce your four-legged friend to new buddies, watch a game, or simply enjoy the community park vibe.
#35: Loafer Creek Recreation Area
Loafer Creek Recreation Area has 137 tent campsites, a boat launch, and equestrian trails, making it a popular spot on the shores of Lake Oroville any time of the year. You can also enjoy three additional sites that have been developed for equestrians, hikers, and bikers accessing the area via the Potter’s Ravine Trail.
#36: Chico Seed Orchard
Enjoy a relaxing stroll through the international woodland at the Chico Seed Orchard. Originally an outdoor research facility for hundreds of plants from around the world, many of them still grow in the 209-acre botanical gem.
#37: Monkey Face
An easy 15-minute walk in Upper Bidwell Park will take you to Monkey Face, a popular rock formation from which you can enjoy scenic views of the rest of the park. Make sure to bring a camera!
#38 (and #41): Sly Creek Recreation Area and Sly Creek Reservoir
Tucked away in the eastern corner of Butte County, the remote Sly Creek Recreation Area attracts campers, anglers, and flatwater boating enthusiasts. The recreation area’s centerpiece is the Sly Creek Reservoir, which is surrounded by conifer-lined shores and features emerald-hued water just begging to be swimmed in.
UPDATE 4/2/2021: As of April 2, 2021, this recreation site remains closed due a Forest Closure Order in response to dangerous conditions related to recent wildfires. The campground will be closed until March 10, 2023.
#40: Annie Bidwell Trail
Formally known as the South Rim Trail, Annie Bidwell Trail is a 4.4 mile out-and-back in Upper Bidwell Park. The trail is most enjoyed in the spring, with the wildflower blooms, and the fall, with the colorful foliage.
#42: Concow Lake
Hidden in the Sierra/Cascade foothills, Lake Concow is a beautiful place to visit, fish, or camp. Tall trees provide shady camping, fishing along the lake shore, or picnicking along the banks of the creek.
#43: Dome Trail
Perhaps Butte County’s toughest hike, Dome Trail plunges nearly 1,600 feet in a little over two miles to reach the Middle Fork of the Feather River just underneath Bald Rock Dome. And given the strenuous trek back, this really is a trail for experienced hikers only.
Update October 2020: The portions of the Plumas National Forest affected by North Complex Fire, in which Dome Trail is located, will be closed to hiking, hunting, camping, and fishing through 2023 due to ongoing recovery efforts
#44: Riverbend Park
So named for its prime location along the Feather River in Oroville, Riverbend Park features 210 acres of park space, including a boat launch, disc golf course, picnic areas, playground, and more. With so many features right on the water, it’s a perennially popular spot in town.
#45: Gray Lodge Wildlife Area
During the winter migration season, a drive to Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Gridley is a must. The thousands of snow geese and other migratory birds that touch down on the 9,100-acre area each year are a sight to behold.
#46: Community Park
Community Park is South Chico's premier public recreation facility providing an ideal setting for recreational sports, public outings, and leisure activities. The 40-acre community park has everything for an afternoon out with the family.
#47: Llano Seco Unit
Situated 10 miles southwest of Chico, the Llano Seco Unit consists of nearly 1,800 acres that support large populations of wintering waterfowl. It’s viewing platform is the perfect spot to set up with binoculars or a camera.
#48: Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail covers 2,653 miles from Mexico to Canada, and Butte County shares a 12 mile stretch of the PCT (with Plumas County) near the halfway point. The six mile hike between Humboldt Summit and Humbug Summit features amazing views of the surrounding mountains.
#49: Brad Freeman Trail
The Brad Freeman Trail is a 41-mile adventure around the Oroville area that offers a huge variety of scenic vistas and day trip options for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Visitors will enjoy both a variety in scenery and trail conditions.
#50: Bidwell Canyon Marina
Another popular boat launch area on Lake Oroville, Bidwell Canyon Marina offers all that anyone could need for a full day of lake fun--boat rentals, camping, boat storage, a bar and grill, and more.
#51: Sherwood Forest Disc Golf
Located in Hooker Oak Park, the Sherwood Forest Disc Golf course is made just for children (and beginners of all ages), who will love the 9-hole Robin Hood-inspired course.
#52: Bidwell Bar Suspension Bridge
When locals talk about the Bidwell Bar Suspension Bridge, they’re usually referring to one along State Route 162, which is both a beautiful icon and a place for unique views of the lake. However, the original Bidwell Bar Bridge from 1855, also still stands today near Bidwell Canyon Marina and is open for foot traffic.
#53: Snowmobiling in Jonesville
During the winter, Jonesville becomes a winter wonderland, perfect for hiking, snowshoeing, and, especially, snowmobiling. Hang out at the Jonesville Snowmobile Park or venture out to Colby Mountain Lookout or even Lake Almanor for a full day of fun!
#54: Colby Mountain Lookout
Located in Butte County’s high country, the Colby Mountain Lookout provides a panoramic view of the Lassen National Forest .Cyclists love the area for the 60 miles of trails that offer solitude among the pines.
#55: Humboldt Peak
Another high country favorite, Humboldt Peak is nearly the highest point in the county. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a short hike to the 7,087-foot peak, where they’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree view of faraway places, including the tip of Mount Shasta on clear days.
#56: Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area
Considered one of the finest wetland habitat complexes in North America, the Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area acts as a resting place for wintering migratory birds as well as a popular hunting location.
#58: Lake De Sabla
Located on the north side of Magalia and surrounded by grass and pine trees, Lake De Sabla is a small and calm location perfect for fishing for planted rainbow trout or simply enjoying the views.
#59: Clay Pit State Vehicular Recreation Area
Two miles west of Oroville, the Clay Pit State Vehicular Recreation Area is a playground for dirt bikers, ATV owners, and 4x4 enthusiasts. If you’re looking to get a little dirty, this is the place to go.
#60: Chico Community Observatory
Contemplate the stars and the sky at the Chico Community Observatory, where you can explore the universe first-hand and free of charge. Take a close look through the telescope or simply observe the cosmos above.
#61: Lake Oroville Visitor Center
Located atop Kelly Ridge and overlooking the lake and the dam, the Lake Oroville Visitor Center is an interpretive museum showcasing the dam and region’s history. It also has a 47-foot viewing tower, with two high-powered telescopes, where you’ll enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of the lake.