Dive right into Butte County’s gold rush past by visiting the Forks of Butte Creek Recreation Area. This beautifully forested area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is just north of the quaint Sierra Nevada foothill town of Magalia—home of the 54-pound “Dogtown Nugget.” You can spend your time here fishing for rainbow trout, hiking, or roughing it at a primitive campsite. Those wanting to try their hand at searching for gold can reserve their own slice of Butte Creek by obtaining a permit from the BLM.
Here for the gold? Start your adventure by completing a Recreational Mineral Collection Permit, which is $5 per day and good for up to eight visitors. This permit is required for all mineral collection activities, including panning and sluicing, and will reserve approximately 100 yards of Butte Creek for you and your group. Choose between several sites, depending on your wants and needs:
- Sites 5 through 11 have dispersed camping spots nearby.
- Sites 12 through 18b have relatively easy access from the Butte Creek Trail south of Doe Mill Road.
- Sites 19 through 26 require a longer, steeper hike in but offer more solitude for the rugged adventurer.
Camping at the Forks of Butte Creek Recreation Area is free and primitive, just like in 1849! Bring all of your essentials and camp in the mixed-conifer forest next to Butte Creek. You can camp for up to 14 days at a time on BLM land. If you want a campfire, obtain a free California Campfire Permit and check with the BLM or Cal-Fire for any fire restrictions. (And make sure to clean up after yourselves.)
A short trail connects the Doe Mill Bridge parking area with the campground while following the east bank of Butte Creek. The Butte Creek Trail also starts at Doe Mill Bridge and travels south along the west side of the creek for one mile before dissolving along the canyon’s edge. Both sections of trail along Butte Creek offer frequent access to the water’s edge, though access trails on the southern section will be much steeper.
The Indian Springs Trail, located near Lake DeSabla, provides access to another section of Butte Creek. This trail starts in a clearing of exposed serpentine (California’s State rock!) and plunges nearly 900 feet in just 1.5 miles into Butte Creek Canyon. Stands of large manzanita, live oak, and big-leaf maple help shade the way. Visitors in the autumn are treated to beautiful fall colors while springtime hikers may see a variety of wildflowers. The cascades and swimming holes of Butte Creek are a wonderful way to cool off in the summer.
Make your way to Chico via Highway 99 and exit east onto Skyway (Exit 383). Enjoy breathtaking views of Butte Creek Canyon as you wind up the hill on Skyway towards the Town of Paradise. Drive with care as you pass rebuilding efforts in Paradise and Magaila. Lake DeSabla is about 21 miles up the hill from Highway 99 in Chico.
To reach the main Forks of Butte Creek Recreation Area, turn left onto Powelton Road which is half of a mile past Lake DeSabla. At the next intersection, bear left onto Doe Mill Road. The next intersection is Ditch Grade Road. Bear right onto Ditch Grade Road for about 1.5 miles to reach the campground area. To reach Doe Mill Bridge and the Butte Creek Trail, continue on Doe Mill Road past Ditch Grade Road for about a mile. Both Doe Mill Road and Ditch Grade Road are dirt roads that are unmaintained in the winter.
To reach the Indian Springs Trailhead, turn left onto Humbug Road just before Lake Desabla. Take the next right onto DeSabla Powerhouse Road and travel for 1.5 miles. There will be a short access road to the trailhead on the right.