With generally clear skies and agreeable temperatures, spring in Butte County is a blast of new life and an opportunity to get outside. Whether you're looking to break a sweat or relax while enjoying some fresh air, you've got plenty of options.
If you want to do both, consider a day hike. Table Mountain (more on that in a bit) or Black Butte both erupt with color in the spring, and for the latter, in particular, it’s a short window--take advantage of it.
David Little, the longtime editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record newspaper, is well-known in the region for his outdoors acumen. An avid hunter, fisherman, and explorer in general, Little knows the places to go.
“We’re in that short-lived sweet spot where a drive to some place like Cherokee or Black Butte leaves you awestruck—you almost don’t even need to get out and hike,” he says. “But it’s sure rewarding to do so.”
Local favorites include the mild-but-beautiful Yahi Trail, and the more moderately challenging Upper Bidwell and South Rim trails in Bidwell Park. If you fancy a short drive, just outside of county limits is the eponymous Black Butte Lake Trail. But Little’s favorite—like many other Chicoans—is the North Rim Trail, starting at Horseshoe Lake and trekking to the park boundary, walking among the flowers.
“Hard to believe something like that sits in Chico,” he says. “The farther you get from the parking lot, the more alone you are. Most good trails are like that.”
If you’re looking for a tasting or a brewery tour, Butte County will spoil you for choice, and it’s well worth extending beyond Chico city limits for that particular voyage (Sierra Nevada’s not going anywhere, after all).
Oroville’s Purple Line Urban Winery has gone to great effort to create a wine-tasting destination, and with live music events, cellar and patio parties, food trucks and, of course, an excellent tasting room experience, it succeeds. So too does Almendra Winery & Distillery, with a tasteful and intimate venue, terrific Almendra and Bertagna vintages, and local spirits.
A somewhat newer player to the scene is Live Vine, overlooking the Thermalito Afterbay between Oroville and Richvale. Live Vine offers tours by appointment only, which gives you the opportunity to get a highly personalized walk of the vineyard and “micro-winery.”
If beer is your preference, the Meyers District in Chico is quickly earning a new reputation as The Craft District. A great area to wrap up your night with a group of friends, or to grab a bite and a brew before moving on, you’ve got options here. Check out both the taproom and the brewery at Secret Trail, and make sure to hit up The Commons, with 24 delicious and frequently changing taps, in addition to a variety of wines and ciders.
Cycling of all varieties, by both locals and out-of-towners, really starts to come to life in the area with the arrival of spring as trails get a chance to dry out and we get more daylight. The county has ample natural offerings for rides both casual and challenging. The epicenter of Butte County cycling, of course, is Chico’s Upper Park, with a wide range of trails varying in difficulty.
Road cyclists can find a good ride anywhere, from the orchard-lined thoroughfares of Durham all the way up Centerville Road toward Magalia (mostly once the snow starts melting, of course).
Chico’s the most versatile place in Butte County for a range of patio dining, and it’s not limited to downtown options: Fine diners will want to head down the Esplanade to the Red Tavern, where live music may accompany your meal if you choose the right evening. B Street’s back patio provides a spacious area to nosh on local-favorite “trashy” street tacos or a cubano, perhaps.
Those wanting to spend an afternoon or evening on the north side of town still have a patio dining option, and an inexpensive one at that, in the form of Sol. A Mexican beer, a SoCal burrito and some fresh spring air form a tough combo to beat.
Outside of Chico, Oroville boasts Miner’s Alley Brewing Company, with burgers, sandwiches, and weather-dependent patio dining, and The Patio is an aptly named New American eatery with lunch and dinner options across a huge menu.
Few sources are as knowledgeable as Little when it comes to this particular species in this particular region; he’s scoured every body of water in every season over the years. Some of the area’s mountain streams that peter out in the summer have abundant water in the spring, and that makes them excellent trout-fishing spots.
Butte Creek, Deer Creek, Oroville’s West Branch, and stretches of the Yuba and American rivers are all locales to investigate, Little says. You’ll probably have some peace and quiet, and you stand a good chance to get some bites.
“One time in the spring, I went to a branch of Cottonwood Creek and caught and released 20 little trout on a stretch of the stream that would be dry two months later,” he recalls. “I have no idea where those fish went when the water dried up, but obviously it was a self-sustaining native population. It didn't matter where they came from or where they went. All that mattered was that they were there.”
Arguably the region’s most stunning array of natural flora, the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve explodes each spring with a wildflower bloom that can leave you breathless. Bring an extra SD card, or clear some space on your smartphone—you’ll want to leave with plenty of photos. Deep oranges, vibrant violet and eye-popping yellows roll over the hillsides here. Don’t just accept someone else’s account; you’ve got to see it for yourself. The fact that this all happens in the spring, well before the sweltering summer heat bakes the valley, adds to the sublime experience of a Table Mountain stroll.
“This is the time of year,” Little remarked, “when you get out and say, ‘I should hike more often.’”