Hot, flat, dry and the most interesting thing to do is drink beer.
It’s not a far reach to say this is how many people in Northern California view Chico in the summer. If it wasn’t for Bidwell Park, I would be right there with them, but the 2500 acre park changed Chico from a place I was trying to get away from to somewhere I didn’t want to leave.
Bidwell Park starts on the outskirts downtown and sprawls into the mountains behind Chico, unravelling Big Chico Creek and creating a prime destination for outdoor junkies with a broad scope of interests. Whether you live in Chico or the surrounding NorCal area, Bidwell Park is worth a visit. There is a host of options when it comes to exploring, so I decided to share my top five. Check out my highlights and then find your own to add to the list.
Bidwell Park is centered around Big Chico Creek, which starts high above Chico and gathers in pools as it flows toward the city. Unique rock formations, deep pools and mini rapids make the swimming holes furthest from Chico, known as Bear Hole, Salmon Hole and Alligator Hole the most appealing to the more adventuresome sort who have the time to make the drive to Upper Park. If you visit on a weekend, a dirt road takes you straight to the swimming holes. On weekdays locked gates prevent vehicle access, making it about a mile walk to the swimming holes.
A short walk from downtown, Lower Park holds Sycamore Pool where the Big Chico Creek is damned and encased in cement to create a swimming pool type atmosphere combined with the fresh water of the creek. The pool is surrounded by shade trees and lawns, making it perfect for a convenient swim or to take kids along to play in a monitored environment.
1-Mile (Sycamore Pool)
Located in more accessible Lower Park, 1-Mile swimming area is a concrete-reinforced, man-made pool “cut” into the river. Sycamore Pool rests right near downtown Chico, and provides a great atmosphere for families. Imagine a local neighborhood pool except this one is located on a river. Surrounding grass, tables and concrete walkways contribute to a fantastic picnicking environment. Just pull up to adjacent parking areas, and in minutes you’ll be beating the heat.
Bear Hole is all about convenience. Park and you’re practically in the water. The only drawback to the natural pool is that it tends to get incredibly crowded especially on weekends and holidays. Swimming there requires a very short, slightly steep hike. Once you’re near the water, you’ll see many large rocks that make for prime cannon-ball platforms. There’s a slightly stronger current at Bear Hole than at 1-Mile, but deeper sections are calmer and slow moving. Close by porta-potties and other amenities make spending a family day at Bear Hole a fun and easy feat.
Found in Upper Park, shaded Salmon Hole is a cult favorite among many Chico locals. Getting to the swimming spot necessitates a somewhat difficult, steep climb with no cement stairs or railings. Young children and those with injury problems may have trouble safely completing the hike to Salmon Hole. Due to an older group of visitors, you’re likely to see college students hanging out on the pebble beach at Salmon Hole drinking beer. The views from the Bidwell swimming locale, Salmon Hole’s relative dearth of visitors (during weekdays at least) and its huge swimming area have contributed to its cult status.
Regardless of your skill level, there is a trail for you and your mountain bike in Bidwell Park. Middle Park is a perfect spot for beginners, with relatively even terrain and dirt trails that connect with tougher trails of Upper Park. The trails of Upper Park have been the training grounds of world class mountain bikers. They are rocky and unforgiving, making the steep rim trails a place for bikers to push themselves.
Length: 8.4 miles
Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate
Middle Trail serves as a nice contrast to the more unforgiving, technical trails in Upper Bidwell. You start off on a smooth, mostly even dirt path, which leads you to some rougher, moderately technical climbs. The path finishes with steep and exhausting yet short, less technical climbs. For beginners, the road that runs adjacent to the trail allows respite for trickier areas along Middle Trail.
South Rim Trail (Upper Bidwell Park)
Length: 9.8 miles
Being on the quieter South section of Bidwell, the South Rim Trail provides a bit more peace than other areas of the park. Starting off steep and technical, the trail takes you to an area with sightings of beautiful Big Chico Creek. You then drop down into the canyon below via “Tennis Ball Hill,” which will likely be the highlight of your day. Watch out for rattlesnakes.
Golfing — Disc and Standard
Bidwell Park has three golf courses, the Bidwell Park Golf Course for those who prefer the club, and two disc golf courses.
Bidwell Park Golf Course is a short drive from Chico, starting at the base of Upper Park and spreading into the foothills along the creek. Also close to the city, Sherwood Forest Kids’ Disc Golf Course is a highlight of Middle Park. It is a 9 hole course, easy to modify for any skill level. While technically a kids course it is more common to find beginners or people who don’t have time to drive to the larger course above the south rim of Bidwell Park.
When you do have time, the Pergrine Point in Bidwell Park is worth the 15 minute drive up Highway 32. The course lines bluffs that overlook Bidwell Park and the valley where Chico sits, so even without a disc in hand it is a beautiful hike.
A Dog’s Paradise
The vastness of Bidwell creates so many opportunities to get active with your dog. Whether it’s the trails/swimming holes in Upper Bidwell Park, or the relaxing, shaded areas of Lower Bidwell Park, dogs are welcome everywhere. For a relaxing day, try going to One Mile or Hooker Oak Park. For the adventure seekers, hike deep back into Upper Park (past Salmon Hole) to find an empty swimming hole. Watch out for rattlesnakes.
Bidwell Park is an inclusive location, inviting dogs to run free in designated areas but requiring them to be contained to a leash in others. The swimming holes and trails make it an ideal place for dogs to play and get their exercise while you get yours.
Have fun on your adventure to Bidwell Park!
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine