Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Beer, Hiking and Disc Golf in Chico, CA

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has long been a go-to favorite for Hans so it was only logical for us to route through Chico, CA on our way to the east side of the Sierra Nevada range. We arrived to Almond Tree RV Park in Chico at noon with plenty of time to set up camp and relax at bit before our 3pm tour of the brewery. The tours are popular so reservations are a good idea.

Sierra Nevada Brewing is the third largest craft brewer and seventh largest brewing company in the US. Solely owned by one person, Ken Grossman, the plant is a model of sustainability and was named Green Business of the Year by the EPA in 2010. They have the largest privately owned solar array in the country, and they are installing several Tesla batteries to harness the energy produced during down times (the weekends) for use during the week.

We've been on numerous brewery tours and the brewing process is similar at every company, so the interesting part of the tour for us is to learn the history of the company and enjoy the free tastings. The brewery was founded in 1979, long before the craft beer phenomenon took off, and had a lot of growing pains along the way, including the bargain purchase of a 100 barrel brewhouse from Germany that cost 10 times more to ship to the US putting the fledgling company into serious debt.

This was a great tour, with a healthy amount of free tastings included. We started off with a sample of the flagship Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and ended the tour with tastes of seven additional brews. Afterwards we had a tasty pizza and salad at the onsite restaurant which had an extensive tap list with many that are available nowhere else including the one we shared, Ezo IPA, brewed with Asian hops with flavors of coconut, lime and lemongrass.

Goofing around in the hop room.

These small brew kettles are filled with experimental beers, most never make it to the public.

The brews we tasted are listed on the left, that 10.4% ABV Narwhal was tasty but potent!

Bidwell Park is the crown jewel of Chico. Established in 1905, it is currently more than 3,600 acres, over 11 miles long, and is the 25th largest city park in the US. Lower Bidwell Park is in the heart of the city and includes miles of paved trail and green parks and playgrounds. Big Chico Creek connects Lower to Upper Bidwell Park which has a golf course and disc golf course, swimming holes and many miles of gravel and natural trails on multiple levels up a canyon NE of town.

Chico is situated in the fertile Sacramento River Valley, nestled against the foothills of the Cascade range to the north and the Sierra Nevada range to the south. Upper Bidwell Park follows a canyon formed by millions of years of volcanic activity and Big Chico Creek cuts through the Lovejoy Basalt flow which originated from a volcano near what is now Susanville, about 100 miles NW of Chico.

We hiked an awesome 9 mile loop in Upper Bidwell that featured fantastic views into Big Chico Canyon from the north rim plus incredible close up views of the Lovejoy Basalt flow and Big Chico Creek. The sparsely treed gray pine and oak savannahs we walked through were an interesting change from our deep green summer in Oregon and we read that the wildflower displays in the spring are not to be missed.

We parked in the valley below and immediately climbed to the top of the ridge,
then continued along the basalt rim overlooking the canyon.
Big Chico Creek flows through the narrow, dark line at the bottom of the valley.
We saw dozens of vultures flying across the valley, more than we've ever seen anywhere in our travels.
This fine specimen was thoroughly enjoying the very warm morning sun (approaching 80 degrees).

After about four miles on the ridge top we dropped down to the valley and took the Yahi trail overlooking Big Chico Creek.
Dramatic basalt formations lined the sides of the creek bed.

We loved the oak studded golden grass covered savannah, so different from the deep green forests of our summer.

Though relatively flat and easy, the Yahi trail was quite rough due to the chunky basalt underfoot.
Rounded humps of basalt became more prominent as we continued down canyon. 

A turn in the creek bed provided a stunning view into the channel cut by Big Chico Creek.

Looking up at the ridge we had traveled earlier.

Big Chico Creek looks inviting for swimming in this hot summer climate,
but access is severely limited in the upper reaches of the canyon.

The last mile or so of trail brought us down to the water level and we saw a lot of beautiful swimming holes
that are probably packed with locals on summer weekends.
This area seems to have been developed a long time ago for water distribution.

Midday sun bounces off giant basalt boulders as Big Chico Creek makes its way through this unique landscape.

Once through the rough basalt canyon, Big Chico Creek has some family friendly swimming holes too.

The next day we drove up the south side of Bidwell Park to Peregrine Point Disc Golf Course. The course plays across a mesa overlooking Big Chico Canyon, with some tees and holes very close to the canyon rim...I skipped a few holes because with my erratic throws it's quite easy for me to lose a disc in this kind of terrain!

The course plays across the same kind of terrain that we hiked the previous day.

We got an early start because the day would get to 90 degrees so photos were challenging.
Here Hans is throwing right on the canyon edge; the opposite canyon rim is where we hiked the day before.

See tiny Hans on the right? He is throwing towards the point I am shooting from.
This is one of the shots I decided to pass on.

Big Chico Creek is hidden in the shadows at the bottom of the canyon.

I played the holes that looked like this!
We really enjoyed this course, it would be difficult to lose a disc in this setting.

Chico turned out to be a fun stop. Along with the adventures described above, we enjoyed walking CSU Chico campus and the adjacent vibrant downtown area. Lower Bidwell Park was also a pretty place to walk, the paved trail is shady and inviting with a variety of massive old trees.

From here we moved east into the mountains and California's gold country...and a fire zone!


  1. The nephew graduated from CSU Chico. We have not done the Upper Bidwell Park, but often walked the Lower section. As a note to your readers this is a dog friendly (on leash) ADA walk - not a hike - we've enjoyed. Pumpkinland Chocolates, north of Vina, has the most awesome turtles!

    Thanks for the blog on Upper Bidwell, maybe we too can enjoy that next time. Stay safe those fires are moving fast!

    1. Darn, wish we had known about the chocolate place!

      Chico was really a pleasant surprise. I think it would be fun to see the area during the spring wildflower bloom!

  2. Lovely hike! Hans looks way too happy shoveling the hops!

  3. Looks like a great area to hike. We'll have to put this stop on our list if we are in the area. Sure was different than your summer travels along the coast. Beautiful creek photos!

    1. I think spring would be a great time to visit Chico!

  4. Love this post as you hit all three of our favorite things...

  5. We've heard good things about Chico but have never stopped. Looks like some nice hiking and beers.
    With all the fires this is not a good time to be traveling in CA!

    1. It is worth a stop...I think spring would be the best time.

  6. We have family in Chico but have yet to make it there! Your hike looks amazing. Love the Savannah and the water running through the basalt. I would think there must be a lot of discs at the bottom of that canyon!

    1. I think you would enjoy walking Tessa in both Upper and Lower Bidwell Park.

  7. Chico is such a great town. It's been a few years since we've been there -- we're overdue for a visit! We stayed at Almond Tree, too. We also thought Sierra Nevada is a terrific brewery and the food is really good. That Ezo IPA sounds yummy. Looks like you guys found all the good places! :-)