Views from the top of Monkey Face in Bidewell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s been a while since a trailhead felt overwhelming. It might be the case every time I venture into Bidwell Park in Chico.

At 3,670 acres and nearly 11 miles in length, it’s going to take a while to completely explore this city park that feels more like a state park.

The first hike was in Upper Park, which is considered the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Terrain is more rugged, with many rock formations, compared to Lower Park.

Monkey Face

First on the list was to get to the top of Monkey Face. This switchback along uneven surface is distinctly uphill, but required little exertion for two people used to hiking at Tahoe. The rewards were views of the greater Chico area and much of the park. In spring there is plenty of green to see. But with it being a dry winter, Horseshoe Lake even in mid-April was clearly drying up.

We both looked at the rock formation from various angels at a distance. We never saw a monkey’s face.

Many of the trails in Bidwell Park are muli-use. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

From there we tromped along the Middle Trail. (There are Upper and Lower trails, too.) This is shared with mountain bikers; all of whom were courteous. Part of the trail is wide enough to walk side-by-side, while other times it was single track. Be sure to look down because the embedded rocks in the solid soil seemed to really be tripping stones.

Much of this trail is exposed and will just get hotter as summer approaches. A few oak trees provided small swaths of shade. Wildflowers are out and grasses more than a foot tall swayed in the gentle breeze.

Wildflowers dot the landscape throughout the park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We turned right to take a short connector to the Fenced Road before we got onto the Yahi Trail.

Once on the Yahi Trail it was like a completely different hike. It follows Big Chico Creek. At times the water looked untamed, other places swimming pools were being enjoyed by young children. A group of twentysomething guys were jumping off rocks into the cold water; and then quickly scrambled to get onto a warm rock in the middle of the water. This time of year the water is too cold to linger.

Lovejoy basalt lines this canyon. This black volcanic rock in years past was mined as railroad ballasts.

Big Chico Creek flows through Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

No bikes or horses are allowed on the Yahi trail, and dogs are supposed to be leashed.

The Yahi Trail is maintained by volunteers in the Mount Lassen Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. This is nice because they’ve placed markers to point out various flora as well as some of the animals that might be calling the area home. The section we were on included Fremont cottonwood, Western sycamore (a favorite tree of hummingbirds and it attracts Western tiger swallowtail caterpillars), skunk bush, Santa Barbara sedge (serves as nesting habitat and basketry material), ponderosa pine and gray pine, and Christmas berry (which attracts butterflies and other insects, and whose berries are toxic to humans).

The trail comes out onto the road and then is a short distance from the parking lot where all the fun started.

Wild grasses flutter in the breeze. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • Directions: From downtown Chico, take Vallombrosa Avenue east. At the roundabout take the second exit onto Manzanita Avenue. At the next roundabout take the first exit onto Wildwood Avenue. Turn left into the parking area just past Chico Rod and Gun Club.
  • Stats: 5.57 miles, elevation gain 440 feet, minimum elevation 304 feet, maximum elevation 551 feet.
  • Signs point to the various trails.
  • Ticks are common and so is poison oak.

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