Butte Creek Tubing

Butte Creek Tubing a step up from Sacramento float

By Lauren Pope

Another way for Chico residents to float during the hot summer days.

Chico residents have found a new way to float. Twisting and turning its way through lush greenery and a steep, rocky canyon is Butte Creek. About 20 minutes from town, this section of water is slowly becoming locals’ favorite tubing destination.

“It’s close, convenient and it’s a lot more fun than the Sac float,” said Julia Soria, a civil engineering major at Chico State.

The run starts off with a drop in elevation in the creek which causes the water to churn into white, frothy pillows of excitement. Tubers find themselves soaked and pumping with adrenaline after only a few minutes on the creek.

While enjoying the whitewater, tubers can also look forward to the wildlife and green scenery. Deer, ducks and geese all converge at the water’s edge to feed and frolic. Both banks are full with grasses and wildflowers and trees extend their long, thin branches all the way out to the middle of the creek.

Most people have never thought of tubing Butte Creek. They instead choose to float the Sacramento River, a tradition that never fails to attract a crowd. The Orion reported about 15,000-22,000 people floated down the river over Labor Day weekend last September.

Flocks of girls in bikinis and bros in board shorts migrate to the Sacramento River in perfect sync with the change of seasons. Coolers of beer and Rockstar are usually in tow- there are as many tubes for beverages as there are for people.

During a balmy weekend in May last year Soria was one of only five people floating down the creek. Soria has floated the Sacramento River, but said it was “lame.”

“It wasn’t very scenic due to the amount of people on the river,” she said. “The most exciting thing was watching drunk people flip.”

Soria would rather tube Butte Creek, she said.

Located near the famous Honey Run Covered Bridge, adventurers can easily tube a six-mile stretch of Butte Creek in just a couple of hours. In that time tubers can enjoy a series of thrilling rapids along with some flat water to relax and swim in.

On Butte Creek there are waves, rocks, obstacles and whitewater to entertain those looking for something more thrilling than the overcrowded and flat Sacramento River.

“It actually has waves and excitement,” Soria said.

Canyon contains whitewater excitement and rich history

Butte Creek is a 110-mile tributary to the Sacramento River that originates in Lassen National Forest in the Jonesville Basin. As the creek flows down the valley toward Chico it makes its way through what the Butte Creek Watershed Conservancy calls a miniature Grand Canyon.

“The Grand Canyon and Butte Creek Canyon have similar topography,” said Chuck Kutz, chairman of the board of directors at the Conservancy.

Kutz has lived in Butte Creek Canyon for more than 20 years and has seen a lot of Chico residents utilize the area for recreation. The creek was once heavily used by locals who unfortunately would bring alcohol and disrespect the residents of the canyon.

Recreationists now help in the preservation of the canyon by doing clean-ups as they float down, Kutz said. The residents used to have to clean up after tubers, but now they are doing their part to “tread lightly” when they visit the area.

“Their impact has been much much less than in the past,” Kutz said.

Rachel Luger, a 22-year-old Chico local, has been visiting the canyon since she was a child. Her mother and aunt would bring her, her brother and cousin to the covered bridge and let them play in the water.

Since then Luger has returned many times to the canyon to hike and kayak on the creek.

“I depend on it as a nice place to get away from it all,” she said. “It’s pretty peaceful and not as heavily used.”

She also likes exploring the historical parts of the canyon as well, Luger said.

“There’s a ton of history up that canyon,” she said. “Settlers and John Bidwell were stunned by the wildlife up there.”

Butte Creek Canyon not only provides a creek for tubers to play in Luger said, but it is also a place where they can learn some Butte County history.

The first and most obvious stop would be at the tubing run’s end- the Honey Run Covered Bridge. In the winter of 1886, George Miller, superintendent of construction at the site, built a bridge over the creek to connect Honey Run Road to Paradise Ridge. With this first construction Miller didn’t house the bridge and it wasn’t until 1901 when the boards were rotting that the bridge was covered.

In 1965 the bridge was put out of commission after a truck crashed into the corner and a new crossing was built just upstream. With local support the covered bridge was restored and preserved and it is now the only remaining three-level covered bridge left in the United States.

Other areas of interest in the canyon include the Colman Centerville Memorial Community Museum and the Centerville Powerhouse, California’s oldest running hydro-electric powerhouse. Both of these structures attest to the rich history of early 1800s settlers panning and mining for gold in Chico’s backyard.

New opportunity for weekend fun in Chico

If residents choose to tube Butte Creek Soria passes on words of caution.

The water level is good in May, but the temperature was too cold, Soria said.

“The water was really cold and the canyon gets really shady,” she said. “That was the hardest part about tubing Butte Creek.”

She also warned that if people aren’t ready for a step up from the Sacramento then they shouldn’t go.

“I’ve seen people freak out and have to walk out halfway on private property,” Soria said

Private property lines both sides of the creek so tubers should be wary of trespassing. The water is of course public property and stopping on beaches isn’t advised. In the past recreationists and residents have had issues, Kutz said. Tubers have walked through people’s private yards and have even gotten into residents’ hot tubs.

To deter any friction between the two groups, Kutz said, Butte County has banned alcohol on Butte Creek.

“Nobody wants to restrict anybody’s liberties,” he said.

However, the alcohol ban has decreased litter on the creek and has reduced conflict between the recreationists and residents.

“As long as people go in there and enjoy and respect the wildlife and residents it’ll be open for many more years to public use,” Kutz said.

If you want to go

• The start of the Butte Creek run can be reached by taking the Skyway from Chico.
• After two miles take a left onto Honey Run Road and once the Honey Run Covered Bridge comes into sight take the next left onto Centerville Road.
• From there drive about six miles to the next bridge, the Centerville Bridge, and park in a gravel lot on the left side of the road.
• A steep trail drops off the hill to a sandy beach next to the creek.
• The run ends at the covered bridge and tubers can hop out on the right side of the creek.

At the Centerville Bridge there is a sign about the creek for tubers with information on how long it will take to tube and where to get out at the end.

Get the gear

• Tubes at Ray’s Liquor on Nord Avenue: $7-20 depending on the size.
• A wetsuit and Personal Flotation Device rented from Adventure Outings at Chico State: $16 for students, $20 for general public.

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3 Responses to Butte Creek Tubing

  1. Theresa Andrew says:

    Looking forward to this summer in Chico. Is tubing good in late June?
    Information regarding kayaking would be great. Where to rent kayaks and how to use them for beginners.
    Thanks, Theresa

  2. Clay Reid says:

    Growing up in Chico in the 60’s, we used to tube Butte Creek almost every summer day… It always had the right combination of thrills and relaxing beauty… We would drive up Centerville road, then take Hell-Town road to the bee-keeper’s turn out where we’d park after leaving one car down below at the “take-out” down below the covered bridge ( we’d bail out of our tubes and continue the wild body-float ride thru the lower creek’s irrigation flumes ( don’t think that’s do-able now…) almost to the bottom of the road near the Skyway. It was the best 5 or 6 hours of my hot summer days in those years. I took up white water kayaking later in life to continue this childhood passion, running our great California rivers, from the King’s River near Fresno, to the Klamath both the upper wild ride and the lower floats… Now in my 60’s I’m slowing down a bit, but after reading this article, I’m going to take some friends up the Butte to introduce some newcomers to some of our community’s best hidden recreation …

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