Northern California’s RV Playground
The area between Grass Valley and Lake Oroville offers a bounty of outdoor adventures
Even though my wife, Gayle, and I have traveled to this part of Northern California many times in our motorhome, there are still points of interest that we haven’t seen and fun activities that we haven’t yet experienced. To us, the area where California’s Central Valley alluvial plain, the Sierra Nevada and the volcanic Cascade Mountains converge, seems like a giant playground with lots of attractions.
These are the counties of Butte, Nevada and Yuba. Here, you’ll find a mild Mediterranean-type climate, interesting local history, a large and diverse population of wildlife, plenty of camping options for RVers and a wide variety of recreational opportunities. If you have a motorhome, and can get away for a visit, we promise that boredom and disappointment will not be part of the experience.
It was on our first visit that we learned about Lake of the Springs RV Resort, a 950-acre campground nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. This large resort has seven camping areas and offers a wide selection of surroundings and sites. Some campsites have sewer, but most are electric and water only. We had heard from other RVers that Lake of the Springs is an outstanding campground, with extensive amenities and activities, and after staying here three times, we agree. Because our motorhome is 35 feet long, and our dinghy is towed four wheels down, we like to make Lake of the Springs our home base and take day trips in our dinghy.
What’s the big deal about this resort that causes RVers to return time after time? To begin with, Lake of the Springs is humongous and has spacious campsites that are mostly set far apart. Deer and other wildlife roam right through the camping areas; one evening we counted 17 of them, including several fawns, lingering in and around our campsite. There is a large swimming pool, plus a 120-acre lake surrounded by pines, with wonderful beaches and trails. Fishing is generally good, as the resort does its own planting of stock. Launch your own boat adjacent to the docks, or rent one on site.
Lake of the Springs hosts organized activities for young and old throughout the year. During the warmer months, additional events are held on the weekends for the kids, including paddleboat races, swim cruises on patio boats, and fishing derbies at a little pond below the lodge. A spacious beach at the lake beckons all ages for sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, tubing and people-watching. Four-legged family members will enjoy the dog beach, which is fenced in and located at a secluded part of the lake. It’s a wonderful place for dogs and their owners to play. For those who want a change of pace, but still want to be close to the water, there’s a large, well-maintained miniature golf course on the hill above the boat docks.
You’ll find coffee and cookies most mornings in the resort’s lodge, and during the weekends, the staff does an efficient job of serving tasty breakfasts and dinners. The lodge is also where you’ll find year-round activities, such as line-dancing lessons, a variety of games and an arcade. Nearby is a well-stocked general store, which carries merchandise for most camping and recreational needs, and hosts ice cream socials on the weekends.
When we travel, we look for three things: bodies of water for recreation; wilderness settings for hiking, biking and viewing wildlife; and areas that are rich in history. Our first clue that there were water-related recreational opportunities in the area (beyond those at Lake of the Springs), were the large fishing boats, ski boats and white-water kayaking equipment in the parking lot near the store. After asking around, we learned there are several nearby waterways.
Only about 10 minutes away is 1,600-acre Collins Lake, which has 12 miles of shoreline and excellent fishing. It has the largest private fish-planting program north of Sacramento, with more than 50,000 trout planted each spring; there are also plenty of bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish. Water-skiing is allowed, but no personal watercraft. There is a campground, a large beach, a playground for the children, a marina, beach volleyball, a shady picnic area and big ice cream cones.
This recreation area has two wonderful tracts of land that have been set aside by the Department of Fish & Game for protection of wildlife. Daugherty Hill (to the south of Collins Lake) and Donovan Hill (to the west of Collins Lake) provide an opportunity to get away from the often-crowded beach and lake. While enjoying the peace and solitude of hiking through these two areas, traversing varied terrain, there is an excellent chance you’ll see deer, wild turkeys and quail. In addition, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, osprey and black vultures patrol the skies. Occasionally foxes, skunks, bobcats, mountain lions and bears can be seen as well; just be aware that rattlesnakes and poison oak share the space.
Located about 13 miles from the RV resort is New Bullards Bar Reservoir. It is quite large, with a capacity of 969,600 acre-feet of water, and fed mostly by the North Fork of the Yuba River. Waterski magazine rated it as one of the best recreational lakes in the United States. About 16 miles in length, it offers more than 60 miles of scenic shoreline. Emerald Cove Marina offers services such as a general store, gasoline, boat moorings and rentals. Other options include hiking, fishing and swimming.
Only about a 40-minute drive from the resort is the huge Lake Oroville State Recreation Area. Fed by the North, Middle and South forks and the West Branch of the Feather River, and with more than 3.5 million acre-feet of water capacity, this is the second-largest reservoir in California (Shasta Lake is bigger). Those who like to fish can rent a patio boat or fishing boat and try catching some of the trophy salmon, steelhead and bass that lurk in the depths. Water-skiing, wakeboarding, sailing and swimming are just part of the activities. There’s also horseback riding, horse camping, hiking and more. You can also rent houseboats, and what they refer to as floating campsites, or try boat-in-camping on islands. Bicycling enthusiasts will want to try out the wonderful trail along the river and across the dam, which affords 41 miles of scenic riding. Aside from two steep grades, most of the distance is relatively flat.
I love white-water kayaking and rafting, so I’m always checking out potential runs. Just a bit north of Yuba City, there is a nice 5-mile stretch where the North Fork of the Feather River flows through a granite canyon, beginning below the Cresta Dam and ending at Poe Reservoir. County Line Falls, The Wave and Cave Rapid are rated Class IV white-water runs. Several rafting companies offer excursions there during the season. Situated between Poe Powerhouse and Lake Oroville is Big Bend Run, which includes an adrenaline-rush drop over the Big Bend Dam.
Lake Oroville State Recreation Area is also steeped in history. Native Americans known as Maidu inhabited the area long before gold was discovered there in 1848. The Southern Maidu (also known as Nisenan) occupied the Yuba River drainage. The Northeastern or Mountain Maidu (also known as Yamonee), made their home along the upper North and Middle forks of the Feather River. Konkow Maidu lived along another part of the North Fork and some of its tributaries. Their total population in 1770 was estimated at between 9,000 and 9,500. They gathered acorns and other nuts, wild grapes and blackberries; dug up tubers and bulbs; planted some crops; and hunted mostly small game. The Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County has exhibits that illustrate their history and culture.
A side benefit of looking into the history and culture of the Maidu, was learning more about a unique phenomenon known as the Sutter Buttes. These peaks rise up out of the valley floor in a most unlikely manner and place. They can easily be seen from far away. The Maidu call the buttes “Spirit Mountain.” Often described (tongue in cheek) as the “World’s Smallest Mountain Range,” it affords a wonderful place to take photographs of the unusual landscape. Unfortunately, virtually the entire area is private property. You can drive around and over some parts, but hikes must be arranged through a land trust, overseen by the Middle Mountain Foundation. Visitors can learn about the Sutter Buttes, and arrange to join one of the many hiking excursions, by visiting the Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County (in Yuba City).
If you are looking for a museum that has the most exhibits and covers the most history about the area, it’s worth the 45-minute drive to Grass Valley to visit the Nevada County Historical Society’s Northstar Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum. From the early days of California’s Gold Rush — where picks and shovels were primarily used — through the advent of hydraulic mining, and then deep quartz mining, this museum has it all.
Of course there are plenty of other interesting things to see and do beyond those that I’ve described, most just a day trip away. Maybe we’ll see you there. Gayle and I are already planning our next sojourn.
For More Information
LAKE OF THE SPRINGS RV RESORT
LAKE OROVILLE STATE RECREATION AREA
NORTHSTAR MINE POWERHOUSE & PELTON WHEEL MUSEUM