In between the late winter rains and the early summer heat, Table Mountain is the perfect place to visit. This flat volcanic land blanketed in whimsical wildflowers lies just north of Oroville in Butte County.
This local gem bursts with color in March and April, as wildflowers bloom against a backdrop of blue skies and green grasses. Children delight in finding lizards lounging on rocks and newts nestled in streams. Black cows crowd around lone oak trees or meander across the sloping plateau.
While hiking across the grasslands, it’s hard not to step on the tiny yellow flowers, which blanket the mountain like a tablecloth. Table Mountain is home to blue lupine, orange poppies and white popcorn flowers. You can even see (I kid you not) magenta Kellogg’s monkeyflower.
During the spring months, Table Mountain is a beautiful place to spend a morning or an afternoon, and it’s an easy hike for families with children.
One of my favorite childhood memories took place at Table Mountain. My dad caught a California horned lizard. He held the “horny toad” like a hamburger and lifted it up to his gaping mouth. The lizard, not easily intimidated, opened its mouth, too. They both mimed eating each other several times, inciting lots of laughter from me and my sister. Eventually calling the game a draw, my dad let the lizard run free. It scurried across the volcanic rock and disappeared.
Besides lizards, Table Mountain is home to hawks, meadow larks and turkey vultures. But be careful not to step in cow pies or sink your feet in the soggy wetlands while looking for wildlife.
Hiking the plateau in spring is also a fine time to search for streams that cascade into waterfalls. During an early March trip to Table Mountain, I was fortunate to see “Phantom Falls,” a waterfall that dries up in the hotter months. Many of the flowers hadn’t bloomed yet, but there were enough to make me smile.
This year, the state Department of Fish and Game is offering free guided tours of Table Mountain. Tour guides take a maximum of 20 visitors on a slow-paced two-hour hike where they can see waterfalls and wildflowers and learn about the geology of the area. The rangers might even catch newts or lizards if you ask nice! Donations are welcome. The tours are being offered at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month through May 15. By mid-March this season’s tours were completely booked, but hikers are welcome to explore Table Mountain on their own. Personally, I prefer the serenity of a self-guided tour.
Spring brings the north state to life, and Table Mountain’s wildflower show reminds visitors that the area is blooming with beauty.
If you want to scale a flat mountain …
Check out some photos of Table Mountain before you go.
To learn more about the Table Mountain tours, call the Department of Fish and Game at (916) 358-2869 or visit http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/er/region2/northtable.html.
Directions: To get to Table Mountain, from Highway 162 in Oroville, take Cherokee Road north to the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve. From Highway 70 to the north, take Cherokee Road south to the reserve. Look for a parking lot on the west side of Cherokee Road. Source: Department of Fish and Game.
If you go, I recommend bringing a camera, bottled water and a picnic lunch. If you’ve got binoculars, grab those, too. Wear hiking boots or tennis shoes, and bring a light jacket. If you’re not familiar with the area, pack a Butte County map. There’s a Port-a-Potty at the edge of the reserve’s parking lot.
Journalist Lauren Brooks lives in Chico. She is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record’s weekly entertainment guide, The Buzz. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at email@example.com.