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Small Towns to Explore in Northern California’s Butte County

Butte County’s Small Towns

Beyond the university city of Chico, explore these traditional communities

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A bygone era of small-town Americana lives on in communities around Butte County. All under 10,000 residents in population, these traditional towns offer an escape from modern big city life and an array of discoveries, from art to the outdoors.

Though tiny by most standards, Gridley, population 7,000, is the market town for farmers living between Chico and Yuba City. Founded in 1905, this gateway town in the southern part of the county draws visitors to two major annual events: During January’s Snow Goose Festival, wildlife lovers flock to Gridley for field trips to Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, a prime birding area west of town along the Pacific Flyway. Then in August, Gridley plays host during the Butte County Fair at the fairgrounds on the town’s east side.

Throughout the year, explore Gridley’s historic downtown, where the Hazel Hotel, a national historic landmark, houses the Gridley Area Chamber of Commerce, a good source for local information. Nearby in the handsome red-brick Veatch Building, the past lives on at the Gridley Museum (601 Kentucky St.; 530-846-4482), where you can pick up a downtown walking tour map. Five blocks away, stop into Sutherland Glass Art in the old Libby Cannery, once the world’s largest peach and pumpkin cannery. You’ll see the vibrant hand-blown glass art of the masterful Bryon Sutherland, a graduate of Cal State University Chico.

Despite its name, Biggs is anything but big. In fact, it’s the smallest municipality in the county with a population of just 1,700. Check out this little town after touring the gorgeous Lavender Ranch (peak season is May–July) at Bayliss Ranch. About 25 miles northwest of Gridley, Bangor is even tinier, just 646 residents, but this foothill community is a hub for the county's winemaking, with three vineyards near town.

A few miles south of Chico, the farming community of Durham is where you can experience Butte County’s agricultural heritage at the Patrick Ranch Museum. Glenwood, Patrick Ranch’s stately farmhouse built in 1877, as well as the surrounding grounds and barns, bring alive the area’s farming past, and you can shop for crafts and ag-related items at the museum gift shop

And finally, you don’t go to diminutive Butte Meadows (40 residents) expecting a vibrant urban scene. But if you’re into the outdoors, this foothill hamlet, 33 miles northwest of Chico, is a hub for mountain bikers, fishermen, and hikers. The 60-mile trail network at Colby Mountain lets cyclists explore gorgeous mountain landscapes while savoring cooler temperatures.

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