After our trip to Lake Tahoe, we were ready to cross back over the Sierras and start our trek towards Oregon. Keeping with our usual daily travel limit of 300 miles, we headed up the road to Reno, then down I-80 until we emerged from the mountains into the Central Valley.
We usually like to be prepared with campground reservations, or at least several campground/boondocking options in mind. We look for places that have been reviewed on Campendium or Free Campsites, and that are sure to have cell service.
We broke all our own rules this time, and we were rewarded with one of the best places we’ve ever stayed.
Orland Buttes Recreation Area
Our home for a week was Orland Buttes Recreation Area, operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It’s $18/night for no hookups. There is a dump station at the entrance and fresh water scattered around the campground. Bonus: It’s $9/night if you have an America the Beautiful pass. (Note: these are 2016 prices and may have changed.)
Many of the sites have lots of solar, and quite a few are sufficiently level. Internet is great (at least in the high spots). We pulled in head-first to get this sweet lake view.
This campground is one of two at Black Butte Lake. While I couldn’t find any reviews on our campground, the other, Buckhorn Recreation Area, is larger, more popular and, I hear, has worse cell signal.
Orland Buttes Rec Area is home to a few hiking trails, one of which leads to a pair of benches overlooking the water. Their elaborate overhang is made from pieces of the area’s original bridge constructed in 1895.
The other springtime attraction was the huge number of birds. Everywhere.
There were eagles nesting and songbirds flittering about all over the place. This area is truly a birder’s haven in April.
The main feature of the campground is, of course, Black Butte Lake. Unfortunately, you can’t swim in it because there are high cliffs all around its shores. But there’s a boat ramp, and on weekends, you can see fishermen snagging their dinner.
It’s hard not to love a place this beautiful. Especially when it’s so quiet, it feels like your own private paradise.
We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived in the Central Valley. We’d heard it was nothing but farms and smog, but that’s definitely not the full story.
Meeting Up with Friends
Some of our Houston friends now live in the Bay Area, so we met up partway around Davis. Our first stop was Pacific Star Gardens in Woodland, which has a pick-your-own strawberry patch.
It was a big hit with our friends’ kids. And with this kid especially.
After a picnic lunch, we headed to the UC Davis Arboretum and strolled along Putah Creek, which was covered in a film of neon green algae. There, we got a glimpse at our first redwoods, and our friends’ daughter had a successful dog walking experience (with our Gabby!).
We had a great time catching up and resting up. We’d definitely return to this area!
Do you have a favorite spot in this region? What do you like about this less-loved section of the Golden State?