Basics: Access to the Sutter Buttes is extremely limited. Much of the land is comprised of privately owned ranches. The Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust (formerly the Middle Mountain Foundation) provides guided hikes into the area. This is really the only way for the general public to access the Sutter Buttes. After looking at the scheduled hikes, I naturally picked one of the most difficult ones: the North Butte Summit Ascent.
The hike itself is not actually that long – about 3 miles roundtrip from the parking area to the summit and back. We added an extra mile or two by taking a detour on the way out. It’s difficult because there is no actual trail. The route climbs over 1000-ft at a very steep grade. Despite the short distance, this hike took at least 5 hours.
Permits and Fees: The hike costs $35 per person and reservations are recommended. The Sutter Butte Regional Land Trust website provides all the information for this and other hikes in the area.
Trail Description: The meeting area for this hike was at the Sutter County Community Memorial Museum in Yuba City. We got up early – meet time was 8:00 am. Rain was in the forecast, but as we drove north on 99, we could see the Buttes ahead of us and the Sierras to the East. I thought to myself that perhaps visibility wouldn’t be too bad. Little did I know…
We signed in, met the rest of our hiking group, then split into three cars. Because access is on mostly private roads, the fewer cars the better.
To reach the parking area we had to pass through 6 or 7 gates. It took quite a while to stop at each gate, open it, drive through, then close it. The clouds were slowly getting thicker as we parked and gathered our gear.
Shortly after setting out, we stopped along the trail to look at some bedrock mortars. There are quite a few all over this area. The Maidu people did not have any permanent settlements in the area, but they clearly spent time here. We also spotted damage from ferrel pigs on the property. The pigs had spent the previous night uprooting much of the field we were standing in.
We headed towards North Butte, hiking slowly and taking many breaks while our three guides provided information about the flora, fauna and geology. We learned about the herds of ferrel sheep and ferrel goats in the area. Also, ringtail cats apparently call this place their home. We saw: cows, blue oaks, bat houses, damage from pigs, elderberry, a solar powered seismometer and lots of fog.
By the time we started the steep ascent up North Butte, the clouds had really closed in. It was beginning to rain and the wind picked up. The climb was indeed very steep. I was glad I had good tread on my boots.
The higher we climbed, the windier it felt and the harder it rained. It took nearly an hour to reach the summit. By the time we did, I was wet and cold. We were in a cloud, so there wasn’t much of a view to take in. Am I making this sound miserable? It was actually quite fun. The steep slope was a good workout and the green grasses and oak trees made for some nice scenery. Also, we really need the rain so I can’t complain.
After a quick lunch, we headed down. Trekking poles saved me from a few falls. A few other people in our group took some tumbles (including one of the guides). The path was quite muddy and slippery. It felt like we were doing a lot of damage to the landscape, but the area has so many cows, we probably didn’t have such a big impact by comparison.
From the base of North Butte we took a different route back to the car. We passed through the “enchanted forest” where the trees were kind of weird looking and everything (including rocks and trees) was covered in green moss.
We made it back to the car sometime after 2:00 pm. I fell asleep as we drove out through the seven gates, back to the staging area at the museum.
The weather for this trip was definitely less than ideal, but at least I can say I’ve stood on top of North Butte (even if I had no view). It was definitely an interesting place to visit and our guides Kelly, Spencer and Ken were all very enthusiastic and knowledgable. It will be fun to go back and visit the Sutter Buttes on a sunny day!
To sign up for a hike, click here for the Hike Schedule webpage of the Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust. They also provide educational hikes and chartered hikes.