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Sacramento River Leg-Stretchers Off Interstate 5

July 25, 1993|JOHN McKINNEY

To many motorists, Interstate 5 north of Sacramento seems to go on forever. Fortunately, relief from California's "ag country" autobahn is possible at two state recreation areas on the banks of the Sacramento River. These small parks--Colusa-Sacramento River and Woodson Bridge--offer an opportunity to tube or swim the river, and to get an up-close look at both the natural and cultivated sides of the great Sacramento Valley.

Hikers, campers, boaters and fishermen who enjoy the Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area rarely can guess the previous use of this delightful parkland.

It was a dump.

Beginning in 1955, the dump was filled, graded and improved. In 1964, the area opened as a park.

The riverbanks were once occupied by the River Patwin people, Native Americans noted for their fine feather work and basketry.

The area's climate, generous winter rains and fertile soil attracted scores of farmers, particularly after the Gold Rush, when thousands of settlers homesteaded along the banks of the Sacramento River.

The river, lined by cottonwoods and willows, wild grapes and figs, may look as placid as a lake, but in winter the river often becomes a raging torrent. Great quantities of silt, which is responsible for some of the richest farmland in the nation, is left behind after flood season. Sometimes the park's boat ramp and picnic ground get quite a muddy covering. In 1980, the campground was moved to avoid the annual flooding and subsequent rebuilding costs.

The trail at Colusa is the old campground road. It offers an easy saunter down to the river and a sandy beach. During the summer, you can swim--that is, if you don't mind cold water.

Directions to trail head: From I-5 in the town of Williams, some 60 miles north of Sacramento, exit on California 20 and drive east nine miles to the quaint town of Colusa. As 20 bends sharply south, you'll continue straight onto 10th Street and soon arrive at the state recreation area. The trail begins near a gate at the far side of the park.

The hike: Take the right or left fork: The two paths link half a mile later, just before the river. Make your way among the tall cottonwoods to the sandy beach on the river's edge.

Loop back and join the levee, which extends up-river and down from the park's southern boundary. Down-river (south, then east), it passes through Colusa Levee City Park and offers views of Colusa's Victorian homes and historic buildings. Towering above the river to the east are the 2,000-foot Sutter Buttes; to the west are the peaks of the Coast Range, which rise above 5,000 feet.

A good turnaround point (three-quarters of a mile from the park) is a bridge over the Sacramento, named Bridge Street. Or continue walking the levee for several more miles past farms and fields.


About an hour's drive north from Colusa, Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area is located in an oak woodland on the Sacramento River between Chico and Red Bluff. The park is often the day's-end destination for a flotilla of canoeists, rafters and inner-tubers, who float down to the area from Los Molinos or Red Bluff. For fishermen out for shad, striped bass, catfish and salmon, Woodson Bridge is not so much a destination but a departure point for launching a boat on the Sacramento.

Hikers can enjoy walks beneath the grand old oaks growing along the river. With the oaks are walnut, sycamore and cottonwood, which muster quite a display of color in fall. Beneath the trees grow a tangle of elderberry and wild grape.

The 428-acre park straddles both sides of the river; the west bank is undeveloped, while the east bank provides 46 campsites amid the oaks.

Immediately south of the Woodson Bridge area is Tehama County Park, which offers a boat-launching ramp and picnic ground. The county park's broad sand-and-gravel beach adjoins that of the state recreation area's.

The trail system is not extensive, but does offer a leg-stretcher along the river. On a clear day, you can look up and see the Trinity Alps, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen towering in the distances.

Directions to trail head: From I-5 in Corning, exit on South Avenue and head east six miles to Woodson Bridge.

From California 99 in Vina (about 15 miles north of Chico), exit on South Avenue and proceed three miles west to the park.

Best place to park and begin the walk is actually next door to the state park at Tehama County Park.

The hike: Below the bridge, you'll notice a gravel bar where local tubers put in and take out. Above the bar, on the riverbank, two trails head into the thick undergrowth.

Take either trail and you'll curve east with the river, soon joining the state park's nature trail. Willow, alder and cottonwood trees line the trail, along with wild grape and thickets of blackberry bushes.

Eventually you'll reach a small picnic area, a good turnaround point. Extend the hike by walking half a mile along the riverbank to the mouth of Deer Creek.

Take a hike with John McKinney's guidebook "Walk Los Angeles: Adventures on the Urban Edge " ($14.95). Send check or money order to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Dept. 1, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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