Day Trips – Historic Oroville/High Rock Canyon

Historic Oroville

Old Town Oroville at night

Located on the banks of the Feather River in Northern California, Oroville was founded during the Gold Rush. Old Town Oroville is a hidden gem of the area’s rich history dating back to the 1850’s. Visitors to the area can experience this yet-to-be-rediscovered cultural treasure.

Although the height of the California gold rush came to an end in the 19th century, Oroville remained an important mining town well into the 1930’s. Large scale dredging operations kept the city’s economy afloat during the Great Depression. While many historic gold rush towns fell into disrepair when the gold ran out in the 19th century, Oroville’s downtown continued to evolve through the mid-20th century. The unique mix of buildings downtown spans a century of development.

Montgomery Street is the old town’s main thoroughfare. Along this tree-lined boulevard are several stately Victorian mansions. The Lott House is one such residence that has been converted into a city park. Built in 1856 by Judge C.F. Lott, this house is a museum showcasing the what life was like for the well-to-do in late 19th and early 20th century California. The grounds are a popular wedding venue.

The Pioneer History Museum offers a glimpse into what life was like for the earliest prospectors of the mid-19th century. Built in 1932, this museum has over 6000 square feet of artifacts of Gold Rush and Native American history.

An Autumn day at the Lott House

Other popular downtown museums include Bolts Antique Tool Museum. With over 12,000 pieces on display, some dating back to the Egyptian and Roman Empires, this exhibition is sure to interest and inspire anyone who likes to work with their hands.

Like many Gold Rush era towns, Oroville had a significant Chinese immigrant population. The city honors this cultural heritage at the Chinese Temple and Garden. Built in 1863, this building is still an active temple and occasionally used for worship. In addition to an extensive collection of tapestries, there are numerous costumes and artifacts, dating back to the 1850’s.

The city’s historic business district is replete with antique stores, art galleries and boutique fashion shops. There are also several dining options. Tong Fong Low on Robinson Street is one of California’s oldest Chinese Restaurants. First opened in 1912, this restaurant has been serving customers for over a century from the same location.

The Union Restaurant takes its name from the old Union Hotel which once stood on the corner of Montgomery and Myers Streets. This eatery offers a contemporary gastropub experience, with an outdoor garden that plays host to live music on the weekends.

Other recent additions to the downtown foodie scene include Coyote Cantina and Unicone Ice Cream Shop.

Chinook Salmon in Oroville

Then of course, there’s the river. The Feather River which originally gave life to the city, still features prominently in daily life. All along the river, there are parks and attractions which offer a refreshing place to enjoy the day. The 41-mile Brad Freeman Trail offers hiking, biking and equestrian activities.

In late Summer and early Autumn, the Oroville Fishery is a popular location to learn about and preserve the state’s Steelhead Trout and Chinook Salmon populations. The fish barrier dam is a good place to watch these fish jumping. On average, 51,000 fish return to the area every year. The hatchery offers an underwater window for a unique viewing experience.

The annual salmon run continues to play an important role in the life of the community. In celebration of that fact, every year on the 4th Saturday in September, the Oroville Salmon Festival is held. In addition to a Soirée, there is a 3K Salmon Run (for humans), a street fair, an art show, a beer garden and a classic car show. There will be music and entertainment.

So when looking for a fun place to spend the day, a trip to Oroville is a nice place to visit.

High Rock Canyon

The Applegate-Lassen Trail as it passes through High Rock Canyon

A few hours north of Reno is a wonderland that few people know about. High Rock Canyon was first described by explorer John Fremont in 1843, and soon thereafter soon became an important route in the westward migration to Oregon and the California goldfields.

Crossing the nearby Black Rock Desert was a difficult and dangerous part of the journey. The flat, alkaline dry lake bed offered little water for travelers. Arriving at the canyon lands was a relief as water and food were more abundant. Although transversing the canyons was not without perils.

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Fly Canyon – To avoid this narrow, unpassable canyon, emigrants had to lower their wagon with rope to the bottom of the gorge

As the migrants approached the area, it was necessary to lower their wagons, using rope, to the canyon floor below. Several were destroyed in the process. Those early visitors were in awe as they first laid eyes on the canyon. Vertical rock walls tower 300 feet over the trail below. Several emigrants marked the occasion by writing their names using axle grease, or by carving the rock.

This mountainous area was formed by ancient lava flows. The canyons were formed as a result of tectonic activity and water erosion. There are several other gorges that form the area, such as Yellow Rock Canyon and Mahogany Creek Canyon, the latter of which is so narrow at one point you can touch both sides with arms outstretched.

Aerial View of High Rock Canyon

Due to a relatively high water table, there are several springs and creeks in the area. It’s not uncommon to see flowers in bloom even into the late Summer. Wildlife is abundant. Prior to the arrival of Euro-Americans, this region was an important habitat for Native American peoples.

To protect the cultural, historic and natural significance of the area, Congress designated the surrounding land as wilderness in 2000. This limits motorized travel, but the primary emigrant trails are still open to vehicles.

Because the area is so isolated you can experience the night sky as the early settlers did. The lack of light pollution led nearby Massacre Rim to be named as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2019.

A water crossing on the trail

This area is remote. There is no mobile phone service. A high-clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle is recommended. Plan on camping, as there are several designated sites. Bring plenty of food, water and a first aid kit.

From Reno, the canyon is best accessed from Soldier Meadows Road, off of State Route 34, north of Gerlach, Nevada. Soldier Meadows Road is a well maintained, gravel road that skirts the western edge of the Black Rock Playa. Visit the links below for a description of the route and terrain.

The region can get heavy snow in the winter. High Rock Canyon Road is actually closed from late January until May 12th to protect wildlife habitat

There are several designated campsites in the area. All are available on a first come, first served basis. There are even a couple of hunter’s cabins.

For more information:

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