10 Hikes to See California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies

10 Hikes to See California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies

Get Outside, Touch Grass

Happy Spring Equinox, Friends!

It’s the first day of spring today, but with the rain persisting, the last week I was pretty much a housecat, sitting around indoors, working remotely, eating my weekly salmon tartine at Franquette, painting, moving papers around on my cluttery desk, and watching the weeds grow outside that I really want to pull out but just haven’t gotten around to yet. But I see sun right now! Time to get outside again!

While I’m indoors, I’m making progress on my California pipevine swallowtail butterfly painting. As I play around with this Pipevine Swallowtail v2.0, I’m getting excited for the larger painting I will start working on that will be at least 16”X20” and will include multiple pipevine swallowtails as well as the pipevine plant.

And when the rains finally stop, I want to finally get out and touch grass and see the pipevine butterflies in person. I’ve seen plenty here around Sacramento, but there are other wonderful places nearby where they live that are definitely worth me getting outside my familiar environment of Sacramento. To get us ready for the springtime hiking, I made a list of 10 places to find the pipevine swallowtails. This is definitely not an all-inclusive list; there are dozens of areas up here to find the butterflies! I’ve already seen them flying around the American River near me, and don’t get me started about the wonders of North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve up near Oroville. So. Many. Places.

I’m sorry So-Cal friends; the southern-most range of the pipevine swallowtails are Santa Cruz and Fresno-Madera Counties; you’ll have to make a journey up here to see them!

Enjoy your Northern California tour!

1. Big Basin Redwoods State Park (santa cruz county)

This park, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is supposed to be a great spot for seeing California Pipevine Swallowtails. Unfortunately, many trails are closed until further notice. The CZU Lightening Complex Fire in August 2020 caused extensive damage throughout the park and county. Recovery has been long and difficult.

When the trails reopen, try the Berry Creek Falls Trail, a 9-mile round trip hike (from Big Basin Headquarters to Berry Creek Falls) that takes you through towering redwoods and past multiple waterfalls. If you want a tiny hike, the actual Berry Creek Falls Trail is only 1.5 miles long. 3 hr 10 mins from Sacramento.

2. Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve (sonoma county)

This reserve, located 30 minutes northwest from Santa Rosa, is home to some of the tallest and oldest redwood trees in California. The reserve is also supposed to be a great spot for seeing California Pipevine Swallowtails. Try the Pioneer Nature Trail, an easy 1.5-mile loop that takes you through the heart of the reserve. The trail is open year-round, but the dog friends will have to stay home. 2 hr 28 mins from Sacramento.

3. Mount Tamalpais State Park (marin county)

This park, located near Mill Valley, and north of San Francisco in the Muir Woods National Monument is another area for spotting California Pipevine Swallowtails. Try the Steep Ravine and Dipsea Trail Loop, a moderately challenging 5.8-mile loop trail that takes you through a redwood forest and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Even if you don’t see the butterflies, I’m told this is a beautiful hike. I’ll have to see for myself, now won’t I?

Check conditions before leaving. As of this writing the Steep Ravine Trail is temporarily closed due to bridge repairs and maintenance. Dogs will have to stay home for this hike. 1 hr 50 mins from Sacramento.

4. Mount Diablo State Park (contra costa county)

This park, located southeast of Walnut Creek, is home to a variety of butterfly species, including the California Pipevine Swallowtail. Try the Back Creek Trail, which is a moderately challenging 5 to 6-mile round trip hike that takes you through the park's diverse habitats. Dogs will need to stay at home for this trip. 2 hr 6 mins from Sacramento.

5. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (shasta-trinity county)

Here we are in the northern-most range of the butterflies. This area, located about 10 miles west of Redding, is home to a variety of wildlife, including the California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. Try the Crystal Creek Falls Trail, a short, 0.5-mile trail that takes you to the waterfall. It is paved, flat, and accessible. The park suffered from damage from the 2018 Carr Fire, so check ahead for conditions. If you’re traveling to or from the coast redwoods, this would be a nice car trip break. 2 hr 30 mins from Sacramento.

6. stebbins cold canyon reserve (yolo county)

Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve, near Winters, California, is a unit of the University of California Natural Reserve System and is administered by the University of California, Davis. It is within the Blue Ridge Berryessa Natural Area, in the Northern Inner California Coast Ranges.

There are a variety of trails within the reserve. For one of the shorter treks, try the Homestead Trail to Cold Storage Ruins. This 2.7-mile out-and-back trail follows a seasonal stream up Cold Canyon. At the right time of year, you’ll find a variety of butterflies including our pipevine swallowtail, birds, newts, and more. Native orchids are supposed to grow here, but I haven’t seen them yet. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, AllTrails says it takes an average of 1 h 18 min to complete. Dogs are not allowed; this is a special habitat area. 45 mins from Sacramento.

7. Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park (el dorado county)

This park, located in the Gold Country about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento, is a great spot for seeing California Pipevine Swallowtails. If you are feeling fit, try the South Fork American River Trail, a 17.5-mile out-and-back hike that takes you along the river and through a mix of grasslands and woodlands. This is a long one! I think I’ll just do a bit of it.

This is BLM land, so dogs welcome here. Be sure you have control over your fur friend as this is multi-use trail with poison oak and rattlesnakes. 54 mins from Sacramento.

8. Cosumnes River Preserve (sacramento county)

This preserve, located about 25 miles south of Sacramento, is a popular spot for birdwatching and also offers opportunities to see California Pipevine Swallowtails. The preserve protects a Central Valley remnant that once contained one of the largest expanses of oak tree savanna, riparian oak forest, and wetland habitat in North America. Try the Cosumnes River Walk Trail, a 3.2-mile loop that takes you through riparian woodland and along the riverbank. 30 mins from Sacramento.

9. Millerton Lake State Recreation Area (fresno-madera county)

This park, located about 20 miles north of Fresno, is another great spot for seeing California Pipevine Swallowtails. Try the Blue Oak Trail, a 6.9-mile out-and-back trail that takes you along blue oak woodlands and offers views of the lake. 2 hr 47 mins from Sacramento.

10. San Joaquin River Gorge special recreation management area (fresno-madera county)

This area, located about 30 miles northeast of Fresno, is home to a variety of butterfly species, including the California Pipevine Swallowtail. The Dumna and Kechayi Native Americans once called the Gorge home and are still active in the area. Try the Pa'san (pine nut) Ridge Trail, an 8-mile roundtrip hike that takes you through a mix of chaparral, grasslands, and woodlands, with stunning views of the river gorge. There is an entry fee. 3 hr 19 mins from Sacramento.

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