Spectacular Wildflower Explosion at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

A rainbow of colorful wildflowers

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The 3,300-acre North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve was created by prehistoric lava flows. As the lava cooled it turned to basalt forming a mesa which offers an elevated view of lava outcropping, vernal pools, and spectacular rainy season waterfalls. But the main attraction is the rainbow explosion of spectacular spring wildflowers.

Along the plateau, water penetrates the cracks and fissures in the hardened basalt during the winter rains. Small seasonal streams and magnificent waterfalls form during this time as do temporary vernal pools. This is a harsh environment where only those plants and animals who have adapted will survive here.

As the winter months turn to the warmer months of spring, Mother Nature produces a display of the most colorful and spectacular wildflower show on earth. When the wildflowers bloom by the millions, they draw many visitors from all over to gaze in wonderment at the magnificent blossom colorations.

Waves of flowers

The North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve is open year-round dawn to dusk.  It is located in Butte County, approximately 7 miles north of the town of Oroville.

Directions: From Hwy 70 in Oroville. Exit at Grand Ave (Exit 48). Go East (right) on Grand Ave for 1 mile. Left on Table Mountain Blvd for a tenth of a mile. Right on Cherokee Road 6.3 miles north to the reserve. Official access is through a small parking lot on the west side of Cherokee Road.

Although during the wildflower blooming season, photography is the number one activity in the park.  However, hiking and wildlife viewing are also major activities in this vast park.

Streaks of color

Lupines grow in abundance here.  But there are many, many other varieties of wildflowers that compete for space.

Road of color

An easy to hike trail leads you from the park entrance to the majestic Phantom Falls.  Along the way your eyes will dark from one spectacular wildflower patch to another.

A cairn stands sentry over a vast field of colorful blooming wildflowers.

For more information the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, call the North Central Region Rancho Cordova office at (916) 358-2900 

Fields of color

It was as though Mary Poppins and her friends were taking a stroll, umbrellas in hand, as they viewed the magical world of Mother Nature in full bloom.

Mesmerizing color

The gentle swaying of brightly colored wildflowers in the soft breeze are hypnotic.

A CDFW Lands Pass must be in possession by each visitor who is 16 years of age or older, however, visitors who are in possession of a valid California hunting or fishing license in their name are exempt from this requirement. Lands passes may be purchased on-line, by phone at (800) 565-1458, or in-person at locations wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.

Splashes of color

There are so many spectacular colors that it makes you feel as though you are looking at many artists brushes that were put away while still wet.

School and organized youth groups, including accompanying adults, are exempt from the lands pass requirement, but should contact the area to schedule a field trip at least two weeks in advance.

The hills are alive

Mother Nature produces a riot of color, especially after a wet California winter.  You have to resist the temptation to run into the colorful meadows. Julie Andrews style in the Sound of Music.

Sturdy closed-toe footwear and water bottles are advised when visiting the area. Water, trash receptacles, and restrooms are not available on site so plan ahead.  Take out what you bring in and if someone forgot their manners and left trash, pack it out for them.  It is prohibited to remove, collect or disturb any natural resources, whether it be wildflowers or other plants, rocks or minerals, and animals.  Dogs must be on a leash and please be a responsible dog owner and pick up after your dog!

Dabs of color

Everywhere that you look, you will see dabs of vibrant colors.  Be sure to look for deer, quail, frogs, turkey and other birds in the park.

Strokes of color

In one area you find an abundance of one colorful species of wildflowers, and in another you might see a another, different and more colorful species.  Make sure that the battery in your camera is fully charged.

River of flowers

As you hike the raod to the Phantom Falls, you feel as though you are flowing in a river current made up of wildly colored flowers.  

The property where the massive display of wildflowers is located, was acquired by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1993 to preserve the Northern Basalt Flow Vernal Pools habitat type and sensitive species. Funds for this acquisition were provided by Proposition 70, a 1988 voter-approved initiative that designated funds specifically for the acquisition of Significant Natural Areas as identified by the Department.

Additional land was acquired in 1997 to enable direct public access from the gravel parking lot on Cherokee Road. The property was designated as an ecological reserve by the Fish and Game Commission in 2003.

Color as far as the eye can see awaits the visitor to the park.  Give yourself ample time to enjoy this gift from Mother Nature.  Trees in the ravine habitats include native oaks, madrones, California buckeyes, and California bays.  The birds that can be seen in the park include the golden eagle, turkey vulture, peregrine falcon, canyon wren and meadowlark.

The trail to Phantom Falls is not difficult to trek.  There are many side trails but resist the urge to get off the main trail.  And for goodness sake, don’t trample the wildflowers just to get a selfie.  There are plenty of places for that and you don’t have to damage the natural display.

Phantom Falls is also known as Coal Canyon Falls and is 164 feet (50 m) high, running off the edge of Coal Canyon, in front of a massive basalt grotto. At the bottom of the falls is a small pool that is home to a California newt subspecies, the Coastal Range newt.  As a seasonal waterfall, Phantom Falls runs only during the rainy months, late autumn to early spring. It is named Phantom Falls because it disappears during the dry season.

The massive basalt wall was formed eons ago when lava flows hardened.  You may notice the individuals near the top rim.  Hiking there is not forbidden but do excercise caution as the ground can be slippery in wet seasons.

The king of the Phantom Falls lets the world know that this is his domain.

A painted lady butterfly takes a brief moment of rest before gorging on the ample supply of pollen.

The trail to the waterfall is somewhat unimproved and the parking lot on Cherokee Road provides access for hikers. It is about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the parking lot to the waterfall, which is visible from the rim of Coal Canyon.  Once there you can a somewhat strenuous hike down to the base of the falls and back up. The falls can also be reached from Coal Canyon Road at the bottom of Coal Canyon, a hike of about the same distance but longer and more strenuous, over rocky terrain.

Where the water ends, the falls begins.  It is slippery up there so be careful!

The top of the Phantom Falls

Just below the Phantom Falls there is a grotto that contains the shaft of an abandoned gold mine dating back to the California Gold Rush. Today, there is no gold there, but research still takes place in the mineshaft. Entering the mineshaft is difficult but not prohibited.

The source of the Phantom Falls is the creek shown above.  The rainy season was good in 2018/2019 hence the abundance of colorful wildflowers.  As the season turns to late spring, the creek dries and the falls disappears.

Reach for the sky

As the watershed at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve dries, wildflowers compete in their race to the sky where insects can easily find their pollen.  

There are several sensitive plant and animal species that occur on the preserve, they include:
• Limnanthes floccosa ssp. californica — Butte County meadowfoam
• Juncus leiospermus var. leiospermus — Red Bluff dwarf rush
• Phrynosoma coronatumfrontale — California horned lizard.

It is said that frogs are a sign of a healthy environment.   There were several that we saw just above Phantom Falls, just enjoying the warm sunshine. 

A waterfall of color

After spending time just above Phantom Falls, enjoying the scenery as we enjoyed our lunch, we head back toward the park entrance.  

Wizard of Oz pollen

Although the air was fresh and clean when we went to the park, it was easy to tell that the abundance of pollen was having an affect on the sinuses.  The pleasant trek, combined with an enjoyable lunch, marvelous scenery and more than an ample supply of pollen, made me want to spread out on a blanket and snooze like the lion in Oz.

Golden fields contrast with the deep green of the mountain oaks and glorious blue sky of a spring day in California.

A rainbow of colors that far exceed the size of a real rainbow meet you at every turn.  You will be amazed at what you see in this preserve.

So many species in this one photo that it is hard to sort them all out!

On the way back to the park entrance we stopped at the double falls.

California cows are happy cows, especially when they can graze among the vast blanket of sweet wildflowers.

Livestock grazing has been part of the land use of the reserve going back to the early settlers of California.  And since about 1848 there was extensive mining activity immediately to the north, east, and south sides of the mountain.

Cattle grazing on the reserve is used as a management tool to reduce thatch and non-native grass species to benefit native plants. Do not approach the cattle closer than 300 feet.

Lupines compete with Indian Paintbrushes and California Poppies as the bask in the warm California sun.

In 1991, the first episode of California’s Gold, a public broadcasting program aired on television.  Huell Houser would present the natural, cultural, and historical places of California and arguably he did more to showcase this wonderful place than anyone.  The series ran for 24 seasons and ceased production when Howser retired in November 2012, shortly before his death on January 7, 2013.  Throughout this amazing trek through these amazing wildflowers, all I could hear was Huell Howser saying his famous tag line, “that’s amazing!” 

The state flower of California, the California poppy.

The hike out always gives you a different look than the hike in and we were rewarded with many more spectacular views and scenic vistas.

I hesitate to give these two rude individuals any sort of promotion but it really, really urks me that some people think that they have a right or a privilege to trample on such beauty just to get a photograph with a camera phone.   We also witnessed several people who let their dogs defecate on the trail and then just kept walking.  Some things I just don’t understand!

There are several places in California that make for great wildflower viewing. Some prefer the high desert of Southern California, while others prefer the lower desert. No matter, because when California has a “normal” winter, all of them are amazing! And all of them should be on your bucket list.

Now as you read this next part, in memeory of a great man, do it with a Huell Houser accent:

The North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve was greatly benefitted by an unusually good, wet winter in 2018/2019. The endless fields of wonderful, colorful wildflowers made for an amazing drop in the bucket.

Goodbye everybody!


All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use or for signed, high-resolution copies.



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