Discover Northern California's
Weekend Trips:
Along the Pacific Flyway

Follow the Pacific Flyway with Us!

If you're a birder like I am, you'll love this weekend trip. If you love the person who's with you on this trip, then you'll understand why I think it's a romantic trip.

Especially since my husband, Wolf, is not especially enamored of birding. He's a Type A personality who bores easily, and - while he enjoys spotting a new species now and again - he doesn't like to see the same old species over and over, and he doesn't want to spend hours before he sees something new.

So, when he agrees to go on a weekend trip like this one with me, I know he's just doing it because he loves me. Now. That's. Romantic!

You won't believe the sheer numbers of migratory waterfowl and other species to be seen in Northern California along the Pacific Flyway during the Winter! Dozens of species of goose and duck, Sandhill Cranes, shore birds and more follow the Pacific Flyway from as far north as the Arctic Tundra of Alaska to as far south as Patagonia. And when thousands of them take to the sky en masse, it is an powerful sight, indeed!

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Follow the Pacific Flyway Between Chico and Sacramento

You are in for such a treat with this trip!

Starting from Chico and traveling down Highway 99, you'll want to visit Gray Lodge Wildlife Area which is right outside of Gridley.

Some years, Gray Lodge is home to more wintering waterfowl than anywhere else along the Pacific Flyway!

Enjoy the Wildlife Museum, the self-guided Nature Trail, the Wildlife Observation Hides, and the Auto Loop.

On weekends during the Winter months you can take a Guided Public Walk to learn more about Gray Lodge and the birds that inhabit this rest stop.

Another nearby refuge: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge near Willows (off Interstate-5).

Take note as you travel through this area of one of the wonders of the Northern Sacramento Valley: Sutter Buttes. Don't worry - you can't miss it! See Chico Day Trips: Sutter Buttes for directions if you'd like to take a closer look at the Buttes.

Follow the Pacific Flyway Near California's Capital City

Delta King Riverboat Hotel; Photo by Wolf RosenbergDelta King Riverboat Hotel; Photo by Wolf Rosenberg

As you're coming into the Sacramento area, stop for a visit to Discovery Park - the confluence of the American River and the Sacramento River.

This is fascinating to see! It's where the two rivers - both of which have great significance to the California Gold Rush and the settlement of Northern California - join up on their way to San Francisco Bay.

As part of the Sacramento area flood control, Discovery Park is sometimes underwater during the Winter months, but it's definitely worth the visit if you can get in.

With the rivers, the California Delta, and the nearby farms in hiatus for the Winter, you'll discover there are plenty of birding opportunities around the Sacramento area!

You might even elect to end your day in Sacramento, with perhaps an overnighter on the Delta King Hotel and dinner at the Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento to put some real romance into your trip. It's a favorite stop for Wolf and I!

Follow the Pacific Flyway South of Sacramento

Sandhill Cranes; Photo by Richard AlbersSandhill Cranes; Photo by Richard Albers

The Cosumnes River Preserve (pronounced ko-SUE-meez) outside of Galt, is next on the list of favorite Winter stop-overs for our migratory feathered friends - especially the remarkable Great Sandhill Crane!

These birds can be five feet tall with an even larger wingspan.

They travel in flocks, as do most migratory birds, and they are one of the noisiest birds on the planet.

If you hear what sounds like the amplified voices of a thousand hoarse bullfrogs, start looking around for Sandhill Cranes!

Need a break from birding? Continue on the road to Stockton and visit Stockton's historic and eclectic Miracle Mile for anything from a scone to shopping to sushi; or stroll along the scenic and lively downtown Stockton Waterfront Marina!

Back on the road South, head on over to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge between Merced and Los Banos.

In addition to the migratory birds like geese, swans, ducks, Sandhill Cranes, and White Pelicans, you'll find a plethora of shorebirds such as ibis, long-billed curlews, plovers, and sandpipers.

And here's a nice little surprise for you: a thriving herd of Tule Elk resides year-round at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. Found only in California, this subspecies of elk - whose name derives from the tule rush upon which it feeds - saw it's numbers decline from 500,000 to only 28 animals by 1895 before conservationists stepped in (1970) to protect the species. They now number around 4,000.

Another nearby refuge: Merced National Wildlife Refuge, which is where I started birding over 30 years ago, hosts up to 15,000 Lesser Sandhill Cranes as well large concentrations of ducks, geese, and shorebirds. It was so exciting having this refuge close by because every time I went out, I discovered another new bird I hadn't seen before!

Ready for another birding break? Visit the Madera Wine Trail in, where else, Madera. This little diversion was quite a surprise for me! Back when we lived in the Central Valley, the famous grapes being grown in this area were for raisins! Remember the old I heard it on the Grapevine commercials? That was for Central Valley raisins!

But more and more areas up and down the Central Valley are growing wine grapes and producing quality wines now. You're in for a delightful treat as you discover the top-notch dessert wines and ports from Madera wineries! Taste artisan wines on the farms where the grapes are grown, often served by the winemakers themselves.

Plan to spend the night - what with the wine tasting and all. There are a variety of places to stay, but we can recommend either the Madera Valley Inn or Hampton Inn & Suites Madera for a comfortable stay.

Follow the Pacific Flyway for One Last Stop

The last birding stop on our trip is the Millerton Lake State Recreation Area, which is located about 20 miles northeast of Fresno.

Every Winter, Millerton is home to a good-sized population of Bald Eagles and in December through February the state park system runs boat tours of the reservoir which are guided and narrated by a naturalist.

It's a great way to wind up our birding trip - viewing and learning about the life-habits of the majestic American Bald Eagle! Did you know that Bald Eagles are monogamous and mate for life? Millerton Lake is home to the largest population of wintering eagles in the San Joaquin Valley.

Continue on into Fresno where you can spend the night - there's nothing spectacular about the accommodations in Fresno, but you can get a good night's sleep at the Radisson Hotel Conference Center - before heading back North.

But do treat yourself to a fabulous dinner at Max's Bistro on Bullard Avenue. You'll enjoy excellent food, a varied wine list, and reasonable dinner prices.

The trip back to Chico next day will take less time without the stops - switch over to Interstate 5 if you'd like a different view of the Central Valley. Notice the system of interconnected canals, stream beds, and sloughs along the way - they provide the irrigation water that transforms The Valley from a semi-arid desert to productive farmland.

Insider Secret: If you need a great dinner on your way back to Chico, make a side-trip to the little community of Winters (west of Sacramento) and stop in at the Buckhorn Steakhouse, where they're famous for their 42-day-aged, hand-cut-on-the-premises, Certified Angus Beef steaks. Believe it or not, the Buckhorn has a Zagat rating of 26 (extraordinary to perfection) for its food - amazing for such a small community!

I hope you've enjoyed our weekend trip along the Pacific Flyway! Please come back often as more Northern California Weekend Trips are coming soon.

Visit some of our Northern California Day Trips pages for trips that can also be turned into weekend trips:

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