Traveler’s Guide to Black Butte Lake

There's something for everyone at this amazing Nor Cal lake!

There’s no shortage of places to explore when it comes to national parks and other natural areas. From the incomparable, rocky Death Valley to the diverse wonderland of Grand Teton and everywhere in between or beyond, there’s pretty much a park for everyone. But what about if you’re in the mood for something a little quieter that still offers fantastic scenery and all the outdoor, physical activities you could ever hope for? Well, there’s a park for that, too: Black Butte Lake. Not as familiar with that one and would like a little direction? Here’s a brief traveler’s guide to the park that explores everything you’ll need to know – including location, campground information, attractions, and more.

What is Black Butte Lake?

While many of the national parks and nature areas out there have gotten considerable press over the years, some of them have somehow managed to stay out of the limelight despite their awesome opportunities for fun and relaxation. Black Butte Lake is one of them, and it deserves so much more recognition from the general public and seasoned explorers alike. Curious what it is? 

Black Butte Lake is a park and (obviously) lake situated at the Sacramento Valley’s north end and approximately 30 minutes away from Red Bluff. Oddly enough, this picturesque retreat is actually the result of a 1963 project conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers, officially formed with the completion of Black Butte Dam. Comprised from a lake that spans over 4400 acres, 40 miles of shoreline, and even more extensive surrounding land, it’s essentially a paradise for anyone who loves everything the outside world can throw at them, perfect for everything from hiking to kiteboarding. 

Traveling to Black Butte Lake always means an adventure, regardless of when you go, thanks to its diverse landscape and the fabulous Californian weather. However, there are definitely some times that work better for organized trips than others — and unlike many other national parks or other undeveloped spaces, summer isn’t typically considered one of them. Black Butte Lake tends to get particularly hot in the summer months, making most any activity uncomfortable before you even get in the swing of things. Mid to late spring and early fall are rather the seasons of choice and allow for plenty of activities without forcing you into crazy hot temperatures. 

red rocks of Zion National Park

Location and Helpful Directions

Your first time heading to Black Butte Lake and can’t read a map (or get Google Maps to cooperate) to save your life? Don’t worry – it happens to the best of us. That said, though, knowing how to get to the park is kind of integral to enjoying it. Luckily, because it’s located about 100 miles north of Sacramento and around 60 south of Redding, off Interstate 5, navigating the way isn’t too much trouble.

If you’re coming from around this area, the best course of action is to take the Orland/Highway 32 exit and go west about 8 miles via Road 200/Newville Road. Get to that point, and things shouldn’t be a problem at all. Simply follow the signs, and you’ll find Black Butte Lake in no time flat.  

vegan breakfast bowl

Campground Info and Considerations Near Black Butte Lake

Interested in potentially pulling together a trip to Black Butte Lake once the weather starts to warm up? It’ll be in your favor to start planning ahead. The park can get exceptionally busy once the spring season fully hits, so it never hurts to jump the gun a little. The sooner you get a tentative itinerary and plan together, the sooner you’ll be able just to relax and enjoy yourself. Part of this includes getting your campground, or other accommodations sorted out, especially since some grounds fill up early.

You’ve got two main choices for campgrounds: Buckhorn Campground and Orland Buttes Campground. Both are situated on the shore of Black Butte Lake, the west side and east side, respectively, and can accommodate a variety of different gear.

The standard, go-to tents are more than welcome, but if you’re not quite as into the whole “roughing it” thing as others might be? The Black Butte Lake campgrounds can also work with that, allowing for RVs and trailers that’ll make your overnight stays a whole lot more comfortable. Just be aware, both of the campgrounds mentioned do come with rules, restrictions, and specifications just like any other national park grounds.

One of the most important ones to keep in mind is that RV/trailer length restrictions are 35 feet. More than that and you’ll have to find somewhere else to park – not exactly a straightforward task when everywhere else is also packed with park travelers. 

Other campground regulations include:

  • The entrance gates will close at approximately 10 pm April through September.
  • Quiet hours start at 10 pm and last on through 6 am.
  • Campgrounds do not have off-leash areas. Any dogs must be kept on a leash at all times when outside on the grounds. They’re also not allowed on the beach at any time. 
  • Firewood must be local to avoid any accidental incidents involving invasive pests.
  • Ground openings and closures are estimates and will ultimately be dependent upon local weather and condition. 
  • Campsite fees range from around $18 – $20 depending on the specific location.

Also, you should take note that camping reservations are available only from April through September. Want to stick around the Buckhorn Campground at another time or without a reservation? It’s on a first-come, first-serve basis! Book your travel accordingly and always have a backup plan in case spots are already full. Do this, and your camping experience will be a much smoother ride all around. 

a high vantage point view of bryce canyon national park

Must-Try Activities and Fun

Black Butte Lake may not have the same popularity or reputation as other, better-known parks, but that doesn’t mean that you should immediately knock it off your travel list. It’s actually a real sleeper hit, packed full of incredible outdoor opportunities left and right. Want to know more about what Black Butte Lake has to offer you? Here are some of the top activities you should pencil into your busy schedule:

a high vantage point view of bryce canyon national park

Hiking

While most people probably wouldn’t immediately think of hiking when they visit a place primarily known for its lake, it would be a shame to skip out on it entirely. The almost 4-mile Black Butte Lake trail gives a great hiking experience, providing a moderate challenge and some incredible scenic sights. The view from Eagle Pass is particularly stunning, showing off both the lake and gorgeous blooming wildflowers. It’s even dog-friendly, so you can take your favorite canine companion along with you to get some much-needed one-on-one time. 

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Kiteboarding

Ever been kiteboarding? Most people can safely answer with a resounding “no.” But if you’ve ever been tempted to try it out, now’s the time! The park’s low elevation and delta influences supply great conditions for the activity, and you’ll usually find quite a few rideable days whenever you visit in the spring or fall. And with a few different user-friendly launch options, it’s the perfect place for beginners to get their figurative wings wet.  

angels landing, zion national park

Camping

Over 100+ campsites dot the landscape at Black Butte Lake, so camping is an obvious activity choice to pass the time and enjoy your time in the great outdoors. Light up the fire, kick up your feet, and have some good food. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel after taking it easy underneath the stars. 

a first person view of grand canyon national park with feet hanging off edge

Fishing

For those who absolutely love the water but don’t see themselves trying any extreme water sports anytime soon, Black Butte Lake offers something a little bit more low-key: fishing. In fact, it boasts some of the best fishing in the area. Largemouth bass, Channel catfish, Bluegill, Spotted bass, and Green sunfish are particularly plentiful, although there are all sorts of rarer finds just lurking beneath the water. Spend a day out and about, and you might even manage to catch a few.

a first person view of grand canyon national park with feet hanging off edge

Wildlife Viewing

Read through all the other activities offered at the park and still haven’t found something that calls out to you? Well, this might be just the ticket to ensure you find something fun and fulfilling to spend your time on. Black Butte Lake has some amazing wildlife viewing opportunities including deer and some of the most incredible birds you’ll ever get a chance to see.

a first person view of grand canyon national park with feet hanging off edge
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