Destination California: Exploring the Sutter Buttes in NorCal

Destination California

Some of the best lessons are learned outside the classroom and in the great outdoors.

Melanie Townsend with KTLA sister station KTXL in Sacramento took us to a unique mountain range near Yuba City that most people don’t even know exists.

It’s not as famed as the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada, but the Sutter Buttes mountain range does have some noteworthiness to it. 

The picturesque peaks and valleys located among miles of flat farmland are the result of violent volcanoes and lava flows nearly 1.6 million years ago, creating what scientists have dubbed the world’s smallest mountain range.

The Sutter Buttes have a height of 2,000 feet and a diameter of only 10 miles. The Sierra Nevada range extends 250 miles and is 14,000 feet high.

The gatekeeper of the short, yet mystical, mountains is Margit Sands, the proud owner of Dean Ranch, one of the oldest working cattle ranches along the Sutter Buttes. 

“My grandfather in 1998 purchased the Butte property, and I thank him every day I come up here,” Sands said. “I just love it, and it’s so nice to let other people enjoy it too.” 

Sands has partnered with Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes and Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust so groups of all ages can hike and gaze at the area’s unique landscape and wildlife.

“Generally, they get a little geology, so they know the bases of the Buttes. They will get a little natural history, mammals, plants, trees, even a little ranch history,” Sands explained. 

KTXL also had two top-notch guides take us up the now-extinct volcano known as North Butte, and hiking with Greg and Kathleen Payne is pretty much the best science class ever.

“This is a mortar rock with six holes. The Native Americans would collect acorns, dry them and then pound them into a flour,” Greg Payne explained on the way up.

“They took their long pestle, and it was more of a drop,” Kathleen Payne said. 

For geologists, zoologists and all of the other “-ologists” you can think of, Sutter Buttes is like Disneyland.

The best and only time you can visit the world’s smallest mountain range is during the spring and winter months when the hills are green, and the cows and horses are back at Dean Ranch.

When visiting, make sure to have good shoes, plenty of water, sunscreen and a big floppy hat.

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