Paradise Flume Trail

West Branch of the North Fork of the Feather River

By Dawn Garcia
FlumeTrailGroup.jpg
Altacal Audubon Society group walking on flume upstream toward the dam

Overview

The PG&E flume trail is a decent birding spot, with most diversity and abundance noted during the spring migration. However, the dramatic scenery of the west branch of the North Fork Feather River (see pic of group on flume) is outstanding during all seasons and makes this a must-see destination for scenery, a riot of wildflower displays (spring through fall), birding, herping (loads of CA newts in the spring), geology (serpentine slopes and outcrops), dipping in the multitude of river pools during the hot summer, and pondering cultural structures (flume, dams). For scenery every season gets four stars; for birds spring and fall are the four-star seasons.

Bird highlights include Mountain Quail, Winter and Canyon Wren, Townsend’s Solitaire, Northern Pygmy Owl, Rufous-crowned sparrow, and Rufous hummingbirds. American dippers can be seen almost anytime of the year on the upstream walk, and are often with young in the summer.

Trail Information

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Video of Clearbrook waterfall, flume
and Feather River

The Paradise portion of the trail is called the Miocene Canal and can be accessed from behind the 1) Feather River Hospital, 2) off Dean Road, and also Coutelenc Road. The mostly 5-foot wide PG&E flume runs through their right-of-way (making it accessible to the public) and is not policed. Portions of the flume are constructed through private property, most of which are unmarked. The trail is compact dirt that intermittently connects to (18-inch minimum) metal and wood catwalks constructed over the metal flume over considerable heights; as you walk downstream some of these heights can be 100’ above the river. The flume often is partially filled with water diverted from the Feather River that flows downstream to the Kunkle reservoir (another access point). The trail meanders through a variety of habitats including drier chaparral and scrub, and outcroppings of serpentine and associated plants, and wetter mixed hardwood-coniferous forest consisting of Douglas fir, Incense cedar and Big-leafed maple trees. There are numerous secondary trails off the flume trail that take hikers down to the west branch Feather River channel. From the top: the dam off Coutelenc Road downstream past the Dean Road access, past the Clear Brook waterfall, beyond the Feather River access and to the Kunkle Reservoir is approximately 7 miles one way. One-way from the Dean Road parking spot to the dam (upstream) and the waterfall (downstream) is 2 and 1.5 miles, respectively.

Hazards

Metal or wood planked catwalks are constructed over an approximately 5’ metal flume. If wet the planks can be slippery, if icy, both surfaces can be very slippery, and it is probably best not to walk this trail during those conditions. Other hazards may be an individual’s fear of heights. I’ve heard that some people feel symptoms of vertigo walking on the catwalk when the flume is full of water. Some secondary trails are steep and therefore can be slick.

Difficulty

Easy when walking on the flume from Dean Road or the Kunkle Reservoir. Difficult to Strenuous walking to the flume from Coutelenc Road and from behind the Feather River Hospital. Difficult to Strenuous if you take the steep, secondary trails down to the river, depending on the chosen trail.

Directions

From Paradise (see map link for more specific routes from other locations)

Dean Road Access: this is my favorite access point. From Pentz road take at right at Dean Road, follow down until the road tees and turn left. You will drive past a few residences down the paved, then graveled road, past another residence and continue down a steep gradient to a gravel parking lot. Get out and walk upstream 2 miles to the dam or downstream 1.5 miles to the waterfall (and beyond if you want).
Coutelenc Road Access: Take a right on Coutelenc road from Skyway. Look for a dirt road less than 0.1 mile on your right. You will see a green gate barring access to the road. Park here and walk past the gate. There is a trail that meanders through the serpentine slope, or you can walk down the road and you will hit the flume at the bottom. You will be at the dam. Walk as far as you want downstream on the flume trail and prepare for a butt-burning hike back to your car.
Behind Feather River Hospital: take Pentz to Canyon View Drive and park in the lower parking lot. The trail begins there and drops down steeply to the flume.
Kunkle Reservoir Road Access: From Pentz, take a right at Kunkle Reservoir road. Find the trail. You will be walking upstream.

Links search Miocene canal

Birds To Look For

(Mouseover bold names for more information)
C - Common FC - Fairly Common U - Uncommon R - Rare I - Irregular

Year Round Birds

Year round birds seen along the flume trail include: Great Blue Heron(U), Great Egret(U), Green Heron(U), Turkey Vulture(C), Canada Goose(U), Wood Duck(R), Mallard(FC), Common Merganser(C), Osprey(U), Bald Eagle(U), Sharp-shinned Hawk(U), Cooper's Hawk(U), Red-sholdered Hawk(U), Red-tailed Hawk(FC), Golden Eagle(R), American Kestrel(FC), Mountain Quail(U), California Quail(FC), Spotted Sandpiper(U), Rock Pigeon(U), Band-tailed Pigeon(FC), Mourning Dove(C), Western Screech-Owl(R), Great Horned Owl(R), Northern Pygmy-Owl(R), Anna's Hummingbird(FC), Belted Kingfisher(U), Lewis's Woodpecker(R), Acorn Woodpecker(C), Red-breasted Sapsucker(C), Nuttall's Woodpecker(FC), Downy Woodpecker(FC), Hairy Woodpecker(U), Northern Flicker(C), Black Phoebe(FC), Hutton's Vireo(C), Western Scrub-Jay(C), American Crow(FC), Common Raven(C), Tree Swallow(C), Oak Titmouse(C), Bushtit(C), Red-breasted Nuthatch(R), White-breasted Nuthatch(FC), Brown Creeper(R), Rock Wren(U), Canyon Wren(U), Bewick's Wren(U), Winter Wren(U), American Dipper(C), Western Bluebird(U), Townsend's Solitaire(U), American Robin(C), European Starling(U), Spotted Towhee(C), Rufous-crowned Sparrow(U), Purple Finch(U), Cassin's Finch(R), House Finch(C), Lesser Goldfinch(C), American Goldfinch(FC), and Evening Grosbeak(I).

Winter Birds

Birds that winter in the flume trail area include: Bufflehead(U), Hooded Merganser(U), Merlin(R), Northern Saw-whet Owl(R), Steller's Jay(FC), Golden-crowned Kinglet(U), Ruby Crowned Kinglet(C), Hermit Thrush(FC), Varied Thrush(U), Cedar Waxwing(FC), Yellow-rumped Warbler(FC), Fox Sparrow(U), Golden-crowned Sparrow(FC), Dark-eyed Junco(FC), and Pine Siskin(I).

Summer Birds

Birds that summer and nest along the flume trail include: Vaux's Swift(U), Olive-sided Flycatcher(U), Western Wood-Pewee(C), Pacific-slope Flycatcher(FC), Ash-throated Flycatcher(U), Cassin's Vireo(FC), Warbling Vireo(U), Violet-green Swallow(FC), Northern Rough-winged Swallow(U), Cliff Swallow(R), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher(R), Orange-crowned Warbler(C), Nashville Warbler(C), Black-throated Gray Warbler(U), Towsend's Warbler(U), Yellow-breasted Chat(U), Western Tanager(C), Black-headed Grosbeak(C), Lazuli Bunting(U), Brown-headed Cowbird(U), and Bullock's Oriole(U).

Spring Transient Birds

Birds that pass through this area during the spring or fall migration include: Calliope Hummingbird(R), Rufous Hummingbird(C), Willow Flycatcher(R), Hammond's Flycatcher(R), Gray Flycatcher(R), Dusky Flycatcher(R), Yellow Warbler(U), Hermit Warbler(R), MacGillivary's Warbler(U), Wilson's Warbler(U), and Chipping Sparrow(U).

Fees

No Fees

Useful Links

Area Interactive Map


View FlumeTrail, Paradise in a larger map

More Photos

Dam
Winter flow over Feather River dam on the flume trail

Clearbrook waterfall
Clearbrook waterfall

Overlook
Flume scenery heading downstream from Dean Road

FlumeInFall
Feather River flume scenery heading upstream toward the dam from Dean Road

DipperHome
Boulder in-stream Feather River with American Dipper Nest

DipperNest
Close-up of American Dipper Nest

DipperJuv
Across river close-up of juvenile American Dipper

LilySlope
One of numerous slopes covered by the Fawn Lily in early spring