Now that spring is here, hiking enthusiasts are becoming antsy in lecture halls and laboratories everywhere. The perfect weather, the birds, bugs, and scents of trees in full bloom around campus all signal us to go explore the great outdoors …but where? Davis is located in the dull expanse of the central valley amidst countless acres of agricultural land – which leaves very few decent locations to hike in. Nevertheless, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and over my last three years at Davis I have tried to find the best local hikes. There aren’t many, and obviously the further you are willing to travel, the more variety in hiking you can find – but in this blog I will highlight my experiences with the closest hiking spots around Davis.
Putah Creek Riparian Reserve
The Arboretum is often recommended as the best, closest place for a relaxing nature walk around UC Davis. It is undeniably the closest, essentially located on campus itself, and it is a great place for a relaxing stroll, but not much else. The arboretum is a relatively short loop of paved trails around a pond that used to be the north fork of Putah Creek. The plant collections are beautiful, but it is heavily landscaped with little resemblance to native riparian wilderness. A lesser known hiking option is South Putah Riparian Reserve, which is just a mile south on Old Davis Road from the arboretum. Unlike the arboretum, South Putah is a fully connected creek maintained in its natural state for research and teaching purposes, and with hiking trails all along. South Putah is full of wildlife to see- my favorite sightings have been river otters, foxes, and California kingsnakes. The creek is large enough for swimming and is frequently fished.
Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
Another local Davis hiking destination is the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. The Bypass is a huge, 16,600-acre stretch of wetlands located just East of Davis, accessible via I-80 and various Yolo County country roads. The Bypass is flat but its wetlands foster incredible biodiversity, especially migratory birds. For the birdwatchers of Davis, this spot is perfect!
Fremont Weir State Wildlife Area
Another riparian nature reserve near Davis is the Fremont Weir State Wildlife Area. Like South Putah and the Yolo Bypass, Fremont Weir is a mix of grasslands, sparse oak forests, and wetlands. This State Wildlife Area is located on the Sacramento River, but otherwise the scenery is similar to both previously mentioned nature reserves. It is a pretty location, but I felt as though it was not worth the hassle of getting out there when South Putah is so conveniently nearby.
Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve
A personal favorite hiking destination of mine is Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve. Stebbins is a UC Davis reserve on the far south tip of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National monument, a 330,000-acre piece of land declared a national monument in 2015 by President Obama. In the same year, Stebbins was burned extensively by a wildfire, and has been a hot spot (no pun intended) of fire ecology research and teaching since then. Stebbins’ trails actually start along Putah creek, but much further upstream than the arboretum – not very far from where Putah creek exits Lake Berryessa. Sequestered in the canyons of the Mayacamas Mountains, Stebbins’ trails can be steep and cover a lot of elevation changes, which is a nice break from the uniformity of Yolo County. Reaching the top of the ridgeline on the Blue Ridge trail leaves you with a breathtaking view of Lake Berryessa, the surrounding Mayacamas, as well as Yolo County. The enormous size of the wilderness contiguous to Stebbins means that it can support a wide variety of wildlife. Although I haven’t spent enough time there to find much more than newts, skinks, and raptors, Stebbins is reportedly home to black bears, ringtails, and bald eagles.
This is not an exhaustive list of hikes near Davis – just some close spots that I have enjoyed hiking myself. Hopefully in my last year I will discover more fun hiking destinations and get the opportunity to update this blog post. I also hope that in writing this, I have inspired some of you readers to go out and explore!
BASC Peer Advisor
3rd Year, Genetics and Genomics major