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U.S. Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Region Viewing Area


California pitcher plant. California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica). Photo by Terry Miller.

Phantom orchid. Phantom orchid (Cephalanthera austiniae). Photo by Jim Belsher-Howe.

Butterfly Valley Botanical Area

Forest: Plumas National Forest

District: Mt. Hough Ranger District

Description: Butterfly Valley and the surrounding area have been utilized since the early 1850s for many uses. Mining operations and the old mining town of Butterfly Valley occupied the area initially. After the mineral values were mined out and the town of Butterfly Valley was abandoned, grazing and logging operations were prominent in the area.

During 1875-1877, Rebecca Austin spent many days on her own in Butterfly Valley, studying the plants and especially the pitcher plants. She made a large number of remarkable and detailed observations that are cited even in modern publications.

Since the cessation of logging operations about 1950, the area was used primarily for grazing until designated at a botanical area in 1976. The Butterfly Valley Botanical Area was designated as a protected area due to its outstanding abundance and diversity of plant life present. It is managed to provide the public with an opportunity to enjoy an undeveloped area of profuse floral display.

  • Management: 500-acre area managed by the Plumas National Forest to protect special botanical resources.
  • Attractions: Nature Study of four species of insectivorous plants including Darlingtonia californica, the California pitcher plant. Although Darlingtonia can be seen year round, the peak blooming season is May through July.
  • Special Regulations: Collection of plants in the botanical area is prohibited. No vehicles are permitted off of designated roads. Please tread lightly when walking through the botanical area.
  • Non-native plantings: Some hobbyists have planted non-native plants at Butterfly Valley. This activity is not allowed, and such plants are removed and destroyed.
  • Facilities: None. Closest services are in Quincy.

Viewing Information:The Butterfly Valley Botanical Area, the home of the California Pitcher Plant (Darlingtonia californica), is an Eden of natural splendor. The California Pitcher Plant is a rare and unusual carnivorous plant that only grows in scattered boggy areas from southern Oregon down through northern California where the Sierra and Cascades meet. Also known as the Cobra Lily, Darlingtonia has a unique leaf adaptation that allows it to capture and digest insects to gather nutrients for the plant. The long snake-like leaf has an opening under the top of the leaf with small sun-lit windows that attract flies, bees and other insects into the tube. The waxy smoothness of the upper portions of the chamber provides the next step in the one-way trip to the waiting doom below. Downward pointing hairs on the inside of the lower leaf tube force insects down to a pool of secreted plant juices where the insects decompose and provide nutrients to the plant.

In addition to the rare California Pitcher Plant, there are three other species of insectivorous plants (common and lesser bladderwort, and round-leaved sundew), 12 species of orchids including lady slipper, 24 species of plants in the Lily family, nine species of ferns and fern relatives, as well as poppy, buttercup, and wild rose. The list of vascular plants found here exceeds 500 species.

Directions: From Quincy, California, go 3.5 miles North on Hwy 70 to Blackhawk Road (0.3 miles North of Mt. Hough Ranger District Office). At junction of Hwy 70 and Blackhawk Road, set odometer to zero. The mileages below indicate noteworthy stops along the way. Be sure to stay on the main road as you travel west on Blackhawk Road.

1.4-Begin gravel forest road #25N12. Stay on 25N12 as you pass 25N13 junction at mile 3.1 and 25N46 at mile 3.5.

3.9-Fern Glen: Immediately after passing the sign “Butterfly Botanical Area”, Fern Glen is on your left. This is the best spot to view fern diversity in the botanical area. Seven kinds of orchids have been found here.

4.8-Rubble Gap: At this point there is a road cut through a reddish rock and soil formation. Another area of fern diversity is adjacent. The attractive Palm Tree Moss grows 10 feet upstream from the culvert.

5.3-Turn right onto Bog Road (forest road #25N47).

5.4-Beargrass Glade – follow trail 300 yards west up an old logging road to a small trickle of water. As you follow the ravine back down towards Bog Road search for small numbers of bear grass plants along with several species of lilies.

6.0-Darlingtonia Bog. The population of California pitcher plants is found on both sides of the road. On the east side of the road is the Sweetwater Marsh, which slopes gradually downward and southeastward to Pond Reservoir. Sundews are found in this marsh, hidden under taller vegetation in saturated areas. The pond, located 200 yards east of the road at the downstream end of the Sweetwater Marsh, is home to the bladderworts.

Retrace your path to return to Highway 70.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Plumas National Forest, Mt. Hough Ranger District.

Closest Town: About 9 miles (25 minutes) from Quincy, California.