A Quick-Reference Guide to the Sutter Buttes
by Emily Lee
Here in Yuba Sutter, there’s nothing quite iconic as the beloved Sutter Buttes. Dubbed the “World’s Smallest Mountain Range,” they are actually remnants of a dormant volcano which are about 1.4 to 1.6 million years old. They formed when magma pushed upward through sediments of the Sacramento Valley. The magma would then stack up on top of itself rather than flow away, forming the domes or mounds which we now refer to as the Sutter Buttes.
Leftover volcano or mountain range – call it what you will – the Sutter Buttes embody all that is unique and special about our region: deep-rooted history, vibrant culture, diverse landscape and stunning wildlife. The area inspires a sense of spiritual mystery, awe and fascination without the pretentious grandiosity you might expect from something so renowned. They are simple yet mystical, incredible yet humbling, magnificent yet intimate.
Each year, the Sutter Buttes propel people to visit from all over the country. From avid outdoor enthusiasts to curious travelers, the beauty of the Buttes has brought thousands of visitors to our region. But unlike other popular destinations you may travel to, the Sutter Buttes are a bit non-traditional. So before you plan your trip to see the World’s Smallest Mountain Range, we’ve compiled a list of things-to-know to help you better understand the history of the area, as well as have a successful tour of the Buttes themselves.
The Sutter Buttes:
5 Things To Know Before You Go
1. Sacred Space
Prior to the Gold Rush era, the Sacramento Valley was home to a dense population of Native people in America. As with most Indigenous populations in the United States, a series of devastations caused by disease and displacement from European settlers depleted and scattered these Indigenous populations.
The Yuba Sutter region is the homeland of the Maidu and Wintun people who refer to the mountain range as Esto Yamani and Onolai-tol respectively, both of which mean “Middle Mountain.” The spot is considered a sacred space and that is why neither tribes have ever permanently lived in these mountains. Middle Mountain was considered a special place of deep respect and admiration–a place of spiritual and physical sustenance. The mountain range also holds a strong place in Wintun and Maidu mythology. According to the Wintun, the mountain range rose from the receding waters of a great flood that destroyed the earth, forming the first land where upon a renewed creation began. For the Maidu, Middle Mountain was figuratively and literally at the heart of their spiritual beliefs.
As you tour the mountain range and land surrounding it, please keep in mind the deep-rooted cultural significance of the Middle Mountain (aka Sutter Buttes). It may be considered the World’s Smallest Mountain Range, but there truly is nothing “small” about it. It represents much more than this to the Native people who first called Yuba Sutter home, and it is important to respect the laws that protect and preserve this beautiful area. Do not disturb wildlife or plants, and always leave areas better than how you found them by staying on designated trails and packing out all trash.
2. Private Land
Unlike a lot of other popular destinations in California, the Sutter Buttes are not technically “public land.” Much of the area is privately owned. This means that unauthorized access is prohibited and considered trespassing. About 1,700 acres is owned by the Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust. Even so, visitors must schedule a guided hike in order to access the mountains. Otherwise, the Sutter Buttes can be viewed by either driving or cycling around the mountain range on designated roads and trails.
3. Schedule a Tour
Don’t worry! If you are interested in hiking the Sutter Buttes, we have good news: Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes is open for the 2021/2022 season beginning in November. This organization offers several varied hikes with difficulty levels ranging from novice to experienced. You can find all the information you need regarding their guided hikes by visiting the Middle Mountain website. As a reminder, you must schedule your hike in advance of the day-of, and there is a fee for each hiker. Please check their website often for ever-changing Covid-19 protocols and possible closures.
4. Plan Ahead & Pack Accordingly
The Sutter Buttes are located in the heart of rural Yuba Sutter. At the base of the mountain is a small town with a population of about 3,000 residents: Sutter, California. However, services are limited. If you plan on hiking the Sutter Buttes via a scheduled tour with one of the Middle Mountain Interpretive guides, you will want to pack accordingly: bring a light day backpack with the necessary food, water, sunscreen, face covering or mask (in the event it is required), hand sanitizer, vaccination card, etc. Additionally, be sure to use the restrooms prior to arrival as there are not many available facilities, and some restrooms will be temporarily closed to keep up with cleaning schedules. If you have a furry friend, please plan on leaving him or her at home as dogs are not allowed, and temperatures most of the year are far too hot for a pup to stay in the car while you explore.
5. Check the Weather & Be Safe
Always learn more about the precautions you should take when exploring the outdoors, especially if this is your first time visiting. Whether hiking, biking, camping, or backpacking, you can get all the safety tips and information on the California State Parks website. Additionally, visitors unfamiliar with the climate often assume that all of Northern California offers cooler temperatures similar to the Bay Area and coastline. However, the summer months in our counties can reach triple digits, even late into the evening hours. Start outdoor excursions early in the day before temperatures get too hot, and be sure to know the signs and symptoms of heat stroke. As with any hiking adventure, watch for wildlife (including snakes), and be sure to stay with your experienced guide during your trek.
Whether this is your first time visiting the Sutter Buttes or you are an experienced Middle Mountain hiker, following these five tips will help you have a more successful tour of the area. Want to make a weekend out of it? Be sure to book your accommodations in advance and start planning your adventure to Yuba Sutter.