NorCal is Home to the Smallest Mountain Range in the World. Here’s Why You Can’t Visit It.

Rising dramatically from the flatlands of Sutte County in Northern California, the Sutter Buttes are a striking geological formation that has been called “the smallest mountain range in the world.” Standing about 60 miles north of Sacramento, these remnants of an ancient volcano feature spires reaching over 2,000 feet high. Encompassing 10 miles in diameter, the Buttes are a sanctuary of rolling hills, wildflowers, and Native American artifacts, watched over by various bird species.

Despite their allure, public access to the Sutter Buttes remains a contentious issue. The area is now primarily used for cattle grazing, enclosed by stone walls built by Chinese laborers over a century ago. While the Buttes hold significant historical and cultural value, especially for Native American tribes, they are currently inaccessible to the general public.

In 2003, California purchased 1,800 acres on the north side of the Buttes for about $3 million, aiming to create a state park. Despite this acquisition, the park remains closed to the public due to private ownership of all access roads. The surrounding landowners, many of whom have held title to the land since before California became a state, have not granted access for public entry.

Efforts to open the park have been met with resistance. Local landowners and residents argue that opening the area to the public could lead to environmental degradation, vandalism, and the destruction of delicate ecosystems and tribal artifacts.

Many others continue to argue for public access, believing that the state should find a way to let people experience the Buttes’ beauty. While much of California’s natural beauty is open to tourism and the money that comes with it, the Butte’s remain oddly off limits.

While California State Parks officials continue to seek opportunities to secure land or easements for public access, no progress has been made. In the meantime, limited access is provided through guided tours arranged by local organizations, allowing small groups to explore the periphery of this unique landscape.

As state officials and local landowners navigate the complex issues surrounding access, the future of public visitation to this “smallest mountain range in the world” remains uncertain. For now, the magic of the Sutter Buttes can only be admired from afar.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

6 Comments

  1. Not sure if they still do them, but the Middle Mountain Foundation offers guided hikes. I went years ago, really cool.

  2. MANY years ago, mid-60s, we would go to the area and do some frogging.

    I support the farmers. ranchers, residents..

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