Sacramento Valley

The Sacramento Valley is the portion of the California Central Valley that lies to the north of the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta in the U.S. state of California. It encompasses all or parts of ten counties.


The Sacramento River and its tributaries dominate the geography of the Sacramento Valley. Rising in the various mountain ranges (the various Northern Coast Ranges to the west, the southern Siskiyou Mountains to the north, and the northern Sierra Nevada to the east) that define the shape of the valley, they provide water for agricultural, industrial, residential, and recreation uses. Most of the rivers are heavily dammed and diverted.

The terrain of the Sacramento Valley is primarily flat grasslands that become lusher as one moves east from the rain shadow of the Coast Ranges toward the Sierras. Unlike the San Joaquin Valley, which in its pre-irrigation state was a vegetation-hostile desert, the somewhat less arid Sacramento Valley had significant tracts of forest prior to the arrival of settlers of European ancestry. Most of it was cut down during the California Gold Rush and the ensuing wave of white American settlement.

Foothills become a lot more common from just south of Corning to Shasta Lake City. These are known as the Valley Hills. The start of the valley hills is just south of Rolling Hills Casino at the Tehama-Glenn County line near Corning. There are also a few hills in Red Bluff and Corning. There is one major range of foothills between Cottonwood and Red Bluff known as the Cottonwood Hills (a.k.a 9 Mile Hill), and there is the Cottonwood Ridge between Anderson and Cottonwood. There are some hills in Redding, a few more than Red Bluff, and after Redding it is mainly foothills.

One distinctive geographic feature of the Sacramento Valley are the Sutter Buttes. Nicknamed the smallest mountain range in the world, it consists of the remnants of an extinct volcano and is located just outside of Yuba City.


Citrus and nut orchards and cattle ranches are common to both halves of the Central Valley. The Sacramento Valley's agricultural mix also resembles that of the San Joaquin Valley to the south. Nuts (primarily almonds and walnuts) are of greater importance north of the Delta, and rice, which is unviable in the bone-dry deserts of the San Joaquin, is a major crop. The town of Corning proclaims itself "Olive City," producing olives for oil extraction and for consumption as fruit. In the central Sacramento valley lies the Sunsweet Growers Incorporated headquarters in Yuba City where more than half the growers in California belong to Sunsweet. The valley controls more than two-thirds of the worldwide prune market through the over 400 growers in California.


Weather patterns in the Sacramento Valley are very similar to those in San Joaquin Valley to the south, although the humidity and precipitation tends to be a bit higher, especially in winter and spring. Summers are generally very warm and dry with average daytime temperatures usually around the low 90s, but triple digits are a common occurrence, especially in the Redding and Red Bluff area. Summerlike weather often continues well into fall; foliage usually doesn't begin until mid- to late-October. Winters are generally mild and wet with highs averaging in the mid-40s to low-50s, colder in the northern part of the valley and colder still in the foothills. During the rainy season, the Sacramento Valley is prone to relatively strong thunderstorms and, perhaps surprisingly, a fair number of tornados (albeit mostly of F0 or F1 intensity), especially in Colusa County and areas around Corning and Orland. Snow in the valley is rare, although Redding and Red Bluff, being at the north end of the valley, often experience a light dusting or two per year. Chico may get a rain-snow mix every few years, but it won't actually snow for about every 5 years. Farther south in Sacramento, snow falls about once every 10 years or so.. During the winter months, the entire Central Valley is susceptible to dense tule fog that makes driving hazardous, especially at night and especially south of Corning.


Interstate 5 is the primary route through the Sacramento Valley, traveling lengthwise roughly at the valley's center. Interstate 80 cuts a northeast-to-southwest swath through the southern end of the valley, mostly through Sacramento and Yolo Counties. Several secondary routes connect the two roads, including Interstate 505 and State Route 113. The Sacramento area has a web of urban freeways.

Other principal routes in the region include State Route 99, which runs along the valley's eastern edge, roughly parallel to I-5, from Sacramento until its northern terminus in Red Bluff; State Route 20, which traverses the valley from west to east on its route from State Route 1 in Mendocino County to the Donner Pass; State Route 49, named in honor of the California Gold Rush and running through many old mining towns in the foothills of the valley; and State Route 45, which runs along the course of the Sacramento River roughly ten miles (20 km) east of I-5.

The Union Pacific Railroad serves the valley, with its principal north-south line from Oakland to Portland, Oregon, via Sacramento, Marysville, Chico, and Redding. This is also the route of Amtrak's Coast Starlight passenger train. The Union Pacific also has two east-west lines, through Donner Pass (the former Central Pacific Railroad), and through the Feather River gorge (the former Western Pacific Railroad). Amtrak's California Zephyr uses the Donner Pass route. The BNSF Railway has a line from Klamath Falls, Oregon, to a junction with the Union Pacific Feather River line at Keddie. The BNSF has trackage rights on both the UP east-west routes. In addition, the California Northern Railroad operates the former Southern Pacific Railroad line on the west side of the valley from Davis to Tehama (near Red Bluff).

Educational institutions

Major cities

Counties of the Sacramento Valley

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