The Olsen Barn in Chester, CA

The Olsen Barn

Photo by Jon Broderick

The Olsen Barn is a Plumas County Historic Landmark and one of the most photographed places in Plumas County, for good reason. The impressively-large old barn sits in a beautiful meadow near the North Fork of the Feather River with views of Lassen Peak. This protected preserve is a local favorite for walking, birding, picnicking, fishing, and cross country skiing. The public is welcome to enjoy a stroll to the barn and beyond all year round. 

The Big Barn in Chester

The exact age of the Olsen Barn is not known, but it was likely built between 1860 and 1880 when a Norwegian barn builder, Peter Olsen, settled in “Big Meadows” (Chester) and established a dairy. The barn was built big for its time to over-winter cattle and store large amounts of hay.  

Today, the Olsen Barn is one of the oldest standing barns in Northern California and is a testament to Peter Olsen’s barn building skills.

In 2015, in response to local concern about the sale of the Olsen Barn property, the Feather River Land Trust organized a campaign to “Save the Olsen Barn” and purchase it for permanent protection. The land trust now owns and manages the property and has built a parking area and completed several phases of barn restoration including a new foundation. The Olsen Barn is an important part of community life in Chester.

Public Access

Public access to the Olsen Barn and surrounding preserve is open year-round, sunrise to sunset. The property is located just east of downtown Chester on the corner of Melissa Street and Highway 36. Look for a large “ranch-style” sign and gravel parking area. In the winter, when there is snow, the lot is plowed for ski and snowshoe access. The park-preserve has minimal infrastructure so bring water, binoculars, and a backpack. There are no bathrooms at this time.

A “Picnic-Perfect” Day Trip

A visit to the Olsen Barn makes for a lovely day trip when exploring Lake Almanor, Lassen Volcanic National Park, downtown Chester, and other places in Northwestern Plumas. A stroll to the barn from the parking area is about ¼ mile with longer walks available on the rail-trail along the Feather River. 

There are a few benches on the property to enjoy a snack, or bring a blanket for a leisurely picnic. Fall color is especially nice at the property as there are large cottonwoods and willows on the banks of the Feather River and the meadow turns golden-brown.

If you want to dive deeper into the history of the Olsen Barn era, the Chester-Lake Almanor Museum and the Collins Pine Museums are nearby and are open spring through fall.

Hikes near Chester

Know Before You Go

  • The Olsen Barn Meadow is open sunrise to sunset, year-round
  • Only non-motorized access is allowed (no OHV)
  • Parking access is just outside of downtown Chester on Hwy 36
  • Safety first! Always check the weather before an outing
  • Leave no trace–take all trash with you. Please follow posted rules
  • Observe wildlife from a distance and do not feed
  • Smoking is prohibited in and around the Olsen Barn

About FRLT

Feather River Land Trust is a regional nonprofit that works with landowners and the community to protect private lands for the public good. Like the Olsen Barn Meadow, FRLT protects ecologically and culturally significant lands with wildlife habitat, water resources, and important histories. FRLT owns five preserves with public access.

Did You Know?

The town of Chester was formerly known as “Big Meadows” and was renamed after two founding settlers, one from Chester, Vermont, and one from Chester, Missouri. The Chester post office opened in 1894. 

Today, Lake Almanor, remnants of Big Meadows, and The Olsen Barn Meadow remain culturally important to the Mountain Maidu people.

The Olsen Barn Meadow is a great place to bird all year round. The fields, creekside forests, and wetlands surrounding the Barn are part of an Audubon-designated “Important Bird Area”. 


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Lake Almanor

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