Top 5 Things to do in the Spring in and Around Merced County

 Photo By Adam Blauert

Photo By Adam Blauert

Springtime

According to the system by which seasons are calculated, spring doesn’t officially begin until March 20th this year.  Signs of the new season, however, start with the first blossoms on flowering trees in town and in the county’s orchards.

The almond trees are the first major orchard tree to bloom, usually starting by mid-February and peaking towards the end of the month.  Their bloom was early this year and is already over, but the peach bloom is currently in its prime.

1. Blossom tours

Blossom tours are a great way to enjoy the outdoors at the time when winter is fading into spring.  Looking for something relaxing to do in the outdoors?

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

Take a drive on the rural roads of our county and enjoy the blossom display.  For the driving directions and a map to the county’s driving (or biking) tour of peach blossoms, use the following links provided by the UC Extension program:

Description:  http://cemerced.ucanr.edu/files/40627.pdf

Map:  http://cemerced.ucanr.edu/files/40628.pdf

Peach blossoms are a vibrant pink and they photograph nicely, especially in the warm light that often comes as sunlight breaks through clouds.  For an enjoyable drive, pack water, jackets, snacks, cameras, and sunglasses.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

Remember that orchards are private property and you should stay along the road unless the property owner invites you onto his/her property.  You can enjoy the blossoms and get great photos without venturing from the side of the road.  You can find a lot of additional information about blossom tours by clicking here. This is something to do the first week of March before the blossoms fall.  Not all orchards bloom at exactly the same time, so some will already be losing their blossoms when you go, but you are guaranteed to find some that still have vibrant displays through the second week of March.

2. Bike Ride

Enjoying a bike ride on a local bike path is another one of the joys of spring.  The temperature is nice, the skies are usually blue, and plants and trees are coming back to life.  It’s a beautiful and comfortable time to be outdoors.  Explore the town on one of the city’s bike paths.  My favorites are the Bear Creek loop between McKee Road and G Street and the path that follows Lake Road between Yosemite Avenue and Lake Yosemite.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

More experienced bikers can enjoy riding rural roads throughout the county, but the bike paths provide a safe environment for riding with family members, especially small children.

For a downloadable map of bike paths in Merced:

City of Merced city bikeway map  (click here)

Merced bike paths on Google Maps (click here)

For more information about bike routes throughout the county, click here .

3. Wildflower driving tours

After the orchard blossoms fall to the ground, wildflower season kicks into gear in our local foothills.  You can enjoy them easily on a short driving trip to Mariposa County.  Although late March through early May is usually the best time for wildflowers, this year they have arrived early.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

I recommend heading up to Mariposa County on Highway 140 and then exploring some of the back roads such as:

  • Old Highway (the original Highway 140 between Catheys Valley and the Mariposa Fairgrounds)
  • Yaqui Gulch Road
  • Ben Hur Road
  • Indian Gulch Road
  • Bear Valley Road
  • Old Toll Road
  • Pendola Garden Road
  • Mt. Gaines Road
  • Hunters Valley Road
  • Briceburg Road

Twelve miles east of downtown Mariposa, the Briceburg road is a left-hand turn from Highway 140.  It is often one of the best places to see California poppies.  The Merced River Canyon between Briceburg and the entrance to Yosemite can also have very nice displays.

All you need is a full tank of gas, a map of Mariposa County, water, jackets, snacks, cameras, and sunglasses.

You can pack a picnic lunch or try one of the many restaurants in Mariposa.  You can see great wildflower displays from the side of the road without trespassing, so please make sure that you obey all posted signs and avoid venturing onto private land.

4. Local hikes

You can enjoy more wildflowers and more views on foot.  Here are five favorite places to hike in the spring:

Hite Cove:  Probably the most popular wildflower hike in our area, this trail starts 20 miles east of Mariposa on the east side of Highway 140.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

After the highway crosses the South Fork of the Merced River, look for a parking area on the west side of the roadway.  The trail starts by climbing a paved roadway and then becomes a narrow dirt path with a steep drop-off down to the river.  Some of the best wildflowers are usually found along the first half mile, so you don’t have to hike far.  If you’re up for a longer hike, however, you can follow it for 3 ½ miles to Hite Cove, a bend in the river where a mining community thrived in the 1860s.  A few rock walls and pieces of rusted iron machinery remain.

Table Mountain (Tuolumne County):  Located near Jamestown, this hike involves a steep climb to the top of the iconic table that follows Highway 108 and the course of an ancient channel of the Stanislaus River.  The trail climbs through oaks to the flat tabletop for excellent views of the surrounding hills and valleys.  Wildflowers shows on top of the table can be excellent, especially in wet years.  The round-trip hike is about 3 miles with 400 feet of elevation gain.

For more information and maps, call the Bureau of Reclamation at (209) 536-9094 or go to http://www.usbr.gov/mp/ccao/newmelones/.  There is no fee to park or use this area.

Pacheco State Park:  Although most of the best wildflower hikes are located in the Sierra foothills, the Coast Range also often has some great displays.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

Pacheco State Park, located on the south side of Highway 152 about 15 1/2 miles west of I-5, has nearly 30 miles of hiking trails where wildflowers may be enjoyed.  For more about Pacheco State Park click here.

For more information go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=560

or call (209) 826-1197

The day use fee is $10/vehicle.

Path of the Padres:  Also on the west side of the Central Valley, the Path of the Padres is another of the top local wildflower destinations.  This trail starts at Los Banos Creek Reservoir and is only accessible on guided hikes, offered regularly in February, March, and April of each year. 

For reservations, call (209) 826-1197.

The docents who lead these hikes know a lot about the area’s human and natural history and participating in a hike is a great way to learn.  There is a $12/person fee for the guided hike, which lasts most of the day and totals about 5 ½ miles round trip after crossing the reservoir on a pontoon boat.

There is a per person fee for the guided hike, which lasts most of the day and totals about 5 ½ miles round trip after crossing the reservoir on a pontoon boat.  For more info click here.

Knights Ferry:  In the sleepy hamlet of Knights Ferry, pedestrians can still cross the Stanislaus River on a historic covered bridge.  The stone and brick walls of buildings from the 1850s and 1860s line the river and an easy pathway along the river provides beautiful views of the town and the canyon.  The path is only a 3 mile round trip walk, but it packs in a lot of beautiful scenes.

The trail starts on the north side of town at the end of the main road along the river near the stone and brick shell of the old Tulloch Mill.

For more information, call the Knights Ferry Information Center at 209-881-3517.  There is no charge for parking or access to the river, trail, and historic buildings.

There is no charge for parking or access to the river, trail, and historic buildings.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

Some of the best foothill hikes are guided outings and classes organized by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.  During the spring months, they offer hikes and classes for all ages and abilities on the preserves and conservation easements that they manage in Mariposa, Madera, and Fresno Counties.

The Mariposa County easements are less than an hour’s drive from Merced.

For more information and a calendar of events:

http://www.sierrafoothill.org/

or call (209) 742-5556.

5. Local camping

Another way to take advantage of the nice weather is to go on a camping trip.  There are lots of places to camp locally and they are most enjoyable in the spring and fall.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

You can get from home to your campsite in less than an hour if you book a site at one of the following parks:

Lakes McClure and McSwain:  http://www.lakemcclure.com/  / (855) 800-2267

Lake Don Pedro:  http://www.donpedrolake.com/

New Melones:  http://www.recreation.gov/  / (877) 444-6777

McConnell State Recreation Area:  http://www.reserveramerica.com

Hensley Lake:  http://www.recreation.gov/  / (877) 444-6777

Eastman Lake:  http://www.recreation.gov/  / (877) 444-6777

San Luis Reservoir:  http://www.reserveramerica.com

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

All of these are located between the floor of the valley and the 1,500 foot elevation level, so weather is similar to Merced. 

Beware of rattlesnakes (possible at all except McConnell).  Some allow dogs, and fires may be allowed depending on the location and the dryness of the landscape.

Always check current conditions in advance.  McClure, Don Pedro, and New Melones are my personal favorites for lakeside camping (Eastman and Hensley currently have extremely low water levels due to the drought).

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

McConnell is the best place to camp along the lower part of the Merced River.

 

State Parks and State Recreation Areas in Merced County

Los Banos Creek - Photo by adam blauert

Merced County boasts state parks and state recreation areas.  They provide river access, campgrounds, picnic facilities, swimming, boating, fishing, water recreation, OHV recreation, and trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians.  These parks include:

George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area

Great Valley Grasslands State Park

McConnell State Recreation Area

Pacheco State Park

San Luis State Recreation Area

Turlock Lake State Recreation Area


PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area:  This state park has a mile of river frontage and plenty of shade.  It’s proximity to the road and the poor condition of some of its facilities make it less favorable than some of the other parks on the river, but it still provides many excellent fishing opportunities.  Near the park is a historic bridge over the Merced River.  Built in 1910, it is now open only to pedestrians and bikers.  It provides nice views of the river.

Location:  4394 North Kelly Road, Hilmar, CA

  • Distance from Merced: 30 miles
  • Distance from Los Banos:  29 miles
  • Size:  46.5 acres
  • Facilities and activities:
  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Campgrounds/group campgrounds with BBQ grills/fire rings
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic areas
  • Swimming area
  • Dogs allowed?  Yes
  • Horses allowed?  No
  • Hunting allowed?  No

Fishing or boating?  Fishing can be good at George J. Hatfield Recreation Area.  Rainbow trout and bass can be caught in the spring; catfish and perch throughout the year.  No boating ramp is provided, but it is possible to swim in the river or to launch a float tube or hand-carried boat.

Website:  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=556

and http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/554/files/McConnellHatfield.pdf 

Nearby Parks:  Undeveloped Great Valley Grasslands State Park has a six mile hiking trail.


Great Valley Grasslands State Park:  This park preserves one of the few remaining examples of Central Valley grassland.  The primary attraction of this undeveloped park is a six mile loop trail along levee roads.  Along this route you can see, the San Joaquin River,  native bunchgrass prairie, and vernal pools.

Location:  The park’s entrance is on Highway 165 (Lander Ave) just south of Highway 140

Distance from Merced: 21 miles

Distance from Los Banos:  19 miles

  • Size: 2,700 acres
  • Facilities and Activities:
  • Hiking/biking trails
  • Wildlife viewing 
  • Dogs Allowed?  No
  • Horses Allowed?  No
  • Hunting Allowed?  No
  • Fishing or Boating?  No boat ramps are provided, but float tubes could be launched in the San Joaquin River.  Bass and catfish are the primary species caught in this area.

Website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=559

and http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=25155 for trail description

Nearby Parks:  Camping and picnic areas are available at George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area, McConnell State Recreation Area, and San Luis State Recreation Area.  Picnic areas are also available at Hagaman County Park.


McConnell State Recreation Area:  Like the other Merced River Parks, McConnell has a lot of shade.  It’s also a bit more developed than Hatfield and further from the highway.  If I were to pick a Merced River park in the Valley to camp at, this would be it.  

Location:  8800 McConnell Road, Ballico, CA

Distance from Merced:  22 miles

Distance from Los Banos:  35 miles

  • Size:  74 acres
  • Facilities and activities:
  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Campgrounds/group campground with BBQ grills/fire rings, hot showers
  • Picnic areas with tables and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic area
  • Swimming area
  • Dogs allowed?  Yes
  • Horses allowed?  No
  • Hunting allowed?  No
  • Fishing or boating?  Fishing can be good at McConnell Recreation Area.  Rainbow trout and bass can be caught in the spring; catfish and perch throughout the year.  No boating ramp is provided, but it is possible to swim in the river or to launch a float tube or hand-carried boat.

Website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=554 and http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/554/files/McConnellHatfield.pdf 

Nearby parks:  Undeveloped Great Valley Grasslands State Park has a six mile hiking trail.


Pacheco State Park:  This park preserves part of a large Mexican land grant given to the Pacheco family in 1843.  28 miles of trails are available for hiking, biking, and equestrian use.  Thousands of acres of gently rolling oak woodland produces spectacular wildflower displays in the spring.  The ruins of the Pacheco Adobe and a well-preserved line shack from Henry Miller’s ranching operation stand near the picnic area.

Location:  38787 Dinosaur Point Road, Hollister, CA.  Accessed from Highway 152.

Distance from Merced:  59 miles

Distance from Los Banos:  23 miles

  • Size: 6,890 acres
  • Facilities and Activities:
  • Chemical/flush restrooms
  • An equestrian campground is available for special events; other campgrounds are available at the adjacent San Luis State Recreation Area
  • Picnic areas with tables 
  • 28 miles of hiking/biking/equestrian trails
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Wildflower viewing
  • Dogs Allowed?  In picnic area, but not on trails
  • Horses Allowed?  Yes
  • Hunting Allowed?  No
  • Fishing or Boating?  No

Website:  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=560 and http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/560/files/Pacheco.pdf.  See http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/560/files/PachecoTrailMap2006small.pdf for a trail guide.

Special Events:  Ranger-led wildflower hikes in the spring.  A kite flying day is also held annually.

Nearby Parks:  Camping is available at the adjacent San Luis State Recreation Area


 Photo by adam blauert

Photo by adam blauert

 

San Luis State Recreation Area

(San Luis Reservoir, O’Neill Forebay, Los Banos Creek Reservoir): 

The San Luis State Recreation Area is made up of three units.  San Luis Reservoir is the largest and is used primarily for fishing.  Part of both the California Aqueduct and the Central Valley irrigation projects, it is the largest off-stream reservoir in the United States.  At full capacity, it measures nine by five miles at its widest points.

The O’Neill Forebay, a smaller lake below the San Luis Dam, is open to all kinds of recreation and offers the best fishing in the area.  Although this area can be windy, the O’Neill Forebay is more sheltered than the San Luis Reservoir.  O’Neill Forebay is considered to be one of California’s premier fishing areas.  The State record striped bass was caught in O’Neill Forebay in 2008.  It measured 52.5 inches and weighed 70.6 lbs.

Los Banos Creek Reservoir, located a few miles to the south, receives much less visitation.  It is best-known for springtime ranger-led hikes along the creek in the spring.  With a 5mph speed limit, Los Banos Creek Reservoir is primarily enjoyed by anglers.  A shoreline trail is provided for fishing access.  

 

Location:  San Luis Reservoir and the O’Neill Forebay are located on Highway 152, a few miles west of I-5.  Additional access is available from State Highway 33.  Los Banos Creek Reservoir is located on Canyon Road, southwest of Los Banos and I-5.

Distance from Merced:

San Luis Reservoir and O’Neill Forebay:  48 miles

    Los Banos Creek Reservoir:  42 miles

Distance from Los Banos:

    San Luis Reservoir and O’Neill Forebay:  12 miles

    Los Banos Creek Reservoir:  6 miles

Operating authority:  California State Parks

Surface area of lake:  San Luis Reservoir 12,700 acres

O’Neill Forebay 2,250 acres

Los Banos Creek Reservoir 623 acres

Facilities and activities:

  • Boat ramp
  • Chemical/flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Visitor center
  • Campgrounds/group campgrounds with BBQ grills/fire rings, shelters, hot showers
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic areas and shelters
  • Swimming beach/area with showers
  • Dump station
  • Hiking trails (additional trails available in the adjacent Pacheco State Park)
  • Wildlife viewing areas
  • OHV recreation area (south side of Highway 152 at Jasper-Sears Road.  Novice-level trails for both green and red sticker vehicles are provided)
  • Dogs allowed?  Yes
  • Horses allowed?  Yes, and many equestrian trails are available at the adjacent Pacheco State Park.
  • Hunting allowed?  Yes

Fish species:

San Luis Reservoir and O’Neill Forebay:  bass, bluegill, crappie, perch, shad

Los Banos Creek Reservoir:  bass, bluegill, catfish, and crappie.  Trout are stocked in the early spring, but don’t last through the summer because of water temperatures.

Boat rentals:  No

Website:  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=558 and http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/558/files/sanluisSRA.pdf 

Special events:  O’Neill Forebay hosts a Kids Fishing Day in the spring.  The popular Path of the Padres is a Ranger-led hike along Los Banos Creek that is offered from February through April.  Hikers enjoy a creekside walk through wildflowers and learn about the history, wildlife, and plant species of the area.

Nearby parks:  Pacheco State Park is adjacent to San Luis Recreation Area and offers hiking and equestrian trails.  Ranger-led wildflower hikes are offered in the spring.

The California Aqueduct Bikeway begins at San Luis Creek and goes 70 miles north to the Bethany Reservoir State Recreation Area with rest stops ten miles apart and chemical toilets.


 

Turlock Lake State Recreation Area:  Less than an hour from many points in Merced County, Turlock Lake large and easily accessible.

Location:  Lake Road (accessed from Highway 132) between Waterford and La Grange

Distance from Merced:  32 miles

Distance from Los Banos:  67 miles

Operating authority:  California State Parks

Surface area of lake:  3,500 acres

Facilities and activities:

  • Boat ramp
  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Campgrounds with BBQ grills/fire rings, hot showers
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Swimming beach
  • Short hiking trails
  • Dogs allowed?  Yes
  • Horses allowed?  No
  • Hunting allowed?  No
  • Fish species: bass, bluegill, catfish, crappie, trout
  • Boat rentals:  No

Website:  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=555 and http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/555/files/TurlockBrochure1.pdf


 

Other Resources:

Fishing and Boating Resources at http://www.takemefishing.org/ 

Department of Fish and Game Regulations:  http://www.dfg.ca.gov/ 

Department of Boating and Waterways Regulations:  http://www.dbw.ca.gov/ 

Reservations for State, Federal, and Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds:  http://www.reserveamerica.com


Stanislaus National Forest

Kennedy Lake

Stanislaus National Forest

 Merced County is adjacent to two national forests.  Flowing westward through the county, the Merced River forms the dividing line between Stanislaus National Forest and Sierra National Forest.  Directly in the middle of the two forests is Yosemite National Park, the ultimate source of the river. 

With the Merced River as a southern boundary, Yosemite National Park and the crest of the Sierra as an eastern boundary, the Calaveras/Amador County line as a northern boundary, and a rather erratic line through the foothills and lower pines as a western boundary, Stanislaus National Forest offers 898,099 acres for a wide variety of recreational activities. 

It is a land that stretches from dense forests of tall pines and firs to sharp granite peaks; a land of meadows, lakes, rivers, wildlife, and wildflowers.  In the winter, heavy snow transforms it into a great place for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, playing in the snow, and enjoying beauty and solitude.

 Photo by adam blauert Kennedy Meadows

Photo by adam blauert Kennedy Meadows

Because the area is so diverse and offers so many recreational opportunities, there is often no clear answer to the question “What do you do there?”  This article is an effort to answer that question and to provide a list of useful resources for learning about the forest and its recreational opportunities. 

One of the best resources to start with is the annual visitor guide produced by Stanislaus National Forest is 

http://www.3forests.us/

Popular recreational activities within Stanislaus National Forest include

  • Auto touring
  • Visiting historic towns
  • Hiking and backpacking in wilderness areas
  • Hiking trails outside of wilderness areas
  • Camping
  • Ranger-led activities
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Hiking and camping with dogs
  • Horseback riding
  • Mountain biking
  • OHV riding and exploring 4-wheel drive roads
  • Hunting
  • Downhill skiing
  • Playing in the snow
  • Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
  • Snowmobiling
 Stanislaus River  photo by adam blauert

Stanislaus River  photo by adam blauert

Within the forest there are many privately owned areas.  Some of these offer additional recreational opportunities plus tent and RV campgrounds, lodging, restaurants, stores, and gas stations.  

Ranger Stations

The Stanislaus National Forest Headquarters is located at 19777 Greenley Road in Sonora. 

You can get general forest information and recreation permits by contacting the headquarters.  The phone number is (209) 532-3671 and the general website for the entire forest is www.fs.usda.gov/stanislaus/

The forest is divided into four districts which can provide more specific information about their respective areas:

  • Groveland District:  24545 Highway 120, Groveland – (209) 962-7825
  • Mi-Wok District: 24695 Highway 108, Mi-Wuk Village - (209) 586-3234
  • Summit District:  #1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest – (209) 965-3434
  • Calaveras District:  5519 Highway 4, Hathaway Pines – (209) 795-1381
Highway 108
Highway 108

Road Access and Auto Touring

Stanislaus National Forest is crossed west to east by Highways 120, 108, and 4. Anumber of secondary roads ranging from two-lane paved roads to rough four-wheel drive roads crisscross the forest.  The major highways are worth driving simply to enjoy the views.

 Major Towns, Supplies, Lodging, Food, and Gas

The major supply and service locations are adjacent to the major roads.  Most of these towns have historic roots dating back to the 1800’s and are worth a visit in their own right.  Especially historic and charming are Groveland, Jamestown, Sonora, Columbia, Twain Harte, Angels Camp, and Murphys. 

Each of the major routes has chambers of commerce and/or business associations with websites for information about lodging, food, supplies, gas, local activities, and special events.  I’ve listed them below in order from south to north:

Highway 120 ~ Big Oak Flat, Groveland, Buck Meadows, Mather

www.groveland.org/tcvb.com/

Highways 108 and 49 ~ Jamestown, Sonora, Columbia, Twain Harte, Mi-Wuk Village, Long Barn, Pinecrest, Strawberry, Dardanelle, Kennedy Meadows

tcvb.com/

www.pinecrestlakeca.com/

www.sonorapassvacations.com/

www.twainhartecc.com/

www.columbiacalifornia.com/

www.columbiaca.org/

www.miwukvillageca.com/

www.kennedymeadows.com/

 Highway 4 photo by adam blauert

Highway 4 photo by adam blauert

Highway 4 ~ Angels Camp, Murphys, Arnold, Bear Valley

www.ebbettspassadventures.com/

scenic4.org/

www.angelscamp.com/

www.visitmurphys.com/

cometoarnold.com/

www.gocalaveras.com/

www.bearvalley.com/

Wilderness Areas

Three wilderness areas are within or partly within the boundaries of Stanislaus National Forest.  They offer some of California’s best hiking, backpacking, and fishing. 

They are also great places to enjoy abundant and brilliant wildflowers and to see a variety of wildlife in its natural habitat.

 Emigrant Wilderness Pack Trip photo by adam blauert

Emigrant Wilderness Pack Trip photo by adam blauert

Emigrant Wilderness

The most popular wilderness area within the forest, the Emigrant Wilderness is adjacent to the northwest boundary of Yosemite National Park.  Much of its popularity is the result of the terrain being somewhat less challenging than the steeper southern Sierra Nevada.

A land of low granite ridges with beautiful meadows and lakes, it is much like the northwestern part of the Yosemite Wilderness.

 Columns of the Giants photo by adam blauert

Columns of the Giants photo by adam blauert

Many remnants of volcanic activity can be seen, especially in the northeastern section.  Although there are plenty of easier trails, you can also find many challenging routes that will take you far from any road.

The wilderness has a long human history and many of the lakes have been enlarged by small “check dams” that ensure a lasting water supply for grazing cattle through the summer.

Many of the meadows have been used as summer pasture since the 1800’s.  Cattle are still often seen and remain a part of the living history of the area.

The lakes and streams provide some of the best fishing in the northern Sierra Nevada.  There are several short backpacking and hiking destinations accessible from the western edge of the wilderness, but some of the most impressive destinations require trips of four days or more.

For more information go to: www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/stanislaus/recreation/recarea/?recid=15107

Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

Named for explorer Kit Carson who pioneered a trail through the area and for the Iceberg, a granite landmark located near the southern boundary of the wilderness, the western part is managed by Stanislaus National Forest and the eastern part by Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

The Pacific Crest Trail traverses the eastern section.  The terrain is rugged and steep, with fewer lakes than the Emigrant Wilderness.  For these reasons this area sees fewer visitors, but provides excellent and challenging trails and options to find true solitude.

This is a great place to see remnants of the volcanic activity that shaped our state’s landscape.

For more information go to:  www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/stanislaus/recreation/recarea/?recid=15109

Mokelumne Wilderness

Split among the Stanislaus, El Dorado, and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests, this area’s landscape is much like Carson-Iceberg.

Rugged, steep, volcanic, and without many lakes, it is still a place of great beauty where solitude may be found despite its proximity to Lake Tahoe.  Located north of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, a long section of the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail also passes through this area.

For more information go to:  www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ltbmu/recarea/?recid=11788. 

 Stanislaus River  photo by adam blauert

Stanislaus River  photo by adam blauert

Trails Outside of Wilderness Areas

A number of excellent trails are found outside of the wilderness areas.  Details can be found in some of the books listed below.  You can also read some short descriptions at this site:  www.fs.usda.gov/activity/stanislaus/recreation/hiking/?recid=14833&actid=50.

Books, Maps, and Other Resources

Although web-based resources are great for planning a trip, cellular service, internet, and electric power are hard to come by in much of the forest. 

If you can store electronic resources on your device and have well-charged batteries, you may be able to continue to access your information this way.  It’s always good, however, to have some paper resources.  Print out information from the internet and bring both maps and books. 

The general guide produced by Stanislaus National Forest is invaluable to have with you, especially if your plans change while on a trip.  Weather and other elements outside of your control often require flexibility. 

Books

Unfortunately there is no single book that comprehensively covers this area.  For backpacking, Sierra North from Wilderness Press is a great choice.

For shorter day hikes, pick up a copy of California Hiking by Stienstra and Brown.  Not only does this book highlight the best day hikes in Stanislaus National Forest, it is also an excellent resource for the entire state with a total of 1,000 hike routes.

Emigrant Wilderness published by Tom Harrison Maps Carson-Iceberg, Emigrant, and Mokelumne Wilderness Areas published by National Geographic The Forest Service also publishes separate maps for each wilderness area For more detailed hiking maps, check the USGS website for 7.5 and 15 minute sections.  You can order printed copies of these maps or download free electronic copies.

Maps

It’s good to have a general highway map, but if you plan to explore off the main roads the Stanislaus National Forest Map is one of the most important things to have with you.  In addition to roads and trails, it also shows campgrounds, ranger stations, supply locations, and recreation areas.  It supplements the general guide to the forest (see above).

For some reason it is hard to find on the internet.  Your best source is the website of the U.S. Geological Survey where you can buy it for $12:  store.usgs.gov.   

You can also purchase it at a ranger station.

For hiking or backpacking, the following maps are the top choices:No matter what resources you use, always call a ranger station to verify current conditions before you leave on a trip.

Conditions are always changing and even the official websites can be badly out of date.

Campground Camping

Within Stanislaus National Forest you’ll find 47 campgrounds. 

You can also find a complete listing at:  www.fs.usda.gov/activity/stanislaus/recreation/camping-cabins/?recid=14833&actid=29. 

Some campgrounds are reservable in advance.  You can search for reservable campsites by going to:  www.recreation.gov

Dispersed Camping

Camping outside a campground (usually referred to as “dispersed camping”) is permitted in areas of the forest where signs do not specifically prohibit it. 

You can always check with a ranger station before you set up camp.  In order to have a campfire you need a California Campfire Permit, available at any ranger station.  You can also take an online quiz and get one issued electronically by going to:  www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/passespermits/campfire_permit/campfire-index.html.

As long as you follow the rules on the permit and make sure that you have chosen a safe site, your campfire is legal.  Before your trip you should also make sure that additional campfire restrictions have not been put in place. 

In dry years campfires are sometimes prohibited outside of established campgrounds. 

Ranger-Led Activities

A variety of programs and hikes for all ages and ability levels are offered throughout the year.  You can find up-to-schedules for each ranger district at: http://www.3forests.us/stanislaus.

Fishing:  The forest abounds with streams, rivers, natural lakes, and reservoirs.  Many are stocked and most are open to fishing.  For regulations and stocking information, go to www.dfg.ca.gov

Tom Stienstra’s California Fishing is a good general guide to the whole state, including Stanislaus National Forest.

Boating:  Motorized fishing boats area allowed on the following lakes:  Alpine, Beardsley, Cherry, Pinecrest, Spicer (in the half of the lake within Tuolumne County, but not in the Alpine County  half), and Union.  Water skiing and jet skis are allowed at Beardsley and Cherry.

Swimming:  Swimming is allowed in most streams, rivers, and lakes, however it can be dangerous.  Make sure that all people in your group have strong swimming abilities and you have flotation devices in case a rescue is necessary.  Check with a ranger for current conditions.  Generally Pinecrest Lake is one of the safest easily-accessible swimming destinations.  Cherry Lake is also a good choice.

Dogs

Dogs are welcome on trails and in campgrounds in national forests as long as they are on-leash and well-behaved.  They are not permitted on trails in state or national parks.  Dogs may be off-leash as long as they are under voice control within wilderness areas (except in the Carson Pass Management Area of the Mokelumne Wilderness).

Horses

Horses are permitted on trails within the national forest.  For overnight trips they must be included on your wilderness permit.  Check with the ranger station for the best trail parking for horse trailers.  Day rides and overnight pack trips are offered by:

If you are not up to carrying all your gear or if you want to enjoy the wilderness with in a less strenuous way, a pack trip is a good choice.

Mountain Bikes

All roads and most trails outside of wilderness areas are open to mountain bikes.  Check with a ranger for recommended trails and roads.  Ann Marie Brown’s Northern California Biking is an excellent resource.

Off-Highway Vehicles and 4-Wheel Drive Vehicles

Many remote forest roads require 4-wheel drive and several areas are open to off-highway vehicles.  For more information go to: www.fs.usda.gov/activity/stanislaus/recreation/ohv

A copy of the Stanislaus National Forest map is extremely helpful in locating the best sites.

Hunting

The forest, including wilderness areas, is open to hunting according to DFG regulations.  You can check regulations at www.dfg.ca.gov.  Target shooting is prohibited in wilderness areas.

Winter Activities

 Some roads and campgrounds are open through the winter months, especially in the lower elevations.  Always carry tire chains and know how to install them.  Highway 4 closes at the Bear Valley road junction and Highway 108 closes beyond Strawberry after the first major snowfall.  Many lodging facilities are open year-round.  

Downhill skiing and snowboarding

Offered at Dodge Ridge (Highway 108 at Pinecrest), and Bear Valley (Highway 4 near Lake Alpine).  For more information:Snow Play Areas:  Stanislaus National Forest is also a popular destination to play in the snow.  Three “Sno-Parks” offer snow recreation for a $5 use fee.

You can find more information at: www.ohv.parks.ca.gov/pages/1233/files/sno-parks_2008-09.pdf.

Permits must be purchased before you reach the Sno-Park.  Look for signs as you drive up Highway 108 or Highway 4 or call the ranger station for a current listing.

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing

Along trails is also popular.  Occasionally ranger-led snow activities are offered.  Check with the ranger station for details.  If none are offered, try Yosemite or Sequoia National Parks.

To find your own route, pick up a copy of Best Snowshoe Trails of California by Mark White. www.dodgeridge.com/sitewww.bearvalley.com

Snowmobile Trails

For snowmobiling information go to www.fs.usda.gov/activity/stanislaus/recreation/wintersports/?recid=14833&actid=92 or call the ranger station.

Calaveras Big Trees

 Photo by adam blauert

Photo by adam blauert

The wonder of the Big Trees

A shady grove of giant sequoias is a great place to be during the hot months of summer.  Naturally-occurring populations of giant sequoias – scientific name Sequoiadendron giganteum, also known as Sierra redwoods – are found only along the western slope of our Sierra Nevada mountains. 

These massive trees can grow to be over 300 feet tall and 100 feet in circumference, and can live for as many as 3,500 years. 

Out of about 70 total groves of these amazing trees, only 9 are located north of the Kings River. Close to home, Yosemite’s spectacular Mariposa Grove is probably the best-known, with 500 mature sequoias.

During the summer it can be enjoyed on foot or by taking one of the tram tours offered by the park.  Two smaller groves within the park, the Merced and the Tuolumne, are accessed from easy trails along the Tioga Road (Highway 120).

Highway 4

Another great place to see sequoias is Calaveras Big Trees State Park, located four miles east of Arnold on Highway 4.  Distance-wise, the drive from Merced is only about 10 miles longer than the drive to Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove.

 Mariposa Grove Grizzly Giant  Photo by adam blauert

Mariposa Grove Grizzly Giant  Photo by adam blauert

While Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove is a must-see while you’re in Yosemite, one of the disadvantages is that you can’t actually camp there.  At Calaveras Big Trees, you’ll find 74 comfortable sites with flush toilets and coin-operated showers right next to the North Grove.

Camping in the Big Trees

The campground is so close to the grove that you can start your hike through the trees directly from your campsite.  An additional 55 sites are located at Oak Hollow, halfway between the two groves. 

A small number of more primitive “environmental campsites” are also available throughout the park. 

The campsites at Big Trees are often much easier to book than sites within Yosemite.

The North Grove is one of two groves that make up the park.  Located on the north side of North Fork of the Stanislaus River, it is the most popular of the two. 

Much of this is due to the fact that the trail is accessible to just about everyone – wheelchairs and strollers are commonly seen – and you can see a lot in an easy 1.5 mile loop.

 Discovery Tree Stump -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Discovery Tree Stump - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Big Stump

One of the most memorable landmarks along the trail is the “big stump,” of the “Discovery Tree.”  Cut down in the 1850’s, the stump was sanded smooth and used as a dance floor. 

Today’s guests can stand on it to get an idea of just how massive these trees can be. 

 Pioneer Cabin Tree -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Pioneer Cabin Tree - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Tunnel cut through a Big Tree

Further along the trail, the “Pioneer Cabin Tree” has a tunnel cut through it and is one of the most photographed trees in the park. 

The trees of this grove were the first giant sequoias discovered by European-American settlers that the general public came to know about. 

They immediately became a popular tourist destination.

The South Grove is located on the opposite side of the Stanislaus, a few miles down the Walter W. Smith Memorial Parkway. 

Hiking

For a longer hike, this grove’s 5-mile loop trail will satisfy.  Along the way you’ll see the Agassiz Tree, the park’s largest.  262 feet tall and almost 100 feet in circumference, it is an amazing sight.

A number of longer trails and unpaved fire roads connect major parts of the park, allowing longer hikes. 

For a different landscape, try the 2.5 mile Lava Bluffs Trail above the river.

 Calaveras Sequoias  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Calaveras Sequoias  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

In addition to hiking and camping, the park provides picnic areas and the river is open to fishing and swimming. 

Day use is $8 a car

As a day trip or overnight camping destination, it is a great place to escape the summer heat.

It’s also a great place to visit year-round.  The campground is open from March through November and the trails stay open in the snowy months for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. 

The park provides a safe place for kids to play in the snow.  During a winter visit you can warm-up in the warming hut located at the North Grove. 

In the fall maples, dogwoods, and shrubs can provide dramatic fall color among the evergreen sequoias, pines, and firs.

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

More information

The park’s website provides a lot of useful information for planning a trip. 

Go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=551

for more information or call the park at (209) 795-2334. 

To book a campsite reservation, go to http://www.reserveamerica.com/

or call 1-800-444-7275. 

Campsites are $35 a night and can accommodate recreational vehicles.


Castle Air Museum-Atwater

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Castle Air Museum

Drawing visitors from across the country, Castle Air Museum is one of Merced County’s treasures.  Located on the site of the former Castle Air Force Base (known as Merced Army Air Field during WWII), the museum a collection of 53 World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam Era aircraft including:

Boeing B-17G Flyingfortress

Boeing B-29 Superfortress

Boeing B-47E Stratojet

Boeing B-52D Stratofortress

Boeing KC-97L Stratofreighter

Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker

Convair RB-36H Peacemaker

Curtiss C-46D Commando

Douglas A-26B Invader

Douglas C-47A Skytrain

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

For a full list of planes on display, visit the museum’s website: http://www.castleairmuseum.org/

 b52 -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

b52 - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

History come alive

This is a place where history truly comes alive.  Visitors have close-up views of the planes from paved, handicapped-accessible walkways. 

An indoor museum contains many additional Air Force and Army Air Corps artifacts and a B-52 simulator. 

The museum holds annual “open cockpit” days when visitors can view the insides of many of the aircraft.  Group tours can be arranged.  The museum has a gift shop, café, and RV park with full hookups.

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Facilities

Outdoor aircraft display, indoor museum, café, gift shop, and RV park with full hookups.

Special Events

“Open cockpit” days, veterans’ events, Halloween Fright Night, Christmas Plane Lane-see website for details and times.  http://www.castleairmuseum.org/

Tours

Group tours can be arranged and school groups are welcome.  The museum has produced a teachers’ guide to the museum with classroom activities.

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hours and Entrance Fees

The museum is open every day of the year except Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  Summer Hours (May – October) are 9-5 and Winter Hours (November-April) are 10-4.

Adults:  $10.00 / $12.00 (Open Cockpit Day)

Seniors (60 & up):  $8.00

Youths 6 - 17: $8.00

Children 5 & under (with paid adult): Free

Active Duty Military Personnel (with I.D.): Free

Family Pass: $30.00

Location

5050 Santa Fe Drive, Atwater, California 95301

Website

http://www.castleairmuseum.org

For more information:  (209) 723-2178

 


Romero Visitor Center – San Luis Reservoir

 Photo by adam Blauert

Photo by adam Blauert

Romero Visitor Center – San Luis ReservoirDrivers heading out of Merced County over Pacheco Pass often notice the sign for the Romero Visitor Center at the San Luis State Recreation Area and wonder what it is. 

For several years I did this – always on my way to get somewhere else.  Finally last month I stopped to check it out.

 Reservoir from Museum -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Reservoir from Museum - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Sisk Dam

Located at the top of the long span of Sisk Dam, the visitor center has exhibits about the history of the area, the construction of the dam, and California’s massive water storage and delivery system.  Tours are available and a variety of films about water in California can be shown upon request.

 If you’ve ever wanted to know more about water use and management in the Golden State, this is a great place to start. 

Hours and cost

Open from 9AM to 5 PM daily (except major holidays), it is an easy and relatively quick stop on your way to somewhere else. 

Better yet, admission is free.  While you are there you can learn about recreational opportunities at the San Luis State Recreation Area and other recreation areas within the California State Water Project System from the Department of Water Resources guide on duty. 

 Exhibits -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Exhibits - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

California Department of Water Resources

Although most of the visitor services within the San Luis SRA are operated by California State Parks, the Romero Visitor Center is operated by the California Department of Water Resources.

 The reservoir was constructed between 1963 and 1967.  Part of both the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, the reservoir holds water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta before it is delivered throughout the state via the California Aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal. 

This redistribution of the state’s water is part of what makes modern California and possible.  In a state where much of the land is desert (less than 10 inches of precipitation annually) or semiarid (less than 20 inches annually), water management is tremendously important to support a population of 38 million inhabitants, plus agriculture, industry, commerce, recreation, tourism, and wildlife. 

Largest off-stream reservoir in the United States

385-foot tall rock and earthfill Sisk Dam forms the fifth-largest reservoir in California.  Holding 652 billion gallons of water when full, the lake is only surpassed in size by Shasta, Oroville, Trinity, and New Melones. 

It is also the largest off-stream reservoir in the United States. 

Rather than stopping the flow of a river along its natural course, an off-stream reservoir holds water that has been pumped away from its natural location.

 With this year’s worrisome dry winter, it’s a great time to increase your knowledge of this precious and scarce resource. 

Although the reservoir is currently near full capacity after last year’s exceptional winter, it may soon be returning to the low levels that were so common a couple of years ago.  Now is the time to enjoy the beauty of the reservoir. 

For optimal viewing, pick a day with clear skies and clean air. 

If we continue to get precipitation the hills may be very green by March and April.  Great wildflower shows are common after wet winters.

 Looking at the elk -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Looking at the elk - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

 Tule Elk

From the patio behind the visitor center, visitors can use free telescopes to view the lake and the surrounding hills. 

If you’re lucky, the area’s herd of native tule elk may be within sight.  On my recent visit they were grazing close to the dam.

 Tule Elk -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Tule Elk - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

For more information

go to http://www.water.ca.gov/recreation/locations/sanluis/sanluisvisitor.cfm

or call (209) 827-5353.

Turlock Lake State Recreation Area

Turlock Lake Photo from

Turlock Lake State Recreation Area

Less than an hour from many points in Merced County, Turlock Lake large and easily accessible.

Location

Lake Road (accessed from Highway 132) between Waterford and La Grange Distance from Merced: 32 miles Distance from Los Banos: 67 miles Operating authority: California State Parks Surface area of lake: 3,500 acres

Facilities and activities

  • Boat ramp
  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Campgrounds with BBQ grills/fire rings, hot showers
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Swimming beach
  • Short hiking trails
  • Dogs allowed? Yes
  • Horses allowed? No
  • Hunting allowed? No
  • Fish species: bass, bluegill, catfish, crappie, trout
  • Boat rentals: No

Sierra National Forest

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

National forests

Yosemite National Park is surrounded by national forest lands.  To the northwest, the Stanislaus National Forest provides some of the closest mountain recreation for those of us in the Central Valley.  On the opposite side of the Merced River, the Sierra National Forest provides equally close mountains. 

When you drive to Yosemite on Highway 140 you are on the Sierra National Forest side of the river canyon for most of the journey.  Directly across the water is Stanislaus National Forest.

 McKinley Grove -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

McKinley Grove - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

McKinley Grove

The Park between Yosemite National Park and Kings Canyon National Park

The name “Sierra National Forest” can be confusing because the Sierra Nevada mountain range stretches all the way from Highway 36 east of Chico to Tehachapi Pass (Highway 58) in the south. 

Sierra National Forest comprises only part of this area – specifically the area between Yosemite National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.  Its 1.3 million acres of land provide just about every type of outdoor recreation imaginable.  From dry foothills to snowbound windswept peaks it is a glorious place to explore.

Just as with its vast northern neighbor Stanislaus National Forest, the question “What do you do there?” requires a long answer.  This article is an effort to answer that question and to provide a list of useful resources for learning about the forest and its recreational opportunities. 

One of the best resources to start with is the annual visitor guide produced by Sierra National Forest 

website: http://www.3forests.us/

 Shaver Lake -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Shaver Lake - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Shaver Lake

Popular recreational activities within Sierra National Forest include

  • Auto touring
  • Staying in developed recreation areas within and near the forest
  • Hiking and backpacking in wilderness areas
  • Hiking trails outside of wilderness areas
  • Camping
  • Ranger-led activities
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Hiking and camping with dogs
  • Horseback riding
  • Mountain biking
  • OHV riding and exploring 4-wheel drive roads
  • Hunting
  • Downhill skiing
  • Playing in the snow
  • Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
  • Snowmobiling   

Within the forest there are many privately owned areas.  Some of these offer additional recreational opportunities plus tent and RV campgrounds, lodging, restaurants, stores, and gas stations.

 Kaiser Pass Road View -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Kaiser Pass Road View - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Kaiser Pass Road View

Ranger Stations

The Sierra National Forest Headquarters is located at 1600 Tollhouse Road in Clovis.  You can get general forest information and recreation permits by contacting the headquarters. 

The phone number is (559) 297-0706 and the general website for the entire forest is www.fs.usda.gov/sierra/.

The forest is divided into districts which can provide more specific information about their respective areas

  • High Sierra District:  29688 Auberry Road, Prather –(559) 855-5355
  • Bass Lake District:  57003 Road 225, North Fork – (559) 877-2218
  • Yosemite Sierra Visitor Bureau:  41969 Highway 41, Oakhurst – (559) 683-4636
  • Mariposa Interagency Visitor Center:  5158 Highway 140, Mariposa –
  • (209) 966-7081
  • Eastwood (seasonal):  Highway 168 and Kaiser Pass Road, Huntington Lake –
  • (559) 893-6611
  • Dinkey Creek (seasonal):  Dinkey Creek Road at Dinkey Creek – (559) 841-3404
  • High Sierra (seasonal):  Kaiser Pass Road – (559) 877-7173
 Ansel Adams Wilderness  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Ansel Adams Wilderness  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Ansel Adams Wilderness

Road Access and Auto Touring

 Unlike the national forests to the north, no road crosses the entire mountain range within Sierra National Forest.  Highway 168, the major state highway in the area, penetrates deep into the mountains and the Kaiser Pass Road to Edison and Florence Lakes approaches the crest, but there is no automobile crossing.  This leaves plenty of room for exploration on foot or horseback. 

A number of secondary roads ranging from two-lane paved roads to rough four-wheel drive roads provide plenty of additional access.  Besides Highway 168 and Kaiser Pass Road, the paved roads to Courtright and Wishon Reservoirs are great scenic drives. 

The partially-paved 100-mile Sierra Vista Scenic Byway is also a great choice for auto touring.  Usually the road can be traversed by any car if driven carefully, but high-clearance is recommended. 

For more information about the byway go to www.sierravistascenicbyway.org/

Major Towns, Supplies, Lodging, Food, and Gas

The major supply and service locations are adjacent to the major roads. Each of the major routes has chambers of commerce and/or business associations with websites for information about lodging, food, supplies, gas, local activities, and special events.

I’ve listed them below in order from north to south:

Highway 140 ~ Mariposa, El Portal

Highway 41 ~ Oakhurst, Sugar Pine, Fish Camp

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway ~ Bass Lake, North Fork, South Fork

Highway 168 and Kaiser Pass ~ Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake, Edison Lake

 Courtright Reservoir -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Courtright Reservoir - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Wilderness Areas

 Five wilderness areas are within or partly within the boundaries of Sierra National Forest.  They offer some of California’s best hiking, backpacking, and fishing.  They are also great places to enjoy abundant and brilliant wildflowers and to see a variety of wildlife in its natural habitat.

Ansel Adams Wilderness

Named for the photographer whose timeless images turned the Sierra Nevada’s striking landscapes into universally-recognized icons, this great wilderness area makes up much of the northeastern section of Sierra National Forest.  With stunning mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and the headwaters of the San Joaquin River, the Ansel Adams Wilderness has a lifetime of trails to explore.

Dinkey Lakes Wilderness

One of the smaller wilderness areas in the forest, this often-overlooked region has many lakes and surprisingly easy day hike and backpacking destinations. 

 Dinkey Lakes Wilderness -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Dinkey Lakes Wilderness - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Dinkey Lakes Wilderness

Note:  the lakes are not “dinkey” in size; the wilderness was named for a dog named Dinkey who saved a pioneer from a grizzly bear attack.

John Muir Wilderness

The protection of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is largely due to the work of naturalist John Muir and it is only fitting that one of the largest wilderness areas in the range bears his name. 

The eastern part of the wilderness is part of Inyo National Forest.  This area contains some of the highest peaks in the lower 48 states, glaciers, an amazing number of lakes, and excellent fishing.

Kaiser Wilderness

 This is a small wilderness area that is largely unknown outside the Fresno area.  Centered around Kaiser Peak and north of Huntington Lake, the area contains several small lakes.  Trails are generally more challenging than the equally-sized Dinkey Lakes Wilderness.

Monarch Wilderness

At the southernmost edge of Sierra National Forest, this small and almost unknown wilderness is mostly located within Sequoia National Forest and the Giant Sequoia National Monument.  Although it lacks lakes and contains some extremely rugged terrain it is a place where solitude is likely to be found among old growth giant sequoias.

Trails Outside of Wilderness Areas

A number of excellent trails are found outside of the wilderness areas.  Details can be found in some of the books listed below.  Some of the most popular non-wilderness trails are within the forest’s two groves of giant sequoias:

Nelder Grove

 On the northern edge of the forest north of Oakhurst, this partially-logged grove still has several impressive trees. 

For more information go to: http://www.neldergrove.org/

McKinley Grove

Located along the McKinley Grove Road between Dinkey Creek and Wishon Reservoir.  An easy walk through the trees is a trail that is within just about anyone’s ability range.  

For more information go to:  www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5344073.pdf

Books, Maps, and Other Resources

Although web-based resources are great for planning a trip, cellular service, internet, and electric power are hard to come by in much of the forest. 

If you can store electronic resources on your device and have well-charged batteries, you may be able to continue to access your information this way.  It’s always good, however, to have some paper resources. 

Print out information from the internet and bring both maps and books.  The general guide produced by Sierra National Forest is invaluable to have with you, especially if your plans change while on a trip. 

Weather and other elements outside of your control often require flexibility. 

You can access and print that guide here:  www.3forests.us/sierra

Books

Unfortunately there is no single book that comprehensively covers this area.  For backpacking, Sierra South from Wilderness Press is a great choice. 

For shorter day hikes, pick up a copy of California Hiking by Stienstra and Brown.  Not only does this book highlight the best day hikes in Sierra National Forest, it is also an excellent resource for the entire state with a total of 1,000 hike routes. 

Hiking the Sierra Nevada by Barry Parr is also a good choice.

Maps

It’s good to have a general highway map, but if you plan to explore off the main roads the Sierra National Forest Map is one of the most important things to have with you. 

In addition to roads and trails, it also shows campgrounds, ranger stations, supply locations, and recreation areas.  It supplements the general guide to the forest (see above). 

You can buy it from the U.S. Geological Survey for $12:  store.usgs.gov from a variety of other online retailers.    You can also purchase it at a ranger station. 

For hiking or backpacking, the following maps are the top choices:  No matter what resources you use, always call a ranger station to verify current conditions before you leave on a trip.  Conditions are always changing and even the official websites can be badly out of date.

Ansel Adams Wilderness published by Tom Harrison Maps 

(I generally prefer Tom Harrison’s maps because they have the mileage directly written on each trail segment – this makes for easier trip planning.  They are also waterproof).

Dinkey Lakes Wilderness published by Tom Harrison Maps

Mono Divide High Country Trail Map published by Tom Harrison (covers most of the John Muir Wilderness)

A Guide to the Kaiser Wilderness published by the US Forest Service

For more detailed hiking maps, check the USGS website for 7.5 and 15 minute sections. 

You can order printed copies of these maps or download free electronic copies.

 Edison Lake -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Edison Lake - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Edison Lake

Campground Camping

Within Sierra National Forest you’ll find 82 campgrounds. 

Most are detailed in the forest guide:  www.3forests.us/sierra

Some campgrounds are reservable in advance.  You can search for reservable campsites by going to:  www.recreation.gov.

Dispersed Camping

Camping outside a campground (usually referred to as “dispersed camping”) is permitted in areas of the forest where signs do not specifically prohibit it. 

You can always check with a ranger station before you set up camp.  In order to have a campfire you need a California Campfire Permit, available at any ranger station. 

You can also take an online quiz and get one issued electronically by going to:  

http://www.fs.usda.gov/sequoia/

As long as you follow the rules on the permit and make sure that you have chosen a safe site, your campfire is legal.  Before your trip you should also make sure that additional campfire restrictions have not been put in place. 

In dry years campfires are sometimes prohibited outside of established campgrounds.  This year is no different and some limitations have been imposed.

Ranger-Led Activities

A variety of programs and hikes for all ages and ability levels are offered throughout the year.  For current schedules call the ranger district that you plan to visit.

Fishing

The forest abounds with streams, rivers, natural lakes, and reservoirs.  Many are stocked and most are open to fishing. 

For regulations and stocking information, go to www.dfg.ca.gov.  Tom Stienstra’s California Fishing is a good general guide to the whole state, including Sierra National Forest.

Boating

Motorized fishing boats area allowed on the following lakes:  Bass, Courtright, Edison, Florence, Huntington, Mammoth Pool, Pine Flat, Redinger, Shaver, and Wishon.  Water skiing and jet skis are allowed at Bass, Huntington, Pine Flat, Redinger, and Shaver.

Swimming

Swimming is allowed in most streams, rivers, and lakes, however it can be dangerous.  Make sure that all people in your group have strong swimming abilities and you have flotation devices in case a rescue is necessary.  Check with a ranger for current conditions and recommended areas.

Dogs

Dogs are welcome on trails and in campgrounds in national forests as long as they are on-leash and well-behaved.  They are not permitted on trails in state or national parks.  Dogs may be off-leash as long as they are under voice control within wilderness areas (except in bighorn sheep habitat areas – check with a ranger station if you are planning a backpacking trip with a dog).

Horses

Horses are permitted on trails within the national forest.  For overnight trips they must be included on your wilderness permit.  Check with the ranger station for the best trail parking for horse trailers.  Day rides and overnight pack trips are offered by:

If you are not up to carrying all your gear or if you want to enjoy the wilderness with in a less strenuous way, a pack trip is a good choice.

Mountain Bikes

All roads and most trails outside of wilderness areas are open to mountain bikes.  Check with a ranger for recommended trails and roads.

Off-Highway Vehicles and 4-Wheel Drive Vehicles

Many remote forest roads require 4-wheel drive and several areas are open to off-highway vehicles. 

A copy of the Sierra National Forest map is extremely helpful in locating the best sites.

Hunting

The forest, including wilderness areas, is open to hunting according to DFG regulations.  You can check regulations at www.dfg.ca.gov.  Target shooting is prohibited in wilderness areas.

Winter Activities

Some roads and campgrounds are open through the winter months, especially in the lower elevations.  Always carry tire chains and know how to install them.  Highways 41, 140, and 168 are open throughout the winter except for temporary snow closures. 

Most other roads are closed.  Many lodging facilities are open year-round.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding

Offered at China Peak on Highway 168 at Huntington Lake.  For more information:  www.skichinapeak.com/

Snow Play Areas

Sierra National Forest is also a popular destination to play in the snow.  Five “Sno-Parks” offer snow recreation for a $5 use fee.  Permits must be purchased before you reach the Sno-Park.  Look for signs as you drive up Highway 168 or call the ranger station for a current listing.

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing

Along trails is also popular.  Occasionally ranger-led snow activities are offered.  Check with the ranger station for details.  If none are offered, try Yosemite or Sequoia National Parks. 

 To find your own route, pick up a copy of Best Snowshoe Trails of California by Mark White. 

Snowmobile Trails

For snowmobiling information go to www.fs.usda.gov/detail/sierra/recreation/wintersports/?cid=stelprdb5303598

or call the ranger station.

George J. Hatfield Recreation Area

 Photo by adam blauert

Photo by adam blauert

George J. Hatfield Recreation Area:

This state park has a mile of river frontage and plenty of shade.  It’s proximity to the road and the poor condition of some of its facilities make it less favorable than some of the other parks on the river, but it still provides many excellent fishing opportunities.

 Hatfield -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hatfield - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Near the park is a historic bridge over the Merced River.  Built in 1910, it is now open only to pedestrians and bikers.  It provides nice views of the river.

  • Location:  4394 North Kelly Road, Hilmar, CA
  • Distance from Merced: 30 miles
  • Distance from Los Banos:  29 miles
  • Size:  46.5 acres

Hatfield Facilities and activities:

  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Campgrounds/group campgrounds with BBQ grills/fire rings
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic areas
  • Swimming area
  • Dogs allowed?  Yes
  • Horses allowed?  No
  • Hunting allowed?  No
  • Fishing or boating?  Fishing can be good at George J. Hatfield Recreation Area. Rainbow trout and bass can be caught in the spring; catfish and perch throughout the year.  No boating ramp is provided, but it is possible to swim in the river or to launch a float tube or hand-carried boat.

Website: Hatfield Recreation (click Here)

Nearby Parks:  Undeveloped Great Valley Grasslands State Park has a six mile hiking trail.

 

Lake McSwain and Lake McClure

 photo by adam blauert

photo by adam blauert

Lake McSwain and Lake McClureLake McSwain and Lake McClure: These two sister reservoirs on the Merced River are operated as a unit by the Merced Irrigation District.  Both provide excellent fishing.

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Lake McSwain may be tiny in comparison to Lake McClure, but sometimes has better trout fishing.  Gigantic Lake McClure is especially popular for waterskiing, wake boarding, and houseboats.

A 15-mile trail between the Bagby Recreation Area (Highway 49) and Briceburg (140) provides good river fishing, hiking, and mountain biking.

 bike park   

bike park

 

  • Location:  Lake McClure Road near Merced Falls
  • Distance from Merced:  30 miles
  • Distance from Los Banos:  66 miles
  • Operating authority:  Merced Irrigation District
  • Surface area of lake: McClure 7,110 acres, McSwain 308 acres

Facilities and activities

  • Boat ramps, marina, fish-cleaning stations
  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Campgrounds/group campgrounds with BBQ grills/fire rings, shelters, hot showers, RV hookups
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic areas and shelters
  • Swimming beach
  • Playgrounds
  • Store, laundry facilities, dump station
  • Dogs allowed?  Yes
  • Horses allowed?  No
  • Hunting allowed?  No
  • Fish species:  bass, bluegill, catfish, crappie, shad, sunfish, trout
  • Rentals:  Boats and personal watercraft including houseboats

Website: http://www.lakemcclure.com/

Drought Watch information for MID


Reservoirs, Fishing, and Boating within an Hour of Merced County Communities

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hub for boating, fishing, and water recreation

Encircled by the reservoirs of the Central Valley’s irrigation system, Merced County is a hub for boating, fishing, and water recreation.  From the foothills of the Sierra Nevada on the eastern side of the county to the Diablo Range on the west side, there are eleven lakes within an hour’s drive of all communities in the county.

Few counties have so many highly-rated areas for boating and fishing.

Running east to west across the county, the Merced River has many access points for fishing.  Portions of the San Joaquin, Chowchilla, and Fresno Rivers also flow through the county. The Tuolumne and Stanislaus Rivers lie just outside the county’s borders.  While a boat is necessary to access some of the best fishing areas, there are also many lesser-known locations to fish from the shore of a river or lake.

Hot months of summer

Most reservoirs and river access points offer camping, picnicking, swimming, and other recreational activities.  Spring and fall usually have the most comfortable weather.  Swimming, waterskiing, wakeboarding, and other kinds of water recreation are enjoyed during the hot months of summer.

For more information

Click on any of the reservoirs or river access points listed below for more details on that area.    Links to websites maintained by each recreation area are provided for additional information, regulations, campground reservations, and contact information.

 eastman lake   PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

eastman lake  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

 Adam blauert

Adam blauert

All kinds of boat and water recreation are allowed at these reservoirs except at Los Banos Creek Reservoir where a 5 mph speed limit keeps the lake calm for fishing.  Please know and adhere to the speed limits posted at other lakes.

River Access in Merced County

The best river fishing in Merced County is along the Merced River.  The river was named Rio de Nuestra Senora de Merced by a Spanish expedition in 1806.  The current name and the name of the county were derived from this original name.  

Running 112 miles from Merced Lake in the high country of Yosemite National Park, the river empties into the San Joaquin River at Hill’s Ferry in the northwestern corner of Merced County. From Merced Lake, the river cascades down Nevada and Vernal Falls, and then through the entire length of Yosemite Valley. 

Controlling the snow melt

It is joined by smaller North and South Forks in the steep river canyon between Yosemite Valley and Lake McClure. The river is dammed by New Exchequer Dam at Lake McClure, McSwain Dam at Lake McSwain, a dam at Merced Falls, the Crocker-Huffman Dam between Merced Falls and Snelling, and several smaller dams.The river’s flow depends on the previous year’s snowfall. 

Between Snelling and Hill’s Ferry the river is often slow and meandering, but it’s glassy surface can hide a strong current underneath.  Exercise extreme caution if venturing into the river. In the upper regions Class IV and III rapids are common and the current can be overwhelming, even in the lower areas. 

Safety First

Submerged hazards and deep holes in the channel of the river are not uncommon.  Every year unprepared swimmers drown in the river.

don pedro lake
don pedro lake

Overall recommendations for best fishing with a boat

 O’Neill Forebay and Don Pedro Lake are usually the highest-rated and most consistent fisheries in the area.

Lake McClure, Lake McSwain and Modesto Reservoir also generally provide excellent fishing.

Eastman Lake and Hensley Lake can be good when their water levels are high.

Best boating and water recreation

lake mcclure
lake mcclure
  • O’Neill Forebay
  • Don Pedro Lake
  • Lake McClure.

Best river fishing

Bagby Recreation Area at Lake McClure at the MID and PG&E Fishing Access

George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area.

Reservoirs Closest to home

Other fishing and boating resources

Fishing and Boating Resources at http://www.takemefishing.org/

Department of Fish and Game Regulations: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/

Department of Boating and Waterways Regulations: http://www.dbw.ca.gov/

Reservations for State, Federal, and Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds:http://www.reserveamerica.com


Don Pedro Lake - One of California's highest-rated fishing area & 5th largest artificial lake

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Don Pedro Lake

The fifth-largest artificial lake in California, Don Pedro is one of California’s highest-rated fishing areas.  This Tuolumne River reservoir is also a prime area for all types of boat-based recreation.

The spectacular 4th of July fireworks show draws huge crowds.

 Don Pedro  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Don Pedro  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

  • Location:  Bonds Flat Road, Highways 132 and 120
  • Distance from Merced:  35 miles
  • Distance from Los Banos:  71 miles
  • Operating authority:  Modesto Irrigation District and Turlock Irrigation District
  • Surface area of lake:  13,000 acres

Facilities and activities:

  • Rentals:  Boats and personal watercraft including houseboats

For more information

Website: http://donpedrolake.com/index.htm

Special Events

Annual 4th of July fireworks show.


Pacheco State Park

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Mexican land grant

This park preserves part of a large Mexican land grant given to the Pacheco family in 1843. 28 miles of trails are available for hiking, biking, and equestrian use. Thousands of acres of gently rolling oak woodland produces spectacular wildflower displays in the spring. The ruins of the Pacheco Adobe and a well-preserved line shack from Henry Miller’s ranching operation stand near the picnic area.

Photo by akshay
Photo by akshay

Location

 Accessed from Highway 152. Distance from Merced: 59 miles Distance from Los Banos: 23 miles Size: 6,890 acres

Facilities and Activities

  • Chemical/flush restrooms
  • An equestrian campground is available for special events; other campgrounds are available at the adjacent San Luis State Recreation Area
  • Picnic areas with tables
  • 28 miles of hiking/biking/equestrian trails
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Wildflower viewing
  • Dogs Allowed? In picnic area, but not on trails
  • Horses Allowed? Yes
  • Hunting Allowed? No
  • Fishing or Boating? No

Website information

http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/560/files/PachecoSP_2011.pdf

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=560

 See for a trail guide

http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/560/files/PachecoTrailMap2006small.pdf

Photo by akshay
Photo by akshay

Special Events

Ranger-led wildflower hikes in the spring. A kite flying day is also held annually.

Nearby Parks

Camping is available at the adjacent San Luis State Recreation Area


Tuolumne Meadows – The Other Yosemite

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Far fewer visitors

Yosemite Valley is one of the most magnificent places on earth.  It can also be one of the busiest during the summer months.  The good news is that its beauty is matched by the high elevation meadows, lakes, and peaks that surround it. 

These stunning places receive far fewer visitors than the Valley.

 Sunset near Tioga Pass -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Sunset near Tioga Pass - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Sunset near Tioga Pass

The most accessible part of this higher region is Tuolumne Meadows.  Connected to the rest of the world by the Tioga  Road (the section of Highway 120 that crosses the park), it is an easy day trip from any other part of Yosemite or a longer day trip from the Central Valley. 

Better yet, it can be enjoyed by overnight camping or backpacking, or by staying in nearby lodging.  The more time you spend, the more you can explore.

Tuolumne Meadows has always been of my favorite places in the world.  From early to mid summer the sub alpine meadow area turns a lush green and produces brilliant wildflowers.  The broad, open meadow is surrounded by pines, granite domes, and striking granite peaks.  The Tuolumne River winds its way through the scene.

Visitor Services

During the summer months,Yosemite National Park and its concessionaire operate a large campground, visitor center, and store.  Tuolumne Meadows Lodge provides accommodation in rustic tent cabins and meals served in a large tent dining room. 

You can get a quick breakfast, lunch, or early dinner at the Tuolumne Meadows Grill.  Gas is available, but far more expensive than if you purchase it in the foothills or in the Central Valley.

Campgrounds

Half of the 304 campsites are reservable; the others are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Because the area is popular, sites are often hard to get. 

Group and equestrian camping areas are provided, but must be reserved in advance. 

Additional campgrounds operated by the US Forest Service are found to the east of Tuolumne Meadows, just outside the park’s boundaries. Tioga Lake and Ellery Lake Campgrounds are located along Highway 120.  Junction, Sawmill,  and Saddlebag Lake are on the Saddlebag Lake Road, a short detour off of 120.

Further east along 120, look for signs to additional campgrounds in Lee Vining Canyon.  These sites are located midway down the canyon before you reach US 395. 

Food is served at Saddlebag Lake Resort (at the end of Saddlebag Lake Road) and at Tioga Pass Resort (just a couple of miles outside the park boundary along Highway 120. 

TPR also has cabins for rent.

 Olmstead Point View -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Olmstead Point View - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Olmstead Point View

Places to Stop on the Way to Tuolumne Meadows

As you drive theTioga Road towards Tuolumne Meadows, don’t miss the following stops:

Olmstead Point:  An outstanding roadside viewpoint with vistas encompassing Half  Dome, Clouds Rest, Tenaya Lake, and many striking granite peaks.

Tenaya Lake:  One of the largest natural lakes in the Central Sierra, this 150 acre beauty is surrounded by glacially-sculpted granite peaks and domes.

It’s a great place for a picnic or a chilly swim at the sandy beach at the eastern end.

 Tenaya Lake -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Tenaya Lake - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Tenaya Lake

Adjusting to the Elevation

At about 8,600 feet above sea level, Tuolumne Meadows is nearly twice the elevation of Yosemite Valley. 

The air is thinner the higher you go and you will find that you get short of breath faster.  Take it easy if you are not used to the elevation and don’t attempt any of the more difficult hikes on your first day in the area. 

Your body needs time to adjust to the thinner air.  The sun’s rays are more intense at higher elevations, so don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.

Weather, Clothing, and Safety

The weather can change quickly and afternoon thunderstorms are common in the summer months. 

Bring clothing that you can layer and unlayer as necessary.  A waterproof poncho is invaluable during a thunderstorm if it hits when you aren’t near your vehicle. 

Many of the hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows area take you to high, exposed areas.  Avoid these places during thunderstorms! 

Be especially cautious around the swift, frigid waters of the Tuolumne River and its tributaries.  This year’s exceptional snow melt has made theme more dangerous than usual.

 Early Season Cathedral Lakes -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Early Season Cathedral Lakes - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Early Season Cathedral Lakes

When to Visit

  Summer is the season to visit Tuolumne Meadows.  Buried under snow for much of the year, the Tioga Road is only open from the time the snow melts (usually in late May or early June) through the first snowfall (October or early November). 

Many visitor services close by the middle of September, though the road may be open for weeks after that.

Maps and Finding Your Way Around

  Pick up a free map when you enter the park.  The shuttle map is more detailed and will help you locate all of the attractions and services described in this article. 

You can download it at:   http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=222905.

If you plan to hike, get a more detailed map. 

The Tuolumne Meadows map produced by Tom Harrison Maps is excellent and can be obtained directly through Tom Harrison’s website:  http://www.tomharrisonmaps.com/

It is also usually available at the stores inYosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, and Crane Flat.

Recommended Hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows Area

Tuolumne Meadows, Parsons Lodge, and Soda Springs:  This 1.5 mile loop is a great place to start if you’ve never been to Tuolumne Meadows.

It loops through the heart of the meadow area.  Parsons Memorial Lodge is a great place to stop and rest and the volunteers on duty can answer questions about the area.

This hike involves almost zero elevation gain and loss.

 Lyell Fork -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Lyell Fork - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Lyell Fork

Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River

This is one of my top 10 favorite hikes inYosemite, and it is one of the easiest.  You can hike as many as four miles upLyel lCanyon with only a 200 foot elevation gain.  Many people don’t go that far and the beautiful river can be enjoyed by only hiking part of the route and returning when you start to feel tired.

Elizabeth Lake

More challenging, the hike from the campground to Elizabeth Lake is a 4.8 mile round trip.  Hikers climb about 1,000 feet to reach the destination.

Lembert Dome

The round trip hike to the top of this prominent dome is only 2.4 miles round trip, but involves a steep 850 foot elevation gain.  Unless you are in excellent physical condition, you’ll need to stop and rest from time to time.  The views from the top encompass the entire Tuolumne Meadows region and are truly astounding.

Cathedral Lakes

The elevation gain involved in hiking to these two beautiful lakes is about the same as the climb toElizabeth, but is 2.2 miles longer.  This is my favorite shorter lake hike in the Tuolumne Meadows area.

Glen Aulin

The trail to this historic tent camp (reservable through an annual lottery system) follows the Tuolumne River downhill 800 feet.  Hikers must climb back up on the way out.  This is a stunning section of the river with many cascades, but requires more work than the Lyell Fork trail.

Glen Aulin is one of five backcountry tent camps that hikers can stay at if they don’t wish to pack all of their own gear.  Tents and meals are provided, but must be reserved in advance through a lottery system due to their extreme popularity.

Gaylor Lakes

Starting at the summit of Tioga Pass, a one-mile climb of 500 feet takes you to a saddle above Gaylor Lakes.  This is absolutely stunning country with a grand views all over theYosemite region.

The steep hike is challenging, but rewarding.  Depending how many lakes you explore, the round trip hike is at least two miles in length.

Detailed information about the above listed hikes can be found at:  http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tmhikes.htm

20 Lakes Basin

Just outside the park, a series of small but very pretty lakes spread out beyond Saddlebag Lake.  Saddlebag Lake Resort provides daily water taxi service transporting visitors across the lake to the start of the trail. 

Round trip cost is $11/adults, $10/seniors, $6/children 12 and under, $5/dogs.  Taking the water taxi saves 3 miles of hiking around the lake.  Dogs are welcome on this trail, but not on any of the trails within the park. 

Fishing in these lakes can be excellent for small brook trout; larger fish can be found in SaddlebagLake. 

 20 Lakes Basin- Photo by adam blauert

20 Lakes Basin- Photo by adam blauert

20 Lakes Basin

For more information on hiking the 20 Lakes Basin, the water taxi service, and renting your own fishing boat at Saddlebag Lake Resort, go to: http://www.saddlebaglakeresort.com/index.html

Tuolumne Meadows is a popular starting place for rock climbing and overnight backpacking trips. 

More information about wilderness permits and planning an overnight trip can be found at:  http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm

Guided backpacking trips can be arranged if you are interested in learning how to backpack:  http://www.yosemitepark.com/Activities

HikingCamping_OvernightBackpackingTrips.aspx

Exploring Further East of Tuolumne Meadows

Beyond Tuolumne Meadows, Highway 120 continues to climb to the summit of  Tioga Pass at an elevation of 9, 946 feet.  Although the park’s boundary ends here, the spectacular scenery does not.  Worthy stops include:

Tioga Pass

A small parking area at the summit allows you to enjoy views of some of the park’s highest peaks and summits.

Tioga and Ellery Lakes

These manmade lakes on Lee Vining Creek are scenic and provide excellent fishing.

Saddlebag Lake

At an elevation of 10,087 – higher than any point you can drive to in the park – this large, beautiful lake provides the gateway to alpine regions that are covered with snow much of the year.

The water taxi service provides quick access to the 20 Lakes Basin Trail and the resort serves delicious hot food.  Fishing boat rentals are available.  Saddlebag Lake Road is unpaved, but passable for all cars if driven carefully.

More information can be found at:  http://www.saddlebaglakeresort.com/

Tioga Pass Resort

With hot meals and cozy cabins, TPR provides the greatest level of comfort and services close to Tioga Pass.

If camping isn’t your thing, this is the place to stay.

Go to http://www.tiogapassresort.com/ for more information.

Horseback Riding

Guided horseback rides are available in Tuolumne Meadows – more information can be found at http://www.yosemitepark.com/activities_mulehorsebackrides.aspx.

Fishing

Fish are no longer stocked in Yosemite National Park. 

Natural reproduction is limited and anglers usually have the best luck just outside the park at  Tioga, Ellery, and Saddlebag Lakes and among the lakes of the 20 Lakes Basin.

Transportation

You can easily access Tuolumne Meadows in your own car on theTioga Pass Road (Highway 120), however, several options are available if you would prefer not to drive or would like to leave your car in one place once you get there.

A free shuttle bus operated by the National Park Service runs between all of the destinations in Tuolumne Meadows during the summer months from 7AM to 7PM daily (Olmstead Point to Tuolumne Meadows Lodge with ten stops).  It also makes stops at the MonoPasstrailhead and the TiogaPassentrance station twice a day

For more information go to:  http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tmbus.htm.

YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) provides regular transportation from Yosemite Valley over Highway 120 to Mammoth Lakes with 12 stops along the way.  For more information, go to: http://www.yarts.com/schedule

YARTS also provides transportation fromMerced to Yosemite Valley along Highway 140 with stops at Catheys Valley, Mariposa, Midpines, and El Portal.

Yosemite entrance fees are included in the ticket prices.

Tour busses operated by the park’s concessionaire provide transportation between Yosemite Valley, White Wolf, Tuolumne Meadows, and several stops along the Tioga Road.

Call (209) 372-1240 for more information.

 Parsons Lodge - photo by adam blauert

Parsons Lodge - photo by adam blauert

 

Links – For More Information

General National Park Service Information about Tuolumne Meadows

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/campground.htm

TuolumneMeadows Lodge

http://www.yosemitepark.com/accommodations_tuolumnemeadowslodge.aspx

Campground Reservations:  http://www.recreation.gov/

Tuolumne Meadows Free Shuttle Bus Information and Map:  http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tmbus.htm

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=222905

High Sierra Camps Lottery:  http://www.yosemitepark.com/Accomodations_HighSierraCamps.aspx

Tuolumne Meadows – Tioga Pass Hikes.

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tmhikes.htm

Saddlebag LakeResort– meals and water taxi service to 20 Lakes Basin:  http://www.saddlebaglakeresort.com/

Tioga Pass Resort:  http://www.tiogapassresort.com/

Guided Horseback Rides:  http://www.yosemitepark.com/activities_mulehorsebackrides.aspx

Guided Backpacking Trips.

http://www.yosemitepark.com/Activities_HikingCamping_OvernightBackpackingTrips.aspx

Backpacking and Wilderness Permits:

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm

Tom Harrison Maps:  http://www.tomharrisonmaps.com/

Road Conditions

Yosemite National Park  Daily Traffic Forecast :  http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/traffic.htm


Modesto Reservoir Regional Park

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 7.10.49 PM.png

Modesto Reservoir Regional Park

Popular with residents of Modesto and Turlock, this park is surprisingly close to Merced and offers a lot of recreational opportunities and facilities.

Location

Reservoir Road (accessed from Highway 132) between Waterford and La Grange.

Distance from Merced: 37 miles

Distance from Los Banos: 51 miles

Operating authority: Stanislaus County Parks and Recreation

Surface area of lake: 2,800 acres

Facilities and activities

  • Boat ramp, marina
  • Concessions booth
  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Campgrounds with BBQ grills/fire rings, RV hookups
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic areas and shelters
  • Swimming area
  • Wildlife viewing area
  • Archery range
  • Radio-control airplane flying
  • Dogs allowed? No
  • Horses allowed? No
  • Hunting allowed? Yes
  • Fish species: Bass, trout
  • Boat rentals: No

Website:  http://www.co.stanislaus.ca.us/er/parks/

Recreation organizations

The Mid-Valley Water Ski Club holds events throughout the year for people of all ages and abilities. http://www.midvalleywaterskiclub.com/ for more information.

The Yahi Bowmen Archery Club operates the reservoir’s archery range. Guests are welcome and regularly-scheduled activities are offered for people of all ages and abilities. https://www.facebook.com/YahiBowmenModesto   for more information.