Blossom Tours

almond flowers

After the first rains of the winter season, the foothills start to turn green.  By late March, wildflower displays are common, usually lasting into May.  In the high elevation subalpine and alpine zones of the Sierra, the wildflower displays arrive in June and last through July or August.

Fall brings vibrant leaf displays especially in the aspen groves.This transformation starts in late September and lasts through much of October.All of these are sights well worth seeing at some point in your life and returning to again and again if possible. 

Closer to home, the orchards of the Central Valley put on their own extraordinary blossom show from the end of February through the beginning of March.

The best website available for blossom information and driving tours (you can also ride your bike along these routes) is offered by the UC Cooperative Extension at:http://cemerced.ucanr.edu/Blossom_Tours_262/.

These tours are a great way to enjoy the beauty of our local outdoors in the early spring.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

The UC Extension’s estimates for blossom dates are as follows:

  • Almond blossoms usually peak between February 25th and 28th +/- 10 days, depending on weather.
  • Apricot blossoms can be expected between March 1st and March 10th +/- one week.
  • Peach and nectarine blossoms peak approximately March 10th +/- one week.

Their website offers several different tours including:

  • A Peach Blossom Tour of Northern Merced County (Atwater, Winton, Cressey, Ballico, Delhi areas)
  • An Almond Blossom Tour of Northern Merced County (Atwater, Winton, Cressey, Ballico, Delhi areas)
  • An Almond Blossom Tour of Eastern Merced County (Planada, Plainsburg, Le Grand areas)
  • An Apricot and Almond Tour of the Los Banos Area
Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

The descriptions and maps for these tours can be found at:  http://cemerced.ucanr.edu/Blossom_Tours_262/.

Almonds, apricots, peaches, nectarines, pistachios, and walnuts are the most common tree crops grown in Merced County.There are a very limited number of plums, prunes, figs, cherries, and Asian pears.

To learn how to identify the blossoms, the UC Extension has a downloadable guide:http://cemerced.ucanr.edu/files/40706.pdf.

The download doesn’t have photos, but you can find some at:http://cemerced.ucanr.edu/Pictorial_Guide_to_Fruit_and_Nut_Crops_Grown_in_Merced_County/.

There are also written descriptions on the Fresno County Blossom Trail site:http://www.goblossomtrail.com/.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

Although not described on these sites, pistachio and walnut blossoms are small, not very showy, and greenish in color.The other trees are your best bet for photos.

These blossom drives provide endless vistas for photography.The best days for beautiful views are afternoons and mornings when the sun shines through the dark clouds of a departing storm and the days directly following storms.Warm afternoon to evening light adds warmth to the scenes.

The Fresno County Blossom Trail website has a gallery of photos that gives some examples of how photographers have successfully captured beautiful images of blossoms:http://www.gofresnocounty.com/BlossomTrail/Pictures.asp

If you’re already familiar with local blossom trails and are looking for something different, the Fresno County Blossom Trail offers some additional varieties of blossoms set against the foothills of eastern Fresno County.Fresno County has a larger number of plum, apple, and citrus trees.

For a map, information, and places to stop along the trail go to http://www.goblossomtrail.com/.

To enjoy a blossom drive, here are a few suggestions:

  • Pack water, jackets, snacks, cameras, and sunglasses.
  • Print out the map of your route (see the above links).
  • Be aware that bees are working in the orchards and be careful to avoid being stung.If you are allergic to bee stings, bring any bee allergy remedies that your doctor has prescribed for you.
  • Stay out of the orchards unless you have permission to enter them.The orchards are private property and you don’t have to enter them to get great photos. 
Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

Later in the season, the produce of our local farms is available from local vendors:

Fresno County Fruit Trails downloadable map and information:http://cemerced.ucanr.edu/files/71388.pdf

Madera Wine Trail:http://www.maderawinetrail.com/

Mariposa County Wineries:http://www.sierrawines.com/ava.aspx?id=24

Tuolumne County Wineries:http://www.sierrawines.com/ava.aspx?id=25

Some of these are featured on the downloadable map provided by Merced County Country Ventures:http://www.country-ventures.org/


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.

 

Merced County Parks

Lake Yosemite - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Merced County offers three large regional parks –

Hagaman

Henderson

and Lake Yosemite. 

Hagaman and Henderson are both situated on the Merced River. 

Lake Yosemite wraps around the southern side of a reservoir just outside the City of Merced. 

Henderson is my personal favorite with the nicest facilities and plenty of shade provided by tall trees.

Note:  pets are not allowed in Merced County Parks, but are welcome in California State Parks and at reservoirs operated by local irrigation districts and the Army Corps of Engineers.

County Park Resources:  

County Park Facility Rental Fees:  http://www.co.merced.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=761 

Frequently Asked Questions About County Parks:  http://www.co.merced.ca.us/FAQ.ASPx?QID=279 

County Park Rules:  http://www.co.merced.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=789 

Hagaman Park: 

Located on a bluff above the Merced River in northwestern Merced County, Hagaman Park is especially popular with residents of the west side of the county.  A large picnic area is available for rent.  Because of drownings, this area is not open to fishing and a fence runs along the bluff to discourage river access.  If you want to swim or fish in the Merced River, try Henderson County Park, George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area, or McConnell State Recreation Area.

Location:  19914 River Road, Stevinson, CA (Intersection of River Road and Highway 165)

Distance from Merced:  24 miles

Distance from Los Banos:  23 miles

Facilities and activities:

  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic areas and shelters
  • Playground
  • Fishing or boating?  No

Website:  http://www.co.merced.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=1410 

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.

Henderson Park: 

Stretched along the bank of the Merced River in eastern Merced County, Henderson Park is shaded by tall trees and further back from the road than the facilities at Hagaman County Park or George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area. 

Like McConnell State Recreation Area, it feels more distant and removed than it actually is.  The park is popular for picnicking, large gatherings, river recreation, and fishing.  Three rental facilities are available, including an indoor clubhouse with kitchen and fireplace.  

Location:  Merced Falls Road, 1 mile east of Snelling

Distance from Merced:  20 miles

Distance from Los Banos: 55 miles

Facilities and activities:

  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic/banquet facilities (indoor and outdoor) 
  • Swimming area
  • Playground
  • Softball diamond
  • Horseshoe pits
  • Dogs allowed?  No
  • Horses allowed?  No
  • Hunting allowed?  No
  • Fishing and boating:  Fishing for rainbow trout is popular along the river and small boats can be hand launched from a concrete ramp (vehicles are not permitted near the ramp).
  • Nearby Parks:  Camping is available at McConnell State Recreation Area, and Lake McClure and Lake McSwain.

 

Lake Yosemite: 

Only seven miles from the center of Merced, Lake Yosemite has long been a popular spot for picnics, family outings, group activities, fishing and boating.  It isn’t the largest lake in Merced County, but it is close to home and has extensive recreational facilities.  Most facilities are accessed from Lake Road, but a secondary fishing access point is located at the end of Old Lake Road.  Lake Yosemite’s water comes from the Merced River.  It is diverted into the Main Canal by the Crocker-Huffman Dam, halfway between Snelling and Merced Falls.

 

Location:  5714 Lake Road, Merced, CA 95340

Distance from Merced: 7 miles

Distance from Los Banos:  43 miles

Operating authority:  Merced County Parks and Recreation

Surface area of lake:  500 acres

Facilities and activities:

  • Boat ramp and marina
  • Concessions booth (summer weekends only)
  • Flush restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • Picnic areas with tables, shelters, and BBQ grills
  • Group picnic/banquet facilities (indoor and outdoor)
  • Camping area for youth groups
  • Swimming beach
  • Playground
  • Dogs allowed?  No
  • Horses allowed?  No
  • Fish species:  Bass, bluegill, and catfish.  Trout are stocked in the early spring, but don’t last through the summer because of water temperatures.

Rentals:  Non-motorized boats are available on summer weekends from the concession stand.

Website:  http://139.151.188.2/index.aspx?NID=769

Nearby parks:  The closest camping is available at McConnell State Recreation Area, and Lake McClure and Lake McSwain.

Recreation organizations:  The Lake Yosemite Sailing Association organizes sailboat events and races, maintains a docking area, and teaches sailboating skills. 

Membership is open to all who have an interest in sailing. 

Boat ownership is not required and new members can learn to sail by crewing on boats owned by other members.  The LYSA also offers a Sail Camp for youth aged 8 and up during the summer months.  http://www.lakeyosemitesailing.org/

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


San Luis Reservoir Area

San-Luis-Reservoir-e1305509338734

 O’Neill Forebay, Los Banos Creek Reservoir-Part of both the California Aqueduct and the Central Valley irrigation projects.

San Luis Reservoir
San Luis Reservoir

San Luis State Recreation Area

San Luis Reservoir, O’Neill Forebay, Los Banos Creek Reservoir:  The San Luis San Luis Reservoir, O’Neill Forebay, Los Banos Creek Reservoir-Part of both the California Aqueduct and the Central Valley irrigation projects.

Three Units

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.

O'Neill Forebay
O'Neill Forebay

O'Neill Forebay

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 Los Banos Creek primarily enjoyed by anglers. 

A shoreline trail is provided for fishing access.

Los Banos Creek
Los Banos Creek

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

For More information and special events

Website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=558

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

San Luis Reservoir, O’Neill Forebay, Los Banos Creek Reservoir-Part of both the California Aqueduct and the Central Valley irrigation projects.

Top 5 Local Things to do in Winter in and Around Merced County

Merced County Events-  Top 5 local

Christmas is over and it’s still cold in the Central Valley.  Once the holiday events have passed, the coldest months of the year often seem like a dead time for events and activities unless you’re going to mountains to ski or play in the snow.  Despite that impression, there are actually a lot of great things to enjoy during this time of year within an hour’s drive or less.

1.  Ice skating

For the second year in a row, Fields of Ice in Turlock has brought ice skating to our part of the Central Valley.  Located at 716 N. Daubenberger Road, this open air rink can be enjoyed during the day or under the stars as long as it isn’t raining.  The rink will be open this season through January 19th.  Ice skate rentals are included in the admission price and just about anyone can figure out how to propel themselves on the ice with a little practice – especially if you ever had any experience riding a pair of inline skates (rollerblades).  It’s an especially fun activity with a group of family members or friends.

2.  Performing Arts

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

Winter is a great time to enjoy live music or theater.  In addition to performing arts within our own county, the Modesto, Turlock, Fresno, and Sonora areas offer a huge range of live entertainment.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

For a list of performing arts venues and organizations within an hour’s drive, click here. 

3.  Wildlife refuges

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

Before large numbers of humans settled in the Central Valley, much of the valley’s floor was a great wetland in the winter months – a permanent home for many species and a winter home for many more.  Large areas that are currently managed as wildlife refuges continue to provide both year-round and seasonal wetland habitat.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

While the refuges are interesting throughout the year, they are especially enjoyable in the winter months when millions of migratory birds arrive. “Birdwatching… really??!??”  I know that’s what some readers are thinking at this point.  Visiting a wildlife refuge in the winter can actually be an unforgettable experience.  If you’ve done it yourself, you know what I’m talking about.

Don’t imagine this as sitting around for hours waiting for a single tiny starling or sparrow to show up.

As you stand on a viewing platform in the crisp evening air and watch great flocks of ducks and geese silhouetted against an orange-red sunset sky, it seems like you’ve stepped into another world – even though you’re only a few miles from civilization.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

Evening is usually the best time to visit. As the day ends, multitudes of ducks and geese return from feeding.  The refuges offer auto tour routes, short hiking trails, and viewing platforms to enjoy the avian show.

The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in Los Banos is also home to a large herd of magnificent tule elk.  Although they aren’t always close to the fence of their large enclosure, I’ve been able to spot them every time I’ve visited and sometimes they’ve been very close to the viewing platform.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

No matter when you go, wear warm clothes and bring a camera and/or binoculars. The closest refuge is the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, seven and a half miles west of Highway 59 on Sandy Mush Road.  It offers a five mile auto tour route, three short trails, and viewing platforms. About seven miles north of Los Banos on Wolfsen Road, the San Luis NWR offers two auto tour routes, several short trails, viewing platforms, and a beautiful new visitor center with exhibits about local wildlife.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

If you arrive before evening, you can see both elk and birds in one day and also check out the visitor center (open 8AM to 4:30PM every day except federal holidays). The refuges are open daily from one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset.

Admission to both refuges is completely free.

4.  Museums

Museums are great places avoid the cold in the winter and to cool off in the summer.  Merced County has a wealth of local museums, and so do the surrounding counties.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

The Merced County Historical Society’s exhibits in the beautifully restored 139 year-old courthouse at 21st and N Streets is a great place to start if you’ve never seen it before or if you haven’t been there in a long time.

A new exhibit debuts every few months.  For complete information about current events click here.

The other rooms contain exhibits of the county’s history from the Yokuts people to the present time.

Other museums within the county and an hour’s drive include:

Merced:  Multicultural Arts Center

Los Banos:  Milliken Museum

Atwater:  Bloss House Museum

Castle Air Museum

Livingston:  Livingston Historical Museum

Dos Palos:  Dos Palos Museum

Gustine:  Gustine Museum

Chowchilla-Fairmead:  Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County

Madera:  Madera County Museum

Modesto:  McHenry Mansion

McHenry Museum

The Great Valley Museum

Turlock:  Carnegie Arts Center and Turlock Historical Society Museum

Oakdale:  Oakdale Cowboy Museum

Fresno-Clovis:  Kearny Mansion, Meux Home Museum, the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Museum, the Fresno Art Museum, and the Discovery Center

Mariposa:  California State Mining and Mineral Museum and the Mariposa Museum and History Center

Oakhurst:  Fresno Flats Historical Museum and Park

Raymond:  Raymond Museum

Sonora:  Tuolumne County Museum

La Grange:  La Grange Museum

It’s quite an impressive list.  If you’re wondering where to start, here are five of my favorites:

Castle Air Museum – huge collection of military aircraft, WWII to present

California State Mining and Mineral Museum – mining history and lots of stunning mineral specimens

McHenry Mansion – beautifully restored 1882 Victorian mansion, one of the best preserved in the entire Central Valley

Fresno Flats Historical Museum and Park – extensive collection of restored pioneer buildings and artifacts, lots of space to explore and picnic

Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County – amazing fossils of massive creatures that lived here in the past

Because museums often reduce their hours during the colder months, call to verify before you visit.  Admission to many museums is free of charge, while others require a small per-person fee.

5.  Blossom Tours

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

As winter draws to a close, local orchards put on one of the most impressive displays of blossoms that can be seen anywhere.  Usually beginning in the second half of February, these blossoms can usually be enjoyed by driving (or riding your bike) on rural roads in Merced County.  For more info about blossom tours, click here.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

The University of California’s Cooperative Extension program has compiled several excellent tour routes for different parts of the county.  The maps are available for free on their website:  http://cemerced.ucanr.edu/Blossom_Tours_262/. 

 


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.


Gold Rush Towns of the Central Foothills

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Gold Rush Towns of the Central Foothills

Gold, silver, and other minerals have been mined throughout California.  Best known of all the mining areas is the “Mother Lode.”  Stretching from El Dorado County south to Mariposa County, the lode is a continuous 120 mile long zone of hard rock gold deposits. 

Today Highway 49 winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush of the 1850’s.

Foothill camps

The foothills between Merced County and Yosemite were a part of the Mother Lode known as the “Southern Mines.”  The line separating them from the “Northern Mines” was drawn along the Mokelumne River, a few miles south of the town of Jackson.

Most mining camps were nothing more than temporary encampments established where a section of a river was panned or sluiced until the gold ran out. 

Permanent towns developed in areas where more extensive operations spent decades tunneling deep into the hills. 

Although most of these towns faded after the mines closed, tourism has brought some of them back to life.  Visitors can explore buildings and artifacts from the 1800’s among shops, restaurants, and lodging facilities.

Below is a guide to some of the most interesting historic towns along the western edge ofYosemite from north to south. 

All of these towns are interesting, but Columbia, Sonora, Groveland, and Mariposa are my top recommendations for Gold Rush towns that have the largest and most interesting historic areas. 

Jamestown’s Rail town is also a must-see destination in the “Southern Mines.”  Coulterville and La Grange small, but still very interesting. 

Largely bypassed by tourism, Hornitos has a mix of interesting ruins mingled with historic homes that are still inhabited.

Any historic town can be a great place to stop and as part of a trip into the Sierra Nevada and many offer lodging, including modern motels, historic hotels, and quaint bed and breakfast accommodations.

Be sure and check each town’s webpage lengths for special events – most of these towns offer a wide variety of celebrations and history-themed festivals throughout the year, especially during Independence Day and Christmas. 

No matter where you visit, please be sure to respect private property and “No Trespassing” signs.

Columbia State Historic Park

 Columbia was known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines” during the Gold Rush and it still sparkles. 

Recognizing how well it had survived the years, the state of California began acquiring and renovating the buildings in 1945.

 Columbia -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Columbia - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Today the streets are closed to vehicles and Columbia is just about as close as you can get to stepping back in time. 

The state park includes over 50 historic buildings, many of which house exhibits, restaurants, and shops that sell reproductions of products of the 1800’s. 

Admission is free and the park hosts many special events throughout the year.

Many of these events have activities planned for children of all ages.  The park is always open, but most businesses are only open from 10AM to 5PM.  Lodging is available within historic hotels in the park.

For more information go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=552,

http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/552/files/ColumbiaSHPWeb2010.pdf

or http://www.columbiacalifornia.com/.

Stagecoach and horseback rides can be enjoyed on weekends

http://www.columbiacalifornia.com/anfisher.html

 Columbia  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Columbia  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

The historic Fallon House Theatre offers live stage entertainment throughout the year http://www.sierrarep.com/.

Sonora

Not to be outdone by the “Gem of the Southern Mines,” Sonora was known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines.”  Originally founded by miners from Sonora, Mexico, it is still a thriving town that maintains a lot of historic character in its extensive downtown area – the kind of place where you can spend a lot of time wandering around and enjoying the interesting architecture and shops.

The downtown area has been bypassed by Highway 108.  Watch for exit signs if you enter the town by that route. 

Residential areas around downtown contain picturesque Victorian homes.

The Tuolumne County Museum and History Center is housed in the old jail and presents excellent exhibits of the life in the pioneer days of Tuolumne County http://tchistory.org/index.html.

The Sonora Chamber of Commerce operates a daily trolley that connects Sonora with Columbia and Jamestown (May-Labor Day), allowing visitors to stay in one town and enjoy all three without having to drive.

More information is available at http://www.tuolumnecountytransit.com/HistoricTrolley.html

For information about lodging, restaurants, and activities, go to http://www.sonorachamber.com/

http://www.tcvb.com/

 or http://www.tcchamber.com/.

Jamestown

Rail town 1897 State Historic Park is Jamestown’s greatest attraction – this park preserves the roundhouse and engines of a short line railroad of the 1800’s.  40-minute rides on historic railcars are offered on weekends and Monday holidays throughout the summer.

 Jamestown Railtown -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Jamestown Railtown - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

The historic business district has many interesting buildings, although many date from a more recent time than the 1800’s.  For information about lodging, food, and events,

go to http://www.tcvb.com/

or http://www.tcchamber.com/.

Chinese Camp

Far less touristy than all of the other historic towns listed on this page (except Hornitos and Bear Valley), Chinese Camp has largely been bypassed by the modern world. 

 Chinese Camp St Xaviers -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Chinese Camp St Xaviers - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Founded by Chinese miners who were banished from other mining camps, a few structures still remain from the 1800’s, including St. Xavier’s Catholic Church.

Big Oak Flat

Smaller than neighboring Groveland, Big Oak Flat has a couple of historic buildings and a monument commemorating the now-vanished oak that gave the town its name.   If you are on your way to Groveland or Yosemite, you might make a quick stop here.

Groveland

The main highway is also Groveland’s main street, lined with historic buildings. 

The historic business district is smaller than that of Sonora, Mariposa, or Columbia, but still quite picturesque and worth a visit.  The town’s original name was Garrotte because of its reputation for swift justice in the form of hanging.

The remains of a hanging tree can still be seen in the town.  Groveland’s Iron Door Saloon claims to be the oldest bar in California and offers beverages, food, and live entertainment.  Despite the name, families are welcome.

For more information about the town go to http://www.yosemitegold.com/yosemite/groveland.html.

La Grange

 A sleepy town on Highway 132, several interesting historic buildings and a small museum evoke the wilder days of the 1850’s when La Grange was the county seat of Stanislaus County. 

 La Grange   PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

La Grange  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

A tiny jail stands next to the museum and visitors can peer through the bars into the single cell.  An iron bridge from the early 1900’s is open to pedestrians for a quiet stroll over the Tuolumne River.

 La Grange Museum -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

La Grange Museum - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Coulterville

The Northern Mariposa County History Center and the historic Hotel Jeffrey stand at the junction of Highways 49 and 132.  Coulterville is one of the smaller Gold Rush era towns, but is picturesque and well-worth a visit.

“Whistling Billy,” a tiny antique locomotive that once hauled ore from the Mary Harrison Mine, stands in front of the History Center.  

Bear Valley

Once the headquarters of John C. Fremont’s mining empire, a few buildings from the 1800’s still remain in this sleepy hamlet.  Bear Valley is an interesting place to stop between Mariposa and Coulterville.

Hornitos

On a quiet day Hornitos may look like a true ghost town, though it still boasts a number of inhabitants. 

 Hornitos Jail -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hornitos Jail - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

The Hornitos Patrons Club hosts special events throughout the year and a famous candlelight procession to the cemetery on All Souls Day (November 2) draws hundreds of visitors.

 Hornitos Ghirardelli Store -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hornitos Ghirardelli Store - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

More information is available at http://www.hornitospc.com/

The brick shell of the Ghirardelli Building is the remnant of a store owned by the man whose San Francisco chocolate company became known the world over.

Hite’s Cove

A true ghost town, this former settlement is reached by a 4.5 mile trail (9 miles round-trip).  Located along the South Fork of the Merced River, John Hite operated a profitable mine along this bend in the river starting in the early 1860’s.  At the height of operations, several dozen people lived there.

The mine shut down in the late 1800’s and a forest fire burned the structures in 1924, but rock walls and heavy iron machinery remain. 

A few modern mining claims exist in this are and there is privately-owned land along the first ½ mile of the trial, so be sure to observe posted signs.

This is a great hike in the springtime when wildflowers cover the slopes of the canyon near the start of the trail. 

The trail starts at the site of Savage’s Trading Post on Highway 140 between Midpines and El Portal.

Mariposa

 The largest town between Merced and Yosemite on Highway 140, Mariposa’s main street has many historic buildings and interesting stores. 

Once part of John C. Fremont’s empire, many of the streets are named for members of his family.

 Mariposa Main Street   PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Mariposa Main Street  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Windows on the World Books has the best selections of books about local history and recreation that can be found.  The historic courthouse, built in 1854 is the oldest still in use in California. 

 photo by brad haven

photo by brad haven

Church in Mariposa built in 1864.

 Photo by Brad haven

Photo by Brad haven

For more information on Mariposa, go to http://visitmariposa.net/

or http://www.homeofyosemite.com/

 Mariposa History Center Stamp Mill -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Mariposa History Center Stamp Mill - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

The Mariposa Museum and History Center

For information see website -(http://mariposamuseum.com/) The museum has a working stamp mill and offers some of the best displays of Gold Rush history anywhere in the Southern Mines and the California State Mining and Mineral Museum portrays the history of mining in California with extensive collections of minerals and gems

(http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=588).

Catheys Valley

Although placer gold was mined here in the early days of the Gold Rush, Catheys Valley developed to supply ranches and farms in the lower foothills. 

Although not a major town in any way, an old schoolhouse and blacksmith shop have been restored and moved to the county park on the eastern edge of town.

 Catheys Valley Schoolhouse -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Catheys Valley Schoolhouse - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Visitors can peer through the windows of the school and see what a typical rural school of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s looked like. 

It’s a pleasant place to stop for a picnic on a spring or fall day while on the way to Yosemite.

Oakhurst

South of the Mother Lode and originally named Fresno Flats, Oakhurst developed to serve farms, ranches, and the logging industry that developed after the Gold Rush. 

A number of interesting historic buildings from the 1800’s have been relocated to the Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park on Road 427.

The park is open from dawn to dusk and the buildings may be toured from 10AM to 2PM daily. 

For more information call (559) 683-6570 or go to www.fresnoflatsmuseum.org.

The Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce offers information about accommodations and events: http://www.oakhurstchamber.com

Sonora, Mariposa Groveland, Oakhurst, and Columbia have the best selection of food, lodging, gas, and groceries. Jamestown and Coulterville offer all services with less variety.  Big Oak Flat and La Grange have gas, limited supplies, and meals. 

Catheys Valley and Chinese Camp offer gas and limited supplies.

A small store and a historic bar in Hornitos operate with limited hours.  Bed and breakfast accommodations are offered in or around all of the towns. 

For listings, try the following websites

Columbia Chamber of Commerce:  http://www.columbiacalifornia.com/

Mariposa CountyTourism Bureau:  http://www.homeofyosemite.com/

Another helpful Mariposa County site:  http://visitmariposa.net/

Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce:  http://www.oakhurstchamber.com/

Sonora Chamber of Commerce:  http://www.sonorachamber.com/

Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce:  http://www.tcchamber.com/

Tuolumne CountyVisitors Bureau:  http://www.tcvb.com/


Moccasin Trout Hatchery

 Photo by adam blauert

Photo by adam blauert

Fish and Game

In order to provide fishing opportunities for 38 million people, the California Department of Fish and Game grows trout and salmon in 21 hatcheries throughout the state and then stocks them in lakes and rivers to supplement the natural populations.  Much of this is done by truck, however in roadless areas airplanes are used. 

 Large Trout  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Large Trout  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Moccasin hatchery

The closest trout hatchery to Merced County is located at Moccasin, along the northern route to Yosemite.  For a map showing all of the DFG hatcheries in California, go to http://www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Hatcheries/Moccasin/

 Trout Swarming  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Trout Swarming  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hours of operation

From 7:30AM to 3:30PM daily, visitors can observe and feed the rainbow trout at the Moccasin hatchery.  The fish live and grow in long rectangular pools, protected from predators by a tall chain-link fence and overhead wires. 

The largest fish – some of them very large – are located in a pool near the front of the hatchery.  A sign indicates “show fish.”

 Trout Jumping  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Trout Jumping  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Bring quarters to feed the fish

Fish food is sold from a dispenser in the parking area.  Bring quarters - $5 provided nearly an hour of fun the last time I visited.  If you bring several children, more quarters may be necessary. 

Tossing the food into the water creates a feeding frenzy.  It is thrilling to watch swarms of beautiful fish jumping out of the water and moving great distances in the blink of an eye. 

 Large Trout -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Large Trout - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

It’s great fun for all ages, especially for kids.  The fish are conditioned to expect food from large vertical objects and a feeding frenzy may start when your shadow crosses the water, even if you don’t throw any food in. 

 In the winter months the surrounding mountains block the sun by 2PM.  If you want to enjoy its warmth, arrive by noon. 

Planning your visit

During the summer heat an early visit is recommended.  Trying to catch jumping fish with your camera can be a lot of fun if you are a photographer.  A polarizing filter is helpful to cut through the glare on the water.

 The hatchery is located near the junction of Highways 120 and 49.  If you come from the south via Highway 49, watch for a sign indicating a right hand turn for the hatchery just before you reach the Highway 120 junction.  If you come from the west on 120, turn right on 49 and look for a signed left hand turn.

About 70 minutes from Merced, the hatchery is close to the historic towns of Coulterville, Chinese Camp, Big Oak Flat, and Groveland.  It is also relatively close to Sonora, Jamestown, Columbia State Historic Park, and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. 

The BLM’s Red Hills Area is a great spot for a picnic or a hike in the fall, winter, or spring. 

Red Hills is known for having an excellent wildflower display in March and April.  If you are headed to or from Yosemite on Highway 120, the hatchery makes a convenient stop.

 Hatchery  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hatchery  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hetch Hetchy

The buildings surrounding the hatchery pools are where fish are bred and hatched.  The larger buildings and the pond beyond the hatchery complex are part of the Hetch Hetchy power generation system. 

Water is diverted from the Tuolumne River through the large pipes that descend the mountains to the east of the hatchery (penstocks). 

The great force of the descending water is turned into electrical power.  In addition to providing electrical power, the Hetch Hetchy system supplies San Francisco with drinking water. 

The diversion begins at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir inside Yosemite National Park.

 Medium Trout Underwater -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Medium Trout Underwater - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Signs are posted warning hatchery visitors to stay off the concrete edges of the pools.  Don’t feed the fish anything other than the food sold at the hatchery and don’t try to touch the fish.

To plan a school or group visit, contact the hatchery at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Hatcheries/Moccasin/


Yosemite – The Other Three Seasons

 Photo by Adam Blauert

Photo by Adam Blauert

Yosemite National Park

The vast majority of Yosemite’s visitors arrive during the summer months.  With comfortable weather, stunning waterfalls, kids out of school, and snow gone from roads, campgrounds, and trails, it’s not hard to guess why. 

Summertime in Yosemite draws visitors from around the world – so many, in fact, that Yosemite Valley becomes one of the most international places in California.

 Spring Yosemite Falls - Photo by Adam Blauert

Spring Yosemite Falls - Photo by Adam Blauert

It also becomes one of the most crowded.  Despite the overwhelming popularity of the summer months, each season has surprises to offer. 

Better yet, accommodations and parking are easier to obtain and the infamous traffic jams are virtually nonexistent during the fall, winter, and spring.

The park undergoes dramatic transitions between each season – fall leaves, winter snow, and the bright green of spring all offer beautiful surprises for visitors. 

If you choose to visit in one of the “off” seasons, here are some of the special activities and sights that await you:

Fall:  Autumn colors

Fall Oak Leaves on Snow
Fall Oak Leaves on Snow

Fall leaves:  Quaking aspen groves in Lee Vining Canyon, just outside the park’s Tioga Pass Entrance turn bright yellow, gold, and orange from the middle to end of October.  Oaks inYosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy turn yellow orange towards the end of October. 

Their leaves carpet the ground and often provide striking contrast to early snows.  Dogwoods inYosemite Valley and the sequoia groves turn brilliant shades ranging from yellow to red about the same time.

 Fall Early Snow Wawona Hotel - Photo by Adam Blauert

Fall Early Snow Wawona Hotel - Photo by Adam Blauert

Trails and backpacking

Most trails remain open until the first major snowfall.  After that they may be accessed on snowshoes or cross-country skis. Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point:  No services are available in these areas, but the roads remain open until closed by snow. Backpacking is still an option if you are prepared with gear for cold weather.  The lower elevations of the park make some of the best destinations.  Overnight parking is prohibited on the Tioga Road after October 14th to lessen the danger of backpackers getting caught in early snows.

Golf in Wawona

The 9-hole course remains open until closed by winter weather.

For more information go to: http://www.yosemitepark.com/activities_golfing.aspx

Tire chains and emergency supplies

  Make sure you pack them for fall travel as weather can be unpredictable!

Winter

Snow recreation

Downhill skiing and snowboarding:  Badger Pass Ski Area has offered downhill skiing since the 1930’s. 

Today it is a family-friendly place with slopes ranging from easy to challenging, equipment rentals, and lessons for all ages and abilities.  http://www.yosemitepark.com/badgerpass.aspx

 Winter Tunnel View - Photo by Adam Blauert

Winter Tunnel View - Photo by Adam Blauert

Ice skating

The Curry Village Ice Rink in Yosemite Valley has been a popular place to ice skate since 1928.

All ages enjoy the ice and skate rentals are available in all sizes.  Ice skating is surprisingly affordable and most people find it far less difficult that they might expect. 

For more information go to: http://www.yosemitepark.com/Activities_WinterActivities_IceSkatingRink.aspx

Snow play

Yosemite Valley and Crane Flat are great places for kids to play in the snow.  At an elevation of6,000 feet, Crane Flat has more consistent snowfall.

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing

Both of these forms of over-snow transportation provide fun recreation, exercise, and opportunities to get away from crowds.  Snowshoes can be rented at Badger Pass, the Crane Flat Store, and the Curry Village Ice Rink (Yosemite Valley).  Cross-country skis can be rented at Badger Pass. 

Lessons and overnight group trips are available at Badger Pass. 

For more information on snowshoeing go to: http://www.yosemitepark.com/BadgerPass_Snowshoeing.aspx

and for cross-country skiing go to: http://www.yosemitepark.com/BadgerPass_CrossCountrySkiing.aspx

The park maintains overnight accommodations at Glacier Point and Ostrander Lake for those ready to attempt a challenging trip.  Popular day trips include visiting the Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Merced giant sequoia groves. 

For maps and route information

See the website : http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wintersports.htm

Holiday events

The annual spectacle of the Bracebridge Dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel recreates a joyous 17th century English Christmas. 

Tickets must be applied for well in advance.

 Yosemite

Yosemite

They become available from the park concessionaire one year and one day in advance beginning at 7AM:  http://www.yosemitepark.com/SpecialEventsPackages_SpecialEvents_BracebridgeDinners.aspx

 The Bracebridge Dinner is a lively pageant of song and entertainment in the Ahwahnee’s dining room accompanied by a delicious 7-course meal. 

 Winter Ahwahnee Hotel - Photo by Adam Blauert

Winter Ahwahnee Hotel - Photo by Adam Blauert

The Ahwahnee and Wawona Hotels are both decked out Christmas every year.

Quiet time

  Winter is a great time to stay in the park and enjoy solitude, snow, and crisp, starry nights.

Lodging and camping

Lodging and camping is available throughout the winter inYosemite Valley, and the Wawona Hotel is open through much of the winter. 

Cabin rentals are available at Wawona, Foresta, and Yosemite West.  Indoor lodging is preferable unless you have a lot of cold weather gear or an RV!

Hetch Hetchy

Open during daylight hours and is especially spectacular right after a snowstorm.  Before making the trip, check with the park to make sure the road has been opened: (209) 372-0200.

Tire chains and emergency supplies

Tire chains are required in the park during the winter months and it is always a good idea to carry emergency survival supplies to cope with worst-case scenarios.

Spring

Green meadows, wildflowers in the lower elevations, and waterfalls as the weather warms, the snow melts and the waterfalls begin to become truly spectacular.

Trails

The snowmelt also begins to reopen trails to regular foot traffic and roads to car traffic. Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy, and Wawona melt off first.  The road to the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees often opens in late March or early April. 

If it isn’t open, you can walk the two miles that remain closed.  Waterproof boots or snowshoes may be appropriate, depending how much snow is on the ground.  The Glacier Point road often opens in May. 

Check with the park to determine which roads and trails are open:  (209) 372-0200.

Backpacking

 As trails reopen, backpacking trips become possible in the lower elevations.

Wildflowers

 The wildflower show starts at the lowest elevations, especially along theMerced RiverCanyon in the El Portal area. 

 Spring El Portal Wildflowers - Photo by Adam Blauert

Spring El Portal Wildflowers - Photo by Adam Blauert

This area is often good in April.  Through late April and early MayYosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy start to green up.  The wildflower show continues throughout the summer in the highest elevations.

The Wawona Golf Course

The golf course reopens after snow has left the meadow. 

For more information go to: http://www.yosemitepark.com/activities_golfing.aspxTire chains and emergency supplies:Keep carrying them into the spring.  Late snowstorms are always possible!

 Spring Late Snowmelt Hetch Hetchy Trail - Photo by Adam Blauert

Spring Late Snowmelt Hetch Hetchy Trail - Photo by Adam Blauert

Every season and activity involves different kinds of risks.  Before trying anything new, make sure you are aware of potential dangers and are prepared with the necessary skills and knowledge to avoid them.

Tips that will help you avoid crowds and related problems

  • Avoid holiday weekends.
  • Arrive early, find parking, and then use the free shuttle to get around the park.
  • Try visiting less crowded (but not less spectacular) areas of the park that outside of Yosemite Valley.
  • Wawona, Tuolumne Meadows, the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, and Hetch Hetchy can all be excellent choices.
  • Try to visit midweek during the summer.
  • Get out and hike!  Pick less popular trails.  MirrorLake, the Mist Trail, LowerYosemiteFalls, and the trails on the floor of Yosemite Valley tend to be the most crowded.

A guidebook can help you find some of the ones that see fewer visitors. 

My favorite is Jeffrey P. Schaffer’s Top Trails: Yosemite: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone  this is because it covers just about every mile of trail in the park, but because it also points out a lot of alternatives including unofficial cross-country and “use” routes to infrequently visited spots.

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


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.

Merced County Wildlife Refuges

 photo by adam blauert

photo by adam blauert

Merced County Wildlife Refuges

Most of the acreage is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with additional areas under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Fish and Game.

Recommended areas to visit

 Merced Wildlife Refuge -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Merced Wildlife Refuge - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Merced Unit:  Auto tour, hiking trails, viewing platforms

 San Luis Refuge  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

San Luis Refuge  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

San Luis Unit:  Elk and waterfowl auto tours, hiking trails, viewing platforms, visitor center.

 San Luis Refuge  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

San Luis Refuge  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex

The largest unit is the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is made up of several individual units including the Merced National Wildlife Refuge and the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. 

Much of this area is open to the public for a variety of recreational uses.

Tule Elk

In addition to the many avian species, a herd of magnificent tule elk can be viewed in the San Luis Unit on Wolfsen Road north of Los Banos.  Once hunted nearly to extinction, stable populations now live in several areas throughout the state.

 San Luis Refuge -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

San Luis Refuge - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Birds

The refuge complex is located along the Pacific Flyway, an important migration corridor for dozens of species of waterfowl and other birds.

Some of the most common include Ross’ geese, Aleutian cackling geese, snow geese, green-winged teal, mallard, northern pintail, gadwall, American wigeon, northern shoveler, and white-fronted geese. 

The refuge complex constitutes the largest contiguous freshwater wetlands remaining in California.

While wildlife can be viewed throughout the entire year, the wintering populations of lesser Sandhill cranes and Ross’ geese are a highlight.  They arrive in the fall and stay until about mid-April, eventually returning to their summer homes in Alaska and Canada.

 San Luis Refuge -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

San Luis Refuge - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Some remain throughout the summer and use the area as a breeding ground.  During the foggy winter months, afternoon is usually the best time to visit.

In addition to wetlands, vernal pool and upland habitat also abound in the refuge.  As the ground dries out in the spring, a brilliant wildflower show occurs in the vernal pool regions.

Visitor Center

  Interpretive displays and group programs will be offered.  Special tours and programs can be arranged for schools, clubs, and other organizations.  For information about the new visitor center click here.

Useful websites for the San Luis Wildlife Refuge Complex

San Luis NWR main website: http://www.fws.gov/sanluis/default.htm

Each refuge area with public access is described below with its principal recreational features and facilities.  Check each individual area for specific rules regarding hunting and fishing.

Catfish and bass are the most common fish species.  Hunting regulations and types of game vary by area, but can include all waterfowl and upland game birds, deer, and wild pigs.  Horses are not permitted.

For additional information, use the web links to access resources provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.

Merced National Wildlife Refuge - Merced Unit

The main unit of the Merced NWR is open to both auto touring and hiking on three designated trails.  Only a few miles from Merced, this is a great place to spend an afternoon in the fall, winter, or spring.

  • Location:  Sandy Mush Road, west of Highway 59.
  • Activities and Facilities:
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Auto tour route – 5.2 mile auto tour route circles the heart of the refuge with four viewpoints, two observation decks and access to three hiking trails.  Visitors are asked to remain in their vehicles except at these points.

Hiking trails

  • Meadowlark Trail – 1.5 mile loop
  • Kestrel Trail - .5 mile loop
  • Bittern Marsh Trail - .6 mile loop
  • Hunting
  • Restrooms
  • A photo blind is available for nature photographers by obtaining a special use permit.  Vernal pools can be observed north of Sandy Mush Road.  Pets are allowed as long as they remain in vehicles.  No fishing is allowed in this refuge area.

Merced National Wildlife Refuge – Lone Tree Unit

This area is only open to hunting.

Location: Sandy Mush Road, west of Highway 59.  Adjacent to Merced Unit.

Activities and Facilities

  • Hunting

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge – Blue Goose Unit

 This area is only open to hunting.

Location:  Highway 140, east of Gustine.  Adjacent to Kesterton Unit.

Activities and Facilities:

  • Hunting

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge – Freitas Unit

 This area is only open to hunting.

Location:  Highway 140, east of Gustine.  Adjacent to Kesterton Unit.

Activities and Facilities:

  • Hunting

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge - Kesterson Unit

In the late 1980’s, the selenium-contaminated Kesterton Reservoir was drained, decontaminated, and redeveloped as an addition to the San Luis NWR. It now provides over ten miles of unsigned hiking trails and great opportunities to view wildlife.  

Trails are not marked, but visitors are welcome to wander around outside of hunting season.

Location:  Highway 140, east of Gustine

Activities and Facilities:

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Hiking trails:  Kesterton contains a network of over 10 miles of interconnected nature trails.  These trails are open from February 15 – September 15.
  • Hunting

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge - San Luis Unit

This part of the SLNWR offers the widest range of activities.  Two auto tour routes and three hiking trails give visitors a chance to observe tule elk and many bird species.  The new visitor center is now open.  The new visitor center provides an opportunity to learn more about the refuge and its inhabitants.

Location:  Wolfsen Road, north of Los Banos.

Activities and Facilities:

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Auto tour route
  • Elk Tour Route – 5 miles
  • Wetlands and Waterfowl Tour Route – 12 miles
  • Visitor center
  • Dogs allowed
  • Hiking trails
  • Sousa Trail – 1.2 miles to an observation platform and telescope
  • Chester Trail – 1 mile  (Open February 15 – September 15)  This trail leads to the San Joaquin River and the site of Chester, an early settlement in Merced County.
  • Winton Marsh Trail - .7 mile to an observation platform and benches
  • Hunting
  • Fishing – a special access road on the west side of the elk enclosure provides access to all fishing areas.
  • Restrooms
  • Drinking fountains

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge - West Bear Creek Unit

This area offers hiking trails and an auto tour route.  It receives less visitation than other parts of the San Luis NWR.

 San Luis NWR -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

San Luis NWR - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Location:  Highway 165 (Lander Avenue), north of Los Banos

Activities and Facilities

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Auto tour route:  2 ¼ mile route around a large wetlands slightly west of the San Joaquin River with two viewpoints.
  • Hiking trails:
  • Woody Pond Trail – approximately 1.5 mile loop trail with viewpoint
  • Raccoon Marsh Trail – approximately 1 mile loop trail with viewpoint
  • Hunting
  • Restrooms

Wildlife Refuges Operated by the California Department of Fish and Game

In addition to the 128000 acres managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, another 24,000 acres are managed by the California Department of Fish and Game.  These include:

  • Cottonwood Creek Wildlife Area
  • Los Banos Wildlife Area
  • North Grasslands Wildlife Area
  • O’Neill Forebay Wildlife Area
  • San Luis Reservoir Wildlife Area
  • Volta Wildlife Area
  • West Hilmar Wildlife Area

State Wildlife Refuges Map: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/docs/LosBanosGrasslandsVoltaWA.pdf

"Each refuge area with public access is described below with its principal recreational features and facilities.  Check each individual area for specific rules regarding hunting and fishing.

Catfish and bass are the most common fish species.  Hunting regulations and types of game vary by area, but can include all waterfowl and upland game birds, deer, and wild pigs.

Horses are not permitted.  Hiking biking are allowed from the end of the second week in February through September.  Bicycles may be ridden on levee roads.

Dogs are permitted and may be off leash from June 6 through the end of March.  Drawdown of the waters within the refuges usually takes place in spring and the refuges remain largely dry until the late fall.

For additional information, use the web links to access resources provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.”

Cottonwood Creek Wildlife Area

Location:  Western edge of Merced County, northeast of Highway 152

Activities:

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Hunting

Website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/cottonwoodcreek.html

Los Banos Wildlife Area

Location:  Northeast of Los Banos on Henry Miller Avenue

Fishing and kayaking are allowed on Buttonwillow and Ruth Lakes.  Catfish and crappie are the most commonly caught fish species.

Activities and Facilities:

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Boat launch
  • Restrooms
  • Drinking fountains
  • No designated trails, but foot and bike access is allowed throughout the area.

Website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/losbanos.html

North Grasslands Wildlife Area

China Island Unit:  Brazo Road, northeast of Highway 33, between Gustine and Newman

Gadwall Unit:  Santa Fe Grade Road, east of Los Banos

Salt Slough Unit:  North of Los Banos on Highway 165 (Lander Avenue)

Activities and Facilities:

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Boat launch

Website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/northgrasslands.html

O’Neill Forebay Wildlife Area

Location:  Highway 33, just north of Highway 152.  Adjacent to San Luis State Recreation Area.

Activities and Facilities:

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Hunting
  • Restrooms

Website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/oneillforebay.html

San Luis Reservoir Wildlife Area

Activities and Facilities:  South of Highway 152 at Dinosaur Point Road.  Adjacent to San Luis State Recreation Area, Pacheco State Park and Upper Cottonwood Creek Wildlife Area.

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Hunting
  • Restrooms

Website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/sanluisreservoir.html

Volta Wildlife Area

Location:  Ingomar Grade Road, northwest of Los Banos.

Activities and Facilities:

Wildlife viewing

Hunting

Website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/volta.html

West Hilmar Wildlife Area

Location:  Four miles south of Hills Ferry on the east side of the San Joaquin River..  Accessible only by boat.

Activities and Facilities:

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Hunting

Website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/wes

Western Merced County boasts over 152,000 acres of wildlife refuges and conservation easements.  Making up over 12% of the county’s total land area, these refuges are home to tule elk and a wide range of migratory birds. 

Popular for wildlife viewing and hunting, the refuges also offer auto tour routes, hiking trails, and viewing platforms with telescopes. 

Fishing is allowed in many areas.  Access to all areas is free.


Great Bike Paths in Merced County

riding bike
 Bike Paths - photo by adam blauert

Bike Paths - photo by adam blauert

Bike Path in Merced

Merced County communities have an extended network of bike paths and bike lanes with many more planned for future construction.  This network is made up of three distinct classes of pathways, lanes, and routes.

 Bear Creek Bikeway  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Bear Creek Bikeway  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Class 1:  Separate pathway for bikes, pedestrians, skateboards, and other non-motorized uses.

Class 2:  A separate bike lane along the edge of a road; indicated by a striped line.

 Class 3:  A designated route without painted lines to indicate a separate bike lane.

 Bike Paths  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Bike Paths  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

There are many miles of bike paths in Merced

City of Merced city bikeway map  (click here)

Merced bike paths on Google Maps (click here)

Great links for local information about bicycling in Merced County.

 Bear Creek Bikeway -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Bear Creek Bikeway - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Additional Information

For additional information on biking, bike maintenance, bike events, and riding in Merced County, check out the website:  

Merced Bicycle Coaliton : http://www.mercedbicyclecoalition.org/

Trans_Logo_Large_600
Trans_Logo_Large_600
boy on merced city bike trails
boy on merced city bike trails

Bike Licensing

Bikes owned by residents of the incorporated areas of Merced County (Atwater, Dos Palos, Gustine, Livingston, Los Banos, Merced) must be licensed. 

A 3-year license costs $5 and is available from the police station in your city.  The information typically required in the license form includes band, model, serial number, wheel size, and frame size. 

The City of Merced provides its license information here.  CLICK HERE

 

To obtain a license, visit your local police station

  • City of Atwater Police Department - 750 Bellevue, Atwater / (209) 357-6385
  • City of Dos Palos Police Department - 1546 Golden Gate Ave, Dos Palos / (209) 392-2177
  • City of Gustine Police Department  - 682 3rd Ave, Gustine / (209) 854-3737
  • City of Livingston Police Department - 1446 C Street, Livingston / (209) 394-7916
  • City of Los Banos Police Department - 945 5th Street, Los Banos / (209) 827-7070
  • City of Merced Police Department - 611 West 22nd Street, Merced / (209) 385-6912

Bikes on the Bus:  Bike racks are provided on Merced County Transit Busses (The Bus).


Sierra Foothill Conservancy

  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Most of the best hiking trails between Merced and Yosemite National Park are located on land surrounding the large reservoirs that provide water for farms, businesses, and homes.  Much of the remaining land is privately owned, providing homes for families and food for the world.  In the last couple of decades, some of that land has been put into conservation easements.  These easements ensure that it will continue to be a part of the economy as grazing land and also ensure that it will not become urbanized. 

 Van der Ahe -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Van der Ahe - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Easements are voluntary and permanent legal decisions made by the landowners.  Essentially they sell their development rights while continuing to run productive livestock operations.  Easements help to preserve open space and a ranching-based economy without government ownership of the land or removal of the land from the economy.  

 Stockton Creek -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Stockton Creek - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Many families who have chosen to put an easement on their land have lived on the land and loved it for generations.  The easement is as a way to preserve it land for future generations, no matter whether their family continues to own it or not.

 Stockton Creek -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Stockton Creek - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

In the foothills of Mariposa, Madera, and Fresno Counties, a majority of these easements are overseen by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.  The Conservancy has developed strong working relationships with these landowners and the result is that many are willing to allow the Conservancy to hold classes and guided hikes on their properties.  The Conservancy also owns and/or manages nine preserves where cattle generally remain part of the land’s management plan, but which are open to the public on a more frequent basis. 

The Madera and Fresno County preserves

Three of these preserves – Stockton Creek, Feliciana Mountain, and Bean Creek – are located close to home in Mariposa County. 

The Madera and Fresno County preserves are also within a driving distance of one and a half to two hours.   Mariposa area classes and hikes may occur on the preserves or on easements in a wide range of elevation zones. 

These easements include Striped Rock, Clark’s Valley, and ranch land near Hornitos, Bear Valley, and Darrah.

 Van der Ahe -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Van der Ahe - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hikes and classes

Hikes and classes aren’t offered during the intense heat of summer, but they will begin again in October and run through May.  The majority of events occur as the weather improves between February and May. 

This fall’s Mariposa County events – including a hike through oak woodlands to expansive views from the top of Striped Rock and an autumn-themed nature photography workshop at Stockton Creek – will be posted on the Conservancy’s website (www.sierrafoothill.org) by the middle of September.  

 Van der Ahe -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Van der Ahe - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hikes

The relatively easy Stockton Creek Trail in the Stockton Creek Preserve near downtown Mariposa is open daily from sunrise to sunset. 

The trail’s route includes Stockton Creek Reservoir (the source of Mariposa’s drinking water) and a ridge that overlooks the town of Mariposa with views of the surrounding mountains. 

Most hikers start at water treatment facility at the end of Trabucco Road and climb over the ridge to the reservoir.  You can also start on the south side of Highway 140, just east of the junction with Old Highway North. 

 Van der Ahe -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Van der Ahe - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Look for a turnout with a locked gate.  There is a “walkaround” to the side of the gate.  Eventually an additional section of trail will be built to connect the preserve with Slaughterhouse Road. 

You can find easy-to-use hiking map at:  http://www.sierrafoothill.org/index.php/land/preserves/stockton-creek/.

 Stockton Creek  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Stockton Creek  - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Power hikes

The Conservancy offers a broad range of hikes and classes.  Designated “family hikes” are very easy and generally a good option for people of all ages.  Many hikes and classes easy to moderate in difficulty. 

More challenging “power hikes” may last all day and require some serious elevation gain – especially Tivy Mountain and the Table Mountain hikes that include Smith Basin. 

All hikes are led by experienced guides who can explain the landscape, its plants and animals, and its history. 

Classes offered on SFC preserves and easements include subjects such as birds, photography, native plants, astronomy, wildflowers, and trees.

The Sierra Foothill Conservancy does a great job of balancing habitat preservation with ranching, with a bonus of welcoming the public for informative and rewarding activities. 

I’ve hiked several Sierra Foothill Conservancy trails and there are quite a few more that I hope to visit in the next couple of years.  Perhaps I’ll see you on the trail!

 Stockton Creek 2 -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Stockton Creek 2 - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

For more information, visit the Conservancy’s informative website:  www.sierrafoothill.org

The site details each of the preserves with stunning photos and offers a calendar of events. 

You can contact the Mariposa office at (209) 742-5556 and the Prather office at (559) 855-3473.


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.