Thursday, February 13, 2014

Central California trail heads alongside pretty lake beach, marina

Millerton Lake State Recreation Area, California

Route parallels shore for lake made in 1944

Families can enjoy enjoy a day hike along a beach and near a scenic marina on the Millerton Lake South Shore Trail in central California.

The 3.4-miles round trip (1.7 miles one-way) trail is in Millerton Lake State Recreation Area, south of Yosemite National Park. Though best known for its 40 miles of shoreline that provide central Californians with a grand water sports destination, for landlubbers, there are a number of great hiking trails through the hills and along beaches.

To reach the South Shore Trail, from Fresno take Calif. Hwy. 41 north. Turn right/east onto County Road 145 then right/south onto County Road 205 driving into Friant. Go left/north onto Millerton Road. After entering the recreational area, take the second left/north (confusingly also known as Millerton Road). As the road veers left/north, it follows the reservoir’s shoreline. Park at the South Bay parking area on the road’s left side.

La Playa Beach
From the parking lot, head northwest toward the lake, paralleling a dirt road. At the third trail intersection, hikers are awarded with a great view of the 319-foot Friant Dam. It was constructed in 1944 and holds back water from the San Joaquin River, which flows out of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

As the trail heads north, it parallels the road on the right. Upon coming to a parking lot, enter its north side and then turn north, where the trail begins to follow La Playa Beach.

La Playa marks a great place for a swim at the hike’s end. Unlike Yosemite National Park’s icy snowmelt, the water here is fairly warm, reaching up to 65 degrees during summer.

The trail veers east as following the man-made lake’s curves, then north up one side of a small peninsula then south down the other side. You’ll likely see fishermen out on the water. Bass and catfish love to hide in habitats along the lake’s shoreline.

Keep your eyes on the sky as well, especially if hiking during winter. The largest population of bald eagles in the San Joaquin Valley winter on the lake then each spring fly 1600 miles north to their Canadian breeding grounds.

Winchell Bay
Next the trail curves east, passing a sparse woodland on the right/south. April typically marks the greenest hills and most abundant wildflower blooms; by summer, the hills dry up and turn brown.

Don’t be surprised if you see some smaller mammals in this area. Cottontail rabbits and ground squirrels are highly likely, but you also might get lucky and spot badgers, opossums or raccoons.

Near the woods’ end, the marina on blue Winchell Bay comes into sight. Once the route curves south, there’s a great vista point overlooking the marina.

The trail’s intersection with Winchell Cove Road marks a good spot to turn around. Return the way you came.

You’ll definitely need sunscreen and sunhat for this largely open air trail. The San Joaquin Valley is dry and during summer quite hot, so carry plenty of water as well. Also, be forewarned that the Park Entrance Security Gate closes at 10 p.m.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.