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San Joaquin River Trail

Hiking Trail or Trailhead
Looking towards Mt. Banner and Mr. Ritter – Jimmie Smothers, SJRTC

The San Joaquin River Trail, when fully constructed, will extend over 100 miles from the unique Aquarius Aquarium on the river near Highway 99 by Fresno and will continue its route out of the valley floor; up into the western slope of the sierra Nevada mountain range - then over the crest to Devil's Postpile National Monument - and potentially to the airport outside of the town of Mammoth on the eastern slope.

Today the trail is approximately 60 percent complete. The majority of the trail follows the San Joaquin River course; and within the high country crosses the North and Middle forks of the river in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The trail intersects the historic John Muir and Pacific Crest Trail at Devil's Postpile. It is conceivable that a hiker/packer could then continue north over Donahue Pass into Yosemite National Park - or decide to hike south to Kings Canyon-Sequoia National Parks at Paiute Creek near Florence Lake!

Be aware that the map shown in the right column is directing you through private property. For more information, please contact Squaw Leap BLM at 559-855-3492.

Following are trail segments currently open:

  • Friant Dam to Sky Harbor Picnic Area, MLSRA - 2 miles, Partially constructed
  • Sky Harbor Picnic Area, MLSRA to SJR Gorge Management Area, BLM
    15 miles, 4 Season multi-modal: Hiking, Stock, & Mt. Bikes
  • Italian Bar Bridge, Redinger Lake to Shakeflat Creek Trailhead
    (Mammoth Pool Rd.) - 15 miles, 3 season, multi-modal
  • Shakeflat Creek Trailhead (Mammoth Pool Rd.) to China Bar Boat-in Campground - 5 miles, 3 season, multi-modal
  • China Bar Boat-in Campground to Piyau Dome Trailhead - 11 miles
    2 season, multi-modal
  • Piyau Dome Trailhead to Devil’s Postpile National Monument - 22 miles, 2 season, Partially constructed

The trail includes one of the trading routes of the Mono Indians on the western slope over the crest that was linked for thousand of years with the Paiute/Shoshone Indians on the eastern slope. The trail includes remnants of the historic French Trail/Toll Road that provided a route for provisioning mining operations near Mammoth in the 1870s.

When the trail is fully developed, it will include highly urbanized reaches and sections within the Fresno metropolitan area where one would see Rollerbladers, joggers, strollers, tandem bicycles and other interesting forms of transportation and recreational activities! However, as one travels further east and begin climbing out of the valley floor at about 200 feet above sea level the trail begins to take on other very interesting characteristics and one starts to think that they are being transported into another time and place!

Near the San Joaquin River Parkway's River Center by the town of Friant, the scenery becomes more natural and the trail is no longer paved with asphalt with yellow stripes separating oncoming recreational enthusiasts. Now one begins to see less of a sea of humanity and more of a scenery filled with natural wonders above and below the trail as it follows the course of what is known as "the hardest working river in the world". The moment may be interrupted by an occasional enthusiast on their mountain bike, agile horse, or a string of mules being led by an able wrangler. And, then again there is the solo and determined hiker or backpacker who wants to experience every step of the way and the full ascent of nearly 10,000 feet that the San Joaquin River Trail has to offer.

Don't be surprised if you see an Elder of the Mono Nation harvesting native plants that provide food, clothing or medicinal powers for any and every aliment one could have. You may even discover the Intertribal Learning Center along the way with its nature trail and Native American museum.

At Millerton Lake State Recreational Area (SRA) managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the trail's greatest landmark is the towering Table Mountains. This formation is actually the original river course that became enveloped by lava flowing from a volcanic eruption that occurred millions of years ago in the present state of Nevada! During that time, the Sierra Nevada continued to rise in elevation and the forces of water over time continued to erode the weaker materials until the current river is over 1,000 feet below the original one.

The trail continues linked by the Big Sandy Bridge from the Table Mountains up to the San Joaquin River Gorge Recreational Area that is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) outside of the old logging town of Auberry. It took 11 years for the bridge to be constructed by committed volunteers and included everything from mules packing in materials to Blackhawk helicopters with crews that dropped the sections deftly into place. Interspersed, are nature preserves that are under the permanent ownership of Sierra Foothill Conservancy and include blue oak savannahs with vernal pools and meadows of native flora for the public to tour.

From the San Joaquin River Gorge Recreational Area the trail follows a string of lakes; Kerckhoff, Redinger and Mammoth as the the scenery varies from oaks and the rugged foothill pine and begins to transition more into conifer as one enters the Sierra National Forest.

Once one crosses over the river at Italian Bar Bridge and the east end of Redinger Lake near the Chawanakee Learning Center the trail begins an ascent from approximate 1,500 ft elevation to 3,330 ft at Mammoth Pool. By then the the San Joaquin River Trail is in a montane zone with healthy stands of conifers providing ample canopy from the summer's heat and mountain meadows giving out bursts of color well after spring.

From Mammoth Pool, and with modestly established improvements, the trail parallels the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway. The Byway is a good alternative for those who may want to enjoy more of the backcountry or just want to get to Clover Meadows to stage their trip into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Time of year will determine whether one wants to explore the trail in the foothills "frontcountry" ; go into the backcountry within the national forest or go the full distance above timberline well within the alpine regions of the high country!

Either way, you can go north, south, east, or west when it comes to the San Joaquin River Trail. You can be taken care of at dude ranches and pack stations, or you can go solo and as primative as you desire. With the San Joaquin River Trail there are many ways in which to enjoy the area for recreating, engaging in the local culture and natural wonders; learning about the flora and fauna, and exploring on your own or with your friends all of the hidden jewels that this less visited part of the Sierra Nevada has to offer.

Trail Distance

From Highway 99 near the Metropolitan area of Fresno to Millerton State Recreational Area in the valley floor it is approximately 35 miles. It is approximately 75 miles from Millerton SRA to Devil's Postpile National Monument

Vertical Gain or Loss

The trail begins at approximately 200 feet above sea level and continues to climb to nearly 10.000 feet over the crest of the Sierra Nevada range near Devil's Postpile National Monument

Nearby Places