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The Gorge

BLM Public Land
View of The Bridge crossing the San Joaquin River – Sue Leeper

Lava flowed from an ancient volcano down an old riverbed, forming the Table Mountains that soar high above the San Joaquin River Gorge. Over time, these mountains were uplifted and a stream cut the steep canyon we now call, the Gorge. Almost 7,000 acres of public land, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM,) are located here along the San Joaquin River. This hidden gem is located just outside the town of Auberry, in the foothills between Millerton Lake and Kerckhoff Reservoir.

The Gorge is located within the prehistoric boundaries of several Native American tribes. For thousands of years, Mono and Yokut Indians have lived off the abundant resources of the area. Descendants in the local community feel a strong connection to the Gorge and share their cultural knowledge and skills during education programs. They maintain their heritage by making and using traditional baskets, gathering and processing native plants for food and goods, by hunting and fishing, and practicing their cultural traditions of song and dance.

Two factors, proximity to the coast and a unique elevation grade, make the Sierra Nevada one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. A unique blend of habitats sustains more than 300 species of plants and animals at the Gorge. The open pine-oak woodland is composed of blue and live oaks, grey pines, redbud, and California buckeye. In contrast, mountain chaparral is a dense thicket of manzanita, buck brush, whitethorn, mountain mahogany, and yerba santa. Springtime paints a wonderful canvas of colors on the grasslands.

Wildflowers such as fiddlenecks, popcorn flowers, goldfields, lupines, baby blue eyes, California poppies, and many other species cover the landscape. Rich in wildlife, the Gorge is home to mammals such as cougars, mule deer, grey foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and squirrels. Look skyward for bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, and quail. Peer in streams to observe Pacific tree frogs and California newts.

Local visitors of the Gorge feel a strong connection to the river and the plants and animals that live along its shores. We understand how the natural world functions and our human ability to change it. Let this knowledge influence how we behave in the outdoors by adopting “Leave No Trace” principles on public lands: 1) Plan Ahead & Prepare, 2) Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces, 3) Pack It In, Pack It Out, 4) Properly Dispose of What You Can’t Pack Out, 5) Leave What You Find, and 6) Minimize Use & Impact of Fires.

Pet Friendly Notes

Pets must be on a leash and/or under their owner's control at all times.

Recreational Opportunities

The Gorge has something for everyone to discover and enjoy year-round! Over 22 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails provide adventures for novice and skilled outdoor enthusiasts. Explore the pristine granite Millerton Caves of the Gorge. Swim in the river, pan for gold, of find a favorite fishing hole. Race the Big Sandy, a springtime highlight that leads mountain bike riders up and down the challenging Pa’san Ridge loop trail. This race continues along the San Joaquin River Trail and finishes at Millerton Lake.

Walk-in campgrounds include potable water, vault toilets, paved parking, fire-rings, picnic tables, grills, and lantern posts. The Nuckahee Learning Center is the Gorge’s educational facility. It includes a visitor center, covered outdoor classroom, archaeological dig site, authentic bedrock mortar for acorn processing, Native American Village, nature trail, pond, and natural springs. The Gorge is a “Hands on the Land” and “Project Archaeology” program site. Programs are aimed at getting our youth outdoors to participate in meaningful, hands-on learning experiences. Our activities foster a stewardship ethic and teach respect for both natural and cultural resources. Programs are open to schools and to the public.


Seasons Accessible

Open year-round.


Currently there are no reservations or fees for walk-in camping or day-use. The group camp, however, accommodates organized groups and groups over 25 people. It does require a reservation and special use permit.

Nearby Places