In the summertime, you can point your car east and find hundreds of places to hike. In the winter, unless you’re willing to put on cross country skis or snow shoes, there are fewer options. On the other hand, the nearby foothills turn green and then wildflowers follow.
I’ve been walking in the morning to get back into hiking shape. The San Joaquin River Gorge is a recreation area located about an hour outside Fresno that offers a variety of hikes. The Bridge Trail takes you to the bridge spanning the gorge, and is about one mile from the parking lot. If that’s all that you have time or energy for, it’s well worth it. This year, the extra rain has filled dry creek beds and created waterfalls. I could stand on the bridge for an hour, just watching the water flow.
The Pa’San Ridge Trail is what I’ve been doing the last few months, which is a 7.8-mile loop. It rises about 1,000 feet in elevation and pretty much gives me a beating. But I can do it and I know that as I keep it up, I’ll be ready for some backpacking in the back country this summer. Plus, I now have two grandsons, so I know I need to get into tip-top shape or they’ll run me over.
It always makes me happy to see people getting out into the beauty that surrounds our Central Valley. I’ve seen trail runners who are at least 10 years older than me. There are mountain bikers who somehow make it up the steep, rutted trails. Everyone on the trail has a similar smile and a twinkle in their eyes that seem to say, “We’re all doing something really good for ourselves today.”
There are cows and their calves who form a protective circle as we walk past. We’ve seen deer and also signs of wild pigs. There are pines and oaks. There are hawks and turkey vultures and crows. In the fall, I’ve seen some tarantulas crossing the trail. (Fall is mating season for the big spiders and they can be spotted on trails throughout California.)
Being in our nearby countryside always stirs up thoughts about the Native People and how they lived in this place. The acorns and pines provided food along with the salmon and other game. They moved up and down the mountains with the seasons.
The foothills are a great place filled with abundant life in the winter, just above the fog and just below the snow. They are filled with water, green grass, and life. While much of our country endures a dark winter, I shed my jacket at 9:30 this morning and finished the hike in a t-shirt. Just one more thing to love about living where we do.
Getting to the San Joaquin River Gorge
To get to the San Joaquin River Gorge, take Highway 168 east from Fresno/Clovis. Turn left toward Auberry, just past the Intermountain Nursery (this place is incredible—stop by after your hike!).
After you drive through Auberry, you’ll see the signs to the gorge. Park at the Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh trailhead and campground. You’ll see a bathroom and the trailhead with some directional info. You’ll pass a couple of gates in the first mile; please close them after you pass through.
Final Tips For a Great Day Hike
• Things are wet (thank God!) this year. There are a few places where your shoes might get damp. I have waterproof hiking shoes and have stayed dry so far.
• It is $5 to park in the lot. Bring exact change and put your money in an envelope then tear off the receipt and put it on your dashboard.
• Another place to visit after the hike is Basilwood Farms. Go see the goats and get some of their wonderful soap (you’ll need to wash the trail off of you).