The San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area is a fantastic BLM managed property in California. It really does have something for everyone. The recreation area extends into two counties, Fresno County and Madera County, and is divided by the San Joaquin River which flows through its center.
Located in a particularly scenic region of the state and bordered to the east by the Sierra National Forest, the San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area provides its visitors with an almost endless choice of outdoor activities. The site is set in a varied landscape with stunning natural features where the mountains, forests, deep gorges, waterfalls, and caves are all within a short distance of each other. It's a place that will inspire the outdoor adventurer in even the laziest couch potato.
The San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area is a hiking paradise with an extensive network of trails. Some lead alongside the river's edge, others up the mountainsides through dense forests to hidden cascades and caves. There are also equestrian and mountain biking trails for those who prefer exploring the countryside mounted or by pedal power. OHVs or any other motorized vehicle are not permitted on any of the trails so peace and quiet, apart from a chorus of birdsong, is pretty much guaranteed.
Fishing, hunting, and photography are all popular pastimes for RV campers heading to the San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area. There are many Native American ancient sites in the locality too that will keep history and culture fans interested plus museums in both Fresno and Shaver Lake nearby.
The San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area is an easy BLM property to get to. The closest urbanization is the town of Auberry from which there are well-maintained county roads to the site. Once you're in Auberry, you'll have a five-mile drive down the winding Smalley Road before arriving at the recreation site. On the way there, you'll pass by the visitor center. It's well worth stopping off at the center for a few minutes as you can pick up trail maps and brochures with information on the area's flora and fauna or ask the rangers for help if you have any questions on where you can or can not camp.
Anyone who's been RV camping on the Californian coast in the Los Padres National Forest can hit the I 5 northbound in Venture and be at their next campground after a four and a half-hour drive. On the trip, you'll have views over to the east of the Sequoia National Forest and the Kings Canyon National Park. The I 5 state highway takes you all the way there, so it's easy driving unless you want to take the more scenic route on the US 101. It's only a slightly longer drive, around five hours, that takes you along the coastline and skirts by the Montana de Oro State Park before veering inland towards Fresno. Both ways are great drives.
There is a parking facility at the San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area in the Trail Head Campground that can accommodate RVs. It is for day use only as the campground caters for tent camping only.
While you can park up your RV at the San Joaquin River Gorge RA during the daytime while you go hiking, there's no overnight camping for RVs there. There are many campgrounds in the Sierra National Forest and two, in particular, are close enough to Auberry to make getting to the RA easy. The most convenient campgrounds are located near or around Shaver Lake which is eighteen miles from Auberry. It's just a twenty-five-minute drive along the CA 168 through the forests to the lake. The road is twisty but still manageable in a rig.
The Dora Belle Campground is situated on the south-west shore of Shaver Lake and has over sixty campsites suitable for RVs up to thirty-five feet in length. The campsites are either paved or dirt-surfaced and distributed through a heavily wooded area around the lakeside. All the pitches are standard, non-electric with no water hook-up though water is available on-site. Each one has a picnic table, fire ring, and grill as well as a food locker. The only amenities on the campground are a block of vault toilets. The campground is open from mid-May to mid-October and campsites can be reserved via the recreation.gov website.
The Dinkey Creek Campground is located to the east of Shaver Lake about forty minutes' drive from Auberry. The campground can be reached by turning on to Dinkey Creek Road off the CA 168 in the rural community of Shaver Lake. The campground is bigger, but more isolated than the Dora Belle Campground and has over one-hundred campsites for RVs with some that can accommodate rigs of fifty feet. The campsites are dirt-surfaced and distributed along the banks of Dinkey Creek. While the campsites are primitive and not fitted with utility hook-ups of any kind, there's water on-site and a camp host during the open season which runs from the middle of May to around mid-October. The Dinkey Creek Campground is ideal for both families and fisherfolk. It has two swimming spots and there's some excellent trout fishing to be had in the creek.
The San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area has some spectacular hiking trails suitable for all levels of hiker. Step out onto the Pa'san Ridge Trail and you'll be trekking a six-mile loop that leads through mountainsides wooded with mahogany and manzanita.
From the Pa'san Ridge Trail you can veer off onto the Wuh-ki'o Trail. It's an out and back trail around four miles long that will take over the river on a footbridge and into the Madera County section of the recreation site. From the campground, you can access the trailhead for the San Joaquin River Trail too. Take some good hiking boots with you as you won't want to miss out on trekking along any of them.
The San Joaquin River is a winding, narrow waterway that attracts fly fisherman in search of landing a prize trout. The river has a good stock of rainbow, brown and brook trout so reeling something in is almost guaranteed.
There are also many other species populating the river and if fly fishing isn't your favorite way of hooking something, more conventional methods could still see you landing a trophy-size catfish or bass. All you need is some good bait and of course, an in-date California fishing license.
Pull into the parking lot of the San Joaquin River Gorge Visitor Center and take time out to have a look around the center before heading down to the recreation area. Inside, you'll not only be able to collect some maps of the hiking trails but discover interesting facts about the region's Native American culture.
If you run short of supplies while RV camping, the exhibition on making bread from acorns at the center could prove to be very useful.
If you're RV camping with youngsters in the summertime, they won't be able to swim in the San Joaquin River, so they may well appreciate a visit to the Wild Water Adventure Park. The aquatic theme park is just half an hour's drive from Auberry in the town of Clovis and is open from June onwards. It's crammed full of exciting rides like the Drop Zone, the Kaleidoslide and the Vortex. There are also wave pools and rapids to float over in an inflatable dinghy. The kids will love it.
Find out all about the area you're camping in, both its past and its present, by visiting the Eastern Fresno County Historical Museum. The museum is located in Tollhouse which is only a fifteen-minute drive from the San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area. The museum has exhibitions on the mining, logging and hydropower industries which affected the growth of the local communities, extensive photographic collections, and artifacts relating to the Native American tribes of the area.
If you're taking a winter break and visiting the San Joaquin River Gorge RA when there's snow on the mountain tops, take your skis and head up to the China Peak Mountain Resort while you're there. The resort is an hour's drive north from Auberry through the Sierra National Forest.
If you're a novice at winter sports, there you'll be able to take lessons on skiing or snowboarding. If you already have experience, all you'll need is a lift pass and before you know it, you'll be sweeping down the snow-covered slopes.