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The San Joaquin Valley has long been used for farming, starting with the Yokut Native Americans who harvested this land for thousands of years until the arrival of the Spanish. European settlers used dams and canals of one sort or another for irrigation since the mid-19th century, harnessing the runoff from the Delta. The San Luis Project, started in 1962, created numerous larger reservoirs, including the San Luis Reservoir. Today, it’s used for farming everything from grapes to almonds to cotton. As with many other man-made reservoirs, this one is also home to a state recreation area, ready to welcome you when you book an RV in Merced County.
The San Luis Reservoir SRA is actually made up of three bodies of water accessible for fishing and boating, and multiple campsites offer numerous overnight opportunities. Windsurfers take advantage of the area’s frequent winds, which can become overwhelming and hazardous to boaters at times, but the park has a great warning system to keep boaters safe. Camping at San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area is particularly popular for the poppy blooms in the spring when the valley is carpeted in a deep green. The San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area is an hour and a half west of Fresno and an hour east of San Jose, just a couple of miles off of Interstate 5.
The San Luis Reservoir has two boat ramps among its nearly 65 miles of shoreline. The smaller O’Neill Forebay, next to San Luis Reservoir, has 14 miles of shoreline and one boat ramp. There’s also a third, smaller reservoir nearby, the Los Banos Reservoir, tucked away in a small canyon and with one boat ramp. From there, you can kayak, fish, sail, and waterski. Boaters are asked to observe all park boating rules. Swimming is only allowed in a designated area of San Luis Creek.
Fishing is allowed in all three bodies of water at San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area. You can cast for bass, perch, and salmon in both the main reservoir and O'Neill Forebay, and find bass, catfish, and trout in smaller Los Banos Reservoir. Hunting for waterfowl with a shotgun is also legal in season.
There are a few hiking trails for San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area campers to trek, including the two-and-a-half-mile ADA trail along the shores of O’Neill Forebay, starting from the San Luis Creek Campground. Another hiking trail, the Lone Oak Trail, begins near the Basalt boat ramp and follows the southern shore of San Luis Reservoir for three miles. Keep an eye out for fox, bobcat, and bald eagles on these trails.
There are four campgrounds at San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area. All of them are open year-round, but only two can accommodate RVs, and the maximum length is 30 feet. Bring your pets, but they must be kept on a leash under six feet.
Basalt Campground is the closest RV campground to the reservoir. This campground has 79 sites and is situated in a small valley. The campground is covered by trees to provide shade in an otherwise open region. Campground amenities include drinking water, hot showers, and flushing toilets. There are no hookups at this RV campground, but it does have a dump station. Each campsite will have picnic tables and a fire ring.
If you need hookups for your motorhome rental, you can try the San Luis Creek Campground. This campground has 53 sites with both water and electric. Sewer hookups aren't available, but this campground also has a dump station. Unlike Basalt, however, this campground is open to the wind and sun with little protection. This campground is located at the O’Neill Forebay, the feeder reservoir next to the San Luis Reservoir. Some sites are on the water, and all of them have a picnic table and fire ring. Only pit toilets are available at this campground.
An informative visitors' center at San Luis Reservoir SRA explains the significance of the California State Water Project. You’ll see exhibits on the history and construction of this and other regional reservoirs and their importance to the national food supply. Many of the festivals in nearby Los Banos, five miles east, are centered around farming and seasonal harvests. The Hispanic influence in the area will leave you with some great options for Mexican food whenever you’re in town.
You’ll see Pacheco State Park looking across the reservoir, another area to explore and one of the many state parks and recreation areas within an hour’s drive. And closer to Los Banos, you'll find a wildlife preserve with a recovering population of noble Tule elk, which was nearly hunted to extinction. When you’re ready to hit the coast in your rental RV, scenic Monterey Bay and the infamous Monterey Bay Aquarium are just over an hour to the west. You won’t have to go far to resupply before your journey; numerous large gas stations are located along Interstate 5 and shopping in Los Banos.