3 Easy Hikes in San Joaquin County, California
When most people think about hiking, they imagine climbing up mountain trails and the views from the peak.
That is amazing, but sometimes you have young children in tow. Or you're not yet fit enough to climb thousands of feet. Or you just feel like an easy ramble instead of a strenuous trek. Luckily, here are some beautiful hikes in flat areas, as well.
Rivers wind through San Joaquin County, California, and the riparian habitat along the rivers' banks is a fantastic place to see towering oaks, deer, squirrels, native birds and more.
Whether you’re a new hiker looking to get a couple of trails under your belt, an experienced hiker hoping for a quick, relaxing trek, or a parent hoping to give your kids a glimpse of the natural world in San Joaquin County, these three hikes have plenty to offer.
Caswell Memorial State Park, Ripon
In 1950, the children and grandchildren of landowner Thomas Caswell donated 134 acres of land to the state of California. Today, Caswell Memorial State Park has nearly doubled in size to 258 acres, and offers several routes for hikers.
Trails range from half a mile to 2.5 miles, and loop through oak, cottonwood and willow groves along the Stanislaus River. The park also features a nature trail, dotted with signs giving information about the area’s wildlife, trees and plant growth, as well as its history, from the Yokuts people who were the first to live in the area to the fur trappers and settlers who made their livings along the river.
Bird watchers may be able to spot a variety of finches, wrens, woodpeckers and ducks, along with Swainson’s hawks, Cooper’s hawks and great blue herons. Animal lovers may also want to keep an eye out for riparian brush rabbits, a species that only lives in Caswell, as well as the foxes that hunt them, though much of the park’s wildlife is more active at night. Along with a variety of trees, the park is home to wild rose, blackberry and sedge undergrowth.
Directions and information: Take the Austin Road exit from Highway 99 and head south. Caswell Memorial State Park is located at the southern end of Austin Road. Dogs are not allowed on the nature trail. For more information, including camping and boating, call (209) 599-3810 or visit the state park's website.
Oak Grove Regional Park, Stockton
On the northern edge of Stockton, Oak Grove Regional Park is home to two trails that loop through the park, along with more traditional park facilities such as picnic areas, horseshoe pits and a disc golf course.
The 1.8-mile Miwok Trail winds through the old grove valley oaks that give the park its name. The quarter-mile Yokuts Trail is wheelchair accessible, and is dotted with native plants such as elderberry and wild geranium.
Dozens of geese and ducks make the park home, along with several other bird species including warblers, red-tail hawks, scrub jays, acorn woodpeckers and kestrels. Geocachers will be able to make a couple of finds along the trails, and a letterbox is also hidden in the park.
Oak Grove Nature Center adds to the park’s attractions. The center teaches visitors about the plants and animals native to the area with exhibits including live animals, dioramas and hands-on items such as gall wasp nests. Visitors can learn about the history of the Miwok and Yokuts people who were the area’s first inhabitants, and a small trail near the nature center leads to a replica Miwok home made of reeds. The center also hosts natural science-themed events such as Astronomy in the Park.
Directions and information: Take Interstate 5 to the Eight Mile Road exit. The entrance is located just off the interstate. The Oak Grove Nature Center is open from noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. There is parking fee of $5 on weekdays, $6 on weekends and $10 on holidays. There is also a $1 pet fee, and pets must be on a leash at all times. For more information, call (209) 953-8800 or visit the San Joaquin County Parks website.
Lodi Lake Nature Area, Lodi
The “crown jewel of Lodi,” Lodi Lake Park is a haven on the edge of the growing city. While the nature area doesn’t offer the escape from civilization that other area trails do — boaters using the Mokelumne River occasionally shatter the calm, part of the trail comes within a few meters of backyards, and it’s a popular spot for Lodi residents to walk and jog — it’s still a gorgeous ramble through a riparian forest.
The entrance to the nature area offers a natural history of the Mokelumne River, the local watershed and the riparian forests that once blanketed the Central Valley on a set of murals painted by local students.
Then, the 2.5-mile trail follows the Mokelumne River to Pigs Lake before looping back. It's populated by dozens of birds (including Swainson’s hawks and wood ducks), two species of squirrel, rabbits, turtles and deer. Occasional side trails lead right to the edge of the river, and wildflowers often bloom amidst the blackberries and wild grapes that grow beneath the trees.
Directions and information: Take Highway 99 to the Turner Road exit. Take Turner Road west; the park entrance will be on the right. Follow the road right after entering the park to reach the nature area. Parking fees are $4 for Lodi residents and $5 for non-residents. Dogs are not permitted on the trail, though they are allowed in the rest of Lodi Lake Park. For more information, call (209) 333-6742 or visit the City of Lodi website.