Great Valley Grasslands is one of the less known, out of the way places in the State Park system. It's been barely developed beyond... more » parking, a restroom, boat ramp, and partial trail along the San Joaquin River levy. Trails from the HWY 140 entrance are effectively non-existent, bare tracks through the wildflowers and brush created by local anglers. The seasonal flooding makes permanent trails problematic.
My first visit occurred during the spring runoff season where I found much of the park flooded and the San Joaquin River running fast and deep over it's banks nearly overwhelming the levy separating it from the grasslands. The road to the parking area was waste deep in water, slow moving but cross-able. Any signs of trails beyond the levy road were simply gone.
A return visit was a completely different experience! A lightly used park, the only folks there were local anglers fishing the river. Trails...from the HWY 140 entrance, nearly non-existent! After reaching the end of the levy road, it's a case of following the river along the most used path, using the river bank and sand and gravel bars when possible. Turn around when a machete looks like it will be needed, it gets thick ahead! Along the way are plenty of gorgeous spots for fishing or having some lunch. Keep an eye out for turtles and other critters along the river.
One thing that really struck me was the river kayaking possibilities! This Park could make a great stop or put in on a longer run!
The Park is but a small component of a larger system called the Grasslands Ecological Area, a collection of preserved lands run by several state and federal agencies.
Most of the park is essentially inaccessible, being comprised of fenced off vernal pools and open grasslands that haven't changed since before the Central Valley was settled. In that is its charm!
This park preserves one of the few remaining intact native grasslands on the Central Valley's floor. Grasslands is part of a larger Grasslands Ecological Area (GEA) made up of parcels owned by federal, state and private lands which are managed specifically for wildlife preservation. As such the GEA is the largest remaining block of wetlands in California.
A number of rare plant and animal species inhabit Great Valley Grasslands which include: a native bunch grass called alkali sacaton, the Delta button celery (Eryngium racemosum) listed as an endangered species which is found in the flood plain of the San Joaquin. Both the California Tiger Salamander and the endangered vernal pool fairy shrimp and tadpole shrimp have been found.
Locally, Great Valley Grasslands is well known for it's native flower displays. less «