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Along the San Joaquine River

Great Valley Grasslands SP

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 2.1 miles
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly

Overview :  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 »

Tips:  Location:
31426 Gonzaga Road
Gustine, CA 95322-9737

Sector Office
TEL (209) 826-1197
FAX (209) 826-0284

8:00am to ... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Northwest Entrance

Northeast of the town of Gustine in the Central Valley, the northwest entrance to Great Valley Grasslands is a quick turnoff on HWY 140; it's on a curve just before crossing the San Juaquine River. The surrounding lands on the way in are clearly seasonal wetlands...generally somewhat flooded during the wet seasons.

This trip was actually my... More

2. Parking

The parking area's quite generous, intended to allow for buses and especially boat trailers.

The surrounding wetlands are fenced off but there's well developed river access and a small boat ramp. There is a restroom available.

Note: the Google Earth imagry on this page appears to have been taken in the winter or spring (the GPS path is... More

3. Boat Ramp

The river's edge around the ramp and along the shoreline to the south east has been lined with rip-rap. Northwest along the shore, it's been left alone.

4. Trailhead

The gate at the southerly end of the parking area is the trail head. The trail's start is the road along the levee top. Catch the right couple months and the grasslands will be a riot of blooming vegetation!

5. End of Road

The road ends, dropping off into the San Juaquine just past some bollards. To the north is acess to sand bars and the inside of a broad bow in the river.

Looking for some sort of trail, follow a path along the river's edge south. The path looks like it's re-blazed by locals each season after the flooding subsides.

It's likely any blazed path is ... More

6. Cross Country Walk

Having just crossed a vernal pool area (hopefully dry), the walk generally goes cross country with trails fading in and out.

From this point on, single track paths where you can find them, spits and bars where possible, and the rest...there are times when a machete would come in handy (which State Parks would NOT appreciate).

7. Sand Bar

If available, round the bends via sand bars on the inside of the river bends.

Underbrush along the river can get dense in places.

8. Trail

Keep an eye open for game trails. It's likely locals use them to reach favored fishing spots.

Up ahead just beyond a rise will be a vernal pool, within a likely reminant of an old oxbow bend in the river.

9. Vernal Pool

Nestled in the willows is a large fairly stagnent pool with plenty of frogs.

Keep an eye on the ground and watch your step, just off the trail there may still be a small sinkhole, just a foot or so deep with a very soft bottom. When I took a look, it appeared to be a small underground creek from the pool to the river.

Walking along the pool...... More

10. Found Trail

I picked up another thin single track within the trees and brush. This particular one was more of a tunnel.

It helps to have a ball cap in here to keep the seeds and spider webs out of the hair.

Breaking through one will find a narrow bench-like beach to follow, some bars.

Try heading away from the river toward the edge of the flood plain and ... More

11. Lost Trail

The next segment was purely cross country in the flood plain along the San Juaquine. This is an area of old bars, willows, brush, and just feeling ones way along the river. Expect to backtrack, cut through muddy depressions, seek higher ground, and force your way through brush and saplings.

12. Along an Old Channel.

Old channel.

Stick to the high spots in this area. The low spots are a soft sticky mud.

13. Following a bar

Stick to the sandbar here, both the walking and view are better than in the dense brush.

14. Turning Back

With the trail well and truely gone I came to the conclusion that few travel on foot this far along the river. The walk had also been very slow going in a number of spots with further progress really needing brushing gear.

I'd also hoped to encounter a portion of the trail described by Trailmaster on the Park's web site to facilitate continuing ... More

15. Following a Bar and Beach

Easy traveling!

16. Reaquiring the Trail

17. Sink Hole

Nearly stepping into it, a small sink hole. The mouth was about 1' wide, the depth about 1'. It has a horizontal channel running just below the surface from vernal pool toward the river.

18. Junction, Return to the Levee Road.

Back to the levee road.

19. Exploring a bend

A path heads out along the river. This particular bend looked like a great place to explore earlier this year only it was submerged. By late July it was high and dry, a maze of bars, brush, and tree shaded spots.

20. Rounding the bend

A path, beaches, and bars.

21. Return to Levee Road

For comparison the attached images are of this bar a few months earlier during the spring runoff. The bend is submerged to the lower tree branches.

22. End

Return to Parking Lot.

Would I do Great Valley Grasslands again? Yes! This particular walk just scratch the surface.

Next time out it will be via kayak and use this end of the park as either a take-out point. The park has a lot of river to explore.

Another possibility would be to query the Park's staff regarding accessibility to the interior... More