Hiking and paddling in San Joaquin County’s wilderness!

Enjoy paddling or hiking right in San Joaquin County’s wilderness!

With two newly purchased kayaks loaded atop my SUV, my friend and I were in search of wilderness paddling, right in San Joaquin County. Several fellow kayakers told us of the Cosumnes River Preserve, a place where I had hiked several times and taken grandkids for both hiking and bird watching. This day, kayaking was our planned mode of travel.

To beat summer’s heat, we met at the Preserve at 8 AM, located just three miles north of Thornton. The Preserve stakes out its 50,000 acres around the confluence of the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rivers. The land remains much in the condition that Native Americans would’ve found it, hundreds of years ago. On weekends and holidays, stop at the visitor’s center for a map and docent insight.

Friend Gary Pierce paddles on quiet Snodgrass Slough, headed for the Cosumnes River.

The preserve is rich in flora and fauna, particularly waterfowl, (depending on time of year, egrets, snowy plovers, geese, Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes, Northern Pintail ducks, eagles and scores more can swarm the Preserve’s many waterways and flooded marshes), making it a bird-watcher’s paradise. Deer, raccoons, skunks, bobcats and many other animals call the place home.

With over 11 miles of paved and dirt hiking trails along the riparian waterways, it’s also a prime destination for scenic hiking; weekdays, you can hike for miles without seeing another person. This time of the year, wild blackberries can be found along many of the trails, providing fixin’s for tomorrow’s flavorful pancakes or waffles (take plastic bags)!

Gary paddles past a local kayaker, hoping to take some fish on a “low tide day”
(he was not having much luck, he noted).

From the visitor center, we carried our kayaks about 200 yards to reach the Preserve’s dock, and put in our light craft on Snodgrass Slough. From here, we headed south about 3/8 of a mile, then paddled east up the wide but shallow and slow-moving Cosumnes River. Had we turned west on the Cosumnes, we would have shortly reached the faster-moving Mokelumne River (we saved this for another day).

Along the slough and river banks, we spotted a dozen snowy white egrets and several fat turtles longing on driftwood. A local in another kayak noted that fishing is often good, but he had arrived late and a low tide made catching a bit slow to his liking!

An egret lands near a pelican (Chuck Higgs photo)

Just across the Mokelumne River at the intersection of the slower-moving Cosumnes River, listen carefully for the ghosts of old Mokelumne City calling out from the historic river city. Founded in 1850 and fueled by the gold rush, the city had boomed by 1861 to the second largest town and port in San Joaquin County, supplying goods from San Francisco to the gold and silver mines up the river.

A huge flood inundated the entire San Joaquin Valley in 1862 (including much of downtown Stockton), washing all of Mokelumne City’s wood buildings miles downstream – the city disappeared, never to be rebuilt. Rumor has it that the remains of the original two-story brick Mokelumne City Hotel remain, now repurposed as a barn – alas, it’s now private property.

Author’s grandkids, from left, Hunter, Jack and Jessica, pick wild blackberries, growing in many places throughout the Preserve.

The Preserve’s website calendar shares several upcoming events, including a guided nature walk on August 3, a river walk bird survey and tour, August 10, both a tall-forest bird survey and tour and a guided paddle tour on August 17 and a guided photography walk, August 24.

Visitors sample olive oils and wines at Consumnes River Farms.

Exiting the Preserve, a favorite stop is just a half-mile south, Consumnes River Farms, where visitors can sample olive oils, balsamic vinegars and wines. The first two tastings are free, while wine tasting is is a modest charge (waived if you purchase a bottle). This is a fine place to sample the local products and take a break at the outdoor patio.

Thornton is an old farming town with a Portuguese heritage. The town hosts a large bull-ring, hidden behind the Catholic Church, hosting bloodless bull-fighting in October each year! We made our way to Primo’s Bakery, an authentic Mexican bakery with scores of delicious baked goods, coffee, soft-drinks, all very reasonably priced.

San Joaquin County offers many other places where the Delta can be accessed for both hiking and/or kayaking/canoeing. Consider Lodi Lake Park, where kayakers can paddle into the adjoining Mokelumne River, the Calaveras River just west of University of Pacific or trekking out into the Delta from the very west end of Hammer Lane, where levee hiking offers a choice of four or nine mile routes into quite wild country. South County’s Caswell Memorial State Park, split by the winding Stanislaus River just before its juncture with the San Joaquin River, is another fine destination for these active pursuits.

Author’s grandkids Hunter, Jessica and Jack, hiking Shima Tract, accessible from west end of Hammer Lane in north Stockton.

For more information: Cosumnes River Preserve, 13501 Franklin Blvd, Galt, Cosumnes.org, (916) 684-2816; Consumes River Farm, 28305 N. Thornton Road, Thornton, consumnesriverfarm.com, (209) 334-5544.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in the west!

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