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Gathering the whole family together and going on a hike is one of the best ways to create memories and experience the outdoors together. However, not all hiking trails can provide family-friendly opportunities due to access and difficulty. Today, we will be talking about a trail that defies that trend and provides an excellent opportunity for family hiking fun.
The San Joaquin River Gorge Trail is one that everyone can enjoy regardless of age or hiking experience. This is made up of a couple of key trails, which we will get into. Located in California, this is a hike that has great views, a super fun bridge, and so much more. With flowing water, wildflowers blooming, and huge stretches of granite, this is a picturesque trail to take a family hike. Let’s dive right into the details!
- Location: Fresno County California
- Difficulty: Easy for the first mile to the bridge. Moderate for the reminder of trails
- Distance: 2.1-mile loop to bridge or 6 miles for the entire trail
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 300-foot loss down into the gorge. 1350 to 1500 gain on the other two trails
- Seasonality: Spring and Fall
- Permits: No permit to hike the trail. Obtain a parking permit at a self-serve kiosk in the parking lot.
Family Hiking in Central California
On a broad note, this trail system is located in California. The trailhead starts in Fresno County, and once you do the mile trek to the bridge and cross over, you enter Madera County. The key to getting to the trails is securing a spot at the Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh trailhead lot. Along with a campground, there is a fairly small lot there that does fill up quickly.
Auberry is the closest city, so keep that in mind when making your plans. The closest big city is Fresno.
If you are coming from southern California, take the 99 north and connect with the 168 in Fresno. You will turn onto Auberry Road to Powerhouse Road and follow that all the way to the trailhead and parking lot.
If you are coming from the north, everything stays the same except you take the 99 south or 41 south.
Easy Family Hiking To The Bridge
The easiest hike in this system of trails is the first mile of the Pa’san Ridge Trail that goes out to the river bridge. This is what the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail really is. It is two miles round trip and is an excellent hike for grandparents and hikers of any skill level.
This trail area after the first mile gets a little interesting. There is the Pa’san Ridge Trial and eventually the Wuh-Ki’o Trail. Both of these are accessed eventually from the Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh trailhead. So, they all work together to create a family-friendly loop of hiking opportunities. The difficulty varies slightly throughout, but nearly the entire loop is good for family hiking.
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As you move on through the Pa’san Ridge trail and transition to the Wuh-Ki’o Trail, things get slightly more difficult but do not go beyond an intermediate rating. At the very least, the small loop to the bridge is a super relaxing and easy hike for everyone.
Overall, hiking the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail is the crown jewel, and the other loop trails are fantastic add-ons. Whether you have a couple of hours or all day, you can make it happen in this area.
Short to Medium Day Hike for Family Hiking Fun
The San Joaquin River Gorge Trail is that 2.1-mile loop that goes from the trailhead to the river bridge and back. This is the easiest aspect of the trails in the area.
To other hikers, this trail is known as the first mile of the Pa’san Ridge Trail. If you want to continue past the River Gorge Trail, you can take on the 6-mile loop of the Pa’san Ridge Trail. Although the difficulty does jump up, as we previously stated.
The final offshoot trail, the Wuh-Ki’o Trail, kicks off of the west side of the Pa’san loop and adds another four miles to your venture.
Low Elevation Loss in the Beginning
Obviously, because there are three trails that connect all in the same spot and go off of the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail, we need to break them down individually. To start with the main talk of the day, the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail loses just under 300 feet of elevation on the way down, and you gain it back on the way back to the trailhead.
This is very mild, especially over the course of a mile. So, just about anyone can tackle it.
Once you hop onto the two other trails that continue on from the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail, the elevation gain and loss are a bit more. For example, the Pa’san Ridge Trail harbors about 1500 feet of elevation gain. Although this is not a very hard trail, it does take it up a notch in terms of elevation.
The Wuh-Ki’O trail is similar and has a 1350 feet elevation gain, roughly. So, if you want to take it up a notch from the main, short trail, both of these offshoots will add some challenge.
Spring Is the Best time For Family Hiking This Trail
One great aspect of this part of California is that the seasons tend to blend together. There are still differences, but temperatures do not have as severe of a change as in other areas. The big difference comes in the summer. Temperatures can rise dramatically in a Fresno summer, but being in the mountains and gaining elevation helps combat that.
One of the most enjoyable times to do family hiking is in the spring. Temperatures are in the 60s and 70s, and the wildflowers bloom like crazy. This is also the time of the year that has the most rain. Granted, it is not much, but there are areas with no shade or cover, so having some clouds can work to your benefit. Plus, this is when the wildflower bloom is, so you can experience that natural beauty.
If the spring is not a time you can go, the fall works in a similar way. Although the bright colors will be gone by then, the temperature is in a similar spot but without the rain. Now, keep in mind that the peak season for a lot of outdoor ventures is the summer. In this area of California, that is not the case.
With temperatures skyrocketing in the summer, people take advantage of the lower temperatures in the other seasons.
Make Sure Take The Correct Trail
As we have noted earlier, the Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh trailhead is the starting point for all of the hiking fun. The key to accessing the trailhead is to specifically put in the name when calculating directions.
If you put the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail into your phone’s directions, it will bring you to the Recreation Management Area. This is fine, but you will have to do more hiking to access the trails on foot. To get to where you really want to be, put in the Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh trailhead.
This is a pretty major trailhead, so this is the perfect starting point.
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Enjoy The Beauty Of This Scenic Trail
Especially in the spring, the wildflowers are the most obvious aspect of this that you will find. These California wildflowers are gorgeous and grow like crazy. When it is the peak season, you will be surrounded by wildflowers.
There will also be some opportunities to see some wildlife on this family hiking trail. There are a few species that are frequently seen in the Fresno area. Some examples include coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and many others. So, be on the lookout for some fury friends.
Unfortunately, not all wildlife and plant life are on your side. There are two main things to watch out for that are known to frequent this area. These two are rattlesnakes and poison oak. The key to avoiding both of these is being diligent and staying on the designated trail. Obviously, the trail is not some completely safe space, but you just have to have your wits about you.
Parking Your Car Can Be Challenging At The Trail Head
One of the trickiest aspects of taking on the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail and subsequent trails is the parking situation. It is a bit less than ideal. The closest parking to these trails is at the Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh trailhead. There are about 15-20 spots, so they tend to fill up quickly. In addition, make sure you buy a parking permit at the self-serve kiosk for the parking lot.
If you show up and this lot is full, there is a little bit of roadside parking available as well. The key to getting a spot is getting out there early in the morning or later in the afternoon. This will ensure that you can avoid the crowds that flood the trails from time to time.
Porta-Potties At The Beginning Of The Trail
Finally, it is important to talk about the facilities offered in the area. There is very little infrastructure in terms of facilities at the trailhead. This could be a good or bad thing depending on how pristine you want the area to be.
There are just some porta potties before the trails start at Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh trailhead. However, these are very well maintained, so you do not have to worry about that department. So, be sure to grab any water and snacks you want to bring beforehand.