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San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area

Lone Oak Trail, Basalt Campground Trail, Path of the Padres
1.5 to 6 miles round trip

San Luis Reservoir, one of the mega-reservoirs of the California State Water Project, is actually three different bodies of water: the main reservoir, O’Neill Forebay and Los Baños Reservoir. The big reservoir’s somewhat obscure claim-to-fame is that it’s the largest reservoir in the U.S. that isn’t an integral part of a river or creek. You can learn more about San Luis Reservoir and California’s cyclopean waterworks system at Romero Visitors Center, just off Highway 152 on the northeast side of the reservoir.

Fishing is the state recreation area’s most popular activity, followed by sailboarding, camping and picnicking. For hikers, the best time to visit is spring, when the usually brown hills turn green and are brightened by such wildflowers as California poppies, tidytips and larkspur. If you arrive in summer, expect temperatures in the 90s, or even more than 100 degrees. In winter, frequent tule fogs blanket the area.

“Path of the Padres” is the name of a popular guided hike conducted during springtime weekends at San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area. The boat tour and five mile hike retraces part of the trail taken by Spanish missionaries and soldiers who marched this way in 1805 gathering up the native Yokut to work on Mission San Luis Bautista lands.

Usually valley locals snap up all the tickets for these guided tours; visiting hikers, however, can embark on a self-guided tour of where the padres walked by joining the trail at North Rim Drive. The route utilizes a lakeshore trail around Salt Springs Cove, then heads alongside Los Baños Creek. Your self-guided tour, absent the boat ride up the creek, will be about double the five miles of the guided trip. The trail visits one of the state’s largest sycamore groves and climbs to a ridgetop overlook for views of the western San Joaquin Valley.

Lone Oak Bay Trail (6 miles round trip) explores the oak-dotted lakeshore on the reservoir’s south side. Golden eagles and red-tailed hawks are frequently sighted from this trail which offers excellent views of the lake. In spring, California poppies, bush lupine, tidytips, goldfields and Chinese Houses brighten the grassy slopes above the lake.

To begin this trail, follow the park road two miles from Basalt Campground. Just before the road ends at a boat launch site, turn onto a signed dirt road leading to the trailhead.

Directions to trailhead: The various units of the reservoir are reached off Highway 152, some two miles west of Interstate 5 and 10 miles west of the town of Los Baños.

The hike: Basalt Campground Trail (1.5 mile loop) is a combination footpath/service road offering hilltop views. Join this trail near the entrance to Basalt Campground.

The path climbs grassy slopes for 0.75 mile to a viewpoint of the reservoir, San Joaquin Valley and Basalt Hill. An interpretive exhibit with a map points out the highlights visible from the viewpoint.

Millions of tons of basalt, the volcanic rock found hereabouts, was used in construction of San Luis Dam during the 1960s. You descend the hill to a park service road that returns you to the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at