A Brief History of Millerton Lake

For thousands of years, several groups of Northern Foothill Yokuts lived in the rolling grasslands and woodlands of the region. The women crafted beautiful baskets used for both utilitarian and ceremonial purposes. The men harvested acorns and hunted deer, quail, and other game. The Yokuts were especially skilled at fishing for salmon, which they dried and stored for winter use.

The lives of the Yokuts were altered by the intrusion of settlers who brought diseases to which they had no immunity, depleted their food sources, and caused them to be displaced from their villages. Conflicts with the new arrivals ultimately led to the Mariposa Indian War, which ended in 1851 with the signing of a peace treaty at the U.S. military encampment known as Camp Barbour. An envoy had negotiated treaties with several California Indian groups, but Congress failed to ratify the treaties.

Fewer than 200 people lived in Millerton after the Southern Pacific steamed into Fresno. In 1874, the county seat followed suit in relocation by a vote, and the Millerton Courthouse was relegated to the elements. In 1941 the courthouse was dismantled and reconstructed on its present site at Mariner’s Point to protect it from rising floodwaters. The courthouse has been restored to look much as it did more than a century ago.

In the 1930s the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation proposed and initiated the Central Valley Project (CVP), a network of dams, reservoirs, and canals to address the state’s growing water needs. The Friant Dam, which forms Millerton Lake, is one of twenty facilities built under the CVP. The Friant dam with a capacity of 520,000 acre-feet delivers water to millions of agricultural lands in Fresno, Kern, Madera and Tulare counties via the Madera and Friant-Kern canals. In addition, the structure provides flood control and conservation storage.

The Bureau continues to operate the dam and manage the water. California State Parks has an operating agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation for the management of Millerton Lake. Park staff strives to maintain the park as a world class recreational park; upholding the departments mission in providing for the health, inspiration, and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state's extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation.

Natural Environment


No plant life is established in the lake footprint, as fluctuating water levels prevent it from taking hold, beyond annual grasses and some aquatic plants.


Taking to the skies, our bird population is exceptionally diverse. Bald Eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, American kestrels, osprey, and many more birds of prey reap from the bountiful supply of rodents. Along the trails look out for California quail. lesser goldfinches, white-crowned sparrows, great-tailed grackles, common ravens, rock wrens, and acorn woodpeckers. On the water you will find thousands of gulls, dozens of American coots, western grebes, cormorants, Canada geese, amongst others.

Reptiles such as the western rattlesnake, western fence lizards, and alligator lizards are out and about as the weather gets warmer.


Millerton Lake is on the boundary of two geomorphic provinces, the Great Valley of California and Sierra Nevada. The Great Valley is an alluvial plain 50 miles wide and 400 miles long. Millerton Lake is situated at the precipice of the southernmost portion known as the San Joaquin Valley. Here the San Joaquin River enters the valley from its headwaters at 10,000 feet in elevation near Mammoth. The river continues its 360-mile journey to Suisun Bay in the San Francisco Bay area, where it drains into the Pacific Ocean.

The Sierra Nevada was created as a result of the subduction of the now extinct Farallon Plate under the North American Plate about 160 million years ago. This subduction resulted in the melting of the crust setting in motion the rise of magma bodies. Cooling slowly underground, the magma solidified forming plutons, or large bodies of igneous rock. Over time this rock we know as granite has been exposed through uplift and furthermore by process of weathering and erosion.