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The winter solitude of the Stanislaus River Parks
Taking in the sights, sounds and smells of nature is entirely possible at Caswell Memorial State Park. Natural beaches like the one pictured are scattered along the Stanislaus River. - photo by HIME ROMERO

209 INFO

: Caswell Memorial State Park
• WHERE: Ripon, CA
• WHAT’S THERE: Picnic areas, campsites, walking trails and river access for those looking to get away and escape the hassles of work and the world. A dense oak grove provides cover from the elements and walking among the trees can provide one of the most beautiful experiences in the South County. The Sierra might be beautiful, but a gem in your own backyard is hard to beat.
• HISTORY: The land was once home to Yokut Indian tribe, who collected acorns and found the adjacent river to be bountiful. In the 1800s it became a popular spot with trappers after it was discovered by Spanish settlers. Eventually the land was bought by Thomas Caswell, and near the end of his life he felt it should be preserved – in 1950 his children and grandchildren donated the 134 acres to the people of California for their enjoyment.
• TO GET THERE: Take either Airport Way, Union Road or Manteca Road to West Ripon Road. Turn left. Follow it until you hit Austin Road. Turn right and follow it to the end. It leads straight into the park.
• COST: Day use fees are $8 per vehicle. The entry booth is seldom manned during the winter months, so use the envelope provided and deposit the fee in the yellow Iron Ranger nearby.
• • •
: Knight’s Ferry Recreation Area
• WHERE: Oakdale, CA
• WHAT’S THERE: Beautiful, rocky canyons carved by the Stanislaus River popular with rafters, swimmers and even cliff jumpers. The Knight’s Ferry covered bridge – the longest in California – draws enthusiasts from throughout the state and beyond who photograph its picturesque features against the river backdrop.
• HISTORY: The community was founded not long after the Gold Rush when a western settler – Dr. William Knight – established a ferry boat along the Stanislaus. The move ended up giving the settlement its name.
• TO GET THERE: Take State Route 120 East through Escalon, and into Oakdale, and turn left at the Main Intersection that joins traffic with State Route 108. Follow it until you see Kenney Road – signs will indicate it’s the route to Knight’s Ferry. Turn left. Turn left on Sonora Road and continue up and across the river and the park will be on your right.
• • •
: McHenry Recreation Area
• WHERE: Escalon, CA
• WHAT’S THERE: Lush oak groves tucked along the Stanislaus River provide plenty of picnicking and barbecuing opportunities for those looking to enjoy the river’s flow around multiple bends. During the summer months inventive youths have been known to build rope swings, and floating the river is not uncommon.
• HISTORY: Built by the US Army Corps of Engineers as a swimming park for people to enjoy, natural beaches tucked along the park’s two parking lots – created by natural erosion of the tall banks – at one time served as the main attraction. A project that solidified one of the vulnerable walls and provided access to a shallow sandbar has become a key attraction for families with young children that want to keep them away from the sometimes swift current.
• TO GET THERE: From Manteca take Highway 120 East to Murphy Road and turn right. Follow it up to River Road and turn left. Continue down through Ripon and into rural Escalon. As you come up on the white fence look for the park entrance signs. The gate will be on your right. From Ripon just take River Road out the whole way.
• COST: Free
• • •
: Orange Blossom Recreation Area
• WHERE: Oakdale, CA
• WHAT’S THERE: A large, grassy area provides plenty of opportunities for a picnic, and boat launching for a lazy day on the river is available for those that are looking for a true outdoor experience. Like other recreation spots along the Lower Stanislaus, oak trees growing over the river provide a beautiful canopy and serve as a picture perfect backdrop.
• TO GET THERE: Take State Route 120 East through Escalon and into Oakdale, and turn left at the Main Intersection that joins traffic with State Route 108. Continue on through Oakdale until you see Orange Blossom Road. Turn left. Continue on until you see the park on your left.
• COST: Free

Got cabin fever?

Are the cold temperatures, overcast skies and perpetual morning dew taking their toll on your overall psyche?

You’re not alone.

Seasonal affective disorder – known more commonly as “the winter blahs” – is common among people who are active during the summer months and suddenly find themselves confined to their homes for a long period of time.

The absence of sunlight and the chemical processes that it spurs in the brain, experts say, is to blame.

But instead of throwing an ultra-bright bulb in your living room lamp, why not throw a few sandwiches and some blankets in the car and plan a rural picnic somewhere along the meandering Stanislaus River?

It might not be the most conventional therapy – exposure to bright, sun-like light for long periods of time is usually what’s recommended – but there are plenty of local places that will recharge your batteries all the same.

Take, for example, Caswell State Memorial Park.

Depending on how fast you drive, it’s entirely possible to be standing beneath a barren canopy of densely packed native Valley Oak trees – marveling at their natural beauty even after they’ve shed their leaves for the cold winter season.

There are walking trails, picnic tables, and places to unwind along the magnificent river that will flow faster and stronger as the snowpack melts and more and more water is released to make room for what’s coming.

If you’re looking to get a little bit further outside of the city then McHenry Recreation Area – on the rural border of Escalon and Modesto – is one place worth checking out. You’ll find the same old majestic oaks that you saw at Caswell, but in a park designed for swimmers to enjoy.

That means families. And that means picnic areas and plenty of places to sit and watch the current roll.

Want to see a slice of history? Try Knight’s Ferry Recreation Area and the unique town adjacent to it. You’ll find California’s longest covered bridge and a rocky canyon carved out by the mighty Stanislaus over centuries. Just closing your eyes will take you back to the Gold Rush era when miners literally killed one another to get the best spot on the river.

It might seem natural to stay inside. After all, it’s cold out there and it’s a hassle to bundle up just to go out there and be miserable.

But exploring the natural beauty that the region has to offer in a season when it’s seldom seen is enough to shake off any type of blahs.

And that makes it worth the time to fill the thermos and grab the comforter.

209 staff reporter