JAMESTOWN - Table Mountain is one of the best-kept secrets for a hike that isn’t far from home, isn’t difficult, isn’t crowded and offers a spectacular view of both snow-covered peaks, New Melones lake and the rolling foothills below.
Now is a great time of year to take the 2.7-mile hike, which can be done in less than half a day. Flowers are in bloom, the weather is mild and the vegetation is awash with spring green.
Table Mountain is actually a narrow flat-topped lava formation that runs many miles along Highway 120 in Tuolumne County to the Knights Ferry area of Stanislaus County. Valley hikers won’t find any directional signs telling where to go but it’s easy to find. The trail is accessible by driving from Oakdale to Jamestown and turning left from Highway 120/108 onto Rawhide Road (Jimtown Frosty is your clue to turn). Follow Rawhide Road as it snakes up the east side of the mountain and then drops down into a small valley. When Rawhide takes a 90-degree to the right, turn left and you’re on Shell Road, a country road that goes back a few miles. The road ends at a cattle gate, which is then a public easement road onto private land. Unless you have a high clearance vehicle to maneuver over ruts, it’s best to park your vehicle and open the gate (closing it behind you) and walk the dirt road toward the trail head. Along the way on the 1.8-mile walk, several friendly horses will keep you company, some interested in what you may have brought them to eat.
Once you pass through a second metal gate, the start of the trail is nearby. The Bureau of Reclamation has placed a pit toilet facility at the location. The trail is obvious as a bare thread of ground on a grassy mound as it disappears into a canopy of native trees. It is such an easy climb that we saw a pregnant woman in her ninth month making the trek in sneakers. Hikers can enjoy a collection of oaks and other trees along the way but be careful not to touch the poison oak that grows along the trail. Poison oak is identifiable by its cluster of three leaves. Expect a mild climb to the top, up switchbacks and over small rocks and then ending with an increased effort to get up the last section that takes the hiker onto the top some 680 feet above the beginning of the trail. The heart may be working overtime on the steeper section, but the rest is awesome as you spy the vultures sweeping silently overhead and sailing over the vertical cliff wall.
Once on top, enjoy a sack lunch as you take in the vista of New Melones Reservoir below. The top of the rock is relatively flat and a surprising mixture of rock and enough soil to grow a tree here and there and a variety of small wild flowers. Vernal pools pock the mountain in wetter months.
Hikers who walk the short distance to the eastern side will find themselves taking in a gorgeous view of snow-capped mountain crags of the Sierra and the scenic foothill valley below that contains the Sierra Railroad where puffs may be seen drifting through tree tops from the steam trains that run on the weekend.
Be sure to bring a camera. On clear days one can catch a view of the Valley floor. Other mountain peaks are identifiable, including Rushing Mountain and its fire lookout station. Above the reservoir about seven miles northwest, history lovers can pick out Funk Hill where Black Bart (Charles Bowles) carried out both his first and last stage robberies.
209 staff reporter