Millerton Lake State Recreation Area in Madera County, California on a beautiful spring day.

Millerton Lake, California

Millerton Lake is a reservoir situated within Millerton Lake State Recreation Area that offers various recreational activities. The 4,900 acres of Millerton Lake are well-known for swimming, fishing, waterskiing, and boating. Mountain bikers, horseback riders, and hikers all use the numerous routes surrounding the lake. Millerton Lake is also a federal water storage facility that was created in 1942 as a result of the construction of the Friant Dam. The management of the recreation activities at Millerton Lake was taken over by the California Division of Beaches and Parks in the middle of the 1950s.

Geography Of Millerton Lake

A view of Millerton Lake in California
A view of Millerton Lake in California. Image Credit: No machine-readable author provided. Kjkolb assumed (based on copyright claims)., via Wikimedia Commons

Millerton Lake is tucked away in the Sierra Nevada foothills, in California's San Joaquin Valley, inside the Millerton Lake State Recreation Area. Between Fresno and Madera counties, just north of the town of Friant, Millerton Lake is situated in the upper San Joaquin River Watershed. The distance between Millerton Lake and Fresno, California, via Highway 41 and Highway 145 is about 20 miles northeast of the latter city. The lake provides water to Central Valley Project users and has a storage capacity of 520,528 acre-feet. Its overall size is 4,900 acres when full.

History Of Millerton Lake

Millerton Lake Dam in California
Millerton Lake Dam in California. 

Millerton Lake was created after the construction of the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River. According to state-provided records, the town of Millerton was first established in 1852 and was known at that time as Rootville. Miners flocked to the region during the California gold rush, and the community thrived until the railroad arrived in what is now known as Fresno. The reasons why the residents of Millerton left are described in other state-provided papers. On Christmas Eve 1867, landslides that had previously prevented water from flowing upriver from entering the town broke free, bringing a cascade of water down into the town, causing floods. Everything in its path is claimed to have been devastated by the powerfully rushing flood. Little money was available to reconstruct the town after the water damage because the mine that founded the city was no longer worth as much. After the public approved the relocation of the county offices in a subsequent vote in 1874, everything from Millerton was moved to Fresno station. By the middle of the 1940s, Millerton Lake had flooded the nearby town as a result of the construction of what is now known as Friant Dam. As a component of the State Park system, Millerton Lake State Recreation Area was created in 1957.

Wildlife In Millerton Lake

Close to the campgrounds on the lake's northern shore, oak-studded grasslands are home to ground squirrels and acorn woodpeckers. Bobcats, coyotes, and red-breasted and yellow-bellied sapsuckers should all be closely observed in this area. Watch the skies for golden eagles, northern harriers, and rough-legged hawks on the prowl. Bald eagles in winter often catch their prey from trees along the shore. Along with local western grebes and American coots, many Canadian geese spend the winter here. In the summer, egrets and herons are noticeable as they wade across the marshy areas that the receding lake level has caused. Rainbow and brown trout fishes are caught both in the upper part of the lake and below the dam. Additionally, one can catch stripers, crappies, catfish, bluegill, and numerous bass species while fishing. 

However, the fish caught from Millerton Lake contains high levels of mercury that comes from natural sources, mining, and air fallout from burning coal and other fuels. The brain can be harmed by excessive methylmercury, the type of mercury present in fish, especially in fetuses, newborns, and toddlers. During pregnancy, mothers might expose their unborn children to methylmercury.

Recreation In Millerton Lake

During a super bloom of wildflowers in spring, california poppies and lupine cover a hillside near Millerton Lake State Park
During a super bloom of wildflowers in spring, california poppies and lupine cover a hillside near Millerton Lake State Park. 

There are lots of camping options, from basic campsites to RV hookups. The park offers boat trips for viewing during the winter months and has a preserve area where bald eagles breed. The lake has day-use boat ramps and a marina for long-term docking for boat enthusiasts. The main activity in the lake is fishing. The former Fresno County seat, the historic Millerton Courthouse, has been renovated and features educational exhibits on the local history of the region. When Lake Millerton flooded the town of Millerton, the courthouse was saved and rebuilt on the coast at Mariner's Point.

The excursion to Millerton Lake will be enjoyable for those who appreciate water activities and recreation. If one is in search of a peaceful area to unwind from the chaos of the city, the Millerton Lake Recreation Area is a great place to stop. The journey here will undoubtedly be worthwhile for bird watchers as well.


More in Bodies of Water