My buddy, Lance Anderson, has been telling me for a long time that I needed to go with him to Lost Lake where he and his family take stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) and get out on the river. Having not been to Lost Lake since I was a kid, my first thought was always, “Lost Lake? Really? Isn’t that just a wading pool?” After my wife and I caught the SUP bug last summer in Santa Cruz, we got our own board so we could take it to the coast and join Lance around here when we can. This last weekend in March, the weather was perfect for a maiden voyage. As luck would have it, Lance called me up and we made plans to go to Lost Lake. Again, I’m thinking, “Lost Lake?” But, I took his word for it and went. And I couldn’t be more glad that I did!
About 15 minutes (10 miles) north from Woodward Park along Friant Rd. sits the unassuming entrance to the Lost Lake Recreation Area—it’s easy to miss, so if you find yourself in the town of Friant, you’ve gone just a bit too far. This day use and campground facility on the San Joaquin River is kept up by Fresno County Parks and is home to a 38-acre lake, 42 campsites, and over a mile of shaded picnicking sites and play areas. The park has a $5 entrance fee per vehicle (you can purchase a year pass for $40) even if you have a camping reservation. Campsites are $18 a night ($5 per night for seniors, $9 a night for disabled vets). Hours of operation are 7AM to 7PM Oct 1 – Mar 31, 7AM to 10PM Apr 1 – Sept 30. See the park’s website for more county park rules and regulations. (http://www.co.fresno.ca.us/DepartmentPage.aspx?id=51939)
We arrived just after 2pm on Sunday. The park had many visitors already: families picnicking, kids splashing in the water, fishermen and fisherwomen casting lines, dogs chasing balls (although leash laws are in effect throughout the park), and many people just hanging out, having a good time, and getting some sunshine. Our goal, of course, was to find a spot right on the water for ease of entrance, and there are plenty to be found. We pulled our boards out, slathered on some sunscreen, and launched into the river. I was a little unsteady—this was only my second time on a SUP—but got the feel for the new board quickly. Once I was comfortable, I looked around and realized that I was seeing a side of Lost Lake I had never seen before: the view from the river. And let me tell you, it is quite a view.
We paddled upstream, the river flowing slowly and gently beneath. The depth ranges from about a foot and a half to 6 or 7 feet in places, but is mostly in the 3-foot range. The cool, clear water was glassy and calm—a perfect day for paddling. Lance grabbed a tennis ball from the water and threw it toward a searching dog. Ducks and geese joined us in our leisurely float. Fishes scattered from beneath us to hide. Even a turtle jumped from a sunny log, and a beaver swam through the tiny rapids at the short step on the north end of the river—just before I fell in for the first time. It just looked so inviting, right? And it felt great to get in the water! Is this river paradise really just minutes from the hot city? Yes it is!
Heading back downstream was peaceful and restful. We stopped at our site for a chug of water and continued our way downstream. There are more riverside picnic tables downstream. The sounds of laughter and play rose above the swooshing of the paddles just enough to remind us that we were near other people, but being on the river truly does feel like you are in a separate world. A quieter world. A cooler world of nature—both figuratively and literally as the temperature is a good 10 degrees lower than on land. Of course, seeing the occasional bottle and can on the bottom of the river also reminds us that we are humans who need to take way better care of our natural paradises before we lose them all together.
We paddled the length of the river—chatting with kayakers and folks on the riverside—from the southern step to the northern step and back to our launch before leaving the water world for land again. When I fell in the river the second time, I lost my prescription sunglasses. May I recommend wearing a leash to keep yours safe? Luckily, I had Lance with me who spotted them and lost them twice, but was then able to spot and retrieve them from the bottom of the river. Thanks Lance! Not only for my glasses, but also for sharing your Fresno secret with me.
We are headed back up later this week. You should join us, Fresno. You really should.