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Hiking from McKenzie Preserve to Sky Harbor

I had a unique opportunity to join the Sierra Hiking Seniors on a docent-led hike from the Sierra Foothill Conservancy led us from the McKenzie Preserve to Sky Harbor. You just never know what you will see on a hike and this one literally delivered newborn calves before our eyes!

Where: Millerton Lake State Recreation Area, San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area, Bureau of Land Management and Sierra Foothill Conservancy
Distance: 8.16 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 564′ – 1,502′
Date: January 22, 2018
Maps: Millerton Lake East Topog
Dog Hike? No, dogs not allowed on Millerton Lake Recreation Area and Sierra Foothill Conservancy trails but are on the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area

I hiked with the Sierra Hiking Seniors to do a thru hike, shuttling vehicles on either end of the trail. We met up at the trailhead at the end of Sky Harbour Road, which would be our ending point. To get there, I drove out Friant Road past the entrance to Millerton Lake State Recreation Area and just before Table Mountain Casino, I turned left on Sky Harbor Road. I drove all the way to the end of the road and parked along side the road. If you walk through the day use area, there is a restroom and note that there is a $10 day use fee for this Day Use Area. We all hopped in a few vehicles then drove them to the McKenzie Preserve parking area off of Auberry Road (see maps at end) and started our hike.

These Preserves are only available to be accessed through their scheduled hikes, classes and open preserve days. They are very special places with sensitive environments, some set aside for specific endangered species, while some are donated by landowners who want to see the land cared for and protected forever. A link to their website with their Event Calendar is at the end of this Blog.

The Sierra Foothill Conservancy is the proud owner of eight nature preserves, totaling 6,481 acres. My hike today started on the 2,960 acre Ruth McKenzie Table Mountain Preserve. The McKenzie Preserve was acquired in trust from The Nature Conservancy in 1998. The property had previously been placed in a trust by its owner, Ruth Bea McKenzie, who wanted it to remain in ranching and open space after her death. The McKenzie Preserve is primarily grassland and oak woodland that slopes upward toward the basalt lava table lands that give the preserve its name.

Sierra Foothill Conservancy hikes are led by a very dedicated group of volunteers who are passionate about sharing the wonder of nature with visiting hikers. As they lead groups on the various properties, they share aspects of cultural history, habitat features, and facts associated with the specific property visited. Each of these dedicated hiking docents have varying backgrounds, lending expertise in a variety of areas.

After receiving a briefing from our leader, we headed on up the road.

And we had cows.

And young calves. Some of these calves had a case of the friskies and were running around, bucking and having a fun time. Some were having a quiet meal with their mother and some were just laying down and relaxing in the sun. They were all very cute.

We saw one cow just starting to have her calf and this one who had just had hers.

I saw very fresh afterbirth along the trail and a cow was having her calf just off the trail as I was walking by. I was really tempted to go over and take some pictures but felt that I should leave her alone to take care of her job.

We climbed and went through the notch in the table mountains known as Boling Gap, named after John Boling who was associated with the Mariposa Battalion and Yosemite. In early records, his name is spelled Bowling but in the marriage, census and death records that I located, his name is spelled Boling. I have a blog, linked at the end of this blog, with more information about him if you are curious to learn more.

After we topped out, we then headed down toward Millerton Lake.

We met up with the San Joaquin River Trail, turned left, following it up to Sky Harbor along Millerton Lake.

I have gone with the Sierra Hiking Seniors on a few hikes over the years and they are a fun group of hikers of all speeds. They hike on Monday and Friday, putting out a calendar and weekly emails on their hikes. If you are interested in joining, you can check out their Facebook Page or contact Fran Goss at

The Sierra Foothill Conservancy has lots and lots of scheduled hikes that you can go on, some with different themes such as wildlife, birds, wildflowers and history. If you go to Sierra Foothill Conservancy then navigate to the Events tab, you will see a schedule of their hikes. You can even sign up online. If you are a member of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, which is $50, the hikes are free and if you are not a member, they are as low as $10. They also have several Open Preserve Days throughout the year where it is free. I think these hikes are especially beautiful in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming but you never know what you will come across on any hike. Who knew I would be seeing newborn calves on this hike?

Dog Hike? In Some Areas

Sierra Foothill Conservancy Dog Policy:

In order to protect endangered species and sensitive habitat, only service dogs are allowed on the Preserves, with the exception of the Stockton Creek Preserve in Mariposa where dogs are welcome at any time.

San Joaquin River Gorge Dog Policy:

I talked with Somer Sanders from The San Joaquin River Gorge to get more detailed information on the rules related to dogs on this trail. She said that they love pets here but just want to keep them safe. She also shared with me that they are quite a few pets that have visited, including an African Grey Parrot, dogs of all types, goats packing equipment, horses and llamas.  She also added that if in the area please stop by the visitor center and say hello and that the office phone number for the Gorge is (559) 855-3492 if you have questions. Here is what she shared for pet owners:

The Gorge is a pet friendly recreation destination. We do ask that dogs are leashed in developed areas (campgrounds, parking lots, visitor center, nature trail, learning center, and tunobi or cedar bark house area) and under voice command elsewhere for the safety of your pet.

Over 22 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails are available at the Gorge. The area is home to wildlife including rattlesnakes, bobcats and mountain lions, ticks and other insects, as well as poison oak and thistles. Also, cattle do graze on site throughout the management area.  Of special note: the cows located along the San Joaquin River Trail are especially sensitive to the presence of dogs. It is recommended that dogs are leashed on the BLM section of the SJRT for this reason during grazing periods. Hunting and fishing are permitted at the Gorge (state licences are required and Fish and Wildlife regulations do apply). However, in the interest of public safety the entire management area is closed to target shooting. Elevations range from 600 to 2,200 feet above sea level and temperatures at the Gorge can soar to 115 degrees Fahrenheit during summer months. Please plan ahead, be prepared and enjoy your visit to the Gorge.

You will share this trail with horses, cows, bike riders, runners and who knows what else. You need to stay alert that you could encounter any of these around the bend.

I have brought Sally with me when I have hiked the SJRT before but there are cows, so you want to keep control of your dog and not let them chase them. I have seen many critters on this hike that include snakes, coyotes and bobcats. But you may feel that hiking the SJRT would be a great one for your dog.

Millerton Lake State Recreation Area: Dogs are not allowed on the trails.

The first part of this trail goes through the Millerton Lake State Recreation Area where dogs are not allowed on the trails. There is a smidge under 2 miles of the first part of the trail in this jurisdiction but some people chose to disregard the signs. I asked several people with dogs on the trail if dogs were allowed on this trail and they said yes. I had seen the sign at the trailhead that said no dogs were allowed yet so many people told me the exact opposite so I figured that I needed to ask Millerton Lake State Recreation Area what the rules were. Sure enough, the sign is correct. No dogs allowed on the trail.

There are other options to get on the San Joaquin River Trail outside of the Recreation Area. You can enter this area from many places off of Sky Harbor Road lower down the road. You will see many pullouts where vehicles have parked and this can also allow you to get your dog to the San Joaquin River Trail without going through the State Recreation Area. You can also enter it from other areas to the east such as Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh Trailhead (link from my last hike there at the bottom) or Wellbarn Road.

Dogs are allowed in certain areas within Millerton Lake State Recreation Area on leash and under control such as park campgrounds, picnic areas and parking lots.

Map and Profile:

McKenzie Preserve to Sky Harbor Doarama

McKenzie Preserve to Sky Harbor Topographic Map

McKenzie Preserve to Sky Harbor Profile


Sierra Foothill Conservancy McKenzie Preserve

Prior Blogs in the Area:

Hiking from Sky Harbor along Millerton Lake March 31, 2017

Hiking with the Cows along the San Joaquin River Gorge March 23, 2017

Hiking Through Boling Gap on the McKenzie Preserve with the Sierra Foothill Conservancy February 5, 2017

Hiking the San Joaquin River Trail March 31, 2016

Hiking the Pa’san Ridge Trail February 21, 2016

San Joaquin River Gorge Hike April 17, 2014

San Joaquin River Gorge Basin April 13, 2014

San Joaquin River Gorge Hike April 6, 2013


  1. Thank you for the link to the previous hike thru Boling Gap. I am related to Mary Frances Barnett and my mother did extensive research into John Boling. Several sources she found stated John Boling led the battalion into Yosemite Valley, not Savage. History is so interesting!

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