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Hiking Along Hensley Lake On The Buck Ridge Trail

I needed a break from snow, ice and cold so I headed down the hill to warm up with a hike along Hensley Lake. A rolling hilly hike while walking through history, white puffy clouds and the first wildflowers of spring welcomed me.

Where: Hensley Lake, Army Corps of Engineers
Distance: 6.95 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate, depending on how far you go
Elevation Range: 541′ to 748′
Date: February 22, 2019
Maps: Daulton Topographic Maps
Dog Hike: Maybe

I love the snow but I also love the warmth of the sun and really needed a break from the shoveling and the cold, plus I needed an outside workout. I hadn’t hiked along Hensley Lake for a few years and I was curious if wildflowers had started up in the area.

I headed down from the Ahwahnee/Raymond area, heading east on Road 603 then north on Road 400 to the Buck Ridge Recreation Sign on the left, driving down that road a short distance. You should stop at the self-service Entrance Station to obtain your entrance ticket. They now have a self service kiosk where you insert your money and get a stub to display in your window. You can purchase a One-day Pass for $5, a Day Use Shelter for $30 or an Annual pass $40. I had my America the Beautiful Pass with me, which also includes the Corps of Engineers locations such as Hensley Lake. If you have a Lifetime Senior Pass, that will also get you in without additional fees.

The Buck Ridge Parking area is a short distance from the self service kiosk and has a restroom. It is a shared use trail among bikers, hikers, runners, and horses. There were a few horse trailers parked in the parking area and the riders were grooming their horses, getting ready to ride but the funny thing is that I left before they left, they beat me back to the parking area and all I saw were their hoofprints on the return. The great thing about this trail is that you can go out one way, come back another or take one of the many connecting trails between the two to create a diversity of adventure.

There is a ton of history in this area. Long before Hensley Lake was created, this Fresno River basin used to be home to the Miwok and Yokuts people. If you look closely, you may locate some of their grinding holes where they prepared food. The Buck Ridge Recreation Area at Hensley Lake is also the location of the grave of Major James D. Savage. You may recognize his name from his involvement in the Mariposa Indian Wars or from his trading posts in the area. Although he didn’t die here, he operated a trading post nearby and his remains have been moved a few times to their current resting place.

1,500-acre Lake Hensley was created by the construction of Hidden Dam on the Fresno River. It was built in 1974 by the Perini Corporation as part of an expansive United States Army Corps of Engineers project forflood control, irrigation storage and recreation. The dam is 163 feet high, 5,730 feet long and has a capacity of 90,000 feet of water.

Hensley Lake is named for local settler and cattle rancher John Jackson Hensley, born 1816 in Franklin County, Missouri and died 1902 in Dennis, Madera County. He is buried in the Hensley-Noble Ranch Cemetery at Raymond. The original Hensley Cemetery now sits at the bottom of Hensley Lake. Many of the burials were moved to Arbor Vitae Cemetery in the city of Madera, but a few were moved to the top of a hill near the intersection of Road 400 and Road 603 overlooking Hensley Lake when the Army Corp of Engineers built Hidden Dam. The new cemetery was known as Hensley Cemetery at first, then Nobel Ranch Cemetery for a previous property owner. It is now on private property and requires permission to visit the cemetery.

I located some wonderful information on him on Find a Grave.

J J Hensley was the son of John and Fannie Hensley. He married Margaret Murray. They joined the Murray wagon train arriving in California in 1853, traveling with younger brother James Perry Hensley and his family.

The 2 families prospected gold for a while before choosing other professions. J Perry chose Tulare County to settle in while J J Hensley chose Fresno County {later Madera).

Age 87, listed as a miner, one of the original settlers in Madera County, he is recognized as the patriarch of the Hensley family for which Hensley Lake is named.

J. J. Hensley, was engaged in agricultural pursuits in Missouri. He came to California in 1853 and followed the varied fortunes of the miner in Calaveras County until 1858, when he moved to Tulare County, and in the following year entered the stock business, in 1861 they moved to the Fresno area before it became Madera.

An early settler of Mariposa County and what was then Fresno County, before Madera County was created, he eventually settled on the Fresno River, downstream from the Martin Baty Lewis homestead, both homesteads are now at the bottom of Hensley Lake, named for his family. The settlement of Dennis was named for his sister-in-law’s family (Leroy Dennis was an early lawman in Fresno County and is buried at historic Winchell’s Cove Cemetery), and is likely at the bottom of Hensley Lake.

J J Hensley was recognized as a pioneer by 3 counties, Mariposa, Madera and Fresno.

HENSLEY, John Jackson
January 3, 1902
Mariposa Gazette
Death of J. J. HENSLEY.
J. J. HENSLEY, an old resident of this county died at his home in Dennis about midnight Wednesday of last week, (18 Dec 1901) at the age of 87 years. He is the father of the HENSLEY boys of that place and has a host of friends among the older settlers of this county. His death was due to general debility brought on by old age. His funeral took place to-day, the internment being in the Cemetery at Dennis.

Martha A. Hensley b: Abt 1837 in , , Missouri
Thomas Jefferson Hensley b: May 1844 in , , Missouri
Samuel Perry Hensley b: Oct 1846 in , , Missouri
Abraham H. Hensley b: Aug 1848 in , , Missouri
John Murray Hensley b: 10 Nov 1850 in , Cass, Missouri
William P. Hensley b: Abt 1853 in , , Missouri
Pinkney Jackson Hensley b: Abt 1855 in , , California
George Washington Hensley b: 15 Mar 1857 in , , California
Elizabeth Hensley b: Abt 1860 in , , California

It was time for me to hit the trail.

White puffy clouds floated by, creating subtle reflections in small puddles.

With all of that water, I had a few small water crossings but nothing that couldn’t be crossed without getting wet.

Peeks of the lake were around every corner.

And even if the lake wasn’t in sight, it was still beautiful.

I spotted a few lupine starting to flower.








And there were other flowers starting to show off such as this fiddleneck.

I continued along the outer trail.

As I reached the upper end of the lake, the trail became a bit more rocky and not as easy as it had been. If this stretch is something that you don’t feel like tackling, there is an alternate lower loop that avoids it.

I reached the inlet where the Fresno River spills into Hensley Lake. From the old water level marks on the rocks, I could tell that the water runs much higher at times but it was still roaring.







I looped down to the inner lower trail to head back.

Many birds were out today. I saw red tailed hawks and buzzards way up high.

I was trying to zoom in on these two white birds when another bird photobombed my picture. I didn’t realize it until I uploaded the pictures to my computer and it gave me a good giggle.

I continued on the trail.

I hadn’t eaten my lunch yet and had pondered just eating it in the car as I was driving home. I was about a half of a mile from the car when I spotted these rocks and they called to me . . “come eat lunch down here.” So I did.

The trail led me back to the car and a nice day in the sun. I didn’t need to travel too far for my adventure, got some needed exercise and saw some small, unexpected surprises along the way.

Dog Hike? Maybe

Dogs are welcome here on leash. I have not brought my dog Sally on this hike but I did bring my prior dogs Rosa and Tyrza here. The trail crosses Rattlesnake Creek and I would bet big money that the creek received its name for a good reason. There are plenty of rattlesnakes in this area when the weather starts heating up. There are also many other wild animals living in this area so you want to have control of your dog. I saw bobcat and coyote tracks, along with many others on the trail. I think this could be a good dog hike earlier in the year. Later in the year it can get pretty hot and you may need to pack dog water or head down to the lake periodically. You can check out the link below for more rules and information.

Maps, Profile and Doarama:

Hensley Lake Hike Doarama

Buck Ridge Trail Map (Courtesy Army Corps of Engineers)

Hensley Lake Buck Ridge Hike Topographic Map

Hensley Lake Buck Ridge Hike Profile


Hensley Lake Oh Ranger.com

John Jackson Hensley Find a Grave

Major James D. Savage Grave – E Clampus Vitus Historical Markers

Buck Ridge Trail Map Army Corps of Engineers

Hensley Lake Army Corps of Engineers

Hidden Dam Wikipedia


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