california, Camping, Dog, Family, Hiking, national parks, outdoors, Travel, Uncategorized, writing

Hidden Views in Madera County

For part two of Owen’s grand adventure weekend, we headed out of Yosemite National Park and southwest to Hensley Lake to a place called Hidden View Campground.

Hensley Lake was formed in 1974 with the building of Hidden Dam on the Fresno River. The 1500-acre lake has a capacity of about 90000 acre-feet of water. While it is not a particularly large dam, it is used for flood control and irrigation. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Raymond, California just an hour south of Yosemite and just north of Fresno, it is also a beautiful place to recreate.

After our magical day hiking in Yosemite Valley, we drove out of the park the way we entered, via Wawona Road to SR-41. We followed the winding road through the Sierra National Forest and through Oakhurst and Coarsegold. Following Google maps, we eventually turned right onto Road 415/Raymond Road. This road took us through the rolling green hills with large expanses of pasturelands. While we were never lost- the GPS worked well in the area and we never lost cell signal after leaving the park- we did laugh as we sang along to The Lumineers’ Where We Are playing on the car stereo. I knew we were in Madera County and that the scenery made for a pleasant drive. But as the setting sun hung low in the sky, after about an hour-and-a-half of driving from the Valley, we wondered whether the coordinates we punched in from the Recreation.gov website were accurate. After about 20 miles on Road 415, we turned left onto Road 407, and from there it was only a little over a mile until we saw the sign, like a beacon, for the Hensley Lake Recreation Area and Hidden View Campground. It was hidden indeed.

Our campsite was in many ways perfect. The site had a covered picnic table, fire pit and barbecue grill, and plenty of room for a tent or two. Best of all, it had an amazing view of the lake. Owen was happy to get out and watched as we unloaded the car and Emily began setting up the tent. We had him on the leash at first, then took him off leash when we fed him dinner. Turns out he was pretty good about not wandering off, and stayed with us at the campsite, even though there was a nice walk through the wildflowers to the lake. We were all rather tired after the long drive and long day, and so we turned in early. Sami and I set up “camp” in the back of the minivan, while Emily and Owen took the tent. Literal car camping was not all that uncomfortable; my Sedona has plenty of room with the seats down. And it seemed that Owen did just fine in the tent.

The sun rises over our campsite.

I woke up just before 7 am; it was nice to have gotten more sleep camping than I had at home in a while. I stepped out of the car, and saw that Emily was up with Owen so that he could walk around. We watched the sunrise over the water and the hills of Madera County. It was so peaceful. After enjoying the view, I set about to heating water for breakfast. The breeze made it tricky to keep the camp stove lit, but eventually we got some water boiling. By then Sami was up and ready to start the day.

After a breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate, we got ready to head down to explore the lake. While the girls were getting ready, the ranger drove up to the car. He checked our reservation and handed us our vehicle tag. I noticed the castle logo of the Army Corps of Engineers on his shirt and hat. I mentioned that I had just visited Table Rock Lake two weeks before, and we had a pleasant conversation about our various travels. That’s one of the things I love about the outdoors. We often meet really nice folks in trails and while camping.

Sami and Owen gaze at the Lake

Shortly after that, we walked down to Hensley Lake. Owen loved sniffing around, and while he ran ahead a bit, he always came back to check on us. He did wade a bit in the water, though we didn’t have him go swimming. He was happy just to hike around the fields with his people.

We had the campsite until noon, but our reservation fees allowed us to stay at the recreation area the entire day. Unfortunately, though, we were going to have to depart sooner than that. Our weekend was quickly coming to an end, and it was time to head back to the Los Angeles area and regular life.

It did not take long to pack up the car. Owen lay sentry next to the van as Emily and I got it loaded up. After a last stop at the restrooms, we said goodbye to Hidden View and drove back toward Fresno. After a weekend to remember, we drove south, making a stop for lunch in Bakersfield. The In-n-Out patty no-salt was just the treat for our happy camper.

Some things to consider:

Reservations for Hidden View Campground are available on Recreation.gov. The campground allows for tent camping, RV, and trailers. There are also group campsites. Because it is a little ways from Yosemite, it was easy to get a reservation, at least in late March.

There is a two-vehicle limit per campsite. Additional vehicles will have to purchase a $5 permit and park in other available parking areas.

Hidden View is a developed recreation area with plenty of amenities. There were restrooms and potable water spigots. There is a play area up the hill, which Sami saw toward the end of our stay. Boating, fishing, and other water recreation activities are popular.

Our trek to the Hensley Lake Recreation Area was a fun adventure in Madera County. Its close proximity to Yosemite while still being far enough from the crowds made it a perfect place to stay for three campers and a dog. And with the rolling hills of the Sierras in the background, it was serenely beautiful too. Happy trails.

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