Explore California: Millerton Lake State Recreation Area | Cal Parks

Explore California: Millerton Lake State Recreation Area

Published: January 12, 2021

Split between Fresno and Madera Counties in California’s central valley, lies “one of California’s greatest lakes”. Millerton Lake spans 40 miles of coastline for boating, hiking, camping, and fishing and is one of the Central Valley’s most treasured recreation areas.


Before what is now Millerton Lake existed, the town of Millerton occupied the land and was the Fresno County seat, and was also to the Dumna Indians with various villages throughout the area and lived in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle until they were forcibly relocated by the federal government, eventually to Table Mountain Rancheria.

In the 1930s, California’s central valley saw a rapid expansion of dams and canals to provide water for the agricultural industry. The valley where Millerton was located was deemed suitable for damming and the construction of a reservoir because of the potential to redirect and capture water from the San Joaquin River. The Friant Dam, as it came to be known, broke ground on November 5, 1939 and was finally completed in 1945. The town of Millerton along with several Native American burial sites and the village of Kyu-Illik were submerged under the reservoir, ruins of which can be seen to this day during droughts when the reservoir is low.

What to Do at Millerton Lake State Recreation Area

Millerton Lake provides many opportunities for recreation, wildlife viewing, and historic education. Boating and fishing is allowed, and the mountains surrounding the lake feature several hiking trails with views of the central valley. Lakeside camping is also available. Wildlife is also abundant in the area, including mountain lions, bobcats, deer, golden eagles, and if you’re lucky you might even spot a bald eagle!

During the summer, California state parks offers interpretive programs and junior ranger programs. In the winter months, you can take a boat ride to see the nesting golden eagles.


California State Parks Foundation and Millerton Lake State Recreation Area

The park has long been an Earth Day site for California State Parks Foundation, dating back to 1999 and was the recipient of a Youth Access Grant for life jackets.