Looking for fall foliage?
You don’t really have to book a flight to New England.
There are plenty of magical spots from the Sierra and the Gold Country to pockets of brazen colors throughout the valley.
But to appreciate much of the valley as it once looked along rivers more than 170 years ago all you have to do is ride or bicycle several miles west of Ripon or south of Manteca to Caswell Memorial State Park.
Caswell is bursting with various hues from brilliant yellows to subdued reds. It is being made all the more impressive by the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s mild fall weather.
The 258 acres crisscrossed with endless nature trails is usually a subdued— yet lush — green for most of the year. But before it goes into its stark mode for wintry hibernation the riparian woodlands burst forth in a brilliant coat of yellow, orange, red, brown and green.
Equally impressive are the rainbow of fall colors of woodlands crowding the Stanislaus River shimmering in the reflection of the water as it flows on its journey toward the Delta.
There is still an abundance of wildlife from birds to squirrels. The odds of spying a riparian rabbit — this is one of the few areas left in the Central Valley where the endangered species lives — are not high this time of year as they are preparing for the colder days ahead.
The summer camping and swimming crowds are gone. And while the solitude doesn’t quite match a winter day enshrouded with tule fog, Caswell tends to be quite peaceful this time of year.
Caswell State Park is unique for a number of reasons including its natural river access. But its biggest claim to fame is that it is the largest standing riparian woodlands still remaining in the Central Valley. Over 97 percent of the woodlands that were along the banks of the San Joaquin River and its tributaries when gold was discovered in 1849 have since been cleared away. Besides being the largest, it is considered the best remaining riparian woodlands that are still declining elsewhere.
The trails are easy to hike and are handicap accessible.
Caswell State Park — while arguably one of the best kept secrets in South San Joaquin County — has a solid following among Bay Area visitors who flock to the unique setting for camping, fishing, and swimming during the summer.
Caswell State Park is open for day use 8 a.m. to sunset daily. The entrance fee is $10 per vehicle. The Caswell State Park number is 209-599-3810.
Caswell State Park is six miles south of Manteca at the end of Austin Road.