“Exhilarating one mile and 1000 feet hill climb!”
— Cloud Shadow
Birding · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
If you want a short but intense out-and-back run in the Sierra Nevada foothills, this is for you. It's considered about one mile of trail that scales about 1000 feet. Short and sweet! Or should I say, short and a lot of sweat! The scenery is beautiful, and the air seems a bit cleaner up here!
Need to Know
There is a $5 parking fee at the South Finegold Picnic Area parking lot, where there are bathrooms and a drinking fountain. The trailhead is obvious on the west side of this picnic area by the bathrooms. This is also a trailhead for the San Joaquin River Trail
. This trail is only about 20-ish minutes by car from central Fresno. From Hwy 41, take North Friant Road toward Millerton Lake. Near Hwy 41, there are many places to eat, shop, etc.
N. Friant Rd becomes Millerton Rd as you reach the Friant Dam. Turn left at Sky Harbour Rd by the Table Mountain Casino (which can make for another interesting stop after your run). If you are going early and need to use the restroom, be sure to contact the Millerton Lake park rangers for the latest info: (559) 822-2332. Bathrooms and the parking lot gate may not be open if your come really early. Bring water as there is only sparse shade, and no easy access to water along the trail (except for a drinking fountain at the trailhead).
The trail itself is well-established and obvious. There are loose rocks along much of the trail. There are multiple erosion ruts that are ankle-deep along parts of the trail. The last section near the summit includes short boulder scrambles. There is some shade from trees along the lower portion of the trail. About halfway up, as the grade increases, there is little to no shade, just a few trees in a couple spots where people rest. Beware if you are a beginner, as this is a fairly steep hill climb most of the way to the top. Be aware that this run will definitely get your heart thumping and calf muscles burning! But you'll surely enjoy making it to the top and seeing the great view! Woohoo! Because rattlesnakes are endemic here, be sure to watch your step! Also, you might forego sunglasses, which can make it harder to see rattlesnakes.
The trail begins at the sign for the San Joaquin River Trail
located on the east side of the South Finegold Picnic Area parking lot. There is a cattle gate which is unlocked that you pass through as you begin. There is a steady but slight incline to begin as you wind along the base of the hill underneath oak trees.
As you wind clockwise around the base of the hill to the east-facing side, you'll come to an unnamed, big fork in the trail. Stay to the right and it will take you up to the peak (if you continue to the left, you'll keep going on the San Joaquin River Trail
upriver). The trail rises before you, and you'll pass under a few trees in spots where you can pause to catch your breath, or keep pushing on up!
The final section before the summit requires you to scramble up boulders. Be careful in these spots, because it's easy to stumble (and tumble) when you're tired, both on the way up and on the way down. The view from the top is awesome: Yosemite just over the horizon to the north, Fresno to the south, the Central Valley to the west, and the Sierra Nevada foothills to the east.
After enjoying the views, head back the way you came. Be careful of your downhill speed as you descend the trail. There are many loose rocks and ankle-deep erosion ruts along the trail. You can run the Pincushion Hill out-and-back as part of a longer run along the San Joaquin River Trail
which stretches close to 100 miles upriver.
Flora & Fauna
Beware of rattlesnakes. The trail has a number of rattlesnake warning signs posted. You'll experience the beautiful oak woodland landscape of the Sierra Nevada foothills where the San Joaquin River empties into Millerton Lake, a reservoir created by the Friant Dam. There is a population of bald and golden eagles around this lake. There are also resident deer, bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lion.
History & Background
This is a well-known hill climb of the region, and it was even turned into a race in 2014 that is held each September with the San Joaquin Running Club (for more info, visit the race website
). The race was featured in a TrailRunner Magazine February 2018 article as one of the five classic vertical trail races in the U.S. It's a great test of your grit. The race also has a "Mountain Goat Edition" that people can enter allowing entrants to scale the peak multiple times within four hours, for extra honors! This is also the same location of the start of the San Joaquin River Trail
50K and 100K Ultra held each December.