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Hiking: Monterey County

A Lake With a Coastal Air

November 06, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

Lake San Antonio is located, a park brochure claims, "in the Central Coast area of California."

Well, maybe.

The lake's geographical position near the back side of Big Sur gives it some claim to Central Coast fame. So does its location within the boundaries of one of California's best-known coastal counties--Monterey. Cool winters and the spring wildflower displays in San Antonio Valley also bolster the lake's Central Coast status.

But other scenes and seasons argue that Lake San Antonio is more a part of the Central Valley than the Central Coast. Near the lake, agriculture abounds--rolling grassland dotted with cattle, miles of manicured orchards, grain fields and almond groves. And the lake itself, Monterey County's largest, is a reservoir created in the late 1950s for use by Salinas Valley farmers and ranchers.

The lake's dual personality also extends to its recreational opportunities. In summer, when temperatures regularly reach the 90s, water-skiing, jet skiing, swimming and sunbathing are favorite activities--typical of the great Central Valley's huge "reservoir parks." During cooler months, the lake is a tranquil place, ideal for camping, bird-watching and hiking.

Eagle Watch boat tours are scheduled from December through March on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call the park for more information.

Getting to the lake: It is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. (A stop at Lake San Antonio is a good way to break up the Southern California to Bay Area drive.) Leave U.S. 101 just north of Paso Robles on G-14 (Lake Drive). Head north past almond orchards and rolling blue oak-dotted hills. Stay with G-14 as it assumes two more identities (Nacimiento Lake Drive and Interlake Road) and winds between Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio. Turn east on San Antonio Road and follow it a few miles to the park.

The park has about 20 miles of trail--footpaths, rough fire roads and hillside fuel breaks. A nature trail loops a mile and, with the help of an interpretive brochure, introduces hikers to local flora and geology. Harris Creek Trail (three-fourths mile one way) leads along the lake shore from Harris Creek Campground to the park's most inviting beach.

Trail: Best hike in the park is along Basham Point Trail, which begins at road's end at Basham Point on the Harris Creek arm of the lake. The path (2 1/2 miles one way) leads west along Harris Creek, a sometimes spooky-looking watercourse when morning mist lingers over ghostly, half-submerged oak trees. When the trail reaches a park boundary fence (cows graze the private hills beyond), it swings sharply right (north) and ascends an oak-lined draw to Redonda Vista Campground.

Nature, Harris Creek, Basham Point Trails Where: Lake San Antonio County Park, southeast Monterey County. Distance: 1 to 5 miles round trip. Terrain: Lake shore, oak-dotted hills. Highlights: Good leg-stretcher halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Degree of Difficulty: Easy to moderate. For More Information: For more information: Lake San Antonio County Park, P.O. Box 2620, Bradley, Calif. 93426; tel. (805) 472-2311.

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