When you find yourself with a free afternoon or a weekend without plans, you do not need to look much farther than Los Vaqueros Reservoir and Watershed to lose yourself in nature. If you are looking for the day to spend out on the water fishing, hiking, biking, or learning more about the natural resources being protected, Los Vaqueros Reservoir is the local hidden treasure you should visit.
A Touch of History at Los Vaqueros Reservoir
Los Vaqueros Reservoir is a part of the Contra Costa Water District. As unique as that may sound, understanding the history of the reservoir brings all the details together. Although part of the recreational landscape of the community today, Los Vaqueros was designed with the intention of preserving water quality in the Delta and plays a role providing clean water to over a half a million people.
In 1988, voters approved the funding of the reservoir project and construction was completed in 1998. In 2012, the dam was raised to 226 feet. This increased the capacity of the dam to store over 160,000 acre-feet of water! Los Vaqueros Reservoir and Watershed keep water quality high for Contra Costa Water district customers, provides 1-3 months of emergency water supply storage and provides the added amenities of recreation, flood control, and offers the protection of many rare natural resources and historic lands.
Learn A Bit More At the Interpretive Center
To really learn more about the landscape and history of the land that encompasses Los Vaqueros Reservoir, beginning your exploration at the Interpretive Center is a great idea. The John Muir Interpretive Center serves as a location to educate the community about the cultural history of the area, animals, and the role that the reservoir plays in providing clean water for the surrounding areas.
The Contra Costa Water District opens the Interpretive Center up to the public on the weekends, while also hosting over 30,000 school children for field trips annually during the week. Educational programs include field trips to the watershed, the water treatment plant, and a Delta Discovery Voyage, which brings students on a ½ day research vessel to learn about plankton, fish, run hydrology tests, and observe Delta ecology.
Inside the Interpretive Center, you can use a hands-on digital sandbox with a motion-sensing camera to shape sand in the Augmented Reality Sandy Box, which teaches the principles of topography. A water flow table allows you to learn how sand surfaces change with changing weather patterns and water flows.
Spend A Day Fishing at Los Reservoir
After spending time inside the Interpretive Center, the next fun stop on the agenda should be visiting the actual Reservoir. Whether you prefer fishing from the banks of the reservoir, or spending the day floating on the water on a boat, the Contra Costa Water District keeps the reservoir flush with fish. From trout, largemouth bass, striper to catfish, there is a fish for all types of sport fishermen.
There are definitely important rules to follow when you fish at Los Vaqueros. First, remember, you must have a fishing license if you are 16 years or older. Fishing licenses are sold at the bait shop at the reservoir. Young fish are considered vital to preserving the fishing banks for later in the season, meaning, unless fish are regulation size, releasing the fish back into the water is important. For a rundown of the sizes for different types of fish, make sure you visit the website.
You are also invited to rent a boat by the hour, ½ day or full day. It is important to remember that private watercraft are not allowed on the reservoir. Luckily, rental prices are inviting and if you can escape to the reservoir on Tuesday-Thursday, you can rent a boat with a 30% discount. Weekends are busy times for fishermen. If you are planning on renting a boat, keep in mind that it is first come- first served.
Explore, Hike and Bike
Finally, Los Vaqueros Reservoir offers an incredible variety of hikes throughout the watershed. In fact, there are over 60 miles of trails to explore. The “Hiking” section of the website goes into extreme detail for each hike, designating trail difficulty, incline, and distance. This is a great tool to help you pick the perfect trail to explore and allow you to prepare for it fully, and safely.
Due to the incredibly hot days of summer, Contra Costa Water District does recommend that you only hike when you are able to bring water to remain hydrated and dress appropriately. They also suggest bringing picnic lunches to enjoy during your hikes. There are several emergency call boxes located throughout the trails for emergencies and several horse watering spots. Trailheads are also clearly indicated at both entrances of the park.
Wildlife and Environmental Stewardship
Interestingly, Los Vaqueros Dam and Reservoir was the first major water project ever built in California. Experts explain that one reason it has been so overwhelmingly successful is because of the Contra Costa Water District’s commitment to mitigating all environmental impacts to be less than significant. This has allowed for wildlife, from the Bald Eagle to the California Tiger Salamander to Mountain Lions to thrive naturally in the environment. Not only are the animals saved, but the wetlands have also been maintained and preserved, alongside the Valley Oak.
Together, the Contra Costa Water District has worked diligently to develop a water project that kept the community with safe drinking water, without taking away from the natural environment that plants, animals and entire ecosystems depended on to thrive. This is also what makes Los Vaqueros Reservoir so special. The community benefits from clean water and recreation, but they also benefit from natural resources and benefits that are only available through protecting the environment and the species that live within. Making hikes or days fishing on the reservoir even more unique, you can be sure you will come across beautiful species that are living fully in their natural environment, including the California Red-Legged Frog, Golden Eagles, the San Joaquin Kit Fox, Rattlesnakes and countless plants, flowers and trees.
Visit Los Vaqueros Reservoir and Watershed
Los Vaqueros is open 7 days a week, including holidays. Although hours are seasonal, the park is open by at least 7 am daily and closes at dusk, which is anywhere between 5 pm in the winter and 8 pm in the summer. There is a $6 general parking fee for visitors, which is reduced to $4 for customers of the Contra Costa Water District. There is a $6 fee for fishing, but no associated costs for hiking. Unfortunately, dogs and other pets are not allowed in the watershed for the simple reason of protecting the species that live within the watershed.
The Marina offers a snack shack, while barbeques are provided at the picnic areas. Also, there is no swimming allowed, as it could disrupt the water quality. To learn more about Los Vaqueros Reservoir and how to plan your adventure, visit the website. You can also call the Marina daily for more information, pricing or last-minute tips. The West entrance is located at 19 Walnut Blvd, in Brentwood, CA. The South Entrance, where you will find the marina, is located at 9990 Los Vaqueros Rd, Byron, CA 94514.
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