A hidden gem — Hensley Lake

  • This was printed in January of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 85th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

I discovered a hidden gem — or should I say ‘hidden gym’? — of a trail last weekend at

Hensley Lake in Raymond. It still amazes me that there are so many fantastic running

(and hiking and mountain biking) trails so close to Madera, yet so few people utilizing


It’s just the second day of the New Year, and now is as good of a time as any to escape

from the pavement and the city and connect with nature.

To get to Hensley Lake it’s a short drive east on the 145, a left on Road 33, and a right on

Road 400. My fellow runners and I entered the grounds at the Buck Ridge recreation

area. We paid our $4 per vehicle for parking/day use and then drove into the first parking

lot on the right.

A single-track trail led at the end of the parking lot led us over the rolling hills of

Hensley. There are a few brutally steep hills, one just before the first mile and one just

before the second.

Forget the Stair Master and the maximum incline on the treadmill (dreadmill!). If you

want a stronger and perkier backside, head for the hills.

For every uphill there is an equal and opposite amount of downhill, which makes for

some exhilarating running.

There are several forks on the trail, so we kept our group from getting lost by making it a

rule to always take the path on the right. The path wound around over the hills and along

the Fresno River, which feeds into Hensley Lake at its northeastern end.

The trail is fairly smooth, with just a few patches of rocks breaking up the mostly dirt

track. While the surroundings of the San Joaquin River Trail in Auberry are brown and

dry, the Hensley Lake trail cut through some of the greenest grass I’ve seen in years.

One breathtaking view from the bottom of a semi-steep hill is so fantastic, I named it

Heaven Hill. Gaze at the picturesque trail with lush green grass on either side and blue

skies dotted with fluffy white clouds above and it looks as if you’ll march straight up that

hill to the pearly gates.

One loop on that trail — always taking the fork on the right — brings you back to the

parking lot with about 6 miles on your watch.

“I’ve been to Hensley Lake but I’ve never seen it with running goggles,” said Madera’s

Juan Blanco.

There may not be much boating, fishing or swimming one can do at Hensley Lake during

this drought and freezing winter, but the trails are beckoning! Dress warmly with lots of

layers. Protect your fingers, toes and nose from the harsh temperatures, and take a drive

out there to hike, run, bike and play in nature.

If you fall in love with it like we did, sign up for the Hensley Off Road Races to be held

there on Feb. 8. There will be a 10K trail run and various mountain bike races. Visit

sanjoaquinrunning.com for more information and to register.


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