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New Melones
The supersized 209 reservoir

New Melones is the largest reservoir is the 209 and the fourth largest in California,

As such, the reservoir accessed by taking Highway 49 out of Sonora has the largest surface area of any lake in 209 with 12,500 acres making it ideal for robust water recreation.

New Melones’ elevation is at 1,100 feet. That means in the summer you can expect temperatures to essentially mirror those in the Northern San Joaquín Valley.

There are 100 plus miles of shoreline with the quintessential lower Sierra foothill summer scenery of scattered oaks with endless golden brush. 

New Melones’s smooth “glasslike surface” makes it ideal for waterskiing, using personal watercraft, sailing, kayaking and such.

It is considered one of the top reservoirs for fishing. The lake features bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, spotted bass, redeye bass, kokanee, black crappie, channel catfish, and bluegill.

New Melones’s gem is Natural Bridges, a unique series of caves with Coyote Creek running through them. 

The trailhead are located on Parrott’s Ferry Road approximately three miles north of Columbia.

There is limited parking available at the trailhead. There are vault toilets at the parking area, but no drinking water. It’s a moderate 0.7 mile hike to Natural Bridges that you can tube or walk through.

There are two day use areas.

Tuttletown Recreation Area is a left turn off of northbound Highway 49 just after passing Jackass Hill Road (on the right) that takes you to Mark Twain’s preserved cabin from the Gold Rush days.

Tuttletown Recreation Area is on a peninsula. 

It offers three campgrounds (Acorn, Chamise, and Manzanita) with 161 campsites, two day-use areas, a boat launch ramp with parking lot, an RV dump station, and fish cleaning station. Two group campgrounds are available by reservation only.

Beyond the turnoff to Tuttletown Recreation Area and to the right just before reaching the Highway 49 bridge spanning the reservoir is the turnoff for the year-round visitor center/museum. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

It features a variety of exhibits highlighting the area’s history, the Gold Rush era of the “submerged town” of Melones, water management, and conservation. Ranger-guided nature hikes and visitor center programs are provided year round. There are evening campground programs in the summer.

Gloryhole Recreation Area is a left turn a bit north of the bridge. 

It has two campgrounds (Big Oak and Ironhorse) with 144 campsites, three day-use areas, 30 miles of hiking/biking trails, a fish cleaning station, a swim beach, and 2 boat launch ramps with parking lots. A full service marina and store complete with fuel and boat rentals are available. 

Marina rentals include houseboats, party boats, sport boats, watersport craft as well as patio and platoon boats. 

The marina’s website is at The contact number is 209-885-3300.