Central Valley's California Delta


On the western edge of the central valley is one of the few inverted river deltas in the world and one of the only seven large delta systems on the globe.  Five major rivers including the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River are forced to exit the central valley through the coastal mountains creating the inverted river delta where the narrow end of the delta emerges on the seafront and the wide end is located further inland.  With over 730,000 acre, the fan-like inland delta area has a maze of 1000 miles of waterways has created a myriad of isolated lowland islands and wetlands.

The watery avenues of the delta provide an abundance of wildlife.  The delta is a stopping point for a multitude of migratory birds and home to over 100 varieties of shore and trail birds.  Other wildlife includes river otters, turtles, beavers, muskrats, snakes, and even sea lions.  A large variety of fish, around 22 species, make the California Delta a fisherman’s paradise.   Anglers can fish from boat, shore or pier for bass, sturgeon, catfish, shad, salmon, steelehead and more.

Fishing is only one of the many recreational opportunities the Delta offer.  There is also camping, hiking, bicycling, hunting and horseback riding. The deeper waterways of the Delta offer water skiing and some of the finest boating opportunities in the country. There are over 100 marinas and waterside resorts, full-hookup RV parks and campgrounds. You can find many quaint waterside restaurants for dining, grocery stores for provisions, bait and tackle shops, and over 50 boat launching facilities.

Some of the small towns of the Delta area are Courtland, Locke, Walnut Grove, Isleton and Rio Vista, to name a few. Courtland is famous for its annual Pear Fair, held on the last Sunday of July every year. The town of Locke celebrates Asian Pacific Heritage Month in May, hosting a weekend party for the public with Lion dances, martial arts demonstrations and more. Isleton hosts the Isleton Cajun Festival (formerly the Crawdad Festival) on Father's Day weekend, and Rio Vista hosts the Bass Festival in October, celebrating the abundant fishing in the California Delta.

There are so many things to do in the Delta already but much of the California Delta is inaccessible except by boat, or in some cases, by car. Surveys by the Delta Protection Commission have shown there are many unmet recreational needs for the Delta region—including trails for hiking and bicycling, facilities for wildlife observation and education, water sports access, bank fishing areas, and improved historic and cultural sites with interpretive information.  To help improve the recreational potential, The Great California Delta Trail was created when Governor Schwarzenegger signed Senator Tom Torlakson's SB 1556 into law in 2006.  The trail will be a will be a continuous recreational corridor from Martinez to Sacramento.  The Friends of the Great California Delta, a community group, is working to see that the Trail becomes a reality.

The combination of available water and excellent peat soil of the region makes the California delta one of the most fertile agricultural areas in California, the nation, and the world. California has the largest agricultural economy in the nation, producing half of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables and 20% of the nation’s milk. The main Delta crops are corn, grain and hay, alfalfa, tomatoes, fruit, safflower, pears, and wine grapes. Certain specialty crops, such as asparagus, are grown in the delta in quantities unmatched anywhere else in the United States.

In the 1850’s as Chinese laborers built levees to reclaim some of the original marshland of the delta.  Not only did it create the rich farming land, but it developed a system to distribute the water flowing from a total of five rivers representing half of the states snowmelt.  Today, more than 23 million Californians, two-thirds of the states’ population, get some of their drinking water from the delta.  As a water distribution system, the Delta not only serves the State and federal projects but also many agricultural and municipal water diverters surrounding and within the Delta itself. Delta water from the State Water Project serves both urban and agricultural areas in the Bay area, the Silicon Valley, the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, and Southern California.


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Fishing on the Delta - Credit:  rbbassfishing.net

Delta Sky View - Credit: Edward Burtynsky

Old Real McCoy Ferry California Delta - Credit: California Dept. of Water Resources

Otter Family - Credit: Snug Harbor

Big Fish - Credit:  Snug Harbor

Waterfront RV Sites - Credit:  Snug Harbor

Ski Beach - Credit:  rodltg2 on mastercraft.com



Chico / Butte County

In Chico, see gracious living preserved at gold-miner-and-gentlemen-farmer John Bidwell's mansion and grounds, in the Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park. The lovely Italianate mansion-testament to Bidwell's vast wealth-is open for guided tours. Beyond Lake Oroville, view Feather Falls, the sixth-largest waterfall in the United States. Microbrewery fans will enjoy tours of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, also in Chico.

Drive to Oroville, where a large Chinatown once existed, to tour an 1853 Chinese temple, which houses historic artifacts. North of the city lies Lake Oroville, with boat ramps, campsites, houseboat rentals, and 167 miles of shoreline.

Northern Valley

In Yolo County, the Hays Antique Truck Museum in Woodland exhibits vintage trucks dating from 1903-1956. Discover Native American artifacts and 19th-century memorabilia at the Community Memorial Museum in Yuba City, California's 'Prune Capital.' In Glenn County, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, with its short hiking trail and auto tour route, is a prime spot to view waterfowl.


The state capital, Sacramento, is a sophisticated city with vestiges of a pioneer past. Explore Sutter's Fort State Historic Park, a representation of the settlement founded by Swiss homesteader John Sutter. Tour the 1874 capitol building, then stroll the surrounding Capitol Park, filled with thousands of varieties of plants. Visit the 1878 Governor's Mansion, a museum with furnishings donated by 13 former governors.

The Crocker Art Museum, houses 19th-century California and European art. The nearby Towe Ford Museum displays every model made during Ford's first 50 years.

On the riverfront, Old Sacramento encompasses many shops and restaurants in 1849-to-1870-vintage buildings. Walk through the California State Railroad Museum, the world's largest, to see 21 restored locomotives and a large collection of railroad memorabilia.


Old-time Modesto comes alive at the 1883 McHenry Mansion, preserved by the area's world-famous vintners, the Gallos, and furnished in period antiques. Just north, in Oakdale, stop at the Hershey's Visitors Center to see how the chocolate company's western plant makes their treats.


Merced features the Yosemite Wildlife Museum. The Castle Air Museum in Atwater exhibits 44 vintage military aircraft. In Le Grand, southeast of Merced, visit the Buchanan Hollow Nut Company, where you can trek through the fields and tour the processing plant. Also in Le Grand is Bright's Pioneer Exhibit, which features antique vehicles. And, in Madera, the Madera County Museum displays agricultural exhibits and native American artifacts.

Bird-watchers can search for 200 species, including migratory waterfowl and shore birds, at the nearby Grassland Wetlands of Merced County. Year-round, in the San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area off Highway 152 (west of Los Banos), you can view birds of prey, deer, and other wildlife.