Here’s what to expect in Stanislaus County outdoor recreation this Memorial Day weekend

With mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s this Memorial Day weekend, thousands of people are expected to escape to area reservoirs and waterways for recreation and relaxation.

Woodward and Modesto reservoirs’ campsites are booked up and demand is high for rafting adventures on the Stanislaus River.

Campsites at the reservoirs become available for booking six months before Memorial Day and fill up quickly. Julie Orona, events and marketing specialist for Stanislaus County Parks and Recreation, said undeveloped campsites (without hookups) are available on a first-come basis.

Day use is available at the reservoirs for $15 a vehicle for Stanislaus County residents. Orona recommends arriving early because those slots fill up quickly too, and the gates will close for the day once capacity is reached.

Campsites also still are available at La Grange OHV Park and Frank Raines OHV Park in Del Puerto Canyon.

In addition to camping, the four Stanislaus County parks, depending on location, offer options for boating, water sports, fishing, hunting, bird watching, hiking and off-roading, said Orona.

There are also day use areas available at Orange Blossom Recreation Area and Knights Ferry Recreation Area, which gets about 6,000 visitors over the Memorial Day Weekend, said Ken Wright, a spokesman for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Rafting on the Stanislaus River

The two companies that rent rafts for use on the Stanislaus River will open for the season on Saturday.

“Demand is pretty high,” Shiloh Foust, general manager of Sunshine Rafting, said. “The weather is nice and demand tracks with the weather.”

But the river is running “a little deeper and faster moving than normal” at 1,500 cubic feet per second, so restrictions are in place that have curtailed some of that demand, he said.

Alcohol is prohibited. Children must be 7 or older and know how to swim, Foust said. During lower flows, alcohol is permitted and children as young as 5 can participate.

The 13-foot, eight-person rafts can be rented for $44 and include life jackets, paddles, dry boxes and a shuttle ride back from the 7-mile journey that starts in Knights Ferry and ends at Orange Blossom Recreation Area.

Foust and Modesto Fire Department officials stress that anyone planning a trip down the river should wear life jackets and use rafts approved for rivers.

Many of the rescues conducted by firefighters this time of year involve people who get onto the river with flotation devices intended for swimming pools.

“The problem areas tend to be where the river changes direction so the water runs to the outside edge,” Foust said.

Objects get pushed toward the trees and rocks along shorelines, and that is when people in inner tubes and pool toys “get into trouble very quickly,” he said. “Commercial-quality rafts are built to go down rivers 100 to 150 times, whereas a pool toy is meant to float in a pool, so if it goes into a sharp rock, it is going to be obliterated immediately.”

Foust said the most important item on the river, though, is a life jacket for people of all ages.

Life jackets are available to be borrowed from fire stations in Modesto, Ceres, Knights Ferry, and Oakdale, said Modesto Deputy Fire Chief Darin Jesberg.

The Army Corps also has a life jacket loaner station at the Knights Ferry Recreation Area, near the visitor center.

To keep people safe both on and off the water, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office will be increasing staffing at the reservoirs and points in between, said Sgt. Luke Schwartz.

The department will deploy its boats, including its new MotoJet, which can reach speeds of more than 50 mph and is ideal for making “our rivers a safer place to recreate,” according to a Facebook post by Sheriff Jeff Dirkse.

Sheriff’s Office, Modesto police holding DUI checkpoints

The Sheriff’s Department will also have a DUI checkpoint at an undisclosed location within the county on Saturday.

The Modesto Police Department will have a checkpoint on Friday night from 6:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

The California Highway Patrol, as on every major holiday weekend, will have a maximum enforcement period. That means additional officers will be looking for DUI drivers and seat belt violators, as Memorial Day Weekend always marks the “Click it or Ticket” campaign nationally, said Officer Tom Olsen.

During Memorial Day weekend 2022, the CHP made nearly 900 DUI arrests, according to a press release.

The Modesto area CHP also will deploy additional units to combat illegal street racing and sideshows, Olsen said.

“We anticipate an active weekend,” he said. “Many of the area’s high schools are ending their school year this week.”