Knights Ferry is small community 11 miles east of Oakdale that, like the many foothill towns in California, grew out of a need to support the population of miners coming to the area in the late 1800s. Some of the rich history of this town on the banks of the Stanislaus River has been preserved as a recreation area managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and now offers educational and outdoor opportunities to thousands of people each year. Before settlers arrived in the area, the native Mi-Wok and Yokut tribes relied on abundant salmon runs that returned to the Stanislaus River every spring and fall. With the construction of Goodwin dam in 1912 for irrigation and flood control, the upper reaches of salmon and steelhead spawning habitat in Sierra tributaries were blocked off. Knights Ferry is now the eastern limit for salmon migration, and you can witness this spectacular event every fall at the annual Knights Ferry Salmon Festival.
The people who came to Knights Ferry during the 1850s were drawn by its amenities, including a boarding house, a general store (that is still in operation today), and most importantly, the ferry reflected in the town’s name that allowed travelers to cross the Stanislaus River and reach the southern mines. The ferry was replaced with a toll bridge in 1852. The iconic covered bridge that still stands today was built in 1863 after the whole town was decimated by a flood. Today, people visit the area to take advantage of the large recreation area, hiking, fishing, swimming, picnicking, nature viewing, and river rafting for beginners or experts. Some of the historical architecture of the town has survived flood and modernization, so visiting is like traveling back in time.
Preservation of this historic and natural space make it a welcome stop for out-of-town visitor and school field trips alike. Bald eagles also frequent the area, and the springtime wildflowers are a sight to behold. However, trash left by visitors has become an unsightly problem that can be hazardous for other people and wildlife, and detracts from the relaxing experience. So if you do visit Knights Ferry, be sure to leave it as beautiful, or better, than you found it. You can learn more about the history or wildlife of this unique place by visiting the museum, and be sure to stop by FISHBIO’s booth at this year’s Knight’s Ferry Salmon Festival in November!