Stanislaus River Salmon Festival

Visited: November 2017

Every year, thousands of Chinook salmon return to where they were born and thousands of people travel from around the state to witness the phenomenon. California celebrates this migration with no less than 7 different festivals up and down the state. Each one unique in it’s own way and worth their own trip.

Last year, the Stanislaus River Salmon festival boasted about 5,000 attendees — the town of Knight’s Ferry’s population is under 100. This gives you the kind of draw that Salmon has on California’s population. 

When to Go:

  • When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Early November on a Saturday
  • Where: Knights Ferry, CA
  • How: Take the Kennedy Road exit off Highway 108/120, 12 miles east of Oakdale and follow the signs down to the festival.
  • Parking: There is limited amount of parking available, with no preferential parking for those with disabilities. If the two main parking lots are full, park on the side of the road near the town and walk across the bridge to the festival.
  • Learn More Here:

What We Saw:

The Festival

The festival hosted several activities for adults and children, including local arts & craft vendors, live music, a salmon obstacle course, viewing of the fish, fly fishing demonstrations, wildlife, rafting opportunities, and tours of the historic town of Knights Ferry and of the Stanislaus river.

There was an amazing amount of effort target towards kids. They had many activities to peak your little one’s interests: face painting, fish print t-shirts, Natural History touch exhibits, fish painting activities, salmon hats, panning for gold, and even a tortoise was walking around!

During the event, take your time to learn some educational highlights about local agriculture, California salmon runs, river preservation and restoration, and meet some of the organizations working to promote clean water. These organizations are working very hard to keep our rivers clean and our wildlife natural. Giving them even just a handshake and a “good job” is a big show of support for their important work.


Walk over to the bridge and look over both sides to view the salmon spawning. You can actually watch the females lay their eggs and the males standing guard waiting to do their job. It is a pretty amazing experience to learn about the Chinook Salmon and their survival struggle.

Out of 3,000, only 1-2 make it back to spawn!

Between their eggs possibly being swept away by the river, to being born and avoiding predators; the salmon then have to make it all the way to the Pacific ocean and survive for 3-7 years. Then and  something in their brain tells them to go home. To swim upstream, all the while finding a mate (who must also be from the same stream), to the exact point of their birth so they can start the cycle all over again with their own offspring is incredible. Truly amazing creatures.

What We Ate:

We left the Festival and wandered into Knights Ferry town just across the bridge. Exploring the General Store was saw an entrance to the small Saloon next door so we decided to give it a try.

We had the pulled pork sandwiches, tri-tip sandwich, and homemade organic-locally grown: potato bacon soup. Served alongside some cold beers it was the perfect fair for conversation and relaxation.

I enjoyed the Saloon. After the excitement and music from the festival, it was nice to get away from the noise. We also could have gone down the road a bit more to “The River’s Edge” a nice looking restaurant that overlooks the Stanislaus River, but it was PACKED with festival goers and we wanted the local deal away from the crowds.

If you prefer to stay at the Festival, the 4-H and Lions’ Clubs were providing delicious looking salmon and other BBQ delights.

We also walked just a few feet down the street and found the Creamery with delicious homemade candies and ice cream.

Some History:

Knights Ferry is an interesting visit all on it’s own. It is a historic community, tucked away in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas’. When gold was discovered in 1849, Dr. William Knight established a ferry boat business that prospered leading to a hotel and trading post being built near the crossing. In 1852, a toll bridge replaced the ferry but it was destroyed 10 years later in a Great Flood. A new bridge was built, and it still stands today. The Knights Ferry Covered Bridge is the longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi at 330 feet long.

The Stanislaus River Salmon Festival is a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and learn a bit more of unique California History. Bring your family and friends and learn more about Stanislaus County’s rivers and Salmon!

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