One of the major rivers of California, the San Joaquin River drains a large area of the San Joaquin Valley and southwestern Sierra Nevada mountains. The river starts high in the Sierra Nevada, north and east of Fresno, and west of Mammoth. There are many reservoirs on it and its mountain tributaries, the largest being Millerton Lake. After the river exits the mountains, it turns north and travels up the San Joaquin Valley. Several other large rivers, including the Merced River and Tuolomne River, join it before it empties into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an intertwined network of waterways and canals.

The river is vital, ecologically and economically, to the state. At one time, it connected a vast network of meandering channels, sloughs, and tule swamps. Sadly, most are gone, however the river still contains a riparian corridor vital to many plants and animals, including migrating waterfowl. Much of the water is used to irrigate the extensive agriculture of the region. At one time the river was navigated by steamboats, but in its smaller modern state it is less accessable to boats. It is still quite a large river, by California standards at least.

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