Courtright Reservoir

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Courtright Reservoir is in one of the most interesting geological areas of California. Bare granite domes rise from the shores of Courthright Reservoir and above the deep canyon cut by Helms Creek located at the north end of the lake. Ice Age glaciers sculpted the mountain peaks, slopes and valleys giving them their unique present day shape. To the east Mt. Goddard rises majestically to 13,568 feet in elevation.  It is an incredible place to visit.

Courtright Reservoir is located in Fresno County, California, and is at an elevation of 8,184 feet in the Sierra National Forest. The reservoir is formed by Courtright Dam on Helms Creek and has a capacity of 123,285 acre feet. The dam was built by Pacific Gas & Electric for 
hydroelectricity production and completed in 1958. It is composed of rock-fill and is 295 feet tall.

In addition to conventional hydroelectricity production, Courtright Reservoir also serves as the upper reservoir in a pumped storage hydroelectric system. Wishon Reservoir, a couple of miles downstream, is the lower reservoir. During times of peak demand for electricity, which is also when it is most expensive, water is drained from Courtright Reservoir, run through the 1,212 MW Helms Power Plant and empties into Wishon Reservoir. When demand and prices for electricity are low, water is pumped from Wishon Reservoir to Courtright Reservoir using the power plant's reversible turbines. The Helms Power Plant is approximately 1,000 feet underground in a chamber carved out of solid granite at the north end of Wishon Lake.

Google Maps - Courtright Reservoir
GPS Coordinates: N37 05.998 W118 58.361
download GPX file

External Links:
  US Forest Service - Courtright Reservoir Pages

Click here to see Panoramic Images of Courtright Reservoir as seen from
a granite dome on the west shore (click here to open in it's own window).

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A view from the South end of the reservoir in early October 2008. The reservoir is approximately half full.  The granite dome on the left (western) side of the lake offers an incredible vantage point for photographing the lake.    Photo Location:  N 37° 4'32.24" W118°58'28.83"   Date: 10/5/2008

Courtright Reservoir as seen from a high vantage point about 3/4 of the way up a granite dome.

I took my tripod along so that I could take serial overlapping photos of the reservoir which I would later stitch together to form panoramic images. It also allowed me to set the camera's self-timer so that I could get a shot of myself with the lake in the background.  This particular spot on the granite dome had some deep "pot-holes" that were filled with rain water. I was anything but graceful as I stumbled around trying to get in front of the camera before the shutter released. In the background, by the dam, you can see a cloud bank moving in. As the day progressed, the clouds engulfed the reservoir in a blanket of fog.        Location: N37 06.320 W118 58.965   Date: 10/5/2008

Camera tripod and pot holes.

Here you can see the top of the granite dome.  I didn't make it all of the way to the top of the dome because I was alone, had too much camera gear with me, and was running out of time. Someday I'll return with a friend and go all of the way up.  I did, however, climb to a shelf (N37 06.357 W118 59.036) just below the peak.  You can see it in this photo to the right of the peak.  From there I had a commanding view of the reservoir.

Courtright Reservoir Dam

A short drive across the spillway takes you to the dam.
Photo Location:  N 37° 4'39.75"  W 118°58'21.14"   Date: 10/5/2008

The only way to get to the east side of the lake is to drive across the dam. Once on the other side you can find the Courtright Intrusive Zone Geological Area, an 11 acre site where you can observe nearly each stage of developement of the Sierra Nevada through geologic evidence. The road ends a half mile beyond the dam.  There you can find the southern terminus of the Dusy-Ershim OHV Route.

The driveway across the top of the dam is a narrow single lane road with a precipitous drop to the south. The clouds obscured the view so I couldn't capture it well in a photo.

The view looking south into the gorge from the dam.  Photo date: 7/30/2009. Visit the page at

More of my photos can be found at:

Go To Page 2 for more Photos

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Last Updated: 10/02/2009