Looking to visit Yosemite but don’t want to stay inside the park? Our favorite place to stay outside the park is in the Bass Lake Yosemite area. The area is cute, quaint, offers a new dimension to your Yosemite visit and is well worth the drive into the park. Read on for our favorite things to do in and around the Bass Lake California as well as where to stay and eat.
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Where is the Bass Lake Yosemite Area?
Bass Lake California is located approximately an hour north of Fresno in the central valley and about 17 miles from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park in Madera County.
The nearby town of Oakhurst and Bass Lake Village are some of the more popular areas to stay outside of Yosemite. Bass Lake Village itself is quite small, developed around the Bass Lake reservoir and revolving mostly around the tourism industry. When people think of the area of Bass Lake, they often think of everything between Oakhurst to the Yosemite entrance including the turn off to Bass Lake Village. Additionally, this area of the Sierra National Forest is well known with nature lovers and those looking for outdoor adventure whether it’s inside or outside Yosemite National Park.
Staying outside of Yosemite National Park allows flexibility and adds an abundance of things to do, places to eat and stay. Only a few miles from the southern park entrance, this area offers tranquility, nature and so much to do!
7 Reasons to Visit the Bass Lake Yosemite Area
You Can Go Axe Throwing
One of the coolest experiences we have ever had was an afternoon of axe throwing. This newly opened establishment, Yosemite Axe Throwing, in the Bass Lake Yosemite area is well worth a stop in or out of the park. During COVID you do need to make an appointment but can often have the entire facility to yourselves. Otherwise, there are outdoor lanes that are perfect for a socially distant afternoon out. This is a small business we have to support to make sure it sticks around. Such a fun afternoon for folks of all ages.
There is Tons of Great Hiking
The area around Bass Lake is beautiful and perfect for hiking, even if you can’t make it into Yosemite National Park. Much of the surrounding forests have been decimated by the recent Creek Fire, but there are still so many great places to explore now and in the coming months once the fire has cleared. Some of our recommended hikes include:
- Way of the Mono Trail – This cute trail offers views over Bass Lake with interpretive sign boards discussing how the Mono Indian people lived in this area.
- Willow Creek Trail – This 2.7-mile trail along pine trees is a bit steep but is doable for most ages. Watch out for poison oak!
- Globe Rock – Not really a hike or a trail, but this super cool rock is a fun place to drive out to be out in the middle of nowhere in nature. My son loved running around the rock, taking photos with the rock and exploring the hillside.
You Can Kayak (or boat!) on the Lake
You cannot visit Bass Lake California and not get ON the lake! This lake is beautiful and perfect for a variety of water explorations. We personally had a blast kayaking on the lake, but there are a ton of options for boating, jet skis and more. We highly recommend visiting Miller’s Landing where you can rent a variety of boats by the hour, day or week. They have everything from fishing boats, stand up paddle boards, kayaks as well as patio boats.
On summer days the lake is busy with all of these type of activities, but in the shoulder season, it is perfect for beginners to get out and explore. After your water explorations, treat yourself to the largest, most decadent bucket sundae you can ever imagine. It will wow your kids forever!
Or Go Swimming…
In addition to Bass Lake being perfect for boating and kayaking, it’s also a great spot for summer swimming. Families will find a sandy alcove along the large reservoir to set up shop for the day with floaties and food. This is the perfect summer day at the lake. Hang out by the water, in the water and on the water. If you don’t have any floaties with you, there are plenty available for purchase in Bass Lake Village. I will say, it is much more enjoyable with floaties!
Or Go Fishing!
Don’t want to swim, well fishing is a great activity for the entire family to experience on the lake. Bass Lake has a variety of different species of fish, with the most popular being: bass, kokanee salmon, catfish, and rainbow trout. Note: A California fishing license is required for ages 16 and above which you can get locally if needed.
Escape the Crowds on the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway
Another reason to visit the Bass Lake Yosemite area is to take a drive on the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway. This is a beautiful 100 mile loop drive in the forest with turn offs for hikes, sightseeing and even some eating! There are tons of great options for camping out here as well. There is no phone service on this road however, so download your maps in advance!
Our favorite stops along this route included Mammoth Pool, Globe Rock (pictured) and Jones Store for pie. We arrived a bit too early for pie and had to return after our hike, but arrive early in the day or else you just might miss out. Note, this is a total mom and pop shop and as such, there is no fancy quick service! Be prepared to sit a while and enjoy the scenery.
Update: After the Creek Fire, much of this area has burned, so please check with the local authorities on what areas are currently open.
To Eat at Southgate Brewing Company
Southgate Brewing Company is not technically in Bass Lake, but it’s not far and is SO worth the drive. This has become my son’s absolutely favorite restaurant in California. He asks to go back to Yosemite for this and for axe throwing almost daily! Southgate Brewing serves up comfort food in gourmet style. Think beer mac and cheese, wood fired pizzas using 100 year old starter, fried pickles and more.
This restaurant took me back to my southern roots, but allowed my picky gourmet eater child to find a way to also appreciate my southern favorites. Food is made from scratch when possible and is procured from local farms making this a win win in our book. We make sure to eat here on our way in to Yosemite as well as our way out!
Experience A Steam Train Ride
One of the things I have long recommended for families to do while in Bass Lake California is to go back in time on the Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad. This real life working steam train is a rare opportunity for kids (and grown ups alike!) to experience a steam train in operation as it winds its way through beautiful pine forests. Guests are sat on open air logs made into benches (the coolest!) or under a covered open air train car. Thankfully this is a COVID friendly experience that is well worth a visit.
Make a stop in the adorable souvenir shops, pan for gold and more while visiting. If you are heading into the park after your ride, you can have them pack a lunch for you to go! Ours was perfect.
Visit Yosemite National Park
You cannot be on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park and not make a visit. Bass Lake California and Madera County are the perfect gateways to visiting Yosemite. While technically only 14 miles from the southern entrance, it does take a bit of time to get to the Yosemite valley if that is where you are heading. We found it was still worth the effort each day to drive in after exploring and spending time in Bass Lake. Some days we would get up early and head into the park first thing, while other days we would go for a late afternoon hike or sunset.
Definitely hit up the giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove. With the road closure, you will have to hike to the main area or consider bringing mountain bikes to ride up the quiet road. It is doable, but it does take some time.
If you need help figuring out what to do in the park, we have you covered with our extensive guide on exploring Yosemite with (and without) kids.
The Best Bass Lake Lodging Options
Our number one recommendation of where to stay while in the Bass Lake Yosemite Area is at the Pines Resort. This adorable resort is located in Bass Lake Village right on the banks of the lake. There are cabins perfect for COVID times that offer you the ability to cook your own meals, spread out and stay closer to the hotel instead of being out in town. There is a small grocery store here as well to pick up any necessary goodies.
If you cannot stay at the resort, there are also a ton of great options for camping in the nearby forests. After the recent fires, you will have to double check which ones are available.
Lastly, a bit further out in Oakhurst there are a number of chain hotel options including several newly opened hotels right on the main road to and from Yosemite. These hotels won’t give you the nature feel of the Pines lodge, but they serve the purpose of getting in the area so that you can spend your days out exploring!
If Airbnb is more your style, there are a ton of options around Bass Lake California. Some cute ones that we have bookmarked are below.
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