Back in the ’50s, Bass Lake was already drawing families for classic, old-fashioned summer vacations. Today the southern Sierra touts itself as a gateway to Yosemite. Take a closer look—there’s plenty to do here without setting foot in the park.
Years ago, when life seemed less complicated, vacations often meant packing up the station wagon and heading for the lake. Summer friends would reunite; families would launch boats for fishing or waterskiing; those who were old enough would gather at the local watering hole in the evenings.
Welcome to Bass Lake.
Just 14 miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, and about 55 miles from Fresno, Bass Lake is where you can still enjoy an old-fashioned family vacation. People wave to each other when passing on the roads—many of them were childhood vacationers here themselves; kids spend happy hours jumping into the water; and it’s likely you’ll find the guide who took you fishing during the day at the pool hall that night.
So if you take the nondescript turn from Highway 41 onto Road 222, you’ll find this small community and a 4-mile-long, pine-rimmed lake, comfortable lodging and lakeside campgrounds, hearty food, and plenty of outdoor adventure.
The core of the Bass Lake community is The Pines Village. There’s a grocery store, a few shops with souvenirs, a casual restaurant, a bar and pool hall, and the lake’s two main lodging choices: Ducey’s on the Lake and The Pines Chalets. Ducey’s is a lovely mountain lodge—a remake of the original Ducey’s that burned down in 1988. Today the lobby is lined with photos from the movies that have been filmed at Bass Lake, including John Candy’s The Great Outdoors,The Pines Chalets are moderate, condo-like rentals. Overnighters at both can use a lakeside pool, hot tub, and sauna.
Out the back door of Ducey’s is the Pines Marina, with party barges, Jet Ski, water ski, and fishing boat rentals. Fishing enthusiasts will find the lake stocked with rainbow trout and filled with blue gill, bass, kokanee salmon, and catfish. Berthed at the end of the pier is the Bass Lake Queen, offering sightseeing tours around the lake once a day in summer.
Vacation homes rim much of the northeast side of the lake. If you head to the southwest shore, you’ll enter Forest Service land. Road 222—Crane Valley Road—winds and twists along the edge of the lake, through thick pine groves, past small swimming beaches, the main Bass Lake campgrounds, and The Forks Resort—with dock, boat rentals, and a restaurant.
Near the southern tip of the lake, Crane Valley Road reaches Miller’s Landing, where rental boats and Jet Skis line the dock. At the store here you’ll find a counter-side restaurant, souvenirs, groceries, and shave-ice. Stay on the road beyond Miller’s Landing and you’ll reach the dam that created Bass Lake. Crane Valley Road then winds off into the foothills.
To get out of your car and into the hills: Willow Creek off North Shore Road offers good hiking and picnicking. It’s a moderate 2.7 miles to wide views and waterfalls. There’s also a hike to Angel Falls and Devil’s Slide waterfall from Road 274. Or from the lake’s south shore, take either the Spring Cove Trail or the Goat Mountain Trail up Goat Mountain. If you go up one and down the other, it’s an 8.5-mile loop. An easy, short, and informative trail also from the south shore is The Way of the Mono—with interpretive signs on the local Indian history.
North of Bass Lake, along Highway 41, the Lewis Creek National fisherperson standing in Bass Lake Recreation Trail follows the route of the historic Madera Sugar Pine Lumber flume and passes 80-foot-high Corlieu Falls.
Want to go farther? This is a good starting point for longer wilderness trips. Want help? Hire a guide.
Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, based in Bass Lake, takes visitors day hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and backpacking into the high Sierra.
If seeing Yosemite is a must, take a guided van trip with Yosemite Sightseeing Tours. They cover the park’s southern sections, including the valley.
But to see the Sierra without crowds, start spreading out. Between Bass Lake and Yosemite, off Highway 41, the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway meanders 100 miles through the mountains. The rolling, twisting road passes high-mountain pools and lofty granite domes, offering sweeping views east into the high Sierra, towards the Ansel Adams Wilderness and The Minarets peaks.
Make sure to stop along the byway at the Nelder Grove of giant sequoias. The towering trees diminish all beneath them. You can hike 3 miles to the Graveyard of the Giants, where in a rare turn of nature several large sequoias were killed by a wildfire. Normally the thick skin of these trees protects them well.
Head north up Highway 41 and you’ll reach Fish Camp and the grand Tenaya Lodge, a high-mountain hotel with swimming pools indoors and out, and a spa. The lodge offers a bevy of recreations too: hiking, horseback riding, tennis, and fly-fishing.
For four-footed meanderings in the forest, Minarets Pack Station (deep in the Sierra, along the scenic byway) and Yosemite Trails Pack Station (off Highway 41) offer long and short trips.
Kids and railroad buffs will enjoy the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad off Highway 41. This narrow-gauge ride on an open-car logger is a pleasant way to see the insides of a pine forest, and the railroad grounds have a tasteful gift shop and a small museum. Rail excursions include short trips, murder mystery trips, and barbecue dinners with a steam train ride to some campfire entertainment.
Oakhurst, west of Bass Lake, is scattered with restaurants, motels, a movie house or two, and the AAA 5-diamond Chateau du Sureau inn, with the 5-diamond Elderberry House Restaurant. Also here, the Fresno Flats Historical Park gives visitors a look at how people lived in the area at the end of the 1800s. For your kids, there’s the Children’s Museum of the Sierra.
South of Bass Lake you’ll find the tiny town of North Fork, also known as the geographical center of California. Don’t pass through without stopping at La Cabana for Mexican food: amazing moles,chicken with chipotlesauce, and banana-leaf-wrapped fish, all for a meager price.
Also in North Fork is the Sierra Mono Indian Museum, with classes, tours, and art on view, including baskets and beadwork.
Then, pick any direction; you’ll be sure to find more.
This article was first published in July 1998. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.