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Mountain Biking at Bass Lake
Exploring Madera County
A Journey That Leads To Freedom
Local Freshies
Blog Exploring Madera County - A Journey That Leads To Freedom
Alex Silgalis | 06/15/2022Food & Beverage, Hiking, Museums, History & Culture |   

When heading to a destination, we all have preconceived notions on what to expect. This could be because we researched it. Or perhaps we saw a documentary or TV show about it. Our goal on this trip was to get away from these expectations. To take the road less traveled. To savor the journey and skip the crowds. Be explorers and not tourists. And what did we find exploring Madera County? Freedom and a joy for living.

Skip The Main Attractions… Focus On The Road Less Traveled

Highway 120 East with Tenaya Lake in the distanceView from Tioga Road with Tenaya Lake in the distanceWe’ve visited Yosemite National Park before and seen its main stars like Half Dome and the legendary valley itself. What else is there to see? With a basic itinerary, we packed up our truck and headed south to answer that question.

First – Time To Eat

Pulling into Oakhurst with our stomachs grumbling, the first thing on our itinerary is to get something to eat for lunch. Talking to a few locals, they suggest heading to Smokehouse 41. A California-style BBQ joint, the interior has a relaxed atmosphere where you order at the counter.

The 41 Baker - photo by Local FreshiesIt’s vacation so might as well order a cold local brew from SGBC to go along with my chopped brisket sandwich. Jaime’s eyes go straight to the most unique item on the menu – The 41 Baker. Loaded baked potato doesn’t even begin to describe this monster. Featuring a perfectly cooked sweet potato, its topped with shredded cheese, aioli sauce, green onions, butter, and a choice of meat. Being a sucker for pulled pork, she asks for that. It was way better than any baked potato we'd ever had. Each cut of meat was tender, juicy, and scrumptious.

Forest Bathing

Photo by: Local FreshiesJust like many of you, the past few years have been stressful to say the least. I was wound up tighter than a child’s spinning top. It was because of this that both Jaime and I began to focus on ways to reduce our stress. Although I was a bit hesitant, Jaime pushed for us to try Forest Bathing on our trip to Madera County. It’s not at all what you think. It’s not taking a dip in a stream but rather a chance to unplug from the fast-paced technology driven world for just a moment. For a deeper immersion into the experience, you can read about it here: What Is Forest Bathing... and Why Everyone Should Try it.

Loco For Locomotives

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad Moonlight ExpressPhoto by: Local FreshiesEver since I was a kid, I’ve been loco for locomotives. The sheer power. The sound of steel against steel. The ability to pull that much weight without breaking a sweat. As I grew older, it was the ability to go from one point to another without being stuck in endless rush hour traffic. And steam trains are magical in a different way. A chance to see the past in action.

Photo by: Local FreshiesI’ve been on countless trains from high-speed bullets in Europe to the steam powered titan on the Grand Canyon Railway in Arizona. Each one special in its own way. As soon as we heard there was an opportunity to take the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad at night, I was in. Located just above the town of Oakhurst, this narrow-gauge railroad was used to collect timber up and down the Central Sierra. Combined with a dinner and an old-fashioned sing-along, it’s a perfect way to spend an evening. To read about the experience in its entirety: All Aboard. The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad Moonlight Express - A Unique Experience.

Bass Lake Has Mountain Biking?

Photo by: Local FreshiesSince we’ve fallen in love with mountain biking, we decided the next morning to check out Bass Lake's trail network. Our mountain biking coach, Dylan Renn of A Singletrack Mind, said there used to be a famous race years ago on a trail called 007. With only a bit of knowledge about it, our first stop was the local mountain bike shop – Pedal Forward.

Located just down the road in Oakhurst, Pedal Forward is a new shop that opened in 2020. Their story is like a phoenix out of the ashes. As soon as you step into their shop, you can feel the passion. Mike and Jorge make you feel at home and are a great resource for all things two wheeled. They gave us the scoop on the easiest way to get to the 007 trailhead as well as some additional trails that we should check out like Octopussy and the Blind Squirrel.

Quick Breakfast At Ducey’s

Rice Krispy coated - French Toast @ Ducey's on the Lake - Photo by: Local FreshiesWith a plan and a set of high-end Niner mountain bikes rented, we're off! But before we hit the trailhead, we made a diversion for some breakfast. Alongside the scenery of Bass Lake, there’s a host of great places to have a brunch, lunch, or even dinner. For today, we stopped at Ducey’s on the Lake. Their breakfast dishes on the surface look like staples, but each had a unique twist. For example, the French Toast is coated with Rice Krispies® and stuffed with Bavarian cream. Although it sounds sweet, it wasn’t. The soft texture of the Bavarian cream perfectly paired with the crunchiness on the outside.

Mountain Biking Like James Bond

Fueled up, we made the short drive over to the 007 trailhead. Slapping on our mountain biking gear, we shoved off. As we ticked off mile after mile on the gravelly Central Camp Road, a thought came to mind. The angle was so low that it was one of the easiest ascents we’d ever done.

Photo by: Local FreshiesNow the downhill was a different story. It was a rip-roaring good time. Compared to other trails we’ve ridden, 007 provides an entrance every 500-1000’ vertical feet of climbing. So, depending on how much time you have, you can make the run as long or as short as you want. And each segment had its own personality. From what we heard, the third level of 007 is the most challenging. Luckily, there’s an alternative called Octopussy. It still has a lot of technical features but at a smaller scale.

Yosemite’s Lesser-Known Attractions

Now that we got our adrenaline fix, it was time to explore an area of Yosemite that most zip by. A hidden gem skipped by many - Wawona. While this area of the park wasn’t formally included within the park boundary until 1932 it was a stopping point for visitors traveling to Yosemite, especially in the late 19th century.  Galen Clark, whose work was instrumental to the effort to first protect Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees (as it was known then), resided here. Today, it gives us a glimpse into how it must’ve felt like to enter the park.

Hiking across the Wawona Covered Bridge. Photo by: Local FreshiesWithin a very small area, there is a big concentration of things to see such as the historic landmark Wawona Hotel, built in 1876. And an even older relic, the Wawona Covered Bridge (1857) which takes you to the Yosemite History Center.

Stepping Back In Time

Photo by: Local FreshiesWalking through the old, covered bridge and exiting the other side makes you feel like you're stepping through a time portal. On one side, you have a modern parking lot with cars zipping by. And on the other is an assembled collection of historic buildings surrounded by a forest of tall evergreens. You feel as though you’ll see Teddy Roosevelt walking by or even John Muir.

Swingin’ In Yosemite

Photo by: Local FreshiesFrom there, we get back into our car for the short drive to the Wawona Swinging Bridge not to be confused with the other Swinging Bridge in the Yosemite Valley. This one is in fact a REAL swinging bridge over the South Fork Merced River (Yosemite Valley's Swinging Bridge did used to swing. It was replaced in 1965 after being damaged or washed away on multiple occasions.  More on that and other Yosemite Bridges can be found here.) With only a small sign and no cars in the lot, we began to wonder if this is the right place.

The short stroll doesn’t give up its hidden treasure quickly. Rather, it lets you focus on how pleasant it is to be under the evergreen canopy. To the left, the soothing sound of the South Fork Merced washes off life’s stresses from our brains. And then the bridge appears out of nowhere. Only as wide as a person and flexing under your feet, it’s an experience a person of any age would appreciate. The river rolls over rocks below you as it continues to journey to the lower elevations.

One Last Walk

Photo by: Local FreshiesWith the sun beginning to set, we knew time was one of the few things we didn’t have much more of. Quickly, we head back to the car for one last hike - a stroll through Wawona Meadow. As soon as we left the main road, we were gifted by another area with not a single person around. The tall trees shaded us as we slowly wandered the path. Up high we caught glimpses of the granite peaks that overlook the Yosemite Valley. Birds sang. And although it wasn’t wildflower season, the opportunity to get away from people and be one with nature was reward enough.

As the day’s light began to wane, I realized on this trip that the reward wasn’t seeing the biggest, tallest, or oldest things. Rather, it was the opportunity to savor the precious time we have on this planet. Take in everything with ALL our senses. John Muir was right, “Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”

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Like what you see? Save any of these pins (or possibly all of them) to your travel planning board(s) to give you an easy way to find your way back here!  Also check out our other travel stories/blog posts as well as itineraries for more ideas and pins!

Alex Silgalis

Alex founded localfreshies.com® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
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