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Itineraries Welcome Back to the WILD - Natural Social Distancing Series
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Take a getaway to the wild landscape of Yosemite and it's southern gateway, Madera County. The millions of acres of the Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountain range are a welcome respite for the mind, body and soul. There is so much to see and do no matter how long you have to visit. 

In Madera County; we’re farmers, hikers and climbers, we’re brewers and winemakers, we’re cowboys and gold miners, we’re entertainers and some pretty great hosts. We hope that you’ll find your perfect adventure along the way, then return year after year to this unique part of the world. Its the ultimate California road trip, and it's all right here. Welcome back to the wild, welcome back to the fun!

Are looking for a natural social distancing road trip? We've got you.

For your planning, utilize this four-day itinerary can easily scale up to a week-long dream vacation or pair down as a weekend getaway.  

DAY ONE – 

Upon your arrival to the rocking mountain village of Oakhurst, CA, look for the "Talking Bear" monument in the center of town, nearby you'll find the visitor center. Our staff is dedicated to helping you discover charming destinations and miles of wide-open spaces. Stop in during business hours to help plan your adventure. Use the no-touch QR codes to download maps and other helpful travel guides. Don't miss "The OT" aka The Oakhurst Free Trolley. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all summer long!

Visitors to the South Gate of Yosemite know what makes this region truly special. The southern tip of the park holds access to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The largest grove in Yosemite and home to over 500 ancient trees. For the summer of 2021, the shuttle bus from the parking area of Mariposa Grove will not operate. Visitors can hike or bike up the two-mile access road to see the famous trees. The adventurous who make the gorgeous journey, are rewarded with unbelievable stillness and quiet in the cathedral-like setting.

Traveler Tip:  If you'd like to experience the Grove and don't want to walk or bike up, you can take a horseback adventure into the Grove June through August with Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures.

The trip to the tunnel, or Tunnel View, takes about 45-minutes and winds through spectacular vistas. Stop in the historic town of Wawona. Here you will find a dog-friendly trail around the 3.6 mile, Wawona Meadow Loop. Check out the outdoor museum at Yosemite's Pioneer History Center, complete with wild-west throwback buildings like the Wells Fargo Stagecoach stop (relocated from Yosemite Valley). Take the four-mile hike up to the top of Chilnualna Falls to reach the pinnacle of social distancing. 

Traveler Tip: The Chilnualna Falls trail is an eight-mile, out and back hike, with 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It is an achievable challenge for adventurous and able, with rewarding views from what feels like the top of the world.

Next stop: Washburn Point. The first sight of Half Dome on Glacier Point Road is at this famous viewpoint. It's always the first stop because the view from this turn out stops you in your tracks. Are you witnessing reality? Can any granite object truly be so big? The views don't stop, and the photo opportunities are endless around the Panoramic Trail from Glacier Point. Explore the jaunt from Sentinel Dome to Glacier Point. The vista is indescribable, so we'll let the photographs speak for themselves. 

World Famous Oakhurst Talking Bear

Oakhurst's "World Famous" Talking Bear is a favorite spot for visitors to hear the history and get a photo with one of California's former residents.

The best way to experience Yosemite for the first time (or the 100th time) is to emerge from the two-mile tunnel and see it – Yosemite Valley – in all its splendor. No matter the season, no matter the weather or the number of times you've been to this marvelous place. It holds you. Although this viewpoint has been photographed by the world's best, no image can capture the feeling of standing in front of El Capitan, Half Dome and the numerous waterfalls that flow into the pine valley below. This is the Yosemite moment of your dreams.   

The National Park Service has made adjustments to the access of Yosemite for the summer of 2021. Each day day-use park reservations are required to access the park. 

Day-Use Reservations

Reservations are available on recreation.gov, with most reservations available in spring, and limited reservations available seven days before the arrival date (e.g., make a reservation for an arrival date of September 30 on September 23):

First day to reserve

Arrival date

April 21

May 21–June 30

April 28

July 1–31

May 5

August 1–31

May 12

September 1–30

May 14–September 23

seven days in advance


Reservations are available each day at 8 am Pacific time. Reservations are taken almost immediately. Be sure to have an account and be logged in and ready to get a reservation promptly at 8 am Pacific time.

The non-refundable reservation fee is $2 and is included in the $35/car park entrance fee. If you have an annual or lifetime pass, be sure to specify you're a current pass holder to pay the discounted rate ($2).

Canceled reservations become available immediately on recreation.gov.

While the situation is not ideal when passes sell out, thankfully when you book a tour, it includes your park entry pass for the day. Now, taking an expertly guided tour into Yosemite is a better option than ever! Nine local tour companies, plus the public transit option YARTS, can help you gain access to Yosemite, learn more about them, and the safety and sanitation precautions businesses are taking to protect the health of visitors and drivers. 

Travel Tip: Leave the driving and tour guiding to the experts when you book a tour - the tour options (group, private, photo, jeep, backpack, horseback, hiking, rock climbing, and aviation) and fun times are limitless. 

The Mist Trail is another Yosemite must-do for the bucket list. It's less than a mile to the first footbridge with views of Vernal Fall. Keep going, it's just a little further to make your way closer to the water-whipped staircase that takes you to the top. Its an experience of a lifetime, and it's not over yet. Nevada Fall is another mile up the trail. The jaw-dropping power of water over rocks will be forever etched in your mind. Catch rainbows in every direction as you hike back down the mountain through the mist. 

In Yosemite Valley, the Merced River meanders through tall grass and sandy shores lined with birch, pine and big leaf maple trees. A photographer's dreamscape with the changing autumn colors. In the warmer months of the year, it is a playground of outdoor recreation—raft, kayak, swim, float and picnic with views of waterfalls and granite monoliths at every bend. Cross back and forth over the Merced River as you stroll along, exploring the valley. Picnic at Superintendent's Bridge or Wawona's Swinging Bridge and enjoy the best swimming holes in Yosemite, and arguably the world.  

Tunnel View in Yosemite

Emerging into Yosemite Valley via the Wawona tunnel is an experience in itself. Tunnel View is one of the most photographed vistas in the world!  It's true what they say, sometimes the journey is as memorable as the destination.

The air is crisp in these high elevations, and after a day filled with exploration, you'll sleep on cloud-nine. When you overnight in the gateway towns south of Yosemite, you'll find all the modern comforts you desire; vacation rentals, RV resorts, full-service experiences and budget-friendly hotels from brands you trust. The south gate of Yosemite has outdoor entertainment, pet-friendly accommodations, wineries, a small batch brewery, distillery and farm-fresh seasonal menus from family-owned restaurants. Our chefs live-and-breathe farm fresh dining in this plentiful countryside. Madera County is a gold nugget find in the center of the state, and the largest rural county in California. Find plenty of natural social distancing. Discover California's Gateway to Yosemite, plus a whole lot more!

BOOK YOUR STAY

DAY TWO - 

Start your day with brunch, and why not? It is your vacation, after all. The Farmhouse by REV's can make your mimosa dreams come true, and proudly serve housemade jams on freshly baked bread.

Traveler Tip: Try the Pesto and Egg Breakfast Sandwich; it's out-of-this-world delicious.

What's on today's agenda? How about, riding "The Logger," an antique steam train, located just four miles from the south gate of Yosemite National Park. Take a one-hour ride on the narrow gauge rails in an open-air cart, with limited seating. 

The safety of the visitor has always been paramount in this region and at Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. The Thornberry Museum, onsite gold panning, and Kids Depot Toy Store make it the perfect destination for your family. This year significant aspects of the operation have been updated to ensure safety for everyone. The guidelines from the CDC, State of California, and Madera County are followed strictly at this world-class attraction.

When the steam train whistle blows, and the conductor recounts tales of loggers and bandit raccoons, you'll be glad you came. Keep a keen eye out for views of the Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias on the horizon just minutes after you leave the station. You can see the tops of some of these giants sticking up above the surrounding tree canopy. 

Check the schedule, daily rides depart at 9:00 A.M, 11:30 A.M., 1:00 P.M., and 2:30 P.M.. Moonlight Special Dinner Trains depart every Wednesday and Saturday nights in season.  

Young and old alike will enjoy wind-in-your-hair moments through the tall pine trees and sweet-smelling bear clover. As the train whistle blows through the Yosemite mountains, you'll think back on simpler times. California has a pretty terrific backyard to explore this summer. 

Paradise is found in the Sierra Range. Discover the beautiful towns of Eastern Madera County.

Next stop: BASS LAKE, baby!

Bass Lake has a popular family vacation destination since the 1950s. Spend time at this nearby hideaway and you'll soon discover what makes it so popular, it's genuinely a playground! There is fun for everyone on the water and around the sandy shores of this emerald gem.  

Order lunch to-go and find your happy place at a lakeside beach with a picnic. The grills at Miller's Landing, Marina Bar and Grill, Ducey's Bar & Grill, and The Forks Restaurant have seriously delicious options for the whole family. Many offer on water, boat-side delivery services. Being socially distant has never been this much fun. 

Patio and speed boat rentals, intertubes, wakeboards, wake surfing, skiing and SUPs, if you can dream it you can do it at Bass Lake. Spending the day on the water with your social bubble is the antidote to boredom this summer. 

With nesting bald eagles and migrating birds, historic establishments, movie memorabilia, and time-honored-cheeseburger-traditions, Bass Lake is the quintessential sunshine state experience. 

Traveler Tip: Miles of world-class mountain bike trails surround this alpine beauty.

After a full day of sunshine and smiles, keep dinner plans simple. The Pines Resort lets you choose from their casual Ducey's Bar and Grill upstairs or downstairs in the gorgeous setting of Ducey's On the Lake Restaurant. The menu is perfect for special occasions, featuring farmers market vegetables, steaks, lobster and decadent desserts. 

For those looking for a little more spice in their life, Casa Velasco's Mexican Restaurant has all your favorite dishes, plus jalapeno margaritas, to top it all off. 

There is a lot to love about Bass Lake. Check out another Natural Social Distancing Itinerary - Four BIG Days at Bass Lake for more ideas!

Summertime at Bass Lake is fun in the sun and bring smiles for the whole family. 

DAY THREE - 

Wake up and take a deep breath of clean mountain air. What is that wonderful scent of pine in the air, could it be actual trees? Spoiler alert – it is. Next, wake up your taste buds with the fresh fusion of California cuisine. The "locavore" movement in Madera County excites visitors and locals alike. It's second nature for our restaurateurs and chefs to purchase quality ingredients from local farms and markets. 

Unique in the Yosemite region is Glow Juicery off Highway 41 in Oakhurst, in Vons shopping center. Enjoy fruit and vegetable juices pressed fresh daily, acai bowls, avocado toast and so much more at this locally loved establishment. 

Now that you've taken time to scout out the local wildlife, try scouting a little culture too. The Madera Wine Trail is comprised of nine wineries and stretches from the mountain town of Oakhurst, to the rolling hills of O'Neals, California and on to the verdant farmlands of Madera. Check out one of the oldest growing wine regions in the state. Discover the oldest port winery in America, at Ficklin Vineyards. Westbrook Wine Farm is one of only two vineyard estates in California, which grows all eight of the red grape varieties approved for use in Bordeaux and Meritage style wines. 

Discerning tastes from around the world regularly bestow honors to the Madera Wine Trails partner wineries. Sample award-winning wines from small-batch vintners. Yes, wine country in central California is the laidback experience you've been craving.

This summer, staying outside for wine tasting and live music is a necessity. Finding ample space for your group to stretch out is also a best practice these days. 

The Queen’s Inn by the River and Idle Hour Winery has all of that, plus a little more. Their outdoor patio has room for a band and seating areas dotted around the riverside property. Owner and Winemaker Anna Marie Dos Remidos, has the distinction of being one of the region's few female winemakers and is inspirational when explaining her craft. Stay calm and wine on, you've found the best of all worlds. 

Traveler Tip: Ask about renting one of the four tiny cabin rooms located next door to the main nine-room inn. 

Toca Madera outdoor tasting area

Looking for outdoor tasting rooms? Madera Wine Trail has lots of partner wineries with outdoor space.

DAY FOUR – 

It might be time to almost hit the road, so that means it's time to hit the trail once more. Pack a picnic from Deli Delicious or Smokehouse 41 and venture further. 

Just outside of Yosemite National Park boundaries lies a hidden gem, Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias. The easily accessed Bull Buck Tree is over 100 feet around and 246 feet tall. No park reservations needed to commune with these ancient giants.

Other out-of-this-world sights along the 100-mile long, Sierra Vista Scenic Byway await. Explore what is known as a “secret side of Yosemite”.  

(Note - the area and facilities along the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway were directly impacted by the 2020 Creek Fire. Some areas, roads, and bridges are closed. Forest Order No. 05-15-00-21-04For the most up-to-date status, please contact the Bass Lake Ranger District office at (559) 877-2218.)

Check the map and make your way to Globe Rock,  a nearly spherical, geological oddity that owes its distinctive shape to the freezing and thawing actions of water over the millennia. Nearby, Fresno Dome calls out to 4x4 adventurers. At its base, sits the Fresno Dome campground, a backwoods campground accessible only by jeep trails. Once you’re here is an easy scramble up the backside of the granite dome, to reach the most spectacular sight in all of creation; a western view of the Sierra Nevada, or as John Muir called it, “the range of light.”

Traveler Tip: Local guides from Yosemite Adventure Company have the horsepower and the know-how to get you to the top. 

What better way to toast the memories of a lifetime, than with an ice-cold beer from South Gate Brewing Company? This full-service gastropub features farm-fresh food and incredible microbrews. Acclaimed Brewmaster Rick Boucke takes no shortcuts when it comes to creating the 11 beers in their seasonal draft lineup, each one with a unique character. Take the 1864 Amber Lager, named for the year that the Yosemite Grant was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. Brewed with hops sourced from Yosemite’s Wawona region, it doesn’t get more local than that. 

Sample, Sours, IPAs, Pale Ales, Reds and Blondes. Then get your grub on at the outdoor seating area complete with personal shaded tents for every table. Take in views Deadwood Mountain and gorgeous sunsets, then take home a growler of something special from South Gate Brewing Co.

Find the perfect spot for a picnic at Nelder Grove.

As you hit the road on your way home we hope you've made memories to last a lifetime in our special part of the world.

We'll see you next time you want to come BACK TO THE WILD to explore more....

LOOKING FOR LODGING?

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

VISIT YOSEMITE | MADERA COUNTY

Oakhurst Visitor Center
40343 Highway 41,
Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
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Hours:
Daily 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (summer only)
Monday thru Saturday – 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Sunday – 9 am to 1 pm
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