A Journey through Madera County and Yosemite National Park

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Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park? We recommend you stay in Madera County, about 16 miles from the South Entrance to Yosemite. Read on for everything to do in beautiful Madera County. 

Embarking on a journey to explore Madera County and Yosemite raised a question. Can you return to where you have been and still be awed by what is revealed before you? I had been to Yosemite about 30 years ago but had no idea what lay ahead of me in Madera County. Come along as I explore Madera County and Yosemite National Park.

View of the fall from the Valley floor in Yosemite National Park in Madera County.

View of the Falls from the Valley Floor in Yosemite National Park Photo by Kathy Condon

Make it Easy on Yourself and Stay in Oakhurst

Visit Yosemite/Madera in Oakhurst, California made the reservations for this hosted trip. I had never heard of the town, so I pulled out a hard copy of a map of California and noted it was in the central part of the state near the South Entrance of Yosemite.

Located 45 miles East of Fresno, this stretched-out unincorporated city is 16 miles from Yosemite National Park’s South Entrance. Imagine if you stay here, the headstart you will have over Yosemite visitors who had stayed in Fresno the night before. Especially helpful if you are planning only a day trip.

There are many places to stay, cabins and hotels, some of which are major chains. This town is becoming more visible, so you will want to ensure you have reservations before you plan to arrive.

Oakhurst is on the way to Yosemite National Park in Madera County.

Oakhurst is on the way to Yosemite National Park. Photo by Konoplytska via iStock by Getty Images

Queen’s Inn by the River

Queen’s Inn by The River, aptly named and owned by two women, provides every amenity needed while not taking away the grandeur of the wilderness experience. When was the last time you were serenaded to sleep by frogs?

All the rooms have patios that look over a greenway that leads down to the Fresno River. Luxurious linens encourage you to stay in bed all day, and having your car parked outside your door makes it easy to unload your vehicle.

Picture of cabins at the Queen's Inn by the River in Oakhurst.

View of the cabins at Queen’s Inn by the River in Oakhurst. Photo courtesy of Visit Yosemite Madera County

Fresno Flats Historical Village and Park

Have you ever felt like you have stepped back in time? Fresno Flats reveals itself as you walk through the gate. A beautifully landscaped park surrounds seven buildings, with a gazebo perfect for musical groups and weddings.

In an authentic 19th-century design, this community, recreated as it might have appeared then, contains a building that was moved from its original location 15 miles away. Even more impressive, all the buildings contain original items used during this period.

Volunteers conduct educational tours. Thus, local children can more clearly understand the life of their forefathers in the Sierra Nevada foothills near the mountains of Central California.

Fresno Flats Historic Park and Village Print Shop with printing supplies located in Madera County.

Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park Print Shop. Photo by Kathy Condon

The Arts are Thriving in Madera County

Located in a former strip mall, it is a pleasure to browse and relax while observing world-class art creatively displayed and showcased at the Yosemite Gateway Art Center. It was so nice, I went back twice. The curator and artists provide many insights about the arts center, the art, and the ever-changing art landscape in Oakhurst.

Each of the former stores now houses a specific genre of art. One called the Yosemite Renaissance 38 showcases a juried exhibit. The prerequisite to be part of the exhibit is that each entry is the artist’s interpretation of a scene in the local area. This exhibit includes art created by international artists.

View of one of the galleries at the Yosemite Art Center in Madera County.

Gallery and Lounge Area in the Yosemite Art Center. Photo by Kathy Condon

Bass Lake in Madera County Offers an Array of Sports

Just a short distance from Oakhurst, the beautiful and calm lake Bass Lake’s spectacular beauty causes you to look for a place to pull over and find a stump to sit on and soak up the beauty of the tree-lined lake. The quiet sometimes is interrupted by a motorboat going by. Still, for the most part, the occasional squirrel scurrying along the river’s edge, or a kayaker drifting by, is the only movement you’ll experience as you breathe in the fresh mountain air.

With its sandy shores, there are places where your family can frolic in the crystal-clear water or pull out the floats to leisurely drift downstream while looking up at the sky filled with fluffy clouds. For others in your group, perhaps the numerous hiking trails are calling, many ending with an opportunity to see waterfalls plunging to the lake below.

Rafting on the River Near Oakhurst California.

Rafting on the Rivers Near Oakhurst, California. Photo by Kathy Condon

Hop on the Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad

The Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad gives you a unique perspective of the area’s once-thriving lumber industry. You will want to arrive well before the train leaves so you have time to explore the grounds, which provide opportunities to learn more about the area’s history and even give your children a chance to do a little gold panning. Nostalgia cannot help but creep into your senses as you browse the well-stocked gift shop.

The one-hour narrated tour will take you deep into the forest. See the path the trees took to the mill in the early 1900s. During the open-car ride, you will see forest restoration efforts taking place and wildflowers poking their heads up, stretching to capture the sun’s rays.

Entrance to Yosemite Sugarpine Railroad.

Entrance to Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad. Photo by Kathy Condon

Visit Yosemite While in Madera County

Yosemite National Park’s winding south entrance is not for the faint of heart. Those riding in the car can enjoy the views thirty-five miles down to the Valley floor. However, the driver should keep his or her eyes on the narrow roads, as the pavement often clings to the very edge of the mountain.

Once you get down to the Valley floor, the surrounding, stunning landscape will leave you speechless as the beauty envelopes you—waterfalls in one direction and El Capitan standing tall with the lower section partly obscured by trees.

The Valley Floor Loop Trail is peppered with buildings, even a US Post Office. The Ansel Adams Gallery was a delight to visit, and you can see some of Ansel Adam’s original black and white prints of the spectacular grounds in the gallery.

View from the bottom of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

View of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Kathy Condon

Dining in the Madera County Area

There are several dining options for you while exploring Madera County. Here are a few of my favorites.

Bass Lake Resorts Offer Great Food and Views

The Forks Resort Restaurant is part of the Forks Resort, continuously operated by the 5th generation of a single family. Al Fresco dining is offered, and the restaurant has the reputation of being one of the best build-your-own hamburger places in the area. If you want to go fishing, head inside the General Store and get your fishing license or enter a fishing derby scheduled for later in the week.

View of the sign at Bass Lake at Forks Resort.

View from the front of Forks Resort Restaurant on Bass Lake. Photo by Kathy Condon

Ducey’s Bar and Grill, perched on the mountain’s edge, offers phenomenal views of Bass Lake and the marina below. Let’s say I left wishing I had my air fryer in my room. My order of fish and chips was so large and so tasty, I wished I didn’t have to leave some of it behind.

Fish and Chips at Ducey's Bar and Grill on Bass Lake in Madera County.

Fish and Chips at Ducey’s Bar and Grill on Bass Lake. Photo by Kathy Condon

Oakhurst Restaurants are Plentiful

Deli Delicious, located in Oakhurst, was my go-to picnic place for my journey into Yosemite. I was glad I had my food with me, and I ate my turkey and cranberry sandwich within view of El Capitan.

The South Gate Brewing Company is known for its steaks and large windows offering fabulous mountain views. It quickly became apparent this was a community gathering place for families. Hamburgers and fries were ordered and followed by root beer floats. The root beer and other craft beers are made on the premises.

On my last night, I had dinner at the Queen’s Inn by the River restaurant Idle Hour Winery & Kitchen. The casual atmosphere encourages patrons to start conversations and join one another for a delectable farm-to-table dinner with wine. My only regret is that I wished I had been there to experience the music in the beer gardens on weekends.

Picture of Idle Hour Winery wine bottle with original art.

Idle Hour Winery Bottle with original art. Photo by Kathy Condon

Articles Related to Central California

Finding Wonder in Madera County

Yes, you can go back and appreciate a place you have visited in the past. Yosemite’s beauty has not diminished over the years. However, the chance to explore Oakhurst, talk to its residents, and experience the attractions and places they are proud to share, made this trip filled with new discoveries. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to Madera County, California, or another National Park.

Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park? We recommend you stay in Madera County, about 16 miles from the South Entrance to Yosemite. Read on for everything to do in beautiful Madera County. 


A Journey through Madera County and Yosemite National Park

Written by Kathy Condon

Journalist and travel writer with immense curiosity that has taken her to 29 countries, 16 islands, and 49 states (Alaska on the bucket list). Her motto: Let me help tell your destination's story to the people throughout the world. She is the author of two books: Face-to-Face Networking: It's All About Communication and It Doesn't Hurt to Ask: It's All About Communication, which was named Best Book Finalist by USA Book News.