Things to Do on the Way to Yosemite

Yosemite National Park has always been one of my favorite places.

I’m fortunate to live within an hour or so (with traffic, about 90 minutes) from the southern park entrance at Fishcamp (Hwy. 41.) Because I live so close, I’ve never stayed inside the park itself, except for an overnight camping trip as a teen-ager. In high school and college, I spent many winter week-ends skiing at Badger Pass.

The view from Glacier Point is spectacular and I never tire of it. I like to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it at one of meadows on the way to, or from, Glacier Point. I also remember the Glacier Point Lodge which no longer exists. Unfortunately, the first of my many visits to Yosemite came after they discontinued the nightly (summer only) “firefalls” from Glacier Point.

When I’m in Yosemite Valley, a stop at the Ahwahnee Hotel is a must – in the spring or summer, a cool drink on the patio…always a walk through the lobby and giftshop. I usually park my car there, taking the buses and shuttles to other valley areas. A walk to the base of Yosemite Falls is pleasant; when the falls are running full, the mist will cool you off.

I miss the “Pioneer Village” that was set up adjacent to the Wawona Hotel for many years, but I still like to stop and take a brief walk around. It’s the largest existing Victorian style hotel located in a US national park and was constructed over 42 years (1876 – 1918). Don’t miss the covered bridge off to the side of the hotel grounds. In season, Sunday brunch is always enjoyable. It’s also fun to see the golfers as you drive by.

The main purpose of this article is to explain some of the attractions found along Highway 41, which is the highway travelers coming from the Fresno area, or southern California, generally use.

Coming south on Hwy. 99, you would take the Hwy. 41 North/Yosemite exit. (south side of Fresno, near downtown) travelling past most of Fresno. From the city itself, you can go north on Blackstone Ave. which eventually becomes Hwy. 41, or you can get onto Fwy. 41 (north) to eliminate some traffic. (Belmont, McKinley, Shields, Ashlan & Shaw Avenues all have onramps for Hwy. 41 North/Yosemite; they are about 1 to 4 blocks east of Blackstone Ave.)

If you are traveling south on Hwy. 99, you would take the Herndon Exit (north side of Fresno, 10 miles past Madera), and drive east on Herndon Ave. for about 8 miles, then taking the Hwy. 41 North/Yosemite ramp.

If you live near Fresno, or stay there overnight, try to plan either breakfast, or an early lunch at Bass Lake. Bass Lake is about an hour from Fresno and is like a “miniature Lake Tahoe.” The exit for Bass Lake is 2-3 miles above the town of Oakhurst and you’ll drive another 3 miles or so to the “Pines Village” area of Bass Lake. There, you can dine at Ducey’s (lakeside) or at the coffee shop at the Pines Resort. (The coffee shop has a patio area for use in nice weather.) There is an adorable little white church across the parking lot, a grocery store, gift shops, bakery and a small theatre within walking distance. Bass Lake is a great place for destination weddings.

If you decide to stay at Bass Lake, Ducey’s Lodge is lovely, with many rooms overlooking the lake. You can also rent private cabins nearby or stay overnight at the 2-story Pines Resort Chalets. There are also campgrounds available, along with picnic areas, marinas for launching boats, renting party barges, jet skis, etc. They have a great 4th of July fireworks show.

If you don’t live in, or stay, in Fresno, consider the hotel at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino – the rooms are beautiful and the casino overlooks the Sierra foothills. Reserve early – they are always full! You can enjoy a meal at one of their many restaurants and be sure to check out their show calendar. You might decide to plan your trip around a specific show. Chukchansi is located just below Coarsegold, about 30 minutes from Fresno. (It’s a right exit, only half a mile from Hwy. 41.)

Coarsegold, just up the highway from the Chukchansi Casino, was an overnight stop during the California Gold Rush. The area became known as Coarse Gold Gulch upon the discovery of coarse gold nuggets. Later, this little town became known as Coarsegold, and was an overnight stagecoach stop for visitors on the way to Yosemite. Today, you’ll find small eateries, art galleries and an interesting roadside flea market. There are campgrounds, B ‘n B’s and cabin rentals nearby. Their annual rodeo happens in May and a classic car show is held every September.

Only a few miles further up Hwy. 41, is the bustling town of Oakhurst. Once this was a small town with one (nice) motel, one grocery store, a florist and a gift shop or two, plus a couple of gas stations and one fast food place. Now, there are several motels from national chains, independent motels, and several B ‘n B’s. The most famous is a European style inn, the CHATEAU du SUREAU. Opened in 1991, it has earned the American Automobile Association’s Five Diamond Award, the Mobil Five-Star award and belongs to the very discerning Relais & ChÃ?¢teaux organization. Also on the grounds, is Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant. The Best Western – Yosemite Gateway Inn is right on the highway and has beautiful grounds surroundings its buildings. The ‘Ol Kettle is a locally owned coffee shop just up the road on the left – known for their baked goods – it’s in front of the Days Inn & Shiloh motels.

In addition, there are major drug and grocery stores, spas, movie theatres, more gift shops, and a wide selection of restaurants. (Be aware, if you’re trying to eat dinner after 9pm, you’ll probably find only pizzerias and fast food open, especially during the week. Best to head down to Chukchansi (15 minutes away) to their restaurants, many of which are open 24 hours.) Sierra Meadows Golf Course is nearby (when you first reach Oakhurst and the intersection of Hwy 41 and Hwy 49, turn left onto Hwy 49 for about 2 miles, right onto Harmony Lane & veer right onto Opah Drive and continue for about 3 miles. They have a pro shop, cafe, tennis courts, swimming pool and facilities for weddings and banquets.

Every Memorial Day and Labor Day Week-end is time for the Oakhurst Mountain Peddler’s Fair, two annual events showcasing antiques. These are held outdoors, and you want to be there early on Saturday morning for the best selection.

As you leave Oakhurst, up on the left side of the highway, you’ll see the Golden Chain Theatre which has been performing melodramas for almost 40 years. Call 559-683-7112 for show titles, dates and times.

On the right, you’ll soon pass the Bass Lake turnoff, and, in summer, the weather will start to cool down. As you climb higher, open your car window(s) for that wonderful piney mountain smell. (See above for info on what to do/see in Bass Lake.)

As you continue up Hwy. 41, you’ll see a sign (off to the right) for the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. It is a
a restoration of the original narrow gauge Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company Railroad. From 1899 to 1931, this lumber company operated miles of narrow gauge railroad track and carried almost one and a half billion board feet of lumber from the forests. A section of the original railbed has been reconstructed in the same manner as that used at the turn of the century, and 2 vintage Shay steam locomotives have been restored to provide power for the trains. The railcars which used to provide transportation for logging and track repair crews have been refurbished and are operated for passenger excursions. Antique Model “A” Ford gas engines power the trolley-like “Jenny” cars.

Several different packages are available – night time trips with and without a BBQ dinner, steam train ride with entertainment, moonlight, narrated train excursions and others. They also handle school field trips and private chartered steam train rides for groups. There is a gift shop, sandwich shop and museum on the grounds. They have varying schedules during the year – call 559-683-7273 for details.

As you leave the railroad, you are now at Fishcamp, which has a population of about 100 people, and is the location of the South Gate to Yosemite. There are several types of accomodations at Fish Camp. The Narrow Gauge Inn is next door to the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine RR and you can walk between them. They is also a seasonal restaurant on the premises. There are other motels/hotels and B ‘n B’s in the area.

The Tenaya Lodge by Marriott is located in Fishcamp. Even if you don’t stay there, it’s worth stopping by to see their lobby, especially at Christmas time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mountain lodge so beautifully decorated. They have a massive fireplace in the lobby, and gift shops, a bar and restaurant. They have facilities for weddings, conferences and meetings.

In the wintertime, there is a small pond which freezes over and is used for ice skating. There are also areas nearby for sledding.

Next stop – Yosemite. Have a great time! As you can see, there is much to do on the way to Yosemite on Highway 41. I hope you’ll visit this area and have a wonderful time.

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