The magnificent cliffs and waterfalls of the Yosemite Valley are the first stop for most visitors to Yosemite National Park. But once you’ve visited the Valley, then what?
I’m lucky to live just a few hours from this national treasure and I’ve traveled through the park several times. When my mom expressed interest in visiting Yosemite on her recent trip to California, I jumped at the chance to explore neighboring destinations and find new ways to avoid the summer crowds.
Because I had never been through the south part of Yosemite, we decided to stay in the mountain community of Oakhurst, California. Only 30 minutes away from the Yosemite south entrance, Oakhurst seemed a perfect base for visiting the park and nearby sites in Madera County.
Things to Do Near the Yosemite South Gate:
Hike the Mariposa Grove to see some of the largest trees in the world.
Our first stop on our south gate adventure, was the Mariposa Grove which is located just inside the south entrance to the national park. The giant sequoia trees in this region are some of the oldest and largest living beings on the planet, and a walk on this trail reminded us just how small we are.
On this hike, you’ll pass by massive fallen trees and get the chance to walk through one of California’s last remaining “tunnel tree”, hollowed out decades ago as tourist attraction.
After your Mariposa Grove hike, you can leave the car there and hop on one of the free Yosemite shuttle buses that travel throughout the park. This is a great way to get into the Yosemite Valley without having to drive in the summer tourist congestion. Just be sure to get to the Mariposa Grove early enough to get a parking spot.
Enjoy a picnic on the lawn at the historic Wawona Hotel.
More than 125 years ago, California gold miners and early travelers stopped here to rest on their way to the Yosemite Valley from the foothills. Today, a glorious old whitewashed hotel stands on the site, and the lodge still seems a well-positioned rest stop between Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Foothills.
For day trippers, the quaint property is a nice place to explore, and the sprawling front lawn offers dozens of relaxing Adirondack chairs you can pull together for a picnic.
Go hiking or (in rainy years!) swimming, boating, or fishing at Bass Lake.
Bass Lake is a normally picturesque mountain reservoir and resort community, just 14 miles from the Yosemite south entrance.
Due to California’s epic drought, this summer (2014) the lake is nearly dry.
Despite the sadly recessed water’s edge, the view was stunning and we took in the strange opportunity to walk
on water where there once was water.
End the day with a pint and pizza at the South Gate Brewing Company.
Oakhurst’s one craft beer brewery makes a great stop after a long day of exploring. The South Gate Brewing company is hidden in an Oakhurst industrial park, just a block north of the Vons grocery store. The cozy brew pub features reclaimed wood decor, quirky hand carved beer taps, and roll up garage-style doors that they open up in nice weather to bring the outside in.
We enjoyed their Tenaya Red IPA, and their refreshing and not-too-sweet Honey Badger Wheat, brewed with local orange blossom honey. Their wood-fired pizzas looked good, though we saved our appetite to grill back at the house.
Where To Stay In Oakhurst:
When traveling with family, we often look for vacation rentals where can all have our own space.
The sweetly named, Huff & Puff Cottage is a cozy, two-bedroom vacation rental located on quiet road, just a few minutes from downtown Oakhurst. The owner, Jill, was kind and welcoming when we arrived late after work on Friday night. She volunteers at the local Yosemite Sierra Visitor’s Bureau on weekends, and had maps and recommendations ready for us when we arrived.
The house was spacious and comfortable. The open kitchen was immaculate, and stocked with basics like condiments and coffee filters.
The house was warm and cozy at night, but by day, it was well-lit by skylights on the high wooden ceilings. The large master bedroom had a wood framed king bed and flat panel TV mounted on the wall.
The second bedroom has a queen-sized bed. If you are traveling with kids, the closet has a stash of books and toys to make them feel at home.
The perfectly manicured backyard has a large patio, grassy wrap around lawn, and a gas grill. We kept our eyes peeled for mule deer, that Jill said often pass through the yard.
Though we didn’t see the deer, another member of the Huff & Puff welcoming committee greeted me out front…
The Huff & Puff cottage starts at $159/night, which is a good deal for such a spacious and comfortable place to stay. Check them out on your next family trip to Yosemite or Bass Lake.
Our stay at the Huff & Puff Cottage was hosted for purpose of review. All photos and opinions are my own.