If you’ve never visited Bass Lake, California it’s high time you remedy that. This Central California gem was named one of “The West’s Best Lakes” by Sunset Magazine and has been a popular vacation destination for nearly a hundred years.
Bass Lake California History
Bass Lake is located at the edge of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain range, just 17 miles outside Yosemite National Park. Like many of the lakes in the Central Sierras, Bass Lake is artificial. Before the late 19th century, the area was a verdant valley and was inhabited by the Chukchansi people and then the Mono Indian Tribes. The current dam was built in 1910 to generate hydroelectric power and to protect lower-elevation Central Valley farmland from flooding.
In those early years, Bass Lake was known as Crane Valley Reservoir. Not the catchiest name, but luckily the moniker didn’t stick. In the early 1900s, a local lumber company inadvertently poisoned all the fish in the lake. The government forced them to restock the lake. As you can probably guess, the lumber company stocked the lake with bass. From then on, Crane Valley Reservoir was known as Bass Lake. A little rebranding after an ecological disaster is always a good idea, right?
What Is Bass Lake Known For?
Today, Bass Lake is an excellent destination for outdoor adventures – fishing, watersports, hiking, biking, and more. It’s often pegged as a miniature Lake Tahoe, and while the two share a similar shape and tree-lined shoreline, there’s one distinct difference. The water is much warmer because Bass Lake is at a lower elevation (3400 ft as opposed to Tahoe’s 6200). These warm waters are perfect for kayaking, canoeing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, and paddleboarding.
What To Do In Bass Lake
Bass Lake is accessible year-round, but, like most resort towns, it’s busiest in the summer and then again during the winter holidays.
Summer Fun – Water Sports and Long Weekends
The summer months are, without a doubt, the most popular time to visit Bass Lake. From the end of May through August, folks from all over the state flock to Bass Lake’s pristine, warm waters to enjoy boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming. Visitors can rent watercraft from the numerous marinas dotted along the shoreline.
The Fourth of July is the highlight of the summer season. People from all across the state flock to the lake and spend the day grilling and playing in the water. After sunset, the lake hosts a spectacular fireworks show with live music and a boat parade. Once you’ve experienced Independence Day at Bass Lake, you’ll want to make it an annual tradition.
Spring and Fall – Hiking and Biking and Fishing
Mild temperatures make spring and fall a fabulous time to explore the surrounding hiking trails. Be sure to visit Angel Falls and Devil’s Slide – two of the most popular destinations along the Willow Creek Trail. In particular, use the western trailhead in the spring to avoid a potentially dangerous creek crossing.
The Way of the Mono Interpretive Trail is a short loop with plaques sharing information about the Mono Indians who used to inhabit this area. This easy trail is usually perfect for families with children but now that it is currently dotted with downed trees thanks to all the heavy rain California had in winter 2023. Don’t rule this trail out even if you prefer more strenuous hikes to take in the sunset.
Fishing is a popular year-round activity at Bass Lake. The lake is well stocked with various fish, including trout, kokanee (salmon), catfish, trout, crappie, bluegill, and bass. On weekends, you’ll find swarms of boats filled with eager anglers. If you prefer to fish from shore, shop at Fawn Point, Wishon Point, or Willow Cove. No gear? No problem. The Pines Resort Marina offers rental fishing poles, and the tackle shop folks will help you choose the right bait.
Bass Lake offers a variety of bike trails for all levels. Beginners can cruise into town or take the loop around the entire lake. This area is a mecca for mountain bikers, who will find a variety of intermediate or advanced loops that start (and finish) at the lake.
Winter – Snow Sports
Bass Lake Ski Resort
Bass Lake is just 23 miles away from Badger Pass Ski Area. Inside Yosemite National Park, Badger Pass is California’s oldest ski resort. Its ten downhill runs are geared towards beginner and intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders, but it also offers tubing, a terrain park, and 25 miles of cross-country ski trails. If you’re up for a challenge, the cross-country trail from Bass Lake to Glacier Point offers fantastic views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley.
Celebrating the holidays at Bass Lake
During the holiday season, Bass Lake is transformed into a winter wonderland. Visitors can attend the outdoor tree lighting ceremony and parade, peruse the arts and crafts fair, rent skates, and enjoy the ice rink in the snow. Throughout December, children can meet Santa at weekend pancake breakfasts.
Where To Stay At Bass Lake
Bass Lake offers a variety of accommodations, ranging from swanky VRBOs to rustic campgrounds. Holiday weekends fill up quickly, so plan accordingly. Despite the numerous comparisons to Lake Tahoe, Bass Lake is relatively small.
Part of Bass Lake’s charm is that it’s so walkable. Kids can ride bikes to the general store to grab an ice cream cone or walk to the Pines Village for dinner. While there are a few restaurants and available stores worth checking out on the south side of the lake, most are clustered on the north shore in the Pines Village. If you’re booking far enough in advance, aim for a lakefront house or condo within walking distance of The Pines.
If you are staying with a large group or prefer the privacy of a rental home, there are plenty of gorgeous lakefront homes to choose from. In addition to VRBO and AirBnB, check out Bass Lake Home Rentals.
Hotels and Resorts
The Pines Resort is open year-round, offering lakefront suites, chalets, cabins, and rental homes. The Pines Resort often hosts events and activities – everything from comedy nights and live music to champagne brunches. The most significant advantage of staying at the Pines Resort is that guests are within walking distance of the beach, marina, and local restaurants. This is your place if you want to be in the thick of things.
The Forks Resort and Miller’s Landing are located on the lake’s south side, directly across from the Pines Resort. Many cabins and townhouses are available year-round, but the related restaurants, marinas, and gift shops close for winter.
Seven campgrounds and over 220 campsites are located on the south shore of Bass Lake. Some allow RVs and trailers, while others are exclusively reserved for tent camping. However, we aren’t fans of them because there are drawbacks to camping at Bass Lake.
First off, most campsites are not lakefront – they’re located across Bass Lake Road from the lake. Also, many camps do not offer hot showers and lack bear boxes on-site. Additionally, most shops, restaurants, and bars are on the north shore, so they’re not within walking distance.
Where To Eat At Bass Lake
If you’ve worked up an appetite after a day on the lake, there are plenty of great places to grab a bite. Most restaurants are located in and around the Pines Village, or “town” as it’s often called.
Ducey’s is the oldest restaurant in Bass Lake. This beloved eatery is famous for its fabulous lake views and farm-to-table fare. If you’re looking for something a little more casual, check out Ducey’s Bar and Grill (it offers the same great pictures with a much more relaxed vibe), Pines Village Pizzeria, or Velasco’s Mexican restaurant. After dinner, grab a drink at Ducey’s Bar and Grill, or head down to the Pines Bar.
On the south side of the lake, both Forks Resort and Miller’s Landing have casual diner-style restaurants. Each boasts that they serve the best burger in town. The only way to settle the debate is to try both.
How To Get To Bass Lake
Bass Lake is about an hour north of Fresno, just outside Oakhurst. If traveling from out of state, you’ll want to fly into the Fresno Yosemite International Airport and rent a car. From there, it’s a quick, scenic drive with many fabulous eateries.
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