As autumn arrives in the Sierra National Forest so do visitors looking for fall scenery and serenity at Bass Lake. The summer crowds have left this popular family recreation area near the southern entrance to Yosemite, but its natural attractions continue all year.
Cabins and campgrounds ring the pretty blue mountain lake that's at 3,400 feet, surrounded by a forest of ponderosa pine and incense cedar. The water and weather are both still warm enough for swimming and suntanning, while the crisp autumn evenings make a log fire welcome.
Fall is a favorite time for fishermen because the lake's speedboaters and water skiers dwindle after Labor Day and the fish come out of hiding. October often is an excellent month for catching kokanee salmon and rainbow trout.
Bass Lake was man-made at the turn of the century to supply hydroelectric power to the San Joaquin Valley. The small lake, four miles long and half a mile wide, is owned by PG&E, but much of the attractive timberland around it is under the jurisdiction of the forest service.
First Come, First Served
Amid the trees along the south shore are five campgrounds and most of the public picnic sites. Camping in the off-season is on a first-come, first-served basis (piped water but no hookups). At least one campground remains open through the winter.
Get to Bass Lake from Los Angeles by driving north on Interstate 5 and California 99 to Fresno and exiting on California 41 toward Yosemite. Continue 3.5 miles beyond Oakhurst and turn right on Road 222 (Bass Lake Road).
The Mono Indians inhabited the area long before Bass Lake was created, and you can learn about their early life style by hiking along the half-mile Way-of-the-Mono loop trail. Pick up a self-guiding brochure at the forest service visitor center on Road 222 at the north end of the lake.
South along Road 222, visitors can spend the night in a cabin at Fork's Resort or Miller's Landing Resort, where there also are boat rentals and food markets. But the center of resort activity on Bass Lake is along the north shore at Pines Village, reached via Road 432 (North Shore Road) or Road 274 (Malum Ridge Road).
That's where you'll find lodging, restaurants, marina facilities, a grocery store and bakery, and even a movie theater.
Tennis Courts, Sauna
You may bed down in the modern Pines Chalets, two-story units with kitchens and wood-burning fireplaces. You can barbecue on the porch deck that overlooks the lake. Guests also have the use of two tennis courts, a hot tub and sauna.
Rates for one or two persons range from $78 to $93 through September and during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Beginning Oct. 1 rates drop to $54 to $59, but add $10 for Saturday nights. Children 16 years and under stay free.
Other accommodations in motel rooms or more rustic cottages are a mile away along Road 432 at Ducey's Lodge. Housekeeping cottages rent for $60 daily for two, plus $6 for each additional person ($3 if 16 or under). Motel rooms are $36 to $44 double. To make reservations at Pine Chalets or Ducey's Lodge, call (800) 643-2277 in California. Or write to P.O. Box A, Bass Lake, Calif. 93604.
You'll also find RV campsites with hookups at Ducey's for $9 to $11 a night.
Ducey's dining room is the best known restaurant at Bass Lake, featuring a steak and seafood menu that draws diners from miles around. On weekends, visitors linger for musical entertainment and dancing in the lounge.
Not far from the tranquil mountain lake are other activities, including a community playhouse called the Golden Chain Theater, now in its 19th season. After a summer of melodramas, Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Nile" takes to the stage beginning Oct. 10. The theater's traditional Christmas show, "The Nutcracker," runs Dec. 6-14. Call (209) 683-7112.
In neighboring Oakhurst you can stroll around Fresno Flats Historical Park to see how people lived and worked in the area a century ago. Vintage buildings with exhibits include a log cabin and other homes, Madera County's second schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, barn and wooden jail house.
Docent tours are offered Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. for $1 (children 50 cents); at other times you can peek in the windows. From California 41 take Road 426 (Crane Valley Road) south to Road 427 (School Road) to the park.
Residents invite visitors to join the festivities during Sierra Mountaineer Days, an annual autumn bash that is held in Oakhurst Sept. 19-21. On tap are a community parade, foot race, chicken-flying contest and horsemanship events, as well as a pancake breakfast and barbecue beef dinner.
An Elegant Restaurant
For a special treat, make reservations at Erna's Elderberry House, a surprisingly elegant restaurant off California 41 at the south end of Oakhurst.
Nightly except Tuesdays a different prix fixe menu of nouvelle and continental cuisine is offered in the setting of a European country estate.
You'll dine by candlelight on the delicious creations of the owner/chefs, Viennese-born Erna Kubin and Fernando Madrigal of Mexico. After a five-course feast, dessert and coffee are served under the stars on the terrace. Cost of the meal is $28.50.
You also can enjoy Sunday brunch at Erna's Elderberry House from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Lunch is available during the same hours Wednesday through Friday. Phone (209) 683-6800.
Lists of restaurants and lodgings and more information about the Bass Lake/Oakhurst area is available from the visitor center of the Eastern Madera County Chamber of Commerce in Oakhurst. Call (209) 683-7766.
Return to Los Angeles via the outbound route.
Round trip from Los Angeles for an autumn escape to Bass Lake is 556 miles.