With Summer Approaching, Madera County Offers the Whole California Experience

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Many people come for the waterfalls of Yosemite - which are running at full strength - but are often surprised at the number of attractions in the gateway communities.

We get a lot of people who come in to the Visitor Center who say they wish they planned more time to explore the gateway communities

School bells will have rung for the last time this term soon, meaning it’s time to start planning the family’s summer vacation. With so many options on the table, the choices can appear a bit daunting.

Yosemite National Park is always a great option. With this year’s weather pattern including several late storms, the waterfalls are running stronger and will likely be running later than in normal years. “Yosemite is definitely a great place for the family to visit,” said Jarrod Lyman, with the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau. “Kids get a chance to see appreciate nature, see one of our country’s iconic places and it’s an ideal place for the family to reconnect,” he said.

A lot of people are surprised by the amount to see and do outside of the park, however, according to Lyman. “We get a lot of people who come in to the Visitor Center who say they wish they planned more time to explore the gateway communities,” he said. “They’re always pleasantly surprised by all that is around, and want to spend more time outside of the park.”

Madera County is known as “California’s Gateway to Yosemite,” as Highway 41, the most popular entrance in to the park goes through the county. Many attractions are located along this corridor and beyond, making the whole region an attractive destination added to the splendor of Yosemite National Park.

“Madera County has a bit of everything people associate with California,” said Lyman. From the fertile farmlands of the valley producing grapes used in top tier wines both in Madera County and by wineries in other, better known regions, to the forests and Sierra Nevada, Madera County really exemplifies California,” he said.

Agriculture is a big part of the valley lifestyle, with agritourism options being popular choices. Places like Home Grown Cellars in Madera, a pomegranate farm that showcases the entire process from seed to tree to pomegranate juice, to the Producer’s Livestock Cattle Auctions that take place along Highway 41 between Madera and Coarsegold, the attractions give people who have never experience the agrarian lifestyle so important to the United States a valuable glimpse into another way of life.

The agricultural aspect and lifestyle is also important in terms of grape growing and wines. Madera County is home to what some call a “burgeoning” wine industry, despite the county having a long history in winemaking. “Madera County has been producing wine since the mid 1850’s,” said Allison Robison, executive director of the Madera Vintners Association. “The region has a long history in wine making, and it shows in the wines created today.”

The MVA represents a dozen wineries, eight of which have public tasting rooms. The trail makes an excellent stop for parents who have kids old enough to explore on their own, or perhaps if the grandparents came along as well, and give mom and dad some free time. “From desert wines and other aperitifs to full bodied reds and bright whites, the wineries along the Madera Wine trail have numerous varieties, guaranteeing a wine for any taste,” said Robison.

Some may say that no summer vacation is complete without a trip to the lake. Madera County offers several choices, chief among them Bass Lake, voted as one of the West’s Best lakes. “Bass Lake is a popular destination for many reasons,” Lyman said. “The scenery is unparalleled. The fishing is excellent, and it’s great for skiing, wakeboarding or just pleasure boating as well, plus you can stay right on the lake,” he said.

Bass Lake has an advantage over many other lakes, as it has all the amenities of lodging, dining, shopping and more moments away from the water’s edge. “It has all the benefits of a retreat, without the drawbacks of being miles from civilization,” Lyman said.

Madera County also has a rich history which is on display at numerous museums throughout the region, with the newest addition going all the way back to the pre-history of the area. The Fossil Discovery Center in Chowchilla has been a long time coming – several million years to be precise. Fossils from numerous animals are on display, such as saber tooth cats, wooly mammoths and more, all unearthed on that site. The dig site is the largest Pleistocene era fossil bed in the western United States, where thousands of fossils have been unearthed.

The Madera County Museum of History showcases the history of the city of Madera and the rest of the county. Housed in the historic building that served as the county’s courthouse for the better part of a century, the museum’s numerous exhibits give a first hand look at what life was like at the turn of the century.

There are numerous museums in the foothill communities as well. The Children’s Museum of the Sierra in Oakhurst is a popular spot for parents and children. The discovery museum provides hands-on learning exhibits that captivate kids as well as educate. The Coarsegold Historic Museum illustrates live in eastern Madera County with objects, and even a building, that date back to the 1800’s. Another historic spot is the Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park in Oakhurst. The museum complex is built around two restored and furnished homes dating to the 1870s. Both have been designated by the State of California as Points of Historical Interest for their unique construction styles once common throughout Northern California, but virtually unknown today.

Numerous artists also hail from the region, and their works are on display at museums and galleries throughout Madera County. A popular stop is Gallery Row in Oakhurst. Home to the National Parks Art Center, Stellar Gallery, Timberline Gallery and Williams Gallery West, works from nationally known artists in virtually every medium are on display.

Numerous other attractions await in Madera County, from the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Rail Road to the car races at the Chowchilla and Madera Speedways. Madera County offers families endless adventure for summer vacations.

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