Underrated Towns Near Yosemite

Underrated Towns Near Yosemite

November 14, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

Who wouldn’t want to live near Yosemite National Park? Far surpassing anything manmade, the iconic park casts a bewitching spell on you—it’s always difficult to say goodbye to this magical wonderland. You’ll find yourself coming back again and again. The more you explore Yosemite, the more you realize the park's nearby towns are just as interesting.

Instead of camping at the national park, spend the evening in a neighboring town and explore the area's hidden gems. There are many towns near Yosemite that are strongly connected to the national park’s history. Adding another layer to your outdoor adventures, these peculiar places may seem like ghost towns at first glance yet they’re anything but. Hosting visitors on their way to Yosemite from all over the state, these Gold Rush-era communities are worth exploring.

Towns and Cities Near Yosemite National Park

On your way to Yosemite, make sure to stop in the quaint Gold Rush town of Groveland.

1. Groveland

One of the closest towns to Yosemite is Groveland. While cruising along Highway 120 on your way to the park, a stop here is a must. This quaint Gold Rush town, known as Big Oak Flat until it was renamed Groveland in 1863, was founded in 1848. Groveland is home to the longest continually operating saloon in all of California—Iron Door Saloon—which is located on Main Street.

Once you set foot here, you’re immediately transported back in time to the Old West. The historic community of this underrated California town is kept alive thanks to the efforts of the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum, a focal point for people interested in the unique history of southern Tuolumne County. With a vibrant music scene to keep you entertained, Groveland is a delightful little town near Yosemite with a deep connection to the national park. 

Get ready for a wild ride through the majestic Sierra National Forest on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

2. Fish Camp

Located in Mariposa County, Fish Camp used to go by Happy Camp and Berry's Fish Camp. You’re definitely going to want to make a stop at this small town on your road trip to the national park; it’s only seven minutes away from Yosemite. The highlight of Fish Camp is the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, a historic railroad that takes you on a journey through the Sierra National Forest. Here, you’ll also find the Thornberry Museum, where you’ll catch a glimpse of the Sugar Pine Railroad’s history and the logging industry in Oakhurst and Yosemite.

While in this cute town near Yosemite, you should also embark on an exciting excursion with Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures—wind your way through thick pine forest and cross clear streams on horseback while taking in the impressive mountain scenery.

Could this place be any more picture-perfect? Head to the town of Lee Vining to witness this serene scene..

3. Lee Vining

At the base of the Sierra, just below Tioga Pass, lies Lee Vining. This is the perfect basecamp for exploring Yosemite National Park. The cool town near Yosemite welcomes visitors with small-town hospitality. Only minutes away from Mono Lake and the ghost town of Bodie, Lee Vining offers excellent lodging and dining options, amenities, and ample year-round recreational opportunities.

Once you arrive in Lee Vining, drop by the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore for more information on lakeside activities. Pay a visit to Epic Cafe for a satisfying, down-home lunch—the panini sandwiches are to die for. Offering several RV parks such as Mono Vista RV Park for campers living on the road, Lee Vining is only the beginning of your Yosemite adventure. 

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When in Oakhurst, it's imperative that you visit the World Famous Talking Bear. Photo courtesy of California Curiosities.

4. Oakhurst

Formerly known as Fresno Flats, Oakhurst is the largest community in the foothills of Madera County and is one of the closest towns to Yosemite. The scenic California State Route 49 begins here; it’s a great way to see the Sierra and Gold Country. The World Famous Talking Bear—a larger-than-life replica of a California grizzly—is Oakhurst’s mascot; it talks to people with the simple push of a button below his paws.

As a gateway to one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, the cute town near Yosemite offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Fresno Flats Historical Village and Park is a must-visit. Explore a 19th-century settlement with restored homes, one-room schools, and a jail during a guided tour of the buildings. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Little Church on the Hill, the only remaining wooden structure of its era in the entire region.

With a sunset so beautiful awaiting in Bass Lake, it's time to hit the road and explore the town. Photo courtesy of The Pines Resort.

5. Bass Lake

Famed for its excellent fishing spots, hiking trails, and warm waters, Bass Lake is an awesome town near Yosemite and an ideal destination for family-friendly activities. Surrounded by the Sierra National Forest's fragrant pines and crisp mountain air, the town is considered a smaller version of Lake Tahoe. Don't be mistaken though—Bass Lake has its own personality. With multiple sheltered coves for swimming and sailing, it’s the best city to stay near Yosemite.

The Pines Resort is just the place for an overnight stay—the hidden treasure isn't only the ideal destination for your fall family vacation, but also the perfect hub for your outdoor adventures. Enjoy your time in the area with Bass Lake Boat Rentals, which will make your adventures even more exciting. If you prefer to stay on land, head out on the Willow Creek Trail for a nice short hike; leisurely stroll with your beloved, hand-in-hand.

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and escape to the lovely town of El Portal.

6. El Portal

El Portal is yet another Yosemite gateway that offers wonderful opportunities for people passing through. Situated along State Route 140, the town has many unexpected attractions that’ll blow your mind. Once upon a time, the town was the terminus of the Yosemite Valley Railroad at the entrance to the national park.

A must-visit here is the Hite Cove Trail—a popular scenic area offering spectacular displays of spring wildflowers. Check in to Yosemite Cedar Lodge for fine, cozy, and picturesque accommodations; bring your bikinis and take a dip in the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, then rejuvenate at the spa. As one of the closest cities to Yosemite, El Portal has a lot to offer and will make your visit worthwhile. 

When at Mammoth Lakes, admire the magnificent scenery around you. You'll be speechless for quite some time.

7. Mammoth Lakes

You’d think that Yosemite National Park would be the most picturesque place in California—until you reach Mammoth Lakes. You'll immediately reevaluate your original statement. With surreal storybook scenes and jaw-dropping panoramas, it’s hard to believe that a place like this exists on Earth. The John Muir Trail traverses through this underrated town near Yosemite, providing breathtaking views of Mammoth Mountain.

One of the Golden State's dreamiest sceneries is found right in this town. The majestic, 101-foot Rainbow Falls is known for its colorful rainbow mist, which is best seen during midday. The natural wonder is part of the Devils Postpile National Monument, another must-see in Mammoth Lakes. The unusual rock formation of columnar basalt encompasses 798 acres of natural wonders. The geological formations are one-of-a-kind; the columns tower up to 60 feet, displaying a striking symmetry. 


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