With a historic winter leading to a full Bass Lake and roaring falls in Yosemite National Park, tourist and business leaders say this Memorial Day weekend, and the entire summer, could break the record economic numbers that were set for the Mountain Area last year.
“This is already shaping up to be the busiest year ever,” said Jerry Rankin, general manager of the 117-room Comfort Inn Yosemite Area in Oakhurst. “This is the new normal, because we have the perfect storm. Thanks to an influx of loggers dealing with tree mortality, on top of increased visits to Yosemite, Bass Lake, and other locations, this has all created a huge economic boost.”
Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of Visit Yosemite Madera County, predicted this summer will be as busy as last year’s record-breaking season, if not a touch better.
“We have water everywhere thanks to this wild winter,” Salisbury said. “We’re going to have waterfalls still running in the summer. And Bass Lake is full for the second straight year, so that could mean an even higher numbers of visitors.”
Last year, Salisbury said the county’s lodging industry - with a majority of rooms in the Mountain Area - exceeded expectations as it generated more than $33 million in revenue.
At Bass Lake, she said total yearly rentals were up nearly 68% from previous seasons, while Oakhurst hotels saw a nearly 17% increase in business.
“We broke all the records on tourism up here last year,” Salisbury said, noting Yosemite National Park’s record of more than 5 million visitors, after 4.3 million visited in 2015. “I predict this summer and fall could be even bigger than that. It’s an exciting time.”
At Yosemite’s south gate (Highway 41) north of Oakhurst, the highest used entrance to the park, the number of visitors increased 15% to more than 1.5 million last year - up by nearly 200,000 from 2015.
This year, Sierra Nevada’s snow pack - responsible for about a third of the entire state’s water supply - reached nearly 200% of normal. Bobby Kahn, executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission, said that has created a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for visitors.
“I think the resorts and hotels in Eastern Madera County will see their rooms full, and their restaurants very busy,” Kahn said. “There’s going to be more people working and playing in the area, it’s going to be a stellar year.”
Salisbury said based on the county’s transient occupancy tax, about 46% of its tourism business takes place from July to September.
In preparation for that, nearly every hotel, resort, restaurant, or other tourist-related business in the Mountain Area is gearing up for the influx of potentially historic crowds.
Over the years, Bass Lake has proven to be a popular tourist destination in Eastern Madera County, and some of its businesses have already seen numbers on a record pace.
Mark Choe, whose family owns The Pines Resort, said for the first time in his memory, all 106 of its rooms have been booked through every weekend - except for a few Fridays - until the middle of August.
“That’s never happened this early,” Choe said. “We are pacing way ahead of last year.”
The Pines will bring back Jazz on the Lake for the season with its first show this Friday, featuring the band NiteFlite. The event will be held eight Fridays until Labor Day, with a full schedule available at www.basslake.com or by calling (559) 642-3121.
No matter what band is sending its sounds across the water, guests can enjoy a revamped barbecue buffet at the Gazebo Deck overlooking the lake, or float up on their boats to enjoy the tunes.
At the nearby Bass Lake Boat Rentals, owner Tom Tuso and his wife Tammy have brought in not only a brand new menu, but a completely renovated, ecologically-sound office that makes use of pine lumber destroyed by the invasive bark beetle.
“The objective of this was to make it look like a boat,” Tuso said with a smile. “So you can enjoy that boating feel and style as soon as you walk through the door.”
For the menu, with new chef Zack Meier, the business will offer everything from new burgers with fresh coleslaw on top to the “Hangover Burger,” made up of a fried egg on top of a three-blend patty with bacon, cheddar cheese and aioli, fish and chips, and vegetarian options.
Additionally, Tuso said the well-known Bass Lake Queen, a boat, will continue making tours around the lake, and his business offers up a Lakefront Luau party 7 - 10 p.m. every Saturday with a DJ and fire dancers.
The business has a rental fleet of 42 pontoon boats, 12 ski boats, 12 Wave Runners (Jet Skis), and a variety of paddle boats, kayaks and canoes. In addition, the business has plenty of fishing gear, gifts and souvenirs.
For a full menu or to make rentals, visit www.basslakeboatrentals.com or call (559) 642-3200.
Across the lake at The Forks Resort, guests will be lined-up for a famous Forks Burger, lik they have been doing since 1946.
Leslie Cox, owner of the resort with her husband Ron, and president of the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce, said the menu also includes salads, clam chowder, milkshakes, and more. But for most folks, Cox said, when it comes to the Forks, it’s all about the burger, specially ground each day for decades.
“Anybody who’s been to Bass Lake will tell you you’ve got to have a Forks Burger,” Cox said. “They’re pretty special, and are a big deal around Bass Lake.”
Cox said the Forks also offers rentals on fishing boats, row boats, kayaks, and canoes, as well as 13 cabins - though they’ve largely been rented out through Labor Day.
For a full menu, boat rentals, and an online store, visit www.theforksresort.com or call (559) 642-3737.
And finally, at Miller’s Landing Resort, a mixture of the old and new will come together for a very special experience, especially for pet owners.
While classic items like the Miller Burger are still available, owner Michelle Miller has also introduced the “Unicorn Milkshake” for people - think birthday cake, sprinkles, and marshmallows - and a full menu specifically for pets.
With items like the “Puppucino,” “Bag O’ Bones,” and “The Dog’s Dog,” people’s pups will be able to join them for a sweet or savory treat, whether on a boat, on the deck, in a rented chalet, or during one of many events like the Bass Lake Yosemite Classic Triathlon on June 3, or the South Shore Car Show June 4.
“It’s a lot of fun and something we’re happy to offer,” Miller said.
The resort will also continue to provide sunset tours on “Wishon a Star,” a 1959 Skagit tug boat with Sierra Star columnist Bill Atwood at the helm.
Details: www.millerslanding.com, (559) 642-3633.
Surrounding Bass Lake, many campgrounds will reopen by Memorial Day weekend after a majority were closed last year.
Spring Cove (49 sites), Cedar/Lupin (100) Wishon (40), Forks (31), and Recreation Point (4) will be open, while the Crane Valley Group, Fresno Dome, and Big Sandy remain closed due to snow and fallen trees.
Soquel and Kelty Meadows will also be open.
Most higher country camp sites are still closed due to snow.
For updated conditions, visit www.basslakecampground.com or call (559) 642-3212.
Sierra Sky Ranch
Sierra Sky Ranch, first established in 1875 as a cattle ranch 10 miles from Yosemite National Park’s southern entrance, has brought in a new chef for its hopeful reopening on June 9. When open, the ranch’s Branding Iron Steakhouse & Saloon will be open Wednesday to Sunday, 5-9 p.m.
Spokeswoman Kelly Bolsta says new chef John Wilson, a Raymond native with 35 years of experience, will craft “Western” themed plates with family friendly items like slow smoked and sliced barbecue brisket, pan fried trout, jumbo shrimp cocktails, and spicy Mexican sausage dip served with blue corn chips. The ranch’s bunkhouse is also undergoing a renovation, and will reopen with 12 additional rooms.
Details: www.sierraskyranch.com, (559) 683-8040.
Tenaya Lodge is a 302-room destination resort. General Manager Paul Ratchford said though things got off to a slow start due to heavy snows and a sinkhole that caused the closure of Highway 41 this winter, business has picked back up and is stronger than ever.
“We’re going to have a very strong summer,” Ratchford said. “We’re selling out close to 8,000 rooms a month.”
Ratchford said Tenaya will start offering two new tour bus services to Yosemite this summer - a day trip to all the major stops and a sunset tour to Sentinel Dome.
Also, Tenaya will be adding a wedding center, Ratchford said, where couples can go over a visual display of many different items to plan their ceremony.
Details: www.tenayalodge.com, (888) 514-2167.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said though a strong winter caused some road closures, the park will have possibly its busiest summer yet.
“We’re down a little bit, about 22% to date from last year,” Gediman said. “But we’re feeling that because May has already been incredibly busy, relatively, that summer is going to be really big too.”
Gediman said the park has implemented a host of infrastructure improvements to reduce traffic congestion, from installation of a roundabout to a new parking lot west of Yosemite Lodge.
He said the best idea for guests is to get to the park as early as possible, because the later it gets in the day, the higher the chance of congestion.
“The point is if you’re not going to leave your hotel in Oakhurst until 11 a.m., it’s going to be really busy and you’re probably going to have to wait a bit,” Gediman said. “The best idea is to leave early.”
Mariposa Grove, one of the park’s most notable attractions, will not reopen until fall, Gediman said.
For updated 24-hour road and weather conditions in Yosemite National Park, call (209) 372-0200 and press 1, then press 1 again.