Some think of Bass Lake, the pine-trimmed reservoir about a half-hour’s drive south of Yosemite National Park’s south entrance, as a smaller version of Lake Tahoe. But the little lake with the big alpine feel has an appealing difference from its high-country cousin: Bass Lake’s elevation is only 3,400 feet, so its surface waters become blissfully warm in summer, hovering around 75°F.
While the nearly 5-mile-long lake is a popular destination for water skiing, wakeboarding, and wave runners, it also has sheltered coves for swimming and for sailing, as well as kayaking and pedal boating (boat and gear rentals are available). Bring or rent fishing gear or hire a local guide to snag bass, rainbow trout, Kokanee salmon, and more (a California fishing license is required for ages 16 and above). Dozens of trails lead into the surrounding Sierra National Forest, so there’s plenty to explore by foot or mountain bike. Start with the Way of the Mono Trail, named for the Mono people who inhabited the area for millennia. The short (0.6-mile) loop takes you to the top of a rock with great views, with a few chances to try some bouldering if you are up for it. Or get more of a workout on the way to your view on the challenging 5-mile up-and-back hike to Goat Mountain Fire Lookout. Another rewarding, moderately difficult hike is the three-mile Willow Creek Trail, which takes you to Angel Falls and offers plenty of opportunities to go swimming.
For a comfortable overnight stay, consider The Pines Resort, with lakefront rooms and roomy chalets. Two old-school resorts, The Forks and Miller’s Landing Resort, have more of a retro-summer-camp feel. Even if you don’t stay the night, take part in the time-honored tradition of relaxing on the The Forks’ lakeside deck and ordering a classic Forks Burger and shake. Or pitch a tent—seven busy U.S. Forest Service campgrounds around here have civilized touches, like nearby showers and grocery stores; advance reservations are strongly advised. The 4th of July holiday is especially busy, with impressive fireworks over the lake.