The byway tour can be done in a day or take your time and camp, fish and explore...
The Sierra Vista Scenic Byway (known as the Secret Yosemite) - is a nearly 100 mile journey through the Sierra National Forest with breathtaking panoramas, unique rock formations and even a charming general store with mouthwatering hamburgers and amazing pie. Starting at a little over 3300 feet above sea level, the byway makes its way past historic cabins, stands of giant sequoias, and iconic landmarks as it climbs to over 7300 feet.
Working in the tourism industry, I spend my time promoting the wealth of attractions throughout Madera County. Unfortunately, I spend so much time promoting the attractions I don’t necessarily get to enjoy them as much as some would expect. So late last summer, my wife, daughter and father-in-law endeavored to remedy that situation. We started our Journey in North Fork, the exact center of California and we were immediately greeted by scenic beauty I could not have imagined.
Jesse Ross Cabin
We spent a lot of time at the Jesse Ross Cabin. This historic structure was built in the 1860’s and continues to stand strong today. Just a short walk from the road, the history is almost palpable as you walk through the door. One truly interesting element was the old newspapers from the early 1930’s covering one of the walls. The headline on one of them extolled the athletic virtues of someone I can only assume is a relative; another Lyman who accomplished quite the feat in college athletics.
Fish Creek Campsite
Just a few minutes beyond the Jesse Ross Cabin was Fish Creek campsite, a beautiful spot perfect for peaceful relaxation with nature as your companion. There was only one camper there on the holiday weekend, alluding to the fact that chances are you would enjoy solitude while there. A stream babbles its way through the site, making the scene perfect. Fish Creek is one of several campsites along the byway, each one a beautiful retreat for anyone looking to get away.
Mile High Overlook
The Mile High Overlook is just as it sounds: a panoramic viewpoint exactly 5300 feet above sea level and really the iconic image of the Byway. As you look down you will see Mammoth Pool, a manmade lake filled with sapphire waters. Beyond is the high sierra with verdant forests and towering granite peaks. It is here that I first realized why the Byway is often compared to Yosemite; the distant vista was definitely reminiscent of the Byway’s more famous and well-traveled attraction to the north-west.
The best view of Mammoth Pool is actually about a half mile prior to the main viewing spot for Mile High Overlook. As you head north towards the stop, look for a small pullout on the right side of the road. When you find it, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the manmade reservoir and the earthen dam that holds back the beautiful blue waters. If you’re so inclined, take a side trip down to the lake and be sure to bring your fishing pole, anglers enjoy excellent rainbow, eastern brook and brown trout.
As you head past Mammoth Pool and the Mile High Overlook, keep a sharp eye out for Eagle Beaks on your right. This aptly named rock formation seems to watch over the byway from above as if they are sentinels tasked with protecting the natural beauty of the byway. Framed against a brilliant blue sky, the Eagle Peaks are a dramatic vision, just as much a testament to the erosive power of nature as they are to her beauty.
Looking as if a giant placed this tremendous boulder on the tee for a game of geologic golf and then forgot about it eons ago, Globe Rock is one of the most photographed spots along the byway. In fact, Theodore Roosevelt had his picture taken at the geological oddity during a hunting trip. The nearly spherical rock was carved out of the granite thanks to the freezing and thawing action of water on the rocks.
Photo by Nancy Robbins
Come for the pie, stay for the people. The Jones Store is a quaint country store along the second half of the Byway known just as much for the stellar hamburgers and delicious pie as it is for the hospitality of the owners. The store has a history going back nearly a century, and families that have been frequenting the business for generations. Enjoy a cold beverage and hot lunch as you talk to people who knew the area way back when.
The meadows along the route are a tribute to the natural diversity of the Byway. Beasore Meadow is a lush, green landscape adjacent to the Jones’ Store offering a beautiful view should you decide to dine outside during your stop. The meadow was once the first stop along a well-used cattle trail in the 1800’s and continues to provide sustenance to free-range cattle today.
Cold Springs Summit
Cold Springs Summit is the highest point along the byway at an elevation of over 7300 feet. That higher elevation brings it the latest spring, as there were still plenty of wildflowers growing in Cold Springs Meadow at the beginning to September. The meadow is a short, easy walk through the woods, where you’ll come up to a viewing platform overlooking the grasses surrounded by towering pines. Behind the meadow is a spectacular view featuring the Madera Mountain, standing over 10,000 feet tall.
With so much change in elevation in the byway, flowers bloom at different areas throughout the season. You can expect to start seeing blossoms at the bottom of the trail in late May or June, and still see flowers as late as September in the highest elevations.
Written by: Jarrod Lyman (previous PR & Media Director for the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau)
Sierra Vista Scenic Byway links:
US Forest Service
Sierra Vista Scenic Byway Association
Other "must sees" along the byway...
Photo by Nancy Robbins
Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoia - located off Road 632/Sierra Sky Ranch Road (the west edge of the byway)
here are over 100 mature giant sequoias intermingled with second growth pine, fir and incense cedar. It is a 1540 acre (6.2 km²) tract that also contains a number of sequoia stumps, left over from when the area was logged prior to its acquisition by the United States Forest Service in 1928. During the logging in the 1800s, the felling foreman or woods boss was called the “Bull Buck”. The woods boss told the crew to preserve the magnificent tree for posterity. The Bull Buck Tree was so named because its size made it boss of the woods.
The Bull Buck Tree reaches a height of 246 feet (75 m) and has a ground-level circumference of 100 feet (30 m) and a volume of 27,383 cubic feet (775.4 m3), making it one of the largest Giant Sequoia in the world.
Visit www.neldergrove.org for more information from the Friends of Nelder Grove.
Sierra Vista Scenic Byway Map - download map here