San Joaquin Valley
The following Madera County cities are in the San Joaquin Valley:
The following Madera County cities are in the Sierra Nevada:
Madera County lies at the geographic center of California, and was formed in 1893 from the southern portion of Mariposa County. "Madera" is Spanish for "wood" and is named after the county's first industry, which included a massive log flume built in 1876 by the California Lumber Company and used to move timber many miles from the mountains down to the railroad.
The primary north-south route through the county is California State Route 99, traversing the eastern side of the Central Valley from just north of the Grapevine up to Sacramento before ending in the northern part of the state near Red Bluff.
- 1 Merced County - Madera County's western neighbor is located entirely within the San Joaquin Valley. Most travelers will likely just take advantage of the county's hotels and other amenities, but there are a few attractions worth considering. The Castle Air Museum in Atwater is home to over 50 planes, while the Merced National Wildlife Refuge hosts thousands of waterfowl during winter months, including huge flocks of snow geese and sandhill cranes.
- 2 Mariposa County - Located north of Madera County, Mariposa was the largest county in California at the time of statehood in 1850, but later ceded land that formed twelve other counties. Today it maintains a relatively small footprint in the Sierra Nevada foothills, but has kept one of the state's treasures: Yosemite National Park, home to impossibly tall granite cliffs, remote alpine wilderness, and an iconic valley.
- 3 Tuolumne County - Madera County's northern neighbor was one of California's original counties at the time of statehood, and today offers a glimpse into the region's gold mining and logging history, as well as numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation. Portions of Yosemite National Park lie in the county, and with limited parking and lodging inside of the park, the YARTS shuttle system makes the county's towns an option to consider for park visitors.
- 4 Mono County - Located northeast of Madera County, remote and expansive Mono County is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It is the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park, home to the Old West ghost town of Bodie, and Mammoth Lakes is a favorite winter skiing getaway. The gigantic Mono Lake is perhaps the county's premier attraction, a stopover for millions of migratory birds and thousands of tourists who explore its alkaline waters and bizarre tufa formations.
- 5 Fresno County - Madera County's neighbor to the south, sprawling Fresno County is home to Fresno, California's fifth-largest city, and vast agricultural areas. The eastern side of the county is mountainous, featuring the remote wilderness of Kings Canyon National Park, which attracts visitors to its giant sequoias and unspoiled meadows that lie at the crest of the Sierra Nevada range.